|We are in for a long season of centenary anniversaries—ten years of it we are told, from the introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1912 to the Anglo-Free State victory in the Treaty War of 1922.
Professor Michael Laffan of University College Dublin led off with a speech attacking Edward Carson at the Ulster Museum in mid-April:
"The Ulster Unionist campaign against the 1912 Home Rule Bill… served the interests of violent republicanism when its prospects appeared grim and hopeless… Unionists unintentionally radicalised the politics of the whole island, he said in a lecture as part of the series 'A Decade of Anniversaries'… The UCD historian said reforms, especially the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, ensured most Irish nationalists were becoming increasingly willing to operate within the Union framework. 'Ireland was clearly not in a pre-revolutionary situation. But when Carson… threatened and planned rebellion, and when marching and drilling and importation of arms were met not with punishment and retaliation, but with concessions from the government, Irish revolutionaries believed their time had come', added Prof. Laffan. 'At last, after decades of patient waiting, hoping for favourable circumstances, these had arrived—and from their point of view, just in time…'
"Prof. Laffan said in effect that the two extremes in Irish public life had developed an informal alliance against 'the centre'—as represented by John Redmond's Home Rule Party—and 'one had given the kiss of life to the other. Such a development appalled Ulster unionists; but it is a commonplace that people cannot determine the indirect consequences of their actions', he said. Prof. Laffan said radical nationalists, many of whom did not belong to the revolutionary IRB, followed Carson's example… After a long absence, militarism had returned to Ireland. The Easter Rising, a resort to arms of precisely the sort that Redmond had always wished to avoid, accelerated the destruction of moderate nationalism. It could be seen as a paradoxical implementation of the plans made by Carson… by republican revolutionaries who followed Carson's example' added Laffan" (Irish News 23 April).
This is what used to be known in the days of the Communist Parties as "objective truth", truth which parts company with the particular facts of a situation. Or what Napoleon called "making pictures" instead of mastering the actual detail of a situation and devising a realistic way of dealing with it. So it seems that we are in for ten years of raking over old passions on the basis of old ignorance. What Laffan said has been said a thousand times before.
The intensity of the Ulster Protestant response to the Home Rule Bill was due in large measure to Redmond's degradation of the Home Rule Party into a Catholic sectarian party whose major component was a Catholic secret society, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH had been woven into the structure of the Party between the 2nd and 3rd Home Rule Bills. It had become the animating spirit of the Party, which otherwise had orated itself dry. And, in the North, where the Home Rule Bill had to succeed or fail, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was the Party.
The AOH withered as a political force in the South with the rise of Sinn Fein. Remnants of it survived in many towns in the form of AOH Halls until the 1950s or 1960s. The Redmondite revival that began in the 1970s wrote it out of the historical record, as far as they were able to do so by their control of academic institutions. That was a falsification of history, in the cause of an ideology, far greater than was ever attempted in the Soviet Union.
The formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force against the Home Rule Bill by Carson led to the formation of the Irish Volunteers in support of it. But that did not cause the Easter Rising. What caused the Rising was Redmond's enlisting of the Irish Volunteers in the British Army to make war on Germany and Turkey (which resulted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of them). That was what split the Volunteers, and gave rise to a small army that could regiment itself publicly and engage in manoeuvres in preparation for making war. The minority of Volunteers that did not follow Redmond were allowed freedom of action by Dublin Castle lest interference with them should disturb Redmond's volunteers and reduce the supply of badly-needed cannonfodder. Redmond's policy provided both the stimulus and the opportunity for the Insurrection.
If the Irish leader had waited on the actual establishment of Home Rule Government within the Union, before committing himself actively to militarism as part of the Union, Redmond would have remained in command of the situation and deprived us of the Easter Rising.
But Redmond provoked the Rising and made it possible, and then one thing led to another. He drove the situation towards Partition, half-acknowledged that it had become inevitable, but never suggested to his followers any way of coping with it.
His following in the South evaporated, except for a few superior people. It was only in the Six Counties that Redmondism survived as a popular movement. And, in the North, what they had to contend with was not Partition which held them within Britain when they would have preferred to join the Irish state, but a communal Protestant sub-government, entirely under Westminster sovereignty but excluded from Westminster democracy.
The Redmondites in the North, led by Redmond's senior colleague Joe Devlin, leader of the AOH, refused to participate in what our betters now tell us was the Northern Irish state. In fact, there was nothing to participate in, but that is something we cannot admit if we take the North to have been an Irish state—or to have been anything but an undemocratically-governed region of the British state.
A sullen 'Constitutional nationalism' prevailed in the North, until the pogrom and insurrection of 1969. Fianna Fail encouraged the insurrection in 1969-70, but changed course in mid-1970 and havered on the issue thereafter, making noises this way and that—standing for peace, while saying peace was possible only with the ending of Partition.
The Northern Catholics had to fend for themselves. They did so. They fought a long war and established a place for themselves in a form of devolved government which would never have been contemplated but for the war. And the party that fought the war is running the devolved system in alliance with the Paisleyite Unionists, who were denounced by all good Redmondites on equal terms with the Provos.
And then Sinn Fein, taking itself seriously as an all-Ireland party, came South and is now almost equal to Fianna Fail. And Michael Martin responds by taking a trip into wonderland.
Sinn Fein is in contention with Fianna Fail in the South, Fianna Fail is not in contention with Sinn Fein in the North—it has a token organisation there which it lacks the nerve to develop. One might have thought Martin had strong enough ground to take issue with Sinn Fein on its Southern policies. But, instead of doing that, he launched into a rant against what Republicanism has done in the North, rakes up particular incidents of the war, cites dissidents who attack the Provos for making an interim settlement instead of holding on to the bitter end for a united Ireland, declares that Sinn Fein is "the very antithesis of what Republicanism means" (which is the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter), and brands Sinn Fein participation in the Northern Government as sectarian (after it has established the first Government in which there is a degree of genuine cross-community fellow-feeling).
In addition he said that the Provos were genocidal in the North, and that their war had nothing in common with the War of Independence of 1919-21, though he argued that those Republicans were genocidal too.
All of that was on the Pat Kenny Show (RTE Radio 1, March 30). Kenny put it to him that there was a "genocide of the gentry" in West Cork. He did not disagree. How could he, with Peter Hart as his guide. (He mentioned Hart.)
So, on his understanding of the Provo War and the War of Independence, there seems to be considerable similarity between them.
The Fianna Fail intellectual, Martin Mansergh (who subverted Fianna Fail history by dating legitimate Independence from the implementation of the Treaty in 1922), had a letter in the ,em>Irish News (May 16), replying to a statement that "the conceptual foundation for the Good Friday Agreement is a two-nations theory". He said that the GFA "is actually a compromise between Irish nationalism as previously understood and two-nations theories".
So, after all his hounding of two-nationists, this is how he ends up. Poor Martin!