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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: July, 2018|
The Taoiseach Apologises For— What?
|The Taoiseach has made an apology on behalf of the State to all those who were unjustly punished under the draconian Penal Laws brought in by the State against homosexuality. Unfortunately he did not name any of those victims, and we cannot bring any of them to mind.
It now seems to be common ground amongst all parties—or between their leaders at least—that the Irish state that was formed by ballot and bullet, in conflict with Britain, almost a century ago, was a thoroughly reactionary and oppressive institution. It had neither homosexual marriage nor abortion on demand. Those oppressions have now been lifted and Ireland is free—except for the Six Counties. And the new Sinn Fein leader has issued the slogan: "The North is Next!". And Fine Gael and Fianna Fail agree.
We cannot recall any of the trials that criminalised homosexuals. The only ones we can recall happened in Britain. And we do not recall the British apologising for prosecuting homosexuals under the anti-homosexual laws which it chose to introduce—except in the case of code-breaker Alan Turing, who kept Britain afloat in its second War on Germany by reading the German naval codes.
Turing was castrated chemically. He agreed to be castrated as an alternative to being imprisoned. He committed suicide soon after.
How were homosexuals punished under Irish law? Did none of the convicted homosexuals write a Memoir describing how they were punished. Many of the English did. Peter Wildeblood's Against The Law was a best-seller in the 1950s.
And when exactly did the Dail bring in the law to punish homosexual conduct? We have come across no reference to it. Could it be that there was no Irish law, only the British law which was continued in Ireland under the terms of the 'Treaty', according to which the Free State was a Successor State of the British, preserving British laws and assuming responsibility for the British political violence directed against the Irish Government elected in 1918.
The elected Republic of 1919-21 set about creating its own system of laws. And one of its guiding principles was that it might borrow from any foreign system of law, but not from the British Common Law. We have not heard that it was contemplating a law to penalise homosexuality. Anyhow, it was swept away by the 'Treaty' and the Successor State of the Empire established under it. And, when the Anti-Treaty Party won the 1932 Election, it was not practical to begin again from scratch, a la January 1919. The great body of British law carried over by the Successor State of the Empire had to be left in place, and we suspect that that is the law that was repealed, after Britain itself had repealed it at home.
The Taoiseach's party is the party that, under the British mandate of the 'Treaty', preserved in Ireland the British law, to whose victims he now apologises. Should he not have made it clear that he was apologising for British law?
As to the victims of this law: there was a very famous homosexual couple at the centre of social and artistic life in Dublin during a long era from the 1940s onwards: Micheal Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards. They were notoriously a homosexual couple, running the Gate Theatre. And they were camp. At least MacLiammoir was. We never heard that the law interfered with them. But in London Sir John Gielgud was prosecuted.
The Taoiseach also said that there were homosexuals amongst the founders of the state. But, again, he did not name any.
However, Ronan McGreavy, who celebrates British influence in Ireland for the Irish Times and has been described as a "protected species", tells us that Roger Casement was a homosexual, as was demonstrated by his Diary which was "circulated" both before and after his trial for treason in 1916.
In fact his Diary was not circulated at all. What was done was that typescripts, that were said to be of extracts from his Diary, were shown to a number of influential public figures in order to deter them from supporting a Petition against executing him. These documents were shown to selected individuals, not given to them, by agents of the State, and were immediately taken back again. A little over forty years later a manuscript book, purporting to be Casement's sex Diary, from which the typed extracts shown in 1916 had been copied, was placed in the British Public Record Office. There is no evidence that this manuscript existed in 1916. And there is no evidence that the typescripts shown around in 1916 were in accord with that manuscript.
Those 1916 typescripts are State Papers. It has been said that they exist somewhere. But where? Are they open to the public to be examined? It is news to us if they are, and we have been trying to follow the affair.
It is said that they were reproduced in a book, published in France in the mid-1920s, that was compiled with the assistance of Basil Thompson, a British functionary implicated in the affair. But an alleged reproduction of an unavailable original is no proof at all. And if the manuscript Diary put on show in 1959 was forged, then Basil Thompson of Scotland Yard was intimately involved in the business in 1916. (By the mid-twenties he was no longer with Scotland Yard, having been prosecuted for indecent exposure.)
An investigation of the provenance of the 1959 document should have been the starting point of a review of it. And such an investigation must begin with the documents shown in 1916. Is there a comprehensive list of those to whom typescripts were sown in order to facilitate a hanging; have their papers been searched for reference to it; have the responsible agencies of government been probed in the matter? It seems not.
Alfred Noyes, the poet, was working in Washington at the time. He was shown something by a member of the British Embassy and took it on trust. He let the traitor be hanged as a queer without protest. He assumed that what he had been shown would be substantiated by publication of the source from which he was told it had come. But that did not happen. Instead the Government, in reply to questions, denied that it had in its possession any such Casement Diary. Noyes concluded from this that he had been manipulated by means of a fake. It was a reasonable conclusion.
The purpose of the 1916 showings was to touch on the Homophobia in English upper class culture in order to deter protest against the execution of Casement by people who, until August 1914, would have seen him as one of themselves. It had nothing at all to do with Irish nationalist homophobia—supposing that it existed. (As far as we know there was no showing to leaders of the Rebellion in Jail.)
There was great concern about homosexuality in the English upper classes because there was a significant homosexual presence in English upper class life—apparently generated in upper class schools. There were laws to punish it because it was there. It seems to have been generated, along with militarism, on the playing fields of Eton. Although the two went together, it was felt that the homosexuality could not be given its head, as it was in Greece. It was restricted by law while being tolerated as long as a decent veneer of normality was maintained—and some of the best English literature was produced out of those circumstances. Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labour, not because he was Irish, but because he made a cult of being Greek, and he forced the issue.
About two generations after the Wilde trial, England de-criminalised homosexual conduct. It did not apologise for having criminalised it. England lives by the laws which it enacts. It has never, in its own affairs, subscribed to the notion that there is a universal law lying beyond positive law, which negates positive law.
If the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Treaty Party, had apologised for the failure of the Free State Government to delete the British law on homosexuality when becoming a Successor State, that would make some sense. But he assumes it to have been Irish law and apologises for it having been law. In effect he denies the authority of the state to make particular laws in matters which are subject to universal law.
But what is universal law in this context? It requires little investigation to see that it is changeable, and that it is the fashion of the moment in the centres of advanced capitalism.
A timeless state of mind, without memory, is what the Taoiseach's apology encourages. That is incompatible with historical existence. But Irish history was given over to Oxbridge about thirty years ago and little of it now survives the Murder Machine—which operates much more thoroughly now than it did in Pearse's time.
The Taoiseach Apologises For— What? Editorial
Schrödinger's Border Solution Found: Dead Cat Bounces. Seán Owens
The Austerity Debate. Dave Alvey (Ireland, Brexit and the future of the EU. Part 5)
Notes On Tax Policy. John Martin
Readers' Letters: Casement: Manufactured Evidence. Tim O'Sullivan
The Crime Against Casement. Brendan Clifford
Food And The 'Famine'. Jack Lane. The Cambridge History of Ireland—a review (Part 2)
History? Jack Lane
Mise Le Meas, Seán Lemass! Manus O’Riordan
Catching Up On Europe. Dave Alvey (Brexit Summaries for May and June)
WW1 And Its Aftermath. Wilson John Haire
Biteback: Casement 'Black Diary'. Jack Lane (Letter to IT, 22 June ). Irish National Anthem. Donal Kennedy (Unpublished letter to IT, 14 June)
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (Planning for War?)
Belfast Childhood Memories. Wilson John Haire
Goliath Smites Nakba! Wilson John Haire
Labour Comment: A Bribe and Irish Labour! (Thomas Johnson, Irish Labour leader 1917-1927)