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|From: Irish Political Review: Articles|
|Date: February, 2019|
Ireland: A Painful Re-Awakening?
In December 1918, when Britain had won its Great War for Democracy and the Rights of Small Nations, the Irish nation elected a party whose purpose was to establish independent government in Ireland. The British Parliament took no heed of the fact that the Irish democracy rejected British sovereignty over Ireland. When the Irish democracy set up an independent Government in Ireland, the British democracy—the British Parliament—took no heed of that either.
Without giving any reason why the great principle of national self-determination, which had been repeatedly asserted to be what Britain made war for, was not applicable to Ireland, the British democracy supported the British Government when it ignored the Election result in Ireland, and supported it when it tried to suppress the independent Government that was established in Ireland.
This is an awkward fact for the ideologists of British democracy in Ireland. It is a fact that is suppressed in thought in Britain itself. Democracy in its homeland remembers and forgets entirely in the service of its sense of self-esteem. And it has a deeply ingrained state of mind for thinking/not thinking about Ireland. It is spontaneously duplicitous, its duplicity having deep roots in centuries of casuistic Protestant reasoning about Catholicism. It is instinct born of fundamentalist theology.
Oxbridge-tutored Ireland did its best over the past generation to feel its way into this state of mind. But what now comes naturally in England could only develop in Ireland at the cost of self-destruction in the capacity for thought. And now it has been seriously traumatised by Brexit.
The standard way of excusing British democracy from responsibility for the war that came about when Westminster ignored the Election result in Ireland and supported the suppression of the Government based on that Election result was laid down by Professor T. Desmond Williams who shaped UCD in accordance with Cambridge ideals.
It was given expression in the Thomas Davis lectures in the 1950s. It was that the elected Irish Government just couldn't wait for Britain to start the war and started it itself before Britain had time to do anything.
In mid-January a hundred years ago a political party that had won three-quarters of the Irish seats in the British General Election of December 1918 assembled in Dublin, declared itself the Irish Parliament, asserted Irish national independence, and established an Irish Government to act independently of the British Government.
These actions were entirely in accordance with its Election programme, and with the principle of the right of small nations to self-determination which the British State, so it was said, had established as a universal right by means of a World War that cost about 20 million lives.
At the same time a handful of aspirant republicans, assuming that war with England would continue, set about equipping themselves for it, by robbing a small quantity of gelignite from quarry-owners, killing the two British policemen who were protecting it.
Centenary comment, in an Ireland which in all its authoritative institutions have become not only post-nationalist but anti-nationalist, has said little about the Dail, and has said nothing about the British response to the loss of the Election in Ireland, but has been lavish in condemnation of the gelignite robbery in Soloheadbeg. The one exception is a comment by an American Jesuit, Fr. Seamus Murphy, who condemns both the Dail and the robbery (Irish Times 15.1.19).
For the purpose of condemnation its said that the policemen were Irish. Maybe they were in a racial sense, if there is such a thing as an Irish race. What they were professionally was members of a British State force.
The RIC was not organised on the lines of the English County Constabulary. It was drawn from a damaged people—a people which at the time of its establishment was assumed by the British administration to be broken. It was centrally organised and was directed by the Secretary of State in Dublin Castle. It was trained to be an alien elite with its own sense of well-being. Its function was to spy on the people and report on their moods, while remaining itself superior to those moods. Its world was the Empire, and it remained true to that world in defiance of the remarkable national development that occurred amongst the populace.
A recent British academic has attributed the rise of a national movement amongst the Irish people to a cut-back in the funding of the police in Ireland in the late 19th century. When there is a call for it in the British interest, the conscientious British academic can glamourise a particular nationalism as elemental—as heroic, romantic and free—but his systematic understanding is that it is an aberration made possible by insufficient administration.
Fr. Murphy SJ says that the Soloheadbeg group "did not see themselves as answerable to any higher authority (such as the Dail)". Well, the Dail did not exist as they planned their ambush. And the Provisional Government of 1916 had been killed by the British Government, its sole survivor being in prison.
And all that can be said of the British Government as a "higher authority" in Ireland to which Dan Breen might have considered himself answerable, is that not even the Parliamentary Party was loyal to it any longer. It had sacrificed thousands of Irishmen to the British cause in order to save civilisation from the Germans, but had refused the small final sacrifice of conscription in the emergency of 1918. When refusing this final sacrifice, it did not admit in words that the British war on Germany had not been about the saving of civilisation at all. But its action made it clear that it did not believe what it had been saying on the recruiting platforms for four years.
Redmondism walked out of Parliament in 1918, and it became Dillonism. And Dillonism had known very well, all along, that the British account of the War was false.
It is impossible to tell what Redmond thought. His mental medium was one of profound fog, and fragments of English upper-class rhetoric emerged from it to meet the occasion, without being accompanied by anything coherent enough to be called thought. Dr. Muldowney's researches into Redmond's relations with the Ballybricken Pig Deals have revealed the man in all his duplicity and obscurity.
Redmond might have had Home Rule in the 26 Counties in the Summer of 1916. Under the shock of the Rising, Lloyd George laid it on for him. If he had taken it, there would have been a "higher authority" in being which Dan Breen might have accepted or rejected. But he refused to take it unless there was a guarantee that the Six Counties would come in at the end of the War, whether the Ulster Unionists liked it or not.
It is said in support of him by his idolaters—he has no biographers—that Joe Devlin, the Belfast Nationalist leader, would not let him accept 26 County Home Rule. In August 1914 he had committed the Home Rule movement to the British War without consulting Devlin or anybody else. In 1916 he chose to hide behind Devlin, leaving "Home Rule-in-the-Statute-Book" without any semblance of Irish national administration on the ground.
Between 1910 and 1914 Redmond drove the Home Rule issue to the point of Partition. It was against his policies that the Ulster Volunteer Force was organised. After the Curragh Mutiny of the Spring of 1914 Partition became as much of a certainty as anything ever is in politics. But Redmond refused to bring about what he had made inevitable, therefore he refused Home Rule in 1916—when it would not have been accompanied by the Six County Protestant regime added in 1920.
The net outcome of Redmond's leadership is that it left nationalist Ireland leaderless in 1918.
The country was politically leaderless in 1918, and was effectively under British military rule. Of course it had been effectively under British military rule ever since 1691, but the absence of any intermediary body between the Army of the Government and the populace had never before been as plain as in 1918.
The Home Rule Party had, for about forty years, served as a protest party against British rule and as a representative party of British rule. It was two-faced. It was sincerely two-faced, as it had to be in order to be functional. And an anonymous pamphlet published in Dublin at some point during 1918, Is The Irish Party Nationalist?, said it was time for the duplicity to stop:
"Let us call things by their names. The Irish Party, after an electioneering orgy of sedition and treason, swarms over to London to swear fidelity and true allegiance to England… 'Ireland has given away her case by sending members to the British Parliament', declared Count Beust, the great statesman who in 1867 arranged the agreement between Austria and Hungary. 'By doing so she acknowledges the right of the British Parliament. If Hungary had acted as Ireland acts she would not have regained her independence'. On the face of it, Beust is right, he is only voicing the verdict of common honesty. But Beust did not know that between the Irish Nation and Westminster there was an intermediary body, a Party neither Irish nor English, a bastard compromise between independence and servitude. Ireland elected them because they spoke like Irishmen, England welcomed them because they acted and swore like Englishmen; they had the voice indeed of Jacob, but the hands of Esau. For their English treachery we are not responsible. The time has come, in fact, when as a nation we much repudiate them and cast them out—I speak of the system rather than the men…"
But the men had been shaped to the system that they operated. Their own electioneering words in Ireland could be played back to them by the anonymous author, but all that the handful of them that survived the General Election could do was return to Westminster again, and pledge allegiance to the Crown again, even as the Crown was trying to snuff out the independent Parliament that met in Ireland.
There was no "higher authority" in Ireland on 27th January 1919—unless Fr. Murphy has in mind the authority of the theological concept of Natural Law, which is not law at all in any actual sense. British authority was comprehensively invalidated by the defeat of the Party that pledged allegiance to it. All that had been said in justification of the Wars against Germany and Turkey, for democracy and national self-determination, invalidated British authority in Ireland in January 1919.
The Sinn Fein Party had been given an electoral mandate to govern but had not yet established a Government.
The IRB was regenerating itself after the disruption of 1916. It did not in January 1919, or at any subsequent time, recognise the elected Dail as the sovereign national authority.
The Sinn Fein Party that was elected to establish independent Irish government had nothing whatever to do with the armed robbery of gelignite at Soloheadbeg. That was an IRB operation.
The Dail was intent on putting British democracy—and the much advertised democracy of the League of Nations, to the test. It did not declare war on anybody. What it said at its founding meeting was that independent Irish government was being established within a state of war. The country was under British occupation, and under British military rule as far as Whitehall wished it to be.
The Sinn Fein election Manifesto asserted the right to use "any and every means" to secure independence. The Irish Times (Fintan O'Toole, Jan 12) sees this as "a deliberately slippery term". We would have thought it was crystal clear. It was an assertion of the right to use whatever means were found to be necessary.
But, O'Toole says, the Manifesto "specified only the peaceful ones". And why, at the end of the Great War for democracy and the rights of nations, should it not have emphasised peaceful methods? Should they have declared in advance that the League of Nations would be all humbug, not worth putting to the test?
O'Toole says the Soloheadbeg escapade looks like a coup "not against British rule but against those in Sinn Fein who favoured a nonviolent path to Irish independence". Who were those in Sinn Fein who favoured a violent path if a non-violent one was available?
The great questions were whether the first democratically-elected British Parliament would concede Irish independence to a mere vote of the Irish electorate, and whether, if it refused, the League of Nations would take up the cause of the Irish democracy against Britain.
The "nonviolent path to Irish independence" proved not to be available. Democratised Westminster held Irish independence out of the question, just as aristocratic Westminster had done. That is the embarrassing fact which the well-heeled propagandists of the British newspaper do not care to address. So they write about Soloheadbeg instead—half a dozen articles in the Irish Times and its recent acquisition, the Irish (formerly Cork) Examiner.
The suggestion is that Dan Breen hijacked history by making war on Britain and closing off the non-violent path. That is not said, but what other point can there be to all those jabbering articles than to suggest it?
It is doubtful that Soloheadbeg had any influence at all on the course of things. And "Dan Breen's Book", as it was called, was certainly not the book of the War. It was Dan Breen's high-spirited account of his many escapades.
If there is a book of the War of Independence, it was Tom Barry's. And Guerrilla Days In Ireland opens in the British Army in Mesopotamia.
The notion that, when the Dail met in January 1919 it declared war on Britain, was put into circulation about half a century ago under the auspices of Desmond Williams, a British spy who was made Professor of History at University College, Dublin. Williams established the intellectual dominance of Cambridge University over UCD. In 1963-4 he appointed a British academic, C.L. Mowat, to deliver a Thomas Davis Lecture on Radio Eireann. Mowat said that, when the Dail met in January 1919, it declared war on Britain:
""the Irish Nationalist Party virtually disappeared in the general election of December 1918 and… the successful Sinn Fein candidates, constituting themselves the Dail Eireann, declared war on Great Britain". (This will be found in The Irish Struggle 1916-26, edited by Williams.)
The Dail did not declare war on Britain. And the British Government took no account whatever of the fact that its electoral base in Nationalist Ireland, the Home Rule Party, had been swept away by the Irish electorate.
The first democratically elected British Parliament met on 12th February 1919. A close English observer described it as consisting largely of "hard-faced men who looked as though they had done well out of the War".
The following sentence was put in the King's Speech at the opening of the Parliament:
"The position in Ireland causes Me great anxiety, but I earnestly hope that conditions may soon sufficiently improve to make it possible to provide a durable settlement of this difficult problem…"
Joseph Devlin, the Belfast Nationalist leader, who held his seat by his own efforts—others held their when Sinn Fein stood down to avert an electoral split that would let a Unionist take the seat—said:
"I have risen for the purpose of asking the Prime Minister, if he were here, or the Leader of the House, if he were here, or the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if he were here, or any responsible Minister, high or low, great or small: What is the meaning of this passage in the King's Speech?"
He reads the sentence, and continues:
"That is a very enigmatical sentence. It is characteristically Lloyd Georgian. Why was that paragraph put in the speech of the King, unless we had some explanation of it from the Prime Minister? I waited here and listened to his reply to the two rather meek and humble speeches from the two leaders of the Opposition [Asquith Liberals and Labour]. I waited here and listened with interest to get some explanation as to what that passage meant. I wanted to know from him what is the position in Ireland, what is the Government in Ireland, what is going on in Ireland, and what do you propose to do with Ireland."
There was no answer.
Fr. Murphy SJ takes the 1912 Home Rule Bill as having "enacted a constitutional revolution", after which "the primary historic project… in Ireland shifted to the problem of building a political community that could govern itself". That would certainly have been the case if the Bill had gone on to be an Act and had established a devolved structure of democratic government in Ireland.
But "Home Rule" never happened. It never came close to happening. What happened was that the Opposition Party at Westminster, which was equal in size to the Governing Party, declared that a Home Rule Act carried with a majority supplied by the Irish Party—which had always refused to take part in the basic constitutional business of governing the state—would be unconstitutional. To prevent the implementation of a Home Rule Act, it supported the raising of a Volunteer Army in Protestant Ulster, and it supported the officers of the Army of the State when they said they would resign their commissions, rather than obey an order to impose a Home Rule Government in Ulster.
The Lords Veto had been abolished, but Home Rule was deader in 1914 than it had ever been under the Lords Veto. And, while Home Rulers might shout "Treason", there was no way that His Majesty's Opposition could be prosecuted for treason by His Majesty's Government. The Government might have made war on the Opposition but could not have put it on trial.
Fr. Murphy SJ says that Redmond and Dillon "started to talk to the Unionists" in 1914, "But their delicate bridge-building was swept away by the first World War".
There was no Redmondite bridge-building. There was fundamentalist confrontation to the bitter end.
The confrontation was not merely Irish. The two major parties of the state were pitted against each other in it, and their conflict was getting completely out of hand. And it seems very much as if the opportunity to make war on Germany was seized with relief as a way out of the domestic conflict.
Fr. Murphy then proceeds to construct the fantasy of an Ireland in which there was a Nationalist Establishment. But the whole problem—the glaringly obvious problem—was that in 1918-19, before the Election no less than after, there was no semblance of a National Establishment in Ireland. Britain had allowed none to be established. There was no structure of national authority in Ireland, partitioned or unpartitioned. Redmond had disappeared, "leaving not a wrack behind".
But Fr. Murphy SJ insists that Soloheadbeg set off "three civil conflicts", one of which was "Sinn Fein and the IRA vs a nationalist “establishment” of the Irish Parliamentary Party and the RIC".
If there had been anything remotely resembling a Home Rule/RIC national structure in Ireland, there would have been no Easter Rising, no Republican Dail, no War of Independence.
We may return to Fr. Murphy SJ. Meantime we will refresh out minds from that acute Catholic critique of the Jesuits, Pascal's Provincial Letters.
In his traumatised Anglophile recoil from Brexit, Fintan O'Toole has come to see the history of Britain as rubbish. It is "zombie history", he revealed in his Irish Times column of January 15th:
"Brexit is self-contradictory in its idea of history. On the one side it proposes a revolutionary break with the past. On the other, the word that conjured it into being was 'back'… It is full, not just of nostalgia, but of pseudo-history. It is an old curiosity shop of false antiques: the Dunkirk spirit, the Blitz spirit, Agincourt, Henry VIII, Winston Churchill, the Spanish Armada".
O'Toole, in the service of British ideology, has now been doing his bit to denigrate Irish history, trivialise it, reduce it to a sham. That is what the British presence in the world requires. And now O'Toole finds himself face to face with the emptiness of the Irish history which he has been helping to bring about with great profit to himself. Must he now live in the emptiness which he created.
England depends on him not at all. His service to it was in Ireland. England has now abandoned him and he calls it names. It will not even notice the names that he calls it. It will continue to live in its own history, layer upon layer of it.
O'Toole never showed the least interest in the circumstances of the British State in the Six Counties, in which there has been indeed a considerable amount of fakery. And now he emits this ignorant outburst:
"Northern Ireland is a pre-existing condition of the British state. It is just as much British history as Agincourt and Dunkirk—and, right now, much more so. And it exerts a gravitational pull that cannot be escaped… The circumstances in which he history of these islands is being made include both the 45 years of common membership of Europe and 30 years of the Troubles".
Northern Ireland is an undemocratically governed region of the democratic British state. The Six Counties were excluded from the democracy of the British state in 1921, in the process of being retained within it. They were cut off from the powerful gravitational pull of the party-political democracy of the British state, and confined in a political hot-house in which the two communities had nothing to do but grate on each other.
And O'Toole's eagle eye never noticed it. It is selective in what it sees, and it does not see what it would be inexpedient to notice.
As for the 45 years of common membership of Europe—Britain spent at least 35 of those years working within Europe to curb its development—a thing which even John Bruton saw and which has now been blurted out by former Irish Ambassador to Europe, 1985-91, John Campbell:
"Talk is returning to the possibility of a second referendum to solve the current Brexit impasse. If that should happen – and it is far from certain – and if the result of the first referendum should be reversed, we should be very clear about the consequences.
Over the longer term the return of the UK to Europe could lead to the destruction of Europe as we have seen it develop over the past 70-odd years. The UK has worked in the past with admirable skill and perseverance to diminish and negate many of the planned advances towards a united Europe. The euro, social policy, Schengen, have all been rejected. If the UK returns to Europe, not only will this steady process of destabilisation continue but it will be greatly reinforced by the crazed demands of the frustrated Brexiteers. With the many other current threats to the European enterprise, the future offers new fragilities. But these are surmountable with sensitive management and the normal evolution of events. A soft Brexit offers the best way forward out of the current British impasse. Even a hard no-deal Brexit can be survived after a very difficult short term for all concerned, and particularly for the UK and Ireland. But a return of the UK to Europe would set in motion a tide that would sweep away over the long term the foundations of Europe and leave in ruins the greatest political achievement of the last century" (Irish Times 18.1.19).
Ireland: A Painful Re-Awakening? Editorial
Solloghodbeg again and again and again............ Jack Lane
Brexit: now a crisis of British democracy. Dave Alvey (January Summary)
Readers' Letters: 1 9 6 6 Recalled! Donal Kennedy
The Levant. Peter Brooke
When Lloyd Met Michael. Wilson John Haire (Poem)
LEST WE FORGET (2). Extracts from Irish Bulletin. This issue lists British Acts Of Aggression, 2nd May - 7 June 1919 (ed. Jack Lane)
Es Ahora. Julianne Herlihy ( Clair Wills and the Story She Tells (Part 8)
Readers' Letters: Reply To Martin Dolphin And Angela Clifford. John Martin
Can Banks Create Money? John Martin
Remembering Dennis Dennehy And The 1969 First Dáil Commemorations. Manus O’Riordan
The Revolutionary At The Áras. Jack Lane
Britain And The League Of Nations. Donal Kennedy
Biteback: The Centenary Of Dáil Éireann. Brian Murphy osb
Gene Kerrigan on Robert Emmet. Ted O'Sullivan
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (War of Independence)
Honouring Or Traducing Irish Heroes While Covering Academic Ass. Manus O’Riordan
Food Rationing In WW Northern Ireland. Wilson John Haire
Labour Comment: The Irish Constabulary: The Oath