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|From: Irish Political Review: Editorials|
|Date: August, 2019|
When anti-Treaty Sinn Fein, re-formed as Fianna Fail, entered the Treaty Dail in 1926, under ambiguous circumstances, for the purpose of breaking the Treaty from within it, Sean Lemass said that it acted as a "slightly constitutional" party. That was entirely appropriate to the occasion.
The strictly constitutional party, Cumann na nGaedheal (which became Fine Gael a few years later) was constitutional under British law. It had won the Treaty War with British weapons and British propaganda support in 1922-3, and it had won the General Election of 1923 with the intimidating power of British militarism hanging over the electorate.
As the British threat receded, and Britain itself fell into political confusion, the spirit of the Irish electorate revived and there was a resurgence of anti-Treaty voting. But the Treatyite Government tried to hold onto power by making it a condition, not only of entry to the Dail, but of contesting Dail elections, that candidates must take the Treaty Oath in advance.
This raised the prospect of representatives of a majority of the electorate being excluded from the constitutional politics of the Treaty state. It was therefore appropriate that the representative of the majority should only be slightly constitutional—constitutional enough to get a foothold within the Treaty Constitution for the purpose of breaking it.
Fianna Fail has now repudiated its anti-Treaty, slightly constitutional, origins as defenders of the Republic established in January 1919 on the foundation of the Election of December 1918. This was done in effect under Bertie Ahern and was decisively confirmed by Micheál Martin. The repudiation was not done by Proclamation supported by reasons. It was announced discreetly in letters to the press by party intellectual Martin Mansergh.
But we haven't done with slightly constitutional politics. Far from it.
Fine Gael, having failed to keep anti-Treaty Fianna Fail out of the Dail, lost its majority in 1927, but clung on by chicanery until 1932. There was a peaceful transfer of power in 1932. But it was a peaceful development within the Dail that was sustained by balance of power outside the Dail. Fianna Fail had a revived IRA as its backstop, and the Free State Army that had won the Treaty War was no longer fighting fit.
The hard men who had won the so-called Civil War of 1922-3—who had brutalised the Republican areas into submission but not surrender—were not there anymore. They were Collins's men. They were eager to get the 'Civil War' over with as quickly as possible in order to begin stepping across the stepping-stones that would dismantle the Treaty by use of the degree of state power which the Treaty accorded to the Free State. But, when Collins got himself killed, probably by accident, on is wild escapade in West Cork, they found that Collins's colleagues in Office had no intention of carrying out his policy. The stepping-stones were left to grow moss. So they mutinied.
It was a discreet mutiny. The Mutiny of the Free State Major-Generals was in that respect rather like the Curragh Mutiny. Not a shot was fired in either case, and nobody was prosecuted, but both had consequences. The consequence for the Free State was that its Army became demoralised and without a national purpose, that the IRA revived, and that Fianna Fail became the stepping-stone party.
If the Cosgrave Government had not vacated its offices in 1932 there would have been an authentic Civil War which it could not hope to win.
(Britain, having fallen under 'National Government', would have been in no condition to come to its support. National Government in the party-political British state is unnatural government, weak government, confused government. And Britain and the Free State were not allies under a Treaty arrangement. The Free State in the Treaty War was not an ally of Britain but a British instrument.)
Cumann na nGaedheal, disabled by having clung to power for too long without a reputable purpose, remade itself after the 1933 Election (which it lost again) as Fine Gael. It remained Treatyite, and it became Fascist. It was Fascist in support of the Treaty which Fianna Fail was breaking.
It was also the party of the intelligentsia. It had some very high-powered academic intellectuals in its ranks. (There are none of comparable quality in the Universities today.)
Professors Michael Tierney of Dublin and James Hogan of Cork were convinced that there was an imminent danger of Communism coming to Ireland through the Fianna Fail Party, because of its dependency on the IRA. So they threw themselves into developing a fascist mass movement, free of the trickery of Parliamentary politics, in order to save Ireland from Communism.
They saw De Valera as the Irish Kerensky—who would be used for a while by the Communist IRA and would then be discarded. This appears absurd in retrospect, but in the circumstances of the time there was more reason for it than there was for the present day Professor Keogh's vision of a Fascist takeover which he had at the burning of the British Embassy in response to the Bloody Sunday shootings in Belfast.
Fine Gael opposed the 1937 Constitution as a recipe for Presidential dictatorship—which was absurd. It went along with neutrality in the World War, which enabled it to slip back into constitutional mode. In 1948 it went Republican and formally left the Commonwealth, which Fianna Fail had never participated in. And it engaged in a campaign of intensive anti-Partition propaganda without having a clue about how anti-Partititonism might be put into effect.
The 1956 IRA Campaign was the outcome of that propaganda.
The 1956 Campaign had the form of a military invasion. The main invading force drove through unopposed to North Antrim and stopped there. It was a responsible act, in that it did not attempt to incite the Catholic community to rebellion, but by the same token it was pointless. (On the Border to the West there was some conflict and Sean South was killed.)
The Fianna Fail Government took militant Republicanism in hand in the south and pacified it. Charles Haughey was the Minister who dealt with it.
Fourteen years later Haughey was prosecuted by Jack Lynch on a charge of gun-running for the IRA. The form of the charge was not explicit but that was generally understood to be the substance of it. The prosecution failed to present any evidence on which an honest jury could convict. But Lynch, supported by Fine Gael, treated the Not Guilty verdict as perverse. Haughey was a gun-runner for the IRA—that continues to be repeated as a historical fact by Professor Roy Foster, who now seems to be acting under the direct sponsorship of the Department of External Affairs.
But what was the IRA at the moment when the charges were laid? In the early Summer of 1970 there was a residue of the 'Official IRA', which had disarmed and become constitutional. It pretended to exist still. As part of that pretence it offered some provocation to the Loyalists in Belfast in August 1969 (in the context of the Siege of Derry), but it was nowhere to be seen when the trouble came.
The Provisional IRA was waiting to be born. It was a possibility resulting from the mass expulsions from the Official IRA in its passive adaptation to the Treaty. It was gestating through the Winter and Spring of 1969-70. But its birth was a consequence of the Arms Trials, not a cause. The prosecution of Haughey and the Kellys precipitated the formation of the Provisional IRA, as a specific product of the Northern Ireland situation.
The Fianna Fail Government had rounded up the IRA after its 1956 escapade. There was no dissent from those who fourteen years later were charged—or not charged—with IRA activities. In fact, Charles Haughey was the Minister responsible for that Government measure. (It should be added that there were also Ministers who Lynch did not dare send for trial.)
So what were Haughey, Blaney and Boland up to?
They knew that Northern Ireland was a dysfunctional part of the British state. Haughey said so explicitly. And only a simpleton could have regarded it as functional. It was so constructed that it could not settle down into a constitutional routine.
The 1937 Constitution asserted a right of sovereignty over it, but it let the implementation of this right wait on opportunity.
The right could not be implemented by invasion. Collins somehow had got the notion that it could. He acted in May 1920 as if he thought Northern Ireland was a free-standing body, a little state in itself. Possibly he had been given that idea from his friend Birkenhead, to encourage him to by-pass the Dail Government and sign the 'Treaty'. But, when he made war on Northern Ireland, he found that it was just a piece of the British state, and that the Northern Ireland apparatus was only a decoy, backed by the British Army.
But that Northern Ireland apparatus, which was entirely of Whitehall's devising, made it an unstable political region. It was unstable because it had no politics—it had only the local governing of the Catholic community by the Protestant community. It was essentially no more than a communal policing of Catholics by Protestants. And this was bound to lead to mass Catholic discontent that would sooner or later lead to a kind of rebellion.
The rebellion came in August 1969, when a catholic demand for a couple of minor reforms were met by Loyalist assaults on the Bogside and West Belfast.
It is impossible to measure the weight of the different influences in the causing of the subsequent Catholic insurrection of August 1969, but the sovereignty claim of the South, as expressed by Taoiseach Lynch's inflammatory speech, had something to do with it.
The Northern Catholic community had been given reason by Dublin to look to Dublin for support. And Dublin gave them support in the first instance—though it failed to put a force into Derry to protect the Bogside when the besieged community begged it to do so in August 1969: a fateful omission which forced Catholics to look to their own military development.
Dublin established a relationship with the Defence Committees that sprang into being in the North. John Kelly became the more or less official liaison between the Defence Committees and the Dublin Government.
And then, suddenly, out of the blue, he was charged with something like treason by the Taoiseach, and Haughey along with him, and Captain James Kelly who had been acting under the authority of his Colonel, who had been acting under the authority of his Minister, in all that he did.
All were found Not Guilty on the basis of the evidence. Any other verdict would have been perverse But the State (the Government plus fine Gael plus Labour) put it about that the jury had been got at and that the guilty men had got away with it.
That was how the Republic severed its relations with the Northern Defence Committees. It was done in the most provocative way possible. Northern Defence was deprived of its Southern hinterland and was obliged to take its own course. And that was how the Provisional IRA was born.
The Arms Trial cut the Northern nationalist community adrift from the Republic. But the Republic still maintained its sovereignty claim over the Six Counties, denying the legitimacy of Britain's Northern Ireland regime. And it denounced the War declared by the Provisional IRA in terms which suggested that it still considered itself the legitimate authority on war and peace in the North. It neither revoked the sovereignty claim nor did anything to enforce it. It held to the status quo of 1937-68, even though that status quo was in ruins.
John A. Murphy, then a lecturer now a Professor at Cork University, praised Jack Lynch a few years later for saving people like himself from themselves. The shock of the Arms Trials alienated Northern Catholics from the South, brought them to their senses and saved the state. That is, it brought the Murphy cohort to a sense of what they really were—small-time Republican poseurs, in secure jobs, living the life of the spirit in fantasy terms.
The fact that Lynch could bring no evidence to support the charges laid against Haughey etc. was a thing of no consequence to them. He saved them from their idle fantasies and offered them an evil genius as a scapegoat—Haughey.
In 1970 we suggested that the Unionist community should be treated as a distinct nationality and negotiated with on that basis, the the sovereignty claim should be deleted from the Constitution as it was clear that the State had no intention of acting on it, and that the British regime in the Six Counties should be treated as a provocative perversion of democracy since it was excluded from the political system by which the British state was governed. Professor Murphy had nothing to say on these issues then. Silence was golden. Forty years later he thought it safe to say that, yes, there did seem to be two nations in the North.
The watershed moment in the South was the week following the Bloody Sunday massacre. Under the immediate emotional impact of the event, semi-official plans were made for a mass convergence of the nation on Newry the following weekend. If those plans had been followed through with a will, the British Government would possibly have been stimulated to do something on the lines of what it did 26 years later. But the Southern Establishment spent the second half of the week calling off what it had started in the first half.
Our view of Bloody Sunday at the time was that it was an administrative massacre to test the will of the Nationalist community. It was expected that they would return to quiescence after a hiding. That kind of thing had often been done in the Empire, which had only just been wound up. And the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, was the last with direct Empire experience. The occasion for the massacre seemed to be a shot fired by the Official IRA, which was a rogue element in the situation and had not yet been disciplined out of its world of fantasy revolution by the Provisionals.
The War then ran its course for the next quarter century without ever being recognised as a war by Dublin, though it was known to be so by the British Army. In the South Jack Lynch won a great election victory by abolishing rates and undermining Local Government and the economy.
Haughey kept the state functional by not entering a defence of carrying out Government policy at his trial. (It appeared that Blaney and Boland were not tried because they would have entered that defence. Instead their promising careers as Ministers were ended.) He built up a strong base in the Fianna Fail membership, ousted Lynch, and, without ever gaining a clear party majority, revolutionised the economy, convinced the EU that Ireland was not a British attachment, and quietly took part in the moves that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
The brief Haughey periods of Government were an exercise of virtuoso statesmanship, achieved against the hostility of Party elders. Reynolds made a brave attempt to continue it, but then the Lynchite blinkers were put on again.
There is now much talk of the British party-system breaking down. That remains to be seen. But the Free State party system—pardon the Northern usage!—actually has broken down. Fianna Fail under Ahern and Martin has remade itself as a Free State party. It has rejected its anti-Treaty origins, which were the source of its vigour for three generations. It has repudiated the hegemonic status which it exercised as the anti-Treaty party, and has become Tweedledee to Fine Gael's Tweedledum. And it seems to have down this as a matter of bizarre principle under the Smart Alecry of Cork City Republicanism.
Fianna Fail was the national party of the Irish state, as the Tory Party was of the English state. Fine Gael was the alternative Party. This was a structural fact. Fine Gael won the 'Civil War; but did not know what to do with its victory because it had not fought for an ideal. It had no separate ideal from the half of Sinn Fein that opposed the 'Treaty'. It only fought the anti-Treatyites to ward off a British re-conquest. In the course of doing so it lost the run of itself and went to self-destructive extremes.
It does not have the resources—the historical background—to be the hegemonic national party. It has been thrust into that position by the self-castration of Fianna Fail.
After the IRA made the Good Friday settlement, it told the South that it would be OK to repeal the sovereignty claim. The claim was repealed. The Six Counties became a region of a foreign state in Irish constitutional terms.
While the claim stood, and a war to give effect to it was being fought in the North, the Southern state disowned the war and no Taoiseach ever went North to tell Nationalists what to do in the predicament in which they found themselves.
But, now that the North is part of a foreign country on which the South makes no claim, a Taoiseach goes to West Belfast and offers to dissolve the state which he was elected to govern, and to make a new state on British lines.
It appears that he is willing to drop the Gaelic heritage—language and culture—to make Unionists feel at home in the New Ireland. The offer is that Ireland will be a 'Little Britain' with no national language and no distinctive culture.
'Slightly constitutional' is the word for it.
Varadkar forgets that his new Ireland would have to be accepted in a referendum in the South, as well as the North. And whether that would happen is debatable, to say the least. De Valera always understood that he had a choice to make between Britishising Ireland to attract Unionism, or undoing the British legacy in line with Irish national traditions. He quietly chose to do the latter, putting unity on the long finger. In this unspoken policy he was faithful to Irish tradition.
However, it is most unlikely that Unionism will drop its traditions and destiny any time soon. Varadkar's appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears.
And this on what seems to be the eve of Brexit, when Nationalist Ireland should be discovering—or re-discovering—what it is to be European!
The offer to dismantle the state and remake it to Unionist, or British specifications, made without protest from the political elite, is proof that the State, in its official aspect, has lost all conviction in itself. And what power of attraction can there be in a state that has been overcome by doubt about itself.
Loss of conviction by the Irish State in its own values has led to its being taken in tow by Cosmopolitan/Californian values, thereby increasing the differences between itself and Ulster Unionist society.
Unionist Ulster has remained itself while nationalist Ireland has flitted from one side of it to the other. Will Varadkar now undertake to repeal homosexual marriage law and end abortion on demand in his new British Ireland?
It was never the case that the Ulster Protestants were deterred from joining the South by what they saw as its excessive Catholicism. Religion was a debating point. They would not join the Irish state because they were British by historical origin and by current orientation, and so they remain unimpressed by the collapse of Catholicism in the public life of the Irish state and the emergence of Californianism in its place.
They have themselves no need of Californianism, and it does not increase the status of nationalist Ireland in its eyes that it does have a need of it.
Would Varadkar undertake to restore marriage as a social institution designed for the production and rearing of children in order to facilitate political unification? Or is homosexual marriage, a novelty invented the day before yesterday, now a universal Human Right in his eyes, which must be imposed at all costs?
The unmaking and remaking of states is not a serious political business. The proper business of politics is the governing of states.
Sinn Fein engaged in the proper business of politics when it supported war on the perverse mode of government imposed by Britain on the Six County region. Partition was not what caused the war to be fought, although ending it was the aim of the war in the first instance. It was the Northern Ireland system that provoked the war, and that enabled it to be fought for 28 years. The Adams/McGuinness initiative changed the aim of the war, brought it into line with its cause, and enabled it to be brought to a successful end by establishing an authentic apartheid system for the two national bodies in the Six Counties.
The Good Friday Agreement consolidated Partition by acknowledging national divisions and giving both sides a veto. The new structures worked because 'reconciliation' was not their purpose. Reconciliation belongs to domestic life.
The new structures worked when Sinn Fein displaced the SDLP and established a working relationship with Ian Paisley.
Things began to go awry when Martin McGuinness died, and Sinn Fein became a major Dail Party and acquired a Southern leadership that was increasingly detached from the Party's origins in the Northern War.
Sinn Fein, under the leadership of Mary Lou Macdonald, became a creature of cosmopolitan fashion. There was an opening for Sinn Fein to fill the political space being vacated by Fianna Fail, but it went in the opposite direction.
Mary Lou said the War of Independence had not been worth fighting—look at the claustrophobic, theocratic, misogynist, priest-ridden, homophobic abomination that it led to! She would not tolerate the idea of future unification as the extension of the existing Irish state.
Varadkar does no more than repeat her. It is the vision of aliens.
And yet there is an opportunity for movement of a very different kind.
The Republic, outside its Smart-Alec political elite, is bustling with entrepreneurship under the stimulus given to it by the disgraced Haughey. Harland and Wolff, the pride of Unionist Ulster, has been bankrupted by political and commercial bungling.
Boris Johnson, the friend of Ulster Unionism, refuses to nationalise it.
The enterprise is now a shadow of its former self, however it helps to maintain an engineering tradition in the North. Its Trade Unions demand nationalisation to create a breathing space to re-launch the enterprise. Apparently it has been in administration for nearly a year and, during that period, it was unable to accept new orders. Potential bidders were put off by the fact that there were negotiations with a purchaser. However the proposed new owners pulled out at the eleventh hour. And now there are no orders in hand, to provide continuity while new owners are sought.
The Unions are right in saying that there is a sound economic case for nationalisation. (Whether the enterprise should be privatised again after restored profitability, is a moot point! It will be recalled that a Labour Government went down this route: nationalised the Yard and many years later it was sold again by Margaret Thatcher.)
The Tory 'friends' of Ulster Unionism have the refused nationalisation route. Bizarrely, they cite EU State Aid rules in justification!
If the Irish Government is seeking a way to win Unionist hearts and minds, here is one staring them in the face: Buy Harland & Wolff and establish a semi-state company to run it. There can be little doubt that the EU would see the sense in such a project, which is far more to the point in Northern Ireland's future than any 'Backstop', and commit financial support to it.
If the Irish Government wants an avenue into the heart of Ulster Unionism, saving Harland and Wolff provides it!
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Page 5, Column 1, Line 3:
the word bankruptcy should read anarchy:
A thoroughgoing democracy would always seem to exist on the verge of anarchy, as the British does now.