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|From: Irish Political Review: Articles|
|Date: February, 2020|
Folk Memory Vs. ‘History’ ?
|Folk Memory Vs. ‘History’ ?
The recent resurgence of Republican sentiment, sparked off by the Government’s proposal to honour the Royal Irish Constabulary, disrupted a revisionist process which had been gaining strength for about fifty years. It began when Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fail reneged on its Northern obligations under the 1937 Constitution when faced with war in the North. Fine Gael’s proposal, on the eve of an Election, to honour the contribution made to Irish freedom by the British paramilitary police force in Ireland, has brought it to a halt for the time being.
Fianna Fail freed itself from its anti-Treaty heritage a generation ago. It came across to the view that the legitimate Irish State was a British creation—a creation of the Treaty. The change was not enacted at an Ard Fheis but was announced in letters to the papers by Martin Mansergh. And there is no doubt that the RIC did contribute to the creation of the Treaty State—the Free State against which the founders of Fianna Fail conducted a military resistance. But the present Lord Mayor of Cork, though a staunch Fianna Failer, found that he could not take part in the celebration of the police force that murdered his predecessor in the Office, Thomas MacCurtain.
So Progress, all of a sudden, has been crashed into reverse gear. And out of the blue comes the prospect of Micheál Martin, a pioneering revisionist, becoming Taoiseach on a wave of Republican resurgence. Will he eat his words? Or will he have the mastery over memory that will enable him to forget that he was ever Eoghan Harris’s parrot?
Diarmaid Ferriter, a UCD History Professor, who has risen to the eminence of being an Irish Times commentator, is cheesed off because the RIC Commemoration (which he along with Martin Mansergh advised the Government to undertake) has been abandoned in response to the outburst of populist feeling. He refers to this as “the RIC debacle”. It happened because people were “naively ignoring the complications of commemorating the War of Independence” (see Commemorations Need Political Leadership, IT 18.1.20).
The War of Independence is complicated only if one ignores the fact that it followed an Election in which the British State was deprived of even a vicarious representative connection with three-quarters of Ireland, and ignores the fact that 1919 was the first year of the League of Nations, which supposedly inaugurated a new epoch in world history based on the principle of national self-determination, and ignores the fact that Britain recruited 2000,000 Irishmen for its 1914 War by the use of that slogan.
He quotes British Ulster academic, Edna Longley, in a statement of the obvious: “Commemorations are as selective as sympathies. They honour our dead, not your dead”.
Peoples, in their capacity as States, do not honour the enemy dead whose purpose was to beat them down—not in the Anglosphere in recent centuries, anyway.
In a bygone era wars were fought over conflicts of interest between States and were settled by negotiation in the light of what emerged in the trial of strength. Whole peoples were not worked up into a war frenzy. The enemy was not depicted as a demon, without honour. Peace therefore did not require the utter destruction and defamation of the enemy.
But those were bad wars in the British view. The only good wars were wars of Good against Evil, in which it was out of the question that the enemy should be negotiated with.
The notion of an honourable enemy was discarded as a romantic delusion of mediaevalism, and the distinction between the Citizen and the Army was done away with.
This was first done in the war against the Boer Republics, in which the British Army swept up whole swathes of the enemy populace into Concentration Camps, and it culminated, for the time being, in the nuclear bombing of two inoffensive Japanese cities.
Edna Longley is an expert on the poems of Edward Thomas. Thomas, in his Great War poem, began like this—
This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge. I hate not Germans, nor grow hot
With love of Englishmen, to please the newspapers.
I am one in crying, God save England, lest
We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed,
The ages made her that made us from dust.
She is all we know and live by, and we trust
She is good and must endure, loving her so:
And as we love ourselves we hate her foe.
But Thomas knew very well—he was a biographer of Marlborough—that England was only at stake because it had launched a balance-of-power war on Germany which Germany could only survive by defeating Britain. It did not occur to Longley to explain this: or to explain that, while the English were never slaves, they became what they were in 1914 through having been slave-owners and –traders on a vast scale.
The only real complication for the Irish side in the War of Independence was the way it ended. The British Government—democratically elected by the British people—did not negotiate with the Sinn Fein party which had swept aside its Empire Party (the Home Rule Party) in Ireland and established a representative Irish Government. It would negotiate only with “plenipotentiaries”.
On whose behalf did the half-dozen Sinn Fein delegates have full power? Not on behalf of the Dail Government. Britain did not recognise the Dail. In the British view the delegates were free-ranging plenipotentiaries. They were an independent body by means of which Whitehall sought to set up a new way of governing Ireland.
But, from the Irish point of view, they were representative of the elected Dail Government, acting under its instructions. At a certain point Michael Collins decided to act as a plenipotentiary, against the instructions of his Government, and he did so without informing his Government that he now considered himself a free agent.
When, in September 1922, the Dail met for the first time after the June Election, there was a thorny problem to be got over before any business could be discussed: Was it a continuation of the Dails elected in 1918 and 1921, or was it something else entirely?
Lawrence Ginnell asked this question. When he didn’t get an answer, he asked again. Again his didn’t get an answer. He said he would continue asking the question until he got an answer, because how could the Dail deal competently with anything else if it couldn’t give a clear answer to the simple question: What was it? Was it a new session of the 1921 Dail, or was it the representative assembly of some other Constitutional body that somehow replaced the State system established by the First Dail in 1919?
Ginnell was forcibly ejected, and the Dail carried on as if it knew what it was. Subsequent events, however, demonstrated that it did not know what it was. It just was. It was beyond its own power of comprehension. It was a kind of accident—an unlucky accident. It kept going by means of military power and political makeshifts, but, lacking a sense of coherent purpose, it was predestined to wither.
When it met in September 1922, after the June Election, there was in existence a Provisional Government. Where had it come from?
That Provisional Government was engaged in a ‘Civil War’ with half of the Dail that was elected in 1921. That War was launched by the Provisional Government in late June 1922, after the Election of mid-June 1922, but before the TDs elected in June were assembled into a Dail. The September Dail, whatever it was, had not authorised the War, and did not seem to know quite what the Provisional Government was that had launched it.
An the June 1922 Election itself, what was it?
If the Treaty had been a Treaty between the Dail Government and the Whitehall Government, and if the 1922 Election had been fought between a Treaty Party and an Anti-Treaty Party, there would be some grounds for arguing that the Election gave de facto authority to the Treaty Party to make war on the Anti-Treaty Party. But it was not a Treaty, and the Election was not contested by Treatyites against anti-Treatyites.
Collins, in a little act of rebellion against Whitehall, made an Election Pact with the anti-Treatyites that was designed to reproduce the Dail membership of the 1921 Election, and to share Government seats between Treatyites and anti-Treatyites.
If that agreement had been carried through, it seems highly unlikely that there would have been a ‘Civil War’—but that Whitehall would have been displeased. It was vital to it that the Irish should be put fighting the Irish.
Collins was instructed to end the Pact. He half did it, “obliquely and by inference” at the eleventh hour before the election, so that it could not be said either that the Pact was broken or that it held. And, before the elected representatives met as a Dail, the Provisional Government made war on the anti-Treatyites. (The Election returned 94 Pact candidates, out of 128: 58 Treatyites and 36 Republicans. It elected a National Coalition Government.)
The Election was held on June 16th. Twelve days later Collins launched the war against the Republicans in order to ward off renewed British military action, and that act of war determined what the Dail would be when it finally met in September.
Again and again, since December 1921, he had acted under duress—duress which it sometimes seemed that he imposed on himself as a tactic. But, unfortunately, he needed to present himself as acting freely, rather than under British threats. This was a profound strategic mistake in the important sphere of things that has many names: politics, psychology, propaganda.
By the time the Dail met, Treatyism had hardened itself by war, and Collins was dead. He had got himself killed in a wild escapade into the territory of the Irish enemy he had made in preference to taking the risk of disobeying Whitehall instructions. It was his home territory and he could not recognise the fact that he had made it enemy territory. It seemed that he still lived in the era of IRB conspiracy and did not realise how autonomously political County Cork had become.
His small convoy was caught in a fortuitous ambush, in which he responded with schoolboyish heroics rather than as Commander in Chief. And he was the only one who was killed in the ambush.
His Government was then left to its own devices. It had become increasingly restive under his apparently capricious behaviour—for example making war on Britain in the Six Counties a few months after making what he called a Treaty with it.
He failed to communicate to the Government he formed what his purpose was if it was not the establishment of a Government under the Crown, within the Empire, freed from the influence of the IRA. There seems to be little doubt that that outcome was not his purpose. But, if it was something else, then its realisation depended on a cult of his personality. There was no routine sense to his conduct. But the Government he left behind him was only capable of a routine of terror for the Oath and the Empire.
Its inheritance from him was the Treaty War. His successor, W.T. Cosgrave, said the Treaty would be forced down the throat of the country, even if it took 50,000 lives to do it.
Celebrating the contribution of the RIC was a trial run to see how much the country would swallow. If it swallowed that, it would swallow anything.
Ronan McGreevy, the most besotted Anglophile in the Irish Times, tells us (January 14) that the Lord Mayor of Cork Tomás Mac Curtain “was shot dead by a group of RIC officers, led by District Inspector Swanzy, who was later assassinated by the IRA”.
President Trump’s spokesman has recently clarified the meaning of “assassinate”. To assassinate means to murder, and murder is a criminal act. Commander Soleimani was not assassinated. He was blown to pieces within the law, the relevant law being the will of the United States.
So the Lord Mayor of Cork was just shot dead, but his killer was murdered!
Ruth Dudley Edwards, a kindred spirit of McGreevy’s, has explained that RIC killings were lawful because the RIC was an agency of the State. IRA killings were murders because the IRA was not acting for the State.
The Election which established the authority in Ireland for which the IRA acted apparently escaped Edward’s notice. That is understandable. It was barely noticed on its centenary.
McGreevy, however, knows that there was an election and that Sinn Fein won it, but he does not mention that a Government was formed on the basis of the Election result. The authority which turns a murder into a mere ‘killing; therefore remained with the British Government, which had lost all semblance of political connection with nationalist Ireland?
And McGreevy takes up the argument of Professor Philips of Trinity almost a century ago that Sinn Fein somehow contrived to win “70 per cent of the seats with 47 per cent of the vote”. But he concedes that Sinn Fein “would have achieved more than 50 per cent of the vote had it contested every seat”.
He does not explain why it did not contest every seat. It could not “contest” a seat in constituencies when no candidates stood against it. More than 20 constituencies were of that kind in 1918: constituencies which were heart and soul Sinn Fein in spirit.
McGreevy suggests that much of the damage to the British interest was done by the British system itself:
“Alarmed by how the British electoral system magnified majoritarian rule in Ireland, the British introduced proportional representative to give Protestants and unionists in the South and nationalists in the North a voice in elected assemblies.” (He does not mention that an early official act of Unionist government in the North was to abolish PR!)
He concludes by reflecting that “the chronic unfairness of the British electoral system” no longer exists in Ireland, thanks to British benevolence in imposing a better system on us in 1920, while retaining a bad system for themselves. So “Whatever the outcome, the electoral system first introduced 100 years ago this month will ensure that the result is a fair one”.
The British concern, of course, is to provide effective government for itself, while disabling others with a system that encourages fragmentation and incoherence.
The influence of “Unionists in the South” is exerted by other means than elections, where they are a negligible quantity. The voice of the Catholic minority in the North was going to be heard in any assembly, however elected, but it was arranged that it should be a futile voice in the only Assembly that mattered, the Westminster Parliament, from whose real and effective party-political life it was altogether excluded. The Parties that governed the state withdrew from the Six Counties when they were dressed up as ‘Northern Ireland’. And a voice outside the party system of the state is a voice in the wilderness in Britain.
Folk Memory Vs. ‘History’ ? Editorial
The 1918 And Other Elections. Donal Kennedy
Excising Joe Clarke And Dennis Dennehy From RTÉ Footage. Manus O’Riordan (First Dáil Commemoration 'On This Day' In 1969)
Readers' Letters: OoLISSays. Niall Cusack
LEST WE FORGET (15). Extracts from Irish Bulletin. This issue lists
British Acts Of Aggression, 17th- 31st January 1920 (ed. Jack Lane)
The O'Connor Column (Myths of pre-boom Irish employment; Fine Gael abandons the “Tans”!)
Media Report. The 'Paper Of Record' Distaste For Some RIC Facts
(Unpublished letters from Manus O'Riordan and Jack Lane)
The RIC Commemoration. What our 'Shorts' Column said in November 2012!
Casement: The Bigger Mystery (Paul Hyde)
Es Ahora. Julianne Herlihy (Claire Wills And The Story She Tells, Part 16)
Irish By-Elections Results
Roy Johnston, Some Stray Thoughts. Brendan Clifford (Obituary)
Readers' Letters: . ' The Philadelphia Experience '. Jeff Dudgeon.
Casement: Reply to Tim O'Sullivan. Jack Lane
Finding Bobby In The RIC. Wilson John Haire
Biteback: State commemoration of the RIC, Dr. Brian P. Murphy. Breasal Ó Caollaí.
We shouldn't honour the RIC 'murderers'. Tom Cooper
Does It Stack Up? Michael Stack (The Banks in Ireland)
Labour Comment: James Connolly: Parliamentary Democracy
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