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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: August, 2011
By: Editorial

Summer Manoeuvres: Presidency

The function of the Presidency in the state is to represent the past in the life of society.  It is an institution without either legislative or executive powers.  Creating the future is the business of the Dáil.  But the future is a modification of the past—except when some catastrophic general upheaval brings about a kind of Year Zero in which the past has no relevance.  And the Dáil at present seems to be adrift in the present with little sense of the past, and therefore little sense of a viable future line of development.  A Presidency which made a point of representing the past would therefore play a particularly useful part as ballast that would keep the public mind on an even keel.

The big event in the life of the next Presidency will be the centenary of the 1916 Insurrection.  A Fine Gael Minister has expressed the hope that it will not be a militaristic commemoration.  The state has in recent years been wallowing in the celebration of British militarism.  The British war of destruction on Germany and Turkey has been presented as Our War.  But the war that was actually our war must not be celebrated because it was a war against Britain.  And yet it is only by entering the realms of fantasy that one can think that an independent Irish state would have come into being and been acknowledged by Britain if it had not been established by the use of force that Britain was unable to crush.  Britain was not going to give up anything to mere votes.

Presidential nominations are not closed as we go to print.  Of the possible candidates, three stand out as being distinctive in some way:  David Norris, Michael D. Higgins and Robert Ballagh.  Two are Protestants, one is homosexual, and all three are strongly interested in the Arts.  Norris is a colonial Protestant of the Ascendancy kind and Ballagh is what used to be called a Dissenter in Ascendancy times.  While well-meaning, Higgins is inclined towards globalist ideology—for example he described as genocide the Myanmar/Burmese refusal to give the United States the free run of the country to deal with the consequences of the typhoon a couple of years ago.  But he has one substantial national achievement to his name—the creation of TG Ceathair.  That is a big plus in his favour.

Ballagh seems to be the one who could, without embarrassment, represent the past of the state amidst the flux of the present.

Norris, to judge by things he has said over the years, sees the formation of the state as a great mistake.  That is more relevant to the election than his remarks about the prevalence of pederasty amongst the founders of democracy in ancient Greece.  It would certainty be useful if he got a nomination, provided that he stood as a candidate of the Reform Society publicly advocating a return to what remains of the Empire, openly supported by the British Ambassador—who appears to be operating quite openly in Irish politics now.

Norris has been going around the country meeting the people for the first time ever.  He has had to wait on culchies out there amidst the bogs.  It would be interesting to know if, on his first venture out of the West British enclave in Dublin, he has got to like the people, or whether they have made him feel an alien more than ever.

Gay Mitchell managed to get the Fine Gael nomination for the Presidency after fighting off a strong challenge from Pat Cox—who was admitted to the party to pursue his declared aim of winning its backing for his candidature.  Bizarrely—in view of what he did to wreck the Commission—Cox is regarded as an expert on Europe.  Getting the Fine Gael nomination is of consequence, because the party hopes to win the Presidency for the first time ever.

It is a measure of the demoralisation of Fianna Fail that it is not fielding a candidate.  The Party has chosen the winning Presidential candidate ever since the Office was established.  Éamon Ó Cuív has been mentioned as a contender even though he has not put himself forward.  It would have been surprising if he had done so, given that he is the Party's best chance of re-connecting with its roots, should he become leader.  Though not standing, the Irish Times treated him as a contender in a poll it conducted and found that he had least support amongst the long list of candidates.  Surely the explanation for that is that he was not standing, rather than a lack of popularity?  The Fianna Fail leadership election a few months ago showed that Ó Cuív has solid support all around the country.

That Irish Times poll showed David Norris to be the front runner, though not having achieved the required nominations despite the strong support of the Sir Anthony O'Reilly press.  The talk then was that it would be a blow to democracy if Norris failed to win sufficient nominations to get onto the ballot paper.  

Norris, while being a Zionist, was an advocate of Palestinian rights and critical of 'settler' encroachments on the West Bank.  He was the sort of candidate who could expect to get Second Preferences from many quarters—more so than Gay Mitchell, an old-style Fine Gael politician with no particular broad appeal.  It was at this point that Israel intervened, making public an indiscreet letter Norris had written to the Israeli Supreme Court.  This character reference was on behalf of his former partner, an Israeli Jewish dissident who had a relationship with an under-age Palestinian boy aged 15.  (It might be said that an Arab who has had to cope with the State of Israel is certain to be much more mature than a Western child of that age.  The age of consent in Israel is 16.  'Statutory' in that context usually means consensual.  Nevertheless, statutory rape did take place.)  With this revelation, Norris's support fell away, even though he had not made a secret of his views on these matters.

The elimination of Norris as a serious contender for the nomination has done a favour to Fine Gael.  Israel has an obvious interest in helping Fine Gael, especially as there is an active Zionist group in the Coalition—the first ever in an Irish Government.

Public discussion of Norris's indiscretion has brought forward the suggestion that public representatives should be required to register their interventions in the affairs of other States.  Surely it would be as much, or more, to the point for the reverse to take place?  The Wikileaks revelations have confirmed that, not only senior Irish politicians and Ministers were reporting to, and receiving advice from, the American Ambassador, but also top civil servants (see Labour Comment, back page).  Archive research has revealed that the British Ambassador is also the long-term confidante and adviser of the Irish Establishment.  If there is to be a register of official foreign contacts, it would be to the point to have such encounters in the public domain.

 Meanwhile, the system that DeV put in place—which required candidates for the Presidency to achieve solid support in society in order to obtain a nomination—has proved its worth.  The President is elected directly by popular vote, by proportional representation, but candidates are nominated by members of the Oireachtas and local Councils.  


Regarding the centenary, it is of some importance to know what 1916 was.  It was an act of war, undertaken by a Government against a foreign enemy.  That is, it was an act of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  The IRB was the Government of the Republic.  Of course it was the self-proclaimed Government of the self-proclaimed Republic.  What else could it have been?  Britain ruled Ireland by right of conquest and made it clear that it did not regard Ireland as having any democratic right to secede from the conquest.  It policed Ireland intensively, nipping independent developments in the bud, making the Independence movement of necessity a conspiracy whose first piece of practical business was military.

The Rising was an act of a Government, and its leaders held positions in that Government—which is more than can be said for the desultory rebellion in Libya which has just been recognised as the legitimate democratic Government by France, the USA and Britain.  And the IRB fought a week-long battle in Dublin while the new 'legitimate democratic' Government of Libya has yet to set foot in Tripoli.

Open democratic development in Ireland was made possible as a direct consequence of the 1916 Insurrection and an indirect consequence of 'Our War' on Germany and Turkey.  Britain did not find it easy to get back into the routine of wholesale oppression in Ireland after winning its Great War under the slogan of "democracy and the rights of small nations" and with many of its Irish recruits coming back from the trenches and taking seriously the slogan that had recruited them.  In 1918 an elected Government replaced the conspiratorial Government.  But Britain was no more respectful of the democracy than of the conspiracy, so there had to be another war.  It is curious therefore that a Minister of the state which would not exist without these military events should object to a military dimension to the commemoration.  And that it should be a Fine Gael Minister.

Undemocratic Militarism

In 1921-2 Britain, having failed to whittle away the Republic by low-intensity police and military operations, threatened to launch a thorough war of conquest of the kind it had carried through against the Boer Republics twenty years earlier, unless the Republic was set aside and a Government under the Crown put in its place.

A group led by Michael Collins agreed to set up a new Government under British authority and to ward off the re-conquest and preserve a base from which to fight another day.  This divided the body politic.  Collins began to form a new Army, supplied by Britain.  He tried to maintain a modus vivendi with the Old IRA that had fought Britain for the Republic in 1919-21, and he used it for subversive military operations in Northern Ireland—which is to say, for making war on Britain in the North, because Northern Ireland was never anything but a segment of the British state.  But Britain's object was to break up the Republican movement that had defied it for three years.  Collins found himself increasingly beholden to Whitehall, and increasingly ordered about by it.  In July 1922, while he was actively collaborating with the Old IRA in the North, he was suddenly ordered to make war on it on the flimsiest of excuses, or else Britain would begin the reconquest.  That is what we call the Civil War.

The Free State was established in this war.  Its establishment was a militaristic event.

The Republic declared in January 1919 was based on a democratic election mandate.  The Free State was founded on military action.

An election had been held a month before the Free State was founded in war.  It is sometimes suggested that this election authorised the war that founded the Free State.  But whatever it was that was elected in June 1922 had not met when the war was launched in July.  If that Dáil had been allowed to meet before the event, it would not have authorised making war on the republicans.  The Government which waged that war was not the Government that won the election:  it could not have been, as the Dáil did not meet to vote it into Office.  It was the 'Government of Southern Ireland', an institution operating under British authority, which started the war.

Elections in a system of representative government are not self-interpreting events.

Britain had interfered directly in the election campaign.  Collins and De Valera agreed a programme to put to the electorate.  That did not suit the British purpose in imposing the Treaty.  So Collins was ordered summarily to Whitehall and the Election Pact was vetoed.  He returned on the eve of the election and ended the Pact—sort of—so that what was to be voted on was far from clear.  And then, before the elected representatives could meet, he was given the ultimatum to make war on the Republicans—or else.


The Free State won the war with British arms.  De Valera delivered his resounding address to the defeated Republicans—the Legion of the Rearguard—and Republican resurgence began.  The Free State Party, calling itself Cumann na nGaedheal, rapidly lost its bearings—possibly because of the loss of Collins in an absurd escapade—but possibly not.  Collins showed himself increasingly bewildered by the turn of events.

As the Republican (Anti-Treaty) sentiment of the country asserted itself ever more strongly during the 1920s, the Free State stuck ever more stubbornly by the Treaty, for which it had been manipulated into fighting a war in which it had done some dreadful things.  Its loss of popular support at the outset made it dependent on the authoritative support of the Catholic Hierarchy, leading to the abnormal relationship of Church and State.  (Abnormal, that is, for a Catholic country—the separation of Church and State having been one of the great innovations of Roman Catholic Europe.  In Protestantism Church and State were one.)  

Then the survivals of Redmondism gravitated towards the Treatyite Government and it was in no position to drive them away.  And of course the Unionists joined in, since the Treaty State was intended to be a British state.

Cumann na nGaedheal governed in strictly Treatyite spirit from 1922 to 1932.  In 1924 it suppressed the Republicans within its own ranks who regarded the Treatyite State as a "stepping-stone" to independence.  In 1925 it half-recognised Northern Ireland as whatever it was, tacitly acknowledging that the Boundary Commission, which had played a part in gaining support for the Treaty, had been a swindle.

The utter military defeat of the Anti-Treatyites in 1923 marked the beginning of an Anti-Treaty resurgence, which got stronger at every election.  The Government then used the Treaty Oath to keep Anti-Treatyites out of the Dáil, raising the possibility of the minority party governing with the majority party locked out.  That prospect was warded off when the Speaker admitted Fianna Fail Deputies without taking any Oath at all.  That was in 1927, when the two parties were equal.  

The Free State Party survived a Vote of Confidence with the help of the Irish Times Editor, who kept John Jinks, an Independent who supported Fianna Fail, away from the Dáil for the critical vote.  Cumann na nGaedheal then governed for the next four-and-a-half years with a stringent 'law-and-order' policy directed against the Communist Party and the IRA, which it declared were the reality behind Fianna Fail.

Fianna Fail won the 1932 Election and formed a Government with Labour support.  It called another Election in 1933 and won it outright.  Cumann na nGaedheal then merged with a small Redmondite party, supported by soft Unionists, to form a Fascist party called Fine Gael, to fight Communism and defend the Treaty.  It formed the Blueshirts as a fighting organisation to deal with the subversive Parliamentary system, as the Brownshirts were doing in Germany just then.  Then in 1936, when General Franco struck against the Spanish Republic (in what was a war rather than a coup), it formed the Irish Christian Front to rally active support for him.  

While these things were going on, Britain launched the Economic War against Irish trade when Fianna Fail stopped the transfer of the 1903 land purchase repayments to Whitehall.  The main export market for agricultural produce collapsed, and Ireland had as yet a weak industrial sector.  But Fianna Fail kept winning elections, and it resisted pressure from the influential Christian Front to recognise Franco's rebellion as the legitimate Spanish Government—recognising it only when it became the de facto Government in 1939.

The conflict over the Treaty arrangement, which dominated politics in the 1920s, became a conflict between Parliamentary democracy and Fascism in the 1930s.  The intelligentsia of the society was Fine Gael with a Redmondite tinge.  The Protestant/Unionist social residue was not a factor in electoral politics, but it was by far the wealthiest social segment, and it ensured that the Irish Times continued to be published, despite its minuscule readership, as a potential political influence biding its time.  It was not militantly Fascist as Fine Gael was, but it was supportive of Fascism.

Fianna Fail curbed Fascism in Ireland in the 1930s, and then the Fascist order in Europe was broken by the war of the British Empire on Germany, which in its initial phase was very much a war on Germany rather than on Fascism.

After the Fascist era ended, Fine Gael's origins as a Fascist movement became an embarrassment to it.  But, with the intelligentsia being predominantly Fine Gael, this was easily dealt with.  It was written out of history—just as the Official Republican war in the North a generation later was written out of history by the present allies of Fine Gael.  It was argued by the Politics Professor at University College Dublin that Fine Gael could not really have been Fascist because it did not succeed in establishing a Fascist regime, and the real Fascism was the camouflaged Fascism of Fianna Fail.  That is how we deal with our history.

Church And State

Fianna Fail sustained the Parliamentary system throughout the Fascist era and Fine Gael had to submit to it after 1945.  And in order to return to office Fine Gel had to do a deal with Clann na Poblachta.  That is one of the merits of the Parliamentary system—or one of its defects—it generates opportunist alliances which subvert principles.

The Treaty Party did two notable things on its return to Office in 1948:  it blew away the last tenuous connection with the Treaty by formally withdrawing from the British Commonwealth and Empire, which Fianna Fail had made a dead letter but left in place;  and it proclaimed the subordination of the State to the Catholic Church in medical matters.

The relationship of Church and State for two centuries—which will, presumably, continue to exist—was determined 200 years ago in the great Veto Controversy amongst Catholics.  Henry Grattan, in the Westminster Parliament, proposed a Catholic Emancipation Bill—a Bill to admit Catholics to the Legislature.  It included the proviso that the Government should exercise a right of veto on the selection of Bishops—a list of nominees should be submitted to it and it might strike out any it thought might exert undue political influence.  The Irish Hierarchy had agreed this with Grattan, and the Vatican saw it as just a normal arrangement between Church and State.  Indeed there were states where the Government chose who was to be Bishop.  But a great campaign against the Veto erupted in the Dublin middle class, set off by Walter Cox's influential Irish Magazine.  It raged for many years with the older clergy and the Jacobite laity supporting the Veto, and the new progressives of the middle class (led by O'Connell after initial hesitation) opposing vehemently.  The Anti-Vetoists won.  Twenty years after the dispute began Peel brought in an unconditional Emancipation Bill.  Catholics entered Parliament and the Church remained free of entanglements with the Government.

The Government also attempted to introduce State payment of the priests.  That too was defeated.

There were places where the Church, Protestant or Catholic, was an instrument of State authority.  Ireland was not one of them.  The oppressive Church, from which the Irish Times is now celebrating our liberation, never had a shred of State authority attached to it.  We had no Catholic Ecclesiastical Court, though we once had a Protestant one.

That oppressive Church had no State support.  Its only support was the people it oppressed.  And that oppression consists almost entirely of false memory imagined after the event.  It is not what was experienced.  It is what some people began to feel in retrospect that they should have experienced.  But if any substantial number of people had experienced the status of the Church as oppressive and rejected it that would have been an end of it, because its status depended entirely on them.  The only power of the Church was the power of the public opinion that supported it.

"Enda Kenny, with steely eloquence, has ended decades of government obeisance to Rome", says Irish Times columnist Miriam Lord.  And she asks:

"Was this really a Taoiseach saying this on the floor of Dáil Eireann?  In a country where taoiseach John A Costello once declared:  'I, as a Catholic, obey my church authorities and will continue to do so in spite of The Irish Times or anything else…'  When Noel Browne, having resigned from Costello's cabinet… after the rejection of his Mother and Child Scheme publicly said 'I, as a Catholic, accept unequivocally and unreservedly the views of the hierarchy on this matter'.  And the late Brendan Corish… once famously said 'I am, of course, a Catholic first, an Irishman second'…"  (30.7.11).

Could she find no statement from a Fianna Fail leader saying that kind of thing?

The power that Enda Kenny has condemned is not that of the microscopic foreign state in Rome which intervened unwarrantably in our affairs.  It is the inheritance of the founders and leaders of his own party:  John A. Costello, and William Cosgrave before him.

Cosgrave founded the post-Republic State with British arms and priests as Commissars.

The London Times comments:

"The Church has dominated Irish life since independence in 1922.  In a republic where 92.6% of the population identified itself as Catholic at Partition, the Church could make or break governments.  In a poor, rural and pious country it ran most schools, hospitals, orphanages and other social services.  No politician dared to challenge its authority.  The Church inspired fear more than love…"  (July 26).

Which Government did the Church make or break?  It certainly helped to make the Treatyite regime of the 1920s.  But then the party of the excommunicated took over, gave refuge to the unorthodox, and Miriam Lord cannot find a juicy Fianna Fail quotation to go along with Fine Gael and Labour.

In the early 1920s Cosgrave, making war on the Republican substance of the Independence movement, gave an array of public institutions over to the Church to run, and that could not easily be undone ten years later.

Judge Patwell, in Munster, was reported in the Corkman a couple of months ago as throwing out a case brought against a priest thirty years after the alleged event.  The plaintiff pleaded that the case could not have been brought earlier, because of the terrible power of the Church.  Without going into the question of whether the Church ever had such power, Patwell did not let the case go to trial because the Church certainly did not have much power at all for the last ten or fifteen years.  It was protested against this that the awesome power of the Church left a disabling psychological condition in the individual which long outlasted its actual influence, and that the individual was only released from its spell when the Church was in public disgrace and contempt was being heaped on it from all sides.

There are obligations on citizenship.  Citizenship cannot exist if those obligations are not met.  Individuals in a democracy cannot be compelled to act the part of citizens.  If they failed to do so in parts of the country, the adaptation of the law to the failure by making itself patriarchal, pastoral institution is certainly not the way to encourage people to live up to the obligations of citizenship.  That belongs to a different kind of civilisation.  And it seems to us that it is this failure that is at the heart of the abuse scandals.


Summer Manoeuvres.  Editorial
EU Issues.  Jack Lane
UN Membership For Palestine.  David Morrison
Readers' Letters:  Worse To Come?  Eamon Dyas;  
Gerard Murphy, "Ethnic Cleansing" And A "Disappeared" Jew.  
Manus O'Riordan
Stranger Than Fiction.  Conor Lynch
Gilmore Supports Palestine State.  Report
Poems.  Wilson John Haire.  The Madness Of Imperium; 
The Day The Dream Died 
Sinn Fein Still 'Owns' West Belfast.  Seán McGouran
Editorial Digest (Respecting Traditions;  The Twelfth;  Loyalists;  Missing Flag;
Orange Order;  Feud?'  Royal Black Preceptory;  Belfast Lord Mayor;  Moyle;
The Coward Kenny;  McGill Summer School;  Low-Paid Hit)
The Truce Of 1921.  Nick Folley (Report of Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc talk)
Shorts from the Long Fellow (Labour Court & JLCs;  Enda Kenny;  Protecting The
Bond Holders;  The War On Drugs;  Comparative Statistics)
Murdoch And Gallipoli.  Pat Walsh
Totalitarianism And Garret The Good.  Desmond Fennell
Es Ahora.  Julianne Herlihy (Child Abuse, State And Church;  Orwell And
Johann Hari)
Biteback:  The War And The Emergency, Philip O'Connor;  
Israel Unresolved, David Morrison;  
John-Paul And The Brits, Seán McGouran
Does It Stack Up?  Michael Stack (Cloyne Report And The Catholic Church; USUK;  Somalia)
Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:  WikiLeaks And Labour