From Irish Political Review: March 2006

Ahern's Path Of Glory

The Taoiseach set out a new scheme of the history of Irish independence in his speech at the opening of an Exhibition on the Rising: 1916, 1937, 1972, 1998. And he names two statesmen of the development: Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch. The leader of the Opposition complained that this was hijacking the Rising for Fianna Fail, and listed four other statesmen of the development, all Fine Gael: W.T. Cosgrave, who "presided over the birth of democracy"; J.A. Costello, who in 1949 made the formal declaration that the Irish State (made independent by De Valera) was a Republic; Liam Cosgrave, who "led Ireland into the United Nations"; and Garret FitzGerald, who "signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement" of 1985 (IT 14.4.06).

The glaring omissions from Ahern's short list are De Valera and Haughey. Kenny remedies this to the extent of saying that Dev, Griffiths and Collins all "played an equal and honourable part in winning Ireland's independence". It is a strange state of affairs when it is left to Fine Gael to bring Dev into the Pantheon.

Let's go through Ahern's "four cornerstones of independent Ireland", which are "the foundations of the future".

"The Proclamation [of Easter 1916] was the foundation of our independent state". It depends on what you mean by foundation. It was a piece of paper handed out by a group of conspirators attempting a coup d'etat, which was crushed within a week, leaving no form of organised existence behind it.

It was a striking event which acted as an inspiration. But, if one wants a foundation, in the solid meaning of the word, it comes in December 1918/January 1919 with the Election, the assembling of the Dail, and the Declaration of Independence as the expression of the settled will of a society.

Ahern leaps over the 1918 Election, and all that followed from it, to the 1937 Constitution.

If one is to find fundamental significance in the 1937 Constitution, it must be as a formal repudiation by the electorate of the 1922 Constitution. And what was so wrong with the 1922 document? That it was dictated by the British Government, made an Oath to the Crown a condition of entry into the Legislature, and included other measures of subordination. But, following the electoral defeat of the Treaty Party in 1932, the Oath was removed and other forms of the British incubus were dispelled. After all of that, the 1937 Constitution was more a flourish than a foundation.

From 1937 Ahern leaps forward to 1972. The reader is probably wondering what foundation event happened in 1972. Ireland accompanied Britain into Europe:

"Through our membership of the EU, we have emerged as a confident and achieving nation, sure of our place in the world. Over a decade previously, Sean Lemass had opened negotiations for Ireland's entry… Advocating Ireland's entry… Jack Lynch summed up our choice as being "the choice of Robinson Crusoe when the ship came to bring him back into the world again". The decision to join the EU was the moment when a confident and hopeful Ireland left behind what had become the dated and sterile ideology of "ourselves alone"."

Has Bertie forgotten his Irish as well as his friends? Sinn fein means "ourselves", and it was asserted against the most powerful Empire in the world which was trying to re-make us into something that was more serviceable to its interests than what we actually were. We preserved ourselves in some measure by means of 1916, 1918, 1919-21, 1932, and 1940. Sinn Fein amhain was never the slogan or the policy of any major policy or tendency that we ever heard of, or even a minor one.

What Bertie has been leaving beyind is not the never-was philosophy of 'ourselves alone', but ourselves as a definite existence. His guff about us now being "sure of our place in the world" is the reverse of the truth, and "ourselves alone" was never as accurate a description of our attitude towards the world as it has been under his government. He has made the country a pliable instrument of US militarism, because he reckons America would regard an assertion of neutrality as a hostile act. In doing this he has re-defined neutrality as according US war-planes re-fuelling rights at Shannon, and not probing the issue of rendition flights. He complies with US requirements, and casts principle to the winds, because all that counts with him is what will be advantageous to the total egoism of ourselves alone.

Entry to the EU, even as an appendage of Britain, was, of course, an event of great strategic consequence to Ireland. But not because it had until then been living in the "sterile ideology of ourselves alone".

Prior to 1972 the Irish economy was a dependency of the British free market. In 1972 it joined the protected market of the EU.

The Irish economy was predominantly agricultural. Britain had since the mid-19th century arranged things in the world in such a way that cheap agricultural produce flowed into it from all continents, subsidising its own farmers very heavily in order to drive down the price of imports. That was the market in which Irish farming, emerging from centuries of deliberate British destruction and distortion, had to make a living. Then in 1972 it gained access to the strong, protected market of the EEC, and began to flourish.

But economic development was very slow, and when it came it was not Lynch who brought it. He left the economy in a parlous condition, and in the 1980s the state was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The breakthrough came around 1990 when Haughey took personal control of the departments of state most relevant to the economy and, with his colleagues outside of politics (he had very few within politics) re-made the financial system of the state; and when for a few years he made Ireland appear to be an independent European state, no longer an echo of Britain, and hosted a major European event in Dublin Castle. Christian Democratic Europe in those years—not long before it was subverted—could see Ireland as part of itself, and welcomed it with an award of 8 billions (Irish pounds). That was the take-off point for the seething entrepreneurship that now characterises Irish economic life—and that appears to have subverted the major act of political independence that brought it about.

We will return in a future issue to the Taoiseach's new scheme of landmarks—and its omissions, which seem to be in line with Senator Mansergh's views—and to Fine Gael's alternative scheme.

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