Editorial from Irish Political Review, September 2007

Culture vs Politics

Ireland tags along behind Britain in European and foreign policy matters. It could not do otherwise because, at the official level of the state, it has lost all historical sense of itself. As we go to print it is taking part in the attempt to starve the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip into abject submission to an Israeli state that has never defined its borders. The fig leaf for this policy is that Hamas does not recognise the state of Israel and must therefore be excommunicated. If the Irish state had not lost all historical sense of itself, it would have some historical sense of the predicament of the Palestinian people in the face of ongoing conquest by the Jewish State, which was founded by British foreign policy when there were few Jews in Palestine and Britain was denying independent statehood to Ireland in defiance of a General Election mandate.

The collapse of Ireland's historical sense of itself, and therefore of the world, is entirely due to Fianna Fail. It was Fianna Fail that insisted on Ireland becoming independent. Fine Gael and Labour, having submitted to Britain's Treaty ultimatums of 1921 and 1922, settled down to domestic self-government, under the authority of the Crown, within the Empire/Commonwealth.

De Valera and his colleagues refused to settle down under the Treaty. They worked up popular anti-Treaty sentiment into a functional party which made the state independent in the 1930s and has dominated its political life ever since 1932.

But political independence was not consolidated in the intellectual sphere—in the Universities and in the 'Third Estate'—and those spheres now operate in antagonism with a Government which is in great measure the state because of the lack of a viable Opposition party.

Fianna Fail remains dominant as the superior managerial party. But it was not as a managerial party that it became dominant. Its rise to dominance came about through a political purpose that went far beyond the ordinary purposes of a political party. It then consolidated its political dominance by developing managerial skills—a development which is evident in the autobiography of Todd Andrews: Liam Lynch's die-hard, 'extremist', adjutant, who was hunted out on the bogs and the hills in 1923, and subsequently created Bord na Mona without any show of repentance for his earlier activities.

Garret FitzGerald is the anti-type of Todd Andrews—the pampered son of a member of the Treatyite elite who declared himself a Commonwealth man sixty years ago when Fine Gael declared itself to be Republican for the purpose of scrambling back to office in alliance with a recently retired Chief of Staff of the IRA. But in recent years it is only FitzGerald, amongst the leading politicians and academics, who has said anything thoughtful in support of political independence.

This apparent absurdity is actually in accordance with the present nature of the state. Fianna Fail, insofar as its leadership is concerned, is only a managerial party. It does not exist in the sphere of ideology—in academia and journalism. If anything thoughtful is to be said in support of the independence of the state, it must be said by somebody else.

As to the independence of the state, the essential thing is that it is an accomplished fact. It cannot be undone. It cannot return to the British womb and start again. It cannot even return to 1931 and take up the thread of Treatyite development. Fianna Fail made it independent, and its only choice is between being spirited or craven. At the moment it is pretty craven.

It is not normal, and in the long run it is not functional, that the government dimensions of the state should exist in continuous antagonism with the academic and journalistic dimensions.

In functional states the harmonious functioning of these different dimensions is achieved by patronage. In a well-conducted state the patronage is so discreetly operated that it is scarcely noticed. But there is always patronage. And academic freedom operates within practical parameters set by patronage.

Effective state patronage of the academic system by discreet means requires that the major political forces have a strong presence within academia. The problem in Ireland is that the dominant political force appears to have scarcely any presence within academia.

The outcome is not that there is no patronage of academia, but that there is British patronage. Thirty years ago the founder of the Irish Sovereignty Movement, Raymond Crotty, called upon the British ruling class to take Irish intellectual life in hand once more. It has done so.

Forget about Dublin, Cork and Galway. Forget even about Trinity. Look to Oxford and Cambridge, to Manchester, and even to Liverpool—which in the form of Professor Marianne Elliott revealed a few yeas ago that there was never such a thing as a British Penal Law system against Catholicism in Ireland, but that on the contrary the 18th century was a century of opportunity for Catholics in Ireland.

As an imperial entity with plenty to feel bad about, Britain has had plentiful recourse to historical myth. But there is no revisionism of sacred myth in the light of historical fact, and there is no interference with academic freedom to prevent it. About ten years ago John Charmley used his academic freedom to engage in some revision of the Churchill myth. He wasn't sacked. The Times even gave him some space to set out his criticism. But the thing was a nine-days-wonder, and was soon lost amidst the mass of academic orthodoxy supportive of the ideology of the state.

Broadcasting is likewise controlled discreetly in Britain within parameters set by the political requirements of the state. But occasionally things get slightly out of hand.

The BBC was designed to function within the party-politics of the state. That is the meaning of the official requirement that it is 'impartial'. It is not independent. But its position in Northern Ireland is anomalous, because the region is outside the party-politics of the state, and BBC,NI is liable to conceive illusions of independence. About twenty years ago its regional Director commissioned interviews with Martin McGuinness and Gregory Campbell. McGuinness was still imagined to be an outrageous revolutionary in those times. Mrs. Thatcher questioned the propriety of broadcasting the interview. The Director General supported the regional Director. The Government put its foot down. Vincent Hanna (who came of a Belfast middle class nationalist family) was then in the position that Jeremy Paxman holds now. He led a strike against Government interference, and asserted the independence of the BBC, which he described as a kind of independent guild of broadcasters. A flimsy semblance of compromise was arranged to obscure the climb-down of the BBC. The Director General resigned soon after, and Vincent Hanna was a spent force. Paxman sometimes asserts that the BBC functions independently of Government, but he knows from the Hanna episode that he must never put it to the test.

Four years ago BBC radio got into conflict with the Government over an accurate report by Andrew Gilligan of a discussion with Dr. David Kelly about the "dodgy dossier" justifying the invasion of Iraq. Tony Blair demanded Gilligan's head and got it, and other heads along with it.

A Commission to inquire into the matter found in favour of the Government—as British Commissioners always do.


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