Front Page Titles (by Subject) JOHN P. McCARTHY , Ireland, Victim of Its Own Politicians - New Individualist Review
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JOHN P. McCARTHY , Ireland, Victim of Its Own Politicians - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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Ireland, Victim of Its Own Politicians
IRISH-AMERICANS are earnestly proud of their Irish heritage. At the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities they vigorously assert their determination to further Ireland’s freedom and national unification, and indulge in a few Anglophobic outbursts. But as soon as the ceremonies are over, they return these Fenian enthusiasms to the attic storerooms and once again become preoccupied with the problems and concerns of those institutions to which they owe their primary loyalties: the United States and the Catholic Church. This is fortunate, not only for American politics which has one less overseas political loyalty to have to appease, but also for Ireland herself. Irish-American involvement in Irish problems would scarcely benefit Ireland. Because of their lack of understanding about Ireland’s real needs, Irish-American circles would probably only aid the nationalist politicians in Ireland who are primarily responsible for Ireland’s present difficulties. These Irish politicians would use Irish-American sympathy for Ireland solely to cover up their own inadequacies by reassuring the Irish electorate that there is overwhelming support in America for their policies. For instance, Ted Kennedy’s two-day visit to Ireland last spring is used by Irish politicians to assure their constituents that all will go well because Ireland has an ardent champion in the American Senate.
Ireland’s present difficulties are attributable not to British tyranny nor to partition, but to the ineptitude of many of the people who have been governing Ireland since national independence was won, especially since Eamon de Valera’s assumption of power in 1932. A further tragedy is that the natural Irish rebelliousness and political ingenuity has been lulled to sleep because of self-satisfaction with the very fact of having independence. Probably because of a political inferiority complex, Irishmen will scarcely criticize their own government in front of foreigners lest their listeners think the Irish are unfit to govern themselves.
Simply because an activity or policy is followed by an independent Irish government, Irishmen tend to think that it has to be supported regardless of its merits. As a result, Ireland has let herself be dominated in the past thirty years or so by a band of fattened revolutionaries, who are profiting from the memory of their exploits during the revolution of 1916-1921, but who are scarcely concerned or competent to deal with Ireland’s most pressing needs. This incompetence especially injures the greatest section of the Irish population, the people living on farms. The greatest gains made by the Irish farmers—the ability to own their own land and the initiation of the co-operative creameries—began in the last few years of British rule. They have had no comparable gains since then. But before discussing these politicians and their policies, let us examine the history and development of Irish independence.
PRIMARILY BECAUSE of the political genius of Irish leaders, such as O’Connell and Parnell, most of the frightful injustices under which the Irish suffered had been removed. Catholics had been admitted to Parliament in 1829, the Episcopal Church in Ireland was disestablished in 1867, and in the 1890’s and early 1900’s landlordism disappeared as the British Government assisted the Irish peasants in becoming the proprietors of their own land. In earlier history, especially during the penal days in the eighteenth century, British power in Ireland was used solely to benefit the land-grabbing Protestant “Establishment.” But in the thirty years before World War One, the British ministry and Parliament had begun to govern for the benefit and well-being of all the Irish population. Railroads were extended to the neglected Irish western seaboard, a Department of Agriculture was set up to help the new peasant proprietors modernize their farming methods, and educational opportunities were extended, including the establishment of a non-denominational National University.
The major remaining objective of the Irish Nationalist representatives in Parliament was to gain Home Rule for Ireland, that is, an independent legislature for Ireland with responsibility for Irish domestic affairs. By 1911, the British ministry itself was committed to the passage of a Home Rule Act. Since the veto power of the Tory House of Lords had been removed, a Home Rule Act seemed certain of success.
The only obstacle was the refusal, even to the point of arms, of the Protestant section in Northern Ireland, Ulster, to accept being ruled by a Home Rule Parliament. An attempt at compromise was made as the Unionist leader, Edward Carson, modified his total opposition to any Home Rule to simply an insistence on the exclusion of six of the Ulster counties from a Home-Ruled Ireland. John Redmond, the Nationalist leader, was willing to accept the exclusion of part of Ulster, but insisted that two of the six counties, Tyrone and Fermanagh, which had Catholic and Nationalist majorities, should be included under Home Rule. The Unionists would not agree to this, and when the World War began the ministry postponed any action on Home Rule. The prospects for it at the end of the war were bright, though, for, as King George V told Redmond in a private conversation, everyone, himself included, regarded Home Rule as inevitable.1
But then, on the virtual eve of the attainment of Home Rule, a futile uprising occurred in Dublin in Easter Week, 1916. The rebels, led and inspired by a group of Gaelic language revivalists, labor leaders, and intellectuals, rejected the Irish Nationalist Party’s policy of working within the British Parliament to achieve Ireland’s objectives. To them, Ireland’s political independence was not something to be requested from the British Parliament. Wanting not just legislative independence or Home Rule, they proclaimed “the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State.”
Irish popular sentiment was still behind the parliamentary Nationalists. However, the heavy-handed treatment of the rebels by the British military authorities and Lloyd George’s decision in April, 1918, to request an extension of the draft to Ireland caused a shift in public feeling to the Sinn Fein, the political party of the rebels. Irish sensitivity had been offended by Lloyd George’s move because there were already many Irish volunteers in the British forces, and Redmond’s offer to have Irish Volunteer Militia units called to active service had been rejected by the War Office.
The Sinn Fein won 73 of the Irish seats to Parliament in the 1918 general election, against 6 for the Nationalists, and 26 for the Unionists. Yet, the Sinn Fein M.P.’s refused to sit in the British Parliament (where they would have been able to take part in the probable passage of Home Rule legislation). Instead, they declared a de facto Parliament of Ireland (Dail Eireann), and demanded the removal of the British forces from Ireland as well as the dissolution of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the police force in Ireland. Then, following a series of attacks on the British military by the Irish Republican Army, the military arm of the insurgent Irish government, fierce guerrilla warfare was initiated and covered Ireland for the next two years.
A compromise between the different sections in Ireland became even more improbable now that southern sentiment had shifted from the Parliamentary Nationalists to the Sinn Fein. The Sinn Fein refused any compromise solution, but insisted that the north must be governed by and accept, not a Home Rule Parliament granted by the British Government, but the de facto republican government which the Sinn Feiners claimed to be the government of all Ireland. The Redmond party, at least, would have accepted the exclusion of some northern counties from the Home Rule section of Ireland. Home Rule Ireland would also have maintained some connection with Britain. This and the control of the independent Irish Parliament by experienced parliamentary leaders might have made the Unionists amenable to an eventual re-unification.2
LLOYD GEORGE PASSED a Government of Ireland Act, which set up two separate Home Rule Parliaments, one for the twenty-six southern counties and one for six Ulster counties, including the predominantly Catholic and Nationalist Tyrone and Fermanagh. King George V opened the northern Parliament on June 22, 1921, expressing his wish for eventual re-unification. The Sinn Feiners had been elected to the southern Parliament, but they refused to operate it since it was not the republican Parliament of all of Ireland.
Then, the British Government entered into direct negotiations with representatives of the rebel government. A treaty was drafted and was accepted by the rebel Parliament in January, 1922, whereby Ireland was given more independence than had been sought for by the pre-Sinn Fein Irish leaders. The twenty-six counties received not just legislative independence, but a complete government as well as the evacuation of the British military. The only restriction on the independence of this Irish Free State was that it was to be a member of the British Commonwealth, with a representative of the Crown present in Ireland and an oath to the King required of members of the Irish Parliament. Also, the Irish Free State was to allow several Irish harbor facilities and defenses to be maintained by the British forces.
Many republicans, such as Eamon de Valera, regarded the treaty’s acceptance of membership in the Commonwealth, the oath to the King, and the continuing partition as a betrayal of the Sinn Fein principles of an independent Irish Republic. The pro-treaty forces had won the Parliamentary election of the Irish Free State’s provisional government. However, civil war broke out between the die-hard rebel army, the IRA, and the new professional Irish Free State Army being recruited in accord with the treaty.
The republicans were defeated (although the Chairman of the provisional government, Michael Collins, had been killed in an ambush), and ended fighting in April, 1923. The political arm of the republicans, the Sinn Fein, continued its opposition to the treaty as its members refused to sit in or recognize the Free State Parliament to which many of them had been elected. Then de Valera organized a new republican party, the Fianna Fail, whose members would accept their seats in the Parliament. In the 1927 elections, the pro-treaty party, now called Cumann na nGaedheal, maintained its majority with W. T. Cosgrave remaining as President.
In 1925, a Boundary Commission (with representatives from Northern and Southern Ireland and Britain), called for by the 1922 treaty, suggested, over the dissent of the southern Irish member, that the status quo boundary between Northern and Southern Ireland be maintained, despite the fact that there were nationalist majorities in many northern areas. This was rationalized on the grounds that the economic survival of Northern Ireland as a separate entity necessitated the inclusion of these predominantly nationalist areas in Northern Ireland.
The southern government’s dissatisfaction with this report was resolved by a new agreement in December, 1925, which replaced the 1922 treaty. The Boundary Commission and the contemplated “Council of Ireland,” where both sections could have met together on common problems, were dissolved, but the status quo partition was accepted. At the same time the British Government and the Free State cancelled their respective liabilities towards each other. Then, by an agreement reached in March, 1926, the Free State agreed to transmit to the British Government the annual payments on land annuities collected from the former tenants who had purchased their estates under the 1903 Land Act.
Under this Act many Irish tenants were enabled to buy the land on which they lived solely by promising to pay the annuities over a period of 68 years to the British Government which had compensated the landlords. The landlords had been compensated by being issued stock on which interest was paid out of the monies collected as annuities. As a result of this 1926 agreement the Irish Government agreed to collect and to transmit to the British Government the annuities which amounted to about £5 million annually.
IN THE 1932 GENERAL elections de Valera’s Fianna Fail Party won control of the Free State Government which they, as republicans, had originally refused to recognize. With the two short exceptions of 1948-51 and 1954-57, the Fianna Fail has since been in power. Therefore, the record of Irish development in the past thirty years must to all intents and purposes be considered as the Fianna Fail record.
Intent on achieving the old republican goal of breaking all ties with Great Britain, the Fianna Fail Government removed the oath to the King from the Free State constitution, and continually slighted the King’s representative in Dublin, the Governor-General, whose legal powers were removed. The right of appeal from the Irish courts to the British Privy Council was abolished.
These gestures naturally made the Unionist Government of Northern Ireland permanently opposed to any re-unification, for it realized that re-unification with the Fianna Fail Government would involve dissolution of the British connection to which the Unionists were so committed. Those who suffered most from de Valera’s strict republicanism were, of course, his nationalist allies in the north, for the possibility of a compromise whereby they would find themselves in a united Ireland was now removed. The only alternative course for the northern nationalists (who in County Tyrone and County Fermanagh were the majorities, justly entitled to incorporation with the Southern Government) was some sort of rebellion. To prevent this, the Unionist Government placed stringent restrictions on the nationalist and Catholic minorities in the north.
De Valera then refused to abide by the 1926 agreement to transmit the land annuities to the English Government. This refusal would have been justified if de Valera had based it on the grounds that the former landlords really had no right to have owned the land in the first place, since they had gained it by confiscating it from the original owners in the 16th and 17th centuries. The tenant-purchasers were the true successors of the rightful owners whose land had been taken in those centuries, and therefore they should have no obligation to compensate the illegitimate “landlords” nor to pay annuities for their own land.
But de Valera contradicted this reasoning, for he did not end the obligation of the tenant-purchasers to pay annuities. The only thing he did was to insist that the annuities be collected for his government rather than for the old “landlords.”
The British Government naturally retaliated against de Valera’s action by raising special duties on imports from the Irish Free State. De Valera replied by imposing higher duties on imports to Ireland from Great Britain, and an economic war between both nations began. Naturally, Ireland, the agrarian and exporting country which had always relied on British markets to sell its products in and which was dependent on British manufactured goods, was bound to be the loser.
As a result of the economic war, Irish agriculture became so disorganized that its export capacity fell by 50%. But this did not trouble the Fianna Fail theorists, who saw the war as an opportunity to further their ideals of separation from Britain and of economic nationalism. It should be remembered that the social forces behind the Irish Revolution had not been the impoverished farming community, which had supported the nineteenth century struggles, especially those against landlordism. Rather, it came from the many children of the farmers who had been forced to seek work in the towns and cities. “Surplus children squeezed into the towns and cities, and found there that all the power and most of the wealth was in the hands of people of a different religion, racial origin, or political loyalty.” It was this ambitious urban class which had come to power in Ireland.
This class was not a laboring class. Rather, “the more able among them were petit bourgeois, middle-men, importers, small manufacturers . . . a new twentieth-century middle-class to fill the vacuum created by the departure or depression of the earlier alien middle-class . . . they were rising to sudden wealth behind protective tariff-walls . . . [and] had a vested interest in nationalism and even in isolationism.”3
During the economic war and ever since then, there has been considerable industrial expansion in Ireland, part of it, no doubt, having been encouraged by protective tariffs as well as by government credits. Furthermore, a sizeable part of industrial progress in Ireland has been due to government investment, as state-sponsored boards and companies cover an extremely wide field in production, communications, marketing, research, development, finance, and sports. No doubt much employment has resulted from this industrial development, but its long range effect on Ireland’s welfare is still to be determined. This is especially so if government protection and subsidization of certain industries penalizes other activities such as agriculture, which have much more basic importance to Ireland.
In 1938 the economic war ceased, following an argument between de Valera and Neville Chamberlain. The land annuities dispute was resolved by English acceptance of a final Irish payment of only £10 million, and both nations removed the special duties imposed during the economic war. Chamberlain would not heed the Irish request that he put pressure on the Northern Government towards unification, but he did agree to revoke the 1922 agreement by withdrawing the British forces from the Southern Irish ports of Cobh, Berehaven, and Lough Swilly.
A new Irish constitution was drawn up whereby the name “Ireland” was substituted for “Irish Free State,” and the only remaining connection with Britain was by membership in the Commonwealth. The King was regarded as the head of that association, but not someone entitled to an oath of allegiance. De Valera assumed the new office of Prime Minister or “Taoiseach,” and Douglas Hyde, a leader of the old Gaelic League, was elected to the honorific Presidency. Then in 1949 Ireland broke the last ties with Britain, as it withdrew from the Commonwealth and Ireland was proclaimed a Republic. Paradoxically this was done not by the Fianna Fail Party, but by a coalition government headed by J. A. Costello of the Fine Gael Party, the successors of the Cosgrave Free State Party. Costello had agreed to leave the Commonwealth as a bargain to gain the parliamentary votes of an extremist republican party.
IN CONTRAST TO the industrial expansion, Irish agriculture has hardly developed as one might have expected since the achievement of national independence. This agrarian failure is partly attributable to the economic war of the 1930’s. This was a loss which could not be compensated by the numerous welfare schemes offered to the farmers by the de Valera government. In Ireland there are many pensions for the elderly people, widows, and orphans; new houses are provided, and there is an extensive government sponsored hospitalization scheme. Despite these welfare advantages, however, the number of agrarian workers in Ireland has declined since the 1920’s. The growing industrial capacity of Ireland has scarcely been able to absorb those leaving the farms. Instead, most have emigrated to the industrial areas of England and the United States. Emigration from Ireland is so great that Ireland shares with only East Germany and North Vietnam the dubious distinction of being a nation with a declining population.
The standard of living, measured by the increased amounts spent on food, tobacco, drink, clothes, fuel, light, entertainment, and on motor cars, has improved—but this is only because there was so much emigration which prevented mass unemployment and limited to a low level the total number dependent on the national income.
The emigration from rural areas to industrial urban areas is a common feature in the modern world. But accompanying the decline of agricultural laborers in many nations has been a substantial modernization of agricultural methods and a sizeable increase in agricultural productivity. In comparison with many of these nations, though, Ireland is failing to modernize significantly its agricultural methods or improve its productivity.
Irish leadership should be aware that Ireland’s natural resources are too limited to create a serious manufacturing economy in Ireland. Fortunately, the new ministry of Sean Lemass, who succeeded de Valera as the Fianna Fail leader when the latter assumed the non-political office of President in 1959, is receding from the old ideals of economic nationalism. Instead of protecting and subsidizing industries which would be incapable of meeting foreign competition and would penalize the domestic Irish consumer, the Government is now encouraging private investment in Ireland by foreign capital. Tax concessions are granted to the imported industries with hopes that these industries will be successful in foreign markets.
However, it is not enough simply to encourage manufacturing. Ireland’s economy can only prosper by emphasizing and developing the most naturally advantageous industries: agriculture and fishing. This is especially so if Ireland is to join the Common Market, where Ireland will scarcely be able to compete in manufactured goods with the other Common Market members. As an agrarian country, Ireland will have to reconcile herself to a certain amount of emigration. But, by improving her agricultural methods and expanding productivity, the amount of emigration can be lessened and greater prosperity and well-being can be obtained for the bulk of the population.
The government should not expect to encourage agricultural improvement by the present system of welfare assistance, pensions, and housing grants. These forms of assistance to the farmer are scarcely large enough to serve as capital with which to improve his methods. Indeed, by providing a certain amount of minimum comforts they probably engender a spirit of self-satisfaction and disdain to change or improve himself.
Government facilitation of more liberal credit terms in acquiring new machinery is, of course, more useful to the farmer than would be unproductive doles. At the same time, the farmer has to be encouraged to abandon the traditional Irish small 30-acre farm, which is incapable of competing in a modern economy, in favor of larger scale co-operatives. The dairy products co-operatives encouraged by the Agricultural Department set up under British rule probably did more than anything else to improve the lot of Irish farmers.
Irish fishing needs more encouragement. In view of the frequent presence of so many Danish trawlers within a few miles of the Irish coast, it should be expected that a modernized and well-equipped Irish fishing fleet could successfully compete in the European market and provide thousands of job opportunities in Ireland. At present, however, the Irish fishing industry is in a relatively primitive state, with much fishing being done by independent fishermen with unmotorized craft.
Until the leaders realize the full potentials of Irish agriculture and fishing, and recognize the marginal value of so much of the manufacturing and tourism which the government encourages, the Irish economy will scarcely be able to hold its own, never mind prosper, in the Common Market.
A curious policy of the Irish Government has been its efforts to encourage the revival of the Gaelic language. Irish enthusiasm for the old language is understandable. In other centuries, the Anglo-Irish Establishment had deposed the Gaelic-speaking Catholics from their own land and insulted the natives by making English the official language of Ireland. The Irish people were successfully induced to speak English in national schools, and an attitude was nurtured to regard the inability to speak English as a sign of ignorance.
But the Gaelic enthusiasts should reconcile themselves to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Irishmen are English speaking, and are unlikely to be won over to a Gaelic revival. This, despite the compulsory studying of Gaelic in the national schools as well as the requirement to speak Gaelic in most civil service positions. There are many areas in western Ireland, known as Gaeltacht, where a high percentage of the people can speak Gaelic. But even in these areas most of the people, especially the younger ones, speak English despite their eligibility for government grants for the ability to speak Gaelic. Significantly, it is the Gaeltacht areas that have the highest rate of emigration, emigration to such non-Gaelic speaking areas as London and New York.
Another feature of the Irish Government’s policy has been its “neutralism” in foreign affairs. It justified its non-involvement in World War Two and its refusal to join NATO on the grounds that part of Ireland had been “imprisoned” by one of the Allies, Great Britain. Most of the Irish people are firmly anti-Communist and very sympathetic to the policies of the United States (especially since the election of John F. Kennedy). However, it is becoming fashionable in many Irish intellectual and political circles, especially since Ireland’s entry into the UN, to consider their nation as one of the peaceful nations uninvolved in the Cold War and allied only with the anti-imperialist struggles in Asia and Africa. All of this would have been very innocent except for Ireland’s commitment to the UN assault on Katanga, where quite a few Irish soldiers lost their lives as a result of the policies of the historian-turned-diplomatic-adventurer, Conor Cruise O’Brien.
IT IS NECESSARY that new leadership arise in Ireland to replace the romantic and opportunistic governing circles who have refused to acknowledge the twentieth century. Ireland must shake itself loose from its Gaelic romanticism and accept the rightful burdens, concerns, and Weltanschauung of a modern Western European nation. Unless it does so, Ireland will be neither a modern nation nor a romantic Gaelic “other world.” Instead it will be simply a tourist resort, with most of its native population having departed through emigration.
[* ] John P. McCarthy is an Associate Editor of New Individualist Review.
[1 ] Edgar Holt, Protest in Arms, the Irish Troubles, 1919-23 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961), p. 47.
[2 ] Michael Sheehy in Divided We Stand (London: Faber and Faber, 1955) argues that southern extreme nationalism following the decline of the Parliamentary Nationalist Party did more than anything else to insure the permanence of partition.
[3 ] Sean O’Faolain, “Fifty Years of Irish Writing,” Studies, Vol. LI, no. 201 (Spring, 1962), p. 97.