Tag Archives: Proclamation of the Irish Republic

Borrowing From History To Win General Election

In Irish War News, published from the GPO on 25th April 1916 one day after the start of the revolution and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Patrick Pearse wrote:

“We have lived to see an Irish Republic proclaimed. May we live to establish it firmly, and may our children and our children’s children enjoy the happiness and prosperity freedom will bring”.

The Proclamation, which most of our people respect and take ownership of, is the template for the progressive republic that would bring happiness and prosperity to the people.

If the left correctly portrays a progressive policy platform for the upcoming election as the natural development of the fundamental ideas in the Proclamation, particularly paragraph four, those progressive policies will be more easily and widely accepted throughout the country, even in traditionally conservative areas.

The reactionary parties on the other side cannot credibly borrow from 1916 and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to bolster their case. The record of their resolute opposition to establishing a true republic over the past 93 years of shared power makes that unbelievable, and their failures masked by their empty rhetoric would have to be high-lighted by the left.

The left also has to reach beyond the language of theoretical socialism to garner sufficient democratic support to defeat neoliberalism and its local proponents of cynical austerity, and to create the conditions for true happiness and sustainable prosperity for all.

That lesson can be learned from the Corbyn campaign across the water. Communicate directly and in straight-forward language. Present the ideas in terms of practical beneficial consequence to the greater number of people of all classes other than the greedy class. Play in a sincere way to the essential decency and fairness and generosity of spirit and intelligence of the great majority of people.

And empower the people. The left must commit to the idea that the progressive republic is owned by the people and must spread that message, and that ownership of the republic will be vested in the people through a constitution which they will have final approval of and the capacity to refine over time as they see fit.

At this moment of ever-increasing engagement by the people with the principles behind the 1916 revolution, it would be foolish in the extreme to spurn the opportunity that brings to the left for potential success and real change in the interest of the common good.

Any election is based on a war of words and ideas. And every election involves the use of propaganda – communication that seeks to influence opinions and attitudes – by all sides.

The forces of reaction – Fine Gael and Labour, and Fianna Fáil – will have the propaganda services of mainstream media at their disposal. The left must resort to alternatives, particularly social media and public rallies and meetings, to counteract that. Again, the Corbyn campaign shows us how effective that can be.

The upcoming battle between progressives of all stripes and the forces of reaction will be hard-fought but winnable, and every intellectual and propaganda weapon on the progressive side must be brought to play. In that, the emotional attachment that so many have to the Proclamation and its progressive vision is, as the centenary looms, a very strong card to play, more than a match for the Joker the other side will try to pull from their sleeve.

The prize is worth fighting for. The revolutionaries knew that, and so must we.

The Irish Republic. The people’s progressive republic.

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Forge unity to create Irish Republic – a moral duty

In a recent video interview, Liam Sutcliffe, veteran republican activist with the IRA and Saor Éire, and one of those responsible for removing the blight of Nelson’s Column from outside the GPO in 1966, was asked how he felt about the split between the Provisionals and the Officials. His answer was that “I thought the whole thing was wrong…I’d never take part in any split again in my life…the thing about it was there were great men on both sides…in the long run we never got an extra blade of grass, and all the deaths, all the hunger strikers…we’re still twenty-six and six”.

The lack of unity, the tendency to split, the failure to forge suitable alliances, the absence of clear purpose and strategy, the failure to do the nuts and bolts work, the concentration on ending partition by driving the English out of Ireland as if that on its own was the means to some end worth having, has meant that we are still twenty-six and six, two failed statelets, instead of the 32 county Irish Republic that republicans claim to be committed to achieving.

It is not as if Irish republicans have not had enough time to correct these tendencies, to produce a tangible explanation of the sort of republic they had in mind, and to communicate these ideas in an effective way to all of the people on both sides of the border. It is now almost 98 years since the Irish Republic was proclaimed, 95 years since the National Programme was agreed, and 92 years since the start of the counter-revolution following the signing and ratification of the Treaty.

But it is not just Irish republicans who are at fault. Irish socialists have demonstrated the same propensity for a lack of unity, a tendency to split, a failure to forge suitable alliances, an absence of clear purpose and strategy, and a failure to do the nuts and bolts work to create the sort of society they claim to be in favour of. Presumably the political framework of that society would be, at least until some better model might be found sometime in the future, a republic.

What should bind republicans and socialists are James Connolly, Liam Mellows and other socialist republican thinkers and activists who shared the common vision of the Workers’ Republic. In fact, as Connolly put it – to be a republican is to be a socialist, and to be a socialist is to be a republican. When Connolly signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he did so as a socialist republican, and in that document, with his ideological fingerprints all over it, he left the ways and means of achieving the Workers’ Republic to us, republicans and socialists. Thus far we have failed to live up to the task.

In 1897, Connolly published an important piece, ‘Érin’s Hope’, a taste of his writings yet to come. In that, Connolly addressed the issue that some misguided people on the left have found fault with him on, making the spurious charge that he abandoned socialism for nationalism – a risible charge. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin later agreed with Connolly’s position, stating that in history there had never been one example of a ‘pure’ revolution. Discussing the requirements for successful revolution Connolly wrote “we will have based our revolutionary movement upon a correct appreciation of the needs of the hour, as well as upon the vital principles of economic justice and uncompromising nationality; we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent”.

In 1916, the ‘forces and factors’ were present: republicans, socialists, feminists, militant-separatists, advanced nationalists, cultural nationalists and so on. They united in common cause, and representatives of each of these tendencies share a common plot in Glasnevin Cemetery – the Republican Plot.

Those “forces and factors of social and political discontent” have never been absent during the 92 years of hegemonic right-wing counter-revolution since the signing of the Treaty. They are present today in abundance – various republican parties and groups, socialist parties and groups, social, economic and political grassroots movements, feminists, human rights and peace activists, environmentalists, resources and sovereignty activists, and so on. It is possible to craft a unity of purpose among many or even most of these strands of discontent and dissidence provided a common platform based on a vision of justice, freedom, equality and sovereignty can be agreed. The Irish Republic is the ideal starting point for that.

Today, there is no call for any to sacrifice their lives for the Irish Republic. Instead there is a need to sacrifice: personal pride and ego; rigid political dogma; antagonism based on real or imagined hurt or on misunderstanding or misapprehension; the desire to continue an armed struggle that can achieve nothing of use at this time.

The fight to end partition needs to move south of the border, and needs to move from the physical to the intellectual. It requires the ending of counter-revolutionary misgovernment of the twenty-six and the creation of an ideal model of citizen-driven government to trump colonial government in the six. Who could seriously suggest to the Unionist/Loyalist minority on the island that they should be part of the banana-non-republic of the south? Certainly not any republican or socialist in their right minds. But putting in place a proper republic, with all of the necessary guarantees and all of the obvious advantages in plain view, is the most efficacious strategy for withering partition and uniting the people of the 32 counties. Scottish Independence, if it can be achieved, will help in that.

Achieving a rapid transformation in the twenty-six will require clear communication to the public of both the existence of a workable strategy to put in place a proper republic and of the benefits that would flow to the great majority from such a republic. That requirement entails working around and in confrontation with existing main-stream media using creative communications strategies. That does not present a problem, but is just an important issue to be dealt with.

History has given us a significant centenary in two years time to use to our advantage in moving public opinion towards the development of a proper republic of equals. We can take advantage of that over the two short years leading up to it, or, as has been the case with other opportunities over the past 92 years, we can squander it. It is to our advantage that even among those who have not read the Proclamation yet, or who have forgotten its wording, or who have not had its promises and implications explained to them, there is still a strong emotional bond with it on the part of many citizens.

Taking advantage of the Centenary of the 1916 Revolution requires us to lay out precisely what sort of republic we have in mind. The principles of that republic are contained in the Proclamation and in the National Programme that was created from that template. If we are to demonstrate our serious intent, our openness and our honesty, these principles need to be expanded in a new, comprehensive Peoples’ Constitution of the Irish Republic.

Writing a new constitution is not rocket science, nor should it be a task entrusted to some ‘elite’ group. There are various constitutions already in place elsewhere in the world to be used as examples, but none more suitable as a model or in its content than the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, initiated by Hugo Chavez but drawn up with the input of the people at every stage. Irish republicans and socialists would do well to read that great socialist-republican constitution from the source of the New Enlightenment – Latin America.

In 14 years of dedicated work underpinned by a vision of a better life for all, Chavez and his people transformed the lives of the poor, the oppressed, the abused, the marginalised of Venezuelan society in a way that was unimaginable at the beginning of the revolution. By contrast, in 92 years since quasi-independence, Irish republicans and Irish socialists have failed to lift the poor, the oppressed, the abused and the marginalised of Irish society out of their collective miserable grind – on both sides of the border. That failure is inexcusable. That failure cannot persist.

The first stage in dispelling that failure requires a concerted effort to drive from power the reactionaries who have between them held power in the twenty-six since 1922. Making that effort was never just an option – it was a moral duty, and it is still, today, a moral duty. It demands the putting aside of childish one-upmanship, the spurious notion that ‘my ideas are better than your ideas and my ideas must prevail’, opting instead for the creation of an agreed, shared, broad-left platform designed to complete the revolution for the benefit of all of the people of this island, equally.

Let us take our lead from James Connolly. Let us call “into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent”. Let us start that work now.


A Most Seditious Lot: The Labour Press 1898-1916

Living today in an Ireland in which we do not have any significant alternative to a hegemonic right-wing press and broadcast media, it is difficult to imagine a time when there was a vibrant antidote to counteract the conservative propaganda of the national newspapers. But over a period from 1898 to 1916 and spanning a range of movements including advanced-nationalist, feminist, cooperative and socialist, their newspapers, journals, pamphlets and newsletters planted progressive ideas in the minds of their readers and often explicitly primed and prepared them for revolutionary action. It is worth understanding how this was achieved by looking at the content of these publications. In this article the Labour press will be examined, with the other movements to be examined in later articles.

Writing in 1937, Stephen Browne SJ said ‘…the history of the Irish Labour Press may be said to begin with the first appearance in 1898 of Connolly’s Workers Republic. Indeed, though the workers’ cause had been advocated in the past by such leaders as Fintan Lalor and Michael Davitt, the labour movement proper begins with James Connolly, who may fairly be described as the first Irish labour leader pure and simple.’ Browne was correct in that final point, but also in linking Connolly back through Michael Davitt to James Fintan Lalor, as Connolly himself frequently acknowledged. Browne might have completed the list of influences – from Lalor and his contemporaries, Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders, back again to the anti-sectarian United Irishmen of the 1790s. That list of influences explains the three main strands to Connolly’s ideology – nationalism, republicanism and socialism, to which he consciously added advanced-feminism. And it was his core socialist republicanism that defined his nationalist outlook, lifting it away from the inward-looking Catholic nationalism of many of his contemporaries and allowing him to develop and express his progressive internationalism. All of this he brought to the pages of his newspapers, his pamphlets and his public speaking, in the process educating and informing his audience.

But throughout his career it was always primarily the interests of his class – the working-class – that occupied his thoughts. Those who criticised his move (as they mistakenly saw it) towards militant separatism and the company of nationalists between 1914 and 1916 as a profound and regrettable change ignore his long-standing linkage of the unhappy plight of the working class in Ireland with British colonialism, and of workers internationally with the rapacious greed of capitalist imperialism. His appreciation of James Fintan Lalor’s position on the subject – that social questions and the national issue should be regarded as complimentary – is revealed in his writings from 1896 on, and shows that his later actions in forming a revolutionary coalition were inevitable. Prior to establishing his newspaper The Workers Republic in 1898, Connolly’s political stance was published in the pages of advanced-nationalist papers. From the earliest days he had established contact with militant nationalists, especially through his work on the preparations for the centenary of the United Irishmen’s 1798 revolution.

The first issue of The Workers Republic appeared on the 13th of August 1898, just two days before the massive gathering for the dedication of the foundation stone of the proposed Wolfe Tone monument. On page two, writing under one of his pen-names, Spailpín, Connolly tells his readers – ‘We are Republican because we are Socialists, and therefore enemies to all privileges; and because we would have the Irish people complete masters of their own destinies, nationally and internationally, fully competent to work out their own salvation.’

Page one included a trenchant criticism of Irishmen for fighting in the four corners of the world ‘under any flag, in anybody’s quarrel, in any cause except their own’. Page three carried an article on the long hours and low pay of the men who worked for the Dublin Tram Company – it would be 18 years before the owner of that company, William Martin Murphy, would get in his final retaliation in by leading the charge for Connolly’s execution. On page five, there is an attack on ‘Home Rule Journalists and Patriots’. In an article on page 6, signed Saoirse, Connolly advises Dublin Castle of the socialists’ intention to get rid of the capitalist system. There are several articles and references to Wolfe Tone throughout the paper, including on landlordism and revolution. The last of the eight pages is made up of a statement of the objects and aims of the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP), and a series of advertisements for the party’s open air meetings ‘Every Sunday Evening, 7.30. Foster Place.’, for an appeal for funds for the ISRP, for Connolly’s seminal pamphlet ‘Erin’s Hope: the End and the Means’, and only one commercial advertisement – for ‘A Good Reliable Bicycle for the Cheapest Possible Price’ at M. J. Lord.

On page one of the following week’s issue, Connolly reports on a speech made by Lord Mayor Tallon at the ‘98 Commemoration banquet – ‘Poor Wolfe Tone. Lived, fought, and suffered for Ireland in order that a purse-proud, inflated wind-bag should exploit your memory to his own aggrandisement’. The story continues on page six – ‘I am told it passed over as well as such things usually do. A number of speeches were delivered by gentlemen who did not mean what they said. As far as I can learn they all got safely home. There is nothing more to relate concerning the dinner unless to remark that there were no working men there. It was a middle-class dinner, in a middle-class restaurant, for middle-class people’. Connolly was not inclined to take prisoners when reporting on the words or actions of the rich and powerful, and it is not hard to imagine the delight with which reports like this must have been received among the working-class readers. This was part of the style of the newspaper, the mixing of serious content with caustic and highly humorous and very subversive comment.

On September 3rd the paper carried a translated reprint from L’Irlande Libre titled Socialism and Irish Nationalism which ends with a clear enunciation of Connolly’s position on both the failings of the concept of bourgeois revolution, and the necessity of forging alliances with willing partners to create a sustainable revolution. The ending is also prophetic. “Having learned from history that all bourgeois movements end in compromise, that the bourgeois revolutionists of today become the conservatives of tomorrow, the Irish Socialists refuse to deny or to lose their identity with those who only half understand the problem of liberty. They seek only the alliance and the friendship of those hearts who, loving liberty for its own sake, are not afraid to follow its banner when it is uplifted by the hands of the working class who have most need of it. Their friends are those who would not hesitate to follow that standard of liberty, to consecrate their lives in its service even should it lead to the terrible arbitration of the sword.”

Two weeks later The Workers Republic carried the first installment of Labour in Irish History under another Connolly pen-name ‘Setanta’. The finished book would eventually to be published 12 years later, in 1910, on Connolly’s return from the USA. The paper was starting to receive more advertising now. On page eight a firm called Daly & Co. of Blackburn advertised two products, Daly’s Chimney Cleaner, and Daly’s Pile Salve – hopefully not with interchangeable lids! The following issue carried the first article in the paper by Maud Gonne which was on ‘Irishmen and the British Army’.

In October, the paper ceased production until its reappearance the following May. Finance was always a problem, and the paper several times went into hibernation if there was an election to be fought. In August 1899, the paper issued a four page ‘Wolfe Tone Supplement: the Social-Revolutionary’, which included ‘Industrial Progress and Revolution’ by Arthur O’Connor, ‘The Self-Catechism of a Rebel’ by John Mitchel and an article on ‘Fenianism and Continental Revolution’. In September, the paper announced a move to new larger premises at 138 Upper Abbey Street, ‘To include a shop, a clubroom, a large lecture hall, and two separate rooms for the printing outfit which now includes two printing presses’. Two weeks later the paper advertised the fact that lectures were now being held in the Workers Hall every Sunday, admission free.

From January 1901 the style of the paper changed. It was now more dense and carried reprints of previously published articles, as well as current reports. It was not as easy or as enjoyable a read. It reverted back to the original size and form in July 1902. A month later it carried the announcement of ‘Our American Mission’, that being Connolly’s planned trip to America to raise funds by way of a lecture tour. The funds he raised and sent back were dissipated by the time of his return. Connolly, with a family to feed, and no funds to keep the party or the presses going, went back to America where he remained until 1910.

When he eventually returned it was to more fertile territory than he had left due to James Larkin’s efforts over the preceding four years to organise workers into a trade union. With the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in place, there was now a relatively solid base from which to work. In June 1911 The Irish Worker newspaper appeared, edited by Larkin with Connolly’s active participation, and it enjoyed very substantial sales from the start. In June 1911 its circulation was 26,000. By September it had reached a staggering 95,000 copies. Its circulation fluctuated but remained healthy. It was an important weapon in the hands of the labour movement before and during the lock-out of 1913, and crucial in the formation and instruction of the Irish Citizen Army. When Larkin left Ireland to raise funds in the USA in 1914 he left Connolly effectively in control of the ITGWU, and commanding the Irish Citizen Army

In 1915, the Irish Worker was suppressed by the government, and to fill the vacuum, Connolly re-launched The Workers Republic. His newspaper would play an important role in providing coverage of the Army’s activities, training articles etc., and also as a link with the activities of the Irish Volunteers. The first issue, on the 29 May 1915, carries the message, ‘The Army and Reserves will parade on Sunday at Liberty Hall to take part in the May Day procession to the Park. All ranks are called out for the muster. By Order.’. On page 8 the paper carried accounts of military happenings so as ‘to enlighten and instruct our members in the work they are banded together to perform’. In ‘Notes on the Front’, page one, July 3rd 1915, there is a review of “From a Hermitage”, a pamphlet by P. H. Pearse, including this comment ‘We find ourselves in agreement with most of the things he says…and are surprised to find him so wisely sympathetic on the struggles of the workers with which we are most closely identified.’

A week later, under the heading ‘Ourselves and Our “Allies”’, the paper offered ‘heartiest congratulations to the Larkfield Team of the Irish Volunteers who won the tournament at St. Enda’s Fete last Sunday’. The paper was by now providing extensive coverage of the Citizen Army, with training notes on a wide variety of military topics from issue to issue. A series of articles during 1915 drew on revolutionary tactics used in, for instance; Revolution in Belgium (12th June), Revolution in Paris 1830 (July 3rd), while an article on June 19th dealt with the story of the Alamo, which the revolutionary HQ – the GPO and surrounding streets – would emulate less than a year later.

The issue of 15 April 1916, nine days before the revolution would start, carried a poem by C. de. Markievicz :

‘The Call’
‘Do you hear the call in the whispering wind?
The call to our race today,
The call for self-sacrifice, courage and faith
The call that brooks no delay.’

On the same page is an announcement of  a ‘Solemn Hoisting of the Irish Flag at Liberty Hall on Sunday April 16′.

The last issue of the Workers Republic of the 22 April, two days before the Revolution, carried an image of a harp above and below the poem “Eire” by Maeve Cavanagh. The authorities in Dublin Castle would have been reassured, however, by the first lines of the cover article ‘Notes on the Front’‘As this is our Easter edition, and we do not feel like disturbing the harmony of this season of festivity…’. But this last issue of The Workers Republic also carried an editorial titled ‘Labour and Ireland’ in which Connolly described the hoisting of the new flag of the republic over Liberty Hall – “So closely had the crowds been packed that many thousands had been unable to see the ceremony on the square, but the eyes of all were now riveted upon the flag pole awaiting the re-appearance of the Colour Bearer. All Beresford Square was packed, Butt Bridge and Tara Street were as a sea of upturned faces. All the North Side of the Quays up to O’Connell Street was thronged, and O’Connell Bridge itself was impassable owing to the vast multitude of eager, sympathetic onlookers… At last the young Colour Bearer, radiant with excitement and glowing with colour in face and form, mounted beside the parapet of the roof, and with a quick graceful movement of her hand unloosed the lanyard, and

THE FLAG OF IRELAND

fluttered out upon the breeze.

Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it. Over the Square, across Butt Bridge, in all the adjoining streets, along the quays, amid the dense mass upon O’Connell Bridge, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street corners, everywhere the people burst out in one joyous delirious shout of welcome and triumph, hats and handkerchiefs fiercely waved, tears of emotion coursed freely down the cheeks of strong rough men, and women became hysterical with excitement… As the first burst of cheering subsided Commandant Connolly gave the command, “Battalion, Present Arms”, the bugles sounded the General Salute, and the concourse was caught up in a delirium of joy and passion.

In a few short words at the close Commandant Connolly pledged his hearers to give their lives if necessary to keep the Irish Flag Flying, and the ever memorable scene was ended.”

Two days later, Connolly would oversee the unfurling of that flag of the Irish Republic over the GPO as the revolution began.  Nineteen days later he was dead, a battle-wounded prisoner, already dying from gangrene, murdered by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol, and with his death the authentic voice of labour in Ireland was silenced.

We do not need armed revolution in Ireland today, but we certainly need a revolution in thought and spirit, a revolution that, as always, begins in the imagination. But where can we find that organ of the mass media that will present to the people of Ireland alternative ideas to consider, propose better solutions to problems and issues of national importance, show us the lessons of the past that can guide us towards more informed judgements and help us make better decisions? The answer is bleak. In the Ireland of the 21st century that organ of the mass media does not exist. But it cannot be beyond the means of today’s free citizens to create a modern version of The Workers’ Republic, Irish Freedom or The Irish Citizen, online. Here is a start – the masthead of the penultimate edition of James Connolly’s The Workers’ Republic.

The banner of The Workers' Republic of 15th April 1916


Revolution and counter-revolution in Ireland

We are pretty poor in Ireland at properly describing the state we are in, both physically and psychologically.  We live in a political state that we describe as a ‘republic’ even though it patently fails to meet the test for a republic and is, instead, something else, but we won’t name it for what it really is. And we live in a state of being, a psychological condition strangely common across disparate groups that each claim to draw inspiration from widely differing sources, whether christian or non-christian religious faiths, various right-wing or left-wing political faiths, those of no religious or political affiliation and so on. Despite those different influences, so deeply important to many individuals, we act – or fail to act – as if we are all of the same mind.

First to the political state we are in, the so-called ‘republic’.  A reasonable person might imagine that our definition of ‘the republic’ should derive from the foundational document of the independent Irish State, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Paragraph four of the Proclamation lays out very clearly the relationship between the republic and its citizens and the rights and freedoms that the citizens would enjoy.

‘The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation, and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’

The document is revolutionary in its proposal to bring about profound change to the existing order under British rule. It fueled the War of Independence, and its terms were ratified by the people through the elections of 1918, and in the Declaration of Independence issued by the first Dáil in 1919. It is the template for our Irish Republic. But something went wrong. Instead of being our guiding light, the Proclamation was hung, face to the wall, in the darkest corner the state could find.

The Civil War which followed ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 which was forced through by the British under threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ has had a hugely distortive effect on Irish political life ever since. The victors in that Civil War, the pro-Treaty Free State government, was made up of businessmen, professionals and middle-class conservatives. The anti-Treaty side contained the bulk of those radicals and socialists who had survived the Revolution in 1916, and who had prosecuted the War of Independence against the British to establish the Irish Republic. Most of the women who had taken an active part in the 1916 revolution and the War of Independence were on the anti-Treaty side.

Seventy-seven captured anti-Treaty ‘Irregulars’ were executed by the Free State government in 1922-23, some on the flimsiest of charges, and some by summary execution without trial. Republican heroes including Erskine Childers, Liam Lynch, Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows (acknowledged as a socialist intellectual of the same calibre as James Connolly) were executed by Free State firing squads both as a reprisal for acts done by others over whom they had no control, being in prison, and as a way of permanently removing an oppositional cadre of high-quality and deeply committed leaders. The mindset of those government ministers who set this brutal and unlawful campaign of terror in place would later reveal itself as proto-fascist with the amalgamation of their party Cumann na nGaedhael with the fascist Army Comrades Association, better known as the Blueshirts, to form the Fine Gael party that leads the current government.

A principal icon of that party, William T Cosgrave, who was the first prime minister of the Free State, encapsulated that mindset in this quote from a letter he wrote to Austin Stack in 1921 – “People reared in workhouses, as you are aware, are no great acquisition to the community and they have no ideas whatsoever of civic responsibilities. As a rule their highest aim is to live at the expense of the ratepayers. Consequently, it would be a decided gain if they all took it into their heads to emigrate.” That contempt for the poor and marginalised, victims of class politics and consequent economic and cultural deprivation, is still evident in Fine Gael attitudes to this day. It represents the polar opposite of the Republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Many of those on the anti-Treaty side who survived the Civil War were driven into exile, or forced underground, such was the atmosphere generated by the Civil War. As Carol Coulter, writing in 1990, put it: ‘The many other elements which were undoubtedly present in Irish nationalism – not just at the level of ideology, but expressed in living people – ranging from socialism and feminism to religious scepticism and various forms of mysticism, were defeated and their adherents marginalised or forced to keep their dissident views to themselves.’

Eamon de Valera, who was the political leader of the anti-Treaty forces, and who created the Fianna Fail party in 1926 ostensibly as ‘The Republican Party’, would consistently show himself from then on, as he had in 1916, to be nothing more than a catholic nationalist and certainly not a republican. He had been the only 1916 commandant to escape execution, and the only one to have refused to have women as part of  the garrison he led (at Boland’s Mills). That decision he later regretted solely on the grounds that some of his men had to cook! In his political life over many years as Taoiseach and later president, de Valera demonstrated no desire whatever to elevate the Proclamation from obscurity by creating the very Irish Republic that he had sworn in 1916 to put into place.

Having ‘won’ the Civil War, the Free State government set about dismantling the revolution and creating what can only be described as the counter-revolution – the very danger that James Connolly had warned against on many occasions leading up to the 1916 revolution.

The perpetuation of the highly-centralised state administrative system closed off access to power from the broad mass of ordinary people. The professional classes, property owners, capitalist industrialists and bankers still had that access, and the influence that went with it. So too had the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.

As a result of partition, and the consequent separation from the largely-Protestant North East, the Catholic Church held a powerful position in the Free State and began to assert its moral authority more explicitly. Within eight years, what can be described as Catholic legislation had found its way onto the statute books, with discriminatory laws on illegitimacy, divorce, contraception and censorship.

The Film Censorship Act (1923) was passed very shortly after the transfer of power to the Free State government. At this stage the Irish economy was in tatters. The nation had just endured a deeply divisive civil war. Child mortality rates were frighteningly high by European standards. Large numbers of people existed in the most squalid conditions both in the cities and rural areas. And yet the censorship of film was deemed important enough to be placed high on the list of legislation.

‘The highly authoritarian, anti-intellectual strain of Irish Catholic morality was incorporated in the Censorship of Films Act (1923) and the Censorship of Publications Act (1929). These acts were rigorously enforced up to the 1960s by a Censorship Board which was vigilantly supervised by Catholic lay organisations such as the Knights of Columbanus’.   (Tom Inglis: ‘Moral Monopoly’)

The censorship of books and magazines was undertaken on the grounds of ‘public decency’ or ‘obscenity’, but played a major role in suppressing the availability of information to women on matters that apply particularly to them, such as contraception and abortion. Frank O’Connor summed up the situation in 1962 in a debate in Trinity College Dublin: ‘What really counts is the attitude of mind, the determination to get at sex by hook or by crook. Sex is bad, books encourage sex, babies deter it, so keep the books out and give them lots of babies, and we shall have the nearest thing the puritan can hope for to a world without beauty and romance’.

While radicals, dissidents, the poor and the consumers of literature and the arts lost heavily because of the dominant counter-revolutionary ideology of the Free State, there can be no doubt that it was women who bore the brunt of a patriarchal assault on their civil liberties and their sense of self-worth. As soon as the Treaty had been ratified the war on women began. The Catholic Church had created a process of social control and social engineering in the nineteenth century based around the mother as the link to the individual, and one of the principal ways in which the Church exercised control over the mother was by exercising control over their sex.

‘In Ireland, it was the knowledge and control that priests and nuns had over sex which helped maintain their power and control over women. Women especially were made to feel ashamed of their bodies. They were interrogated about their sexual feelings, desires and activities in the confessional. Outside the confessional there was a deafening silence. Sex became the most abhorrent sin.’ ( Tom Inglis ‘Moral Monopoly’)

But the State was now playing its part through the legislative process. Women were increasingly excluded from the public sphere, and were by law precluded from exercising artificial means of control over their own reproductive organs. Single women who made the ‘mistake’ of becoming pregnant were vilified or exiled. Many ended up in the now infamous Magdalene Laundries run by the religious orders, along with many other girls and young women who were considered by the clergy, police or their families to be ‘at risk’. Very many of these unfortunates spent their entire adult lives in these awful places.

In the same way that ‘at risk’ girls, or ‘fallen’ women, could  likely end up in the Magdalene Laundries or similar institutions, children who were ‘deviant’ through an involvement in petty crime, poor school attendance, or lack of parents – in other words, orphans – were certain to find themselves in the euphemistically titled ‘Industrial Schools’ run by the Christian Brothers, or an equivalent institution for girls. The State washed its hands of responsibility for these, the most vulnerable in society.

The consequences of that policy are now  coming to light in proven cases of physical, psychological and sexual abuse on a horrifying scale. These children were not cherished equally to the children of the middle class and the bourgeoisie, but those who abused them, and those who facilitated the abusers in the Catholic Church, the Irish civil service and police, the medical and legal professions and politicians have, by and large, remained untouched by the law.

The 1937 Constitution was another retrograde step foisted on women. Women were now mentioned only as ‘mothers’ and their assigned space was to be the home. The constitution envisaged that women would not, through economic necessity, neglect their primary duties to their husband and their children by working outside the home. Of course many families could not rely on the father’s capacity to provide a living wage, so that for many in Ireland this was just another pious platitude.

‘The position of women in the Irish constitution is value laden. I think it really comes from the central position that the Catholic Church occupies in the Irish Free State and the perception of women in catholic cultural and political life, and this very often happens in a country that has undergone a revolution followed by a civil war, that the strong currents regulating the life of the country go towards a desire for conservative behaviour and conservative images of women’. (Historian Margaret McCurtain).

Women had played a major part in the republican and trade union movements. They had been actively involved in the Land League, Gaelic League, Celtic Revival, the Howth Gun-Running, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War. They had been amongst the most committed to the cause of Irish freedom, and had been formally included in the Proclamation. But in the new Ireland, they were to be mothers, menial workers or minders.

In the significant areas of health and education the degree of control which the Church had achieved in the nineteenth century under British rule was  augmented under the Free State regime. Control of health through hospitals and clinics with a strictly catholic ethos, is another way, outside the confessional, of exercising control over the body.

When the then Minister for Health, Dr. Noel Browne, attempted to bring in the Mother and Child scheme in 1951, which was to do with nothing more than the provision of health care for pregnant women and post-natal care for mothers and children, the response from the Hierarchy took the form of a letter to the Taoiseach – ‘To claim such powers for the public authority, without qualification, is entirely and directly contrary to Catholic teaching on the rights of the family, the rights of the church in education, the rights of the medical profession and of voluntary institutions’

The Minister was forced to resign, and the Mother and Child scheme fell.

In the area of education, the State likewise abrogated its responsibilities to the Church. The Church was, just as it had been under British rule, delighted to – indeed insistent that it should – fill that vacuum. Under Catholic Church control, equality of educational opportunities was not to apply to all of the children of the Nation, just all of the children of the bourgeoisie.

‘It suited this class down to the ground to entrust the education of the youth, and the formulation of social policy, to the Catholic Church. The outlook which it put forward in the 1930s with its corporate view of society, sought to deny class divisions, to preach satisfaction with the economic status quo, and to keep women and youth subordinated to husbands and fathers.’ (Carol Coulter)

Irish education is based on the notion of conformity, and conformity is a vital element in a hegemonic system. According to UCD historian David Fitzpatrick, Catholic nationalism was promoted by the Christian Brothers through ‘the most systematic exploitation of history’ and that their Irish History Reader of 1905 claimed that ‘a nation’s school books wield a great power’, and further: ‘Teachers should reinforce the text-book’s message by dwelling “with pride, and in glowing words on Ireland’s glorious past, her great men and their great deeds”, until pupils were persuaded “that Ireland looks to them, when grown to a man’s estate, to act the part of true men in furthering the sacred cause of nationhood’.

Fitzpatrick further points out that while the writings of Protestants such as John Mitchel and Thomas Davis were popular at the time, the Christian Brothers publication ‘Our Boys” entreated that pupils who were establishing libraries in Christian Brothers’ schools should ‘..be sure, though, that everything you get is recommended by a good Catholic Irishman’.

One important agent of influence in the state was outside direct and overt control by the Catholic church. But since the church directly influenced almost all of those who owned or worked in the media it could rest assured that its views would fall on friendly ears and be delivered through TV, radio and the printed press to the mass of Irish people. Since the vast majority of Irish politicians and state employees such as civil servants and the army and police were loyal, and sometimes fanatical, members of that church, it was in the interest of the state and its employees that those Catholic Church views on almost all important social issues were reported, and reported favourably. After all, maintaining the status quo was in all of their interests – although not in the interest of the mass of people.

Writer and cultural philosopher Desmond Fennell summed it up well in 1993: ‘When an ideological sect has a monopoly of the national media, it tends inevitably, without need of conscious decision, to prevent or minimise public discussion of those ideas it does not want discussed.’ Thus, in the interest of maintaining the status quo, discussion of republican, socialist, feminist, secular and other dissenting views – in other words, progressive ideas – was to be curtailed, or better still prevented, lest those ideas lead to a change in the social order.

The media audience was thus culturally conditioned into belonging to a community, the values of which did not evolve organically over time and through informed and free consent, but were a consequence of inputs under the control of the political class, i.e. the bourgeoisie which combined willingly with the Catholic hierarchy, to create, to use Fennell’s term, an ideological sect.

It is only in the past 20 years or so that the ruling ideological sect has begun to be challenged, and mainly through the work of a small number of ethical journalists, the persistence of a few leftist political groups and individuals, and the work of a few members of the legal profession. Their targets have been, in the main, the political and civil institutions of the state, and the Catholic church.

As far back as 1994, Fintan O’Toole wrote that: ‘In Ireland, virtually every branch of the political system has had its inadequacies exposed. Neither the systems of thought nor the systems of government can simply be patched and mended. They need to be reimagined, redrawn and reconstructed.’

In recent years there has been a steady trickle of information emerging about the relationship between the political and the commercial worlds, triggering a series of interesting but essentially ineffective public inquiries. Ineffective, since prison does not seem to be an option for patently corrupt politicians or businessmen or professional facilitators of corrupt practices.

Neither do the jail gates swing open to receive ecclesiastical prisoners – the bishops and other high-ranking priests and members of the institutional Catholic church – those who destroyed or hid evidence of the most egregious abuse of children, who deliberately lied about crimes they knew to have been perpetrated. In this non-republic there is one set of laws, rigorously applied, for the poor and marginalised and vulnerable, and there is a very different set of rules for the professional class, the Catholic hierarchy and its collaborators, politicians, and the business community.

And so to the Irish State, and what it really is. It is patently obvious that it cannot be described, from its foundation to the present day, as a republic. A republic is the property of its citizens, according to Cicero, and post-Enlightenment republics generally aspire to that idea.

The Irish State has been owned from 1922 to the present day by Desmond Fennell’s ‘ideological sect’, or to put it another way, the priests and the political class of which they form part.

The best description of the Irish State is that it was first a counter-revolutionary theocratic state controlled in its essence by an ultra-conservative religious sect, and that it has, with the diminution in power of the Irish Catholic Church over the past 30 years, become a counter-revolutionary plutarchy – a combination of plutocracy (government by a wealthy class) and oligarchy (government by a dominant class or clique) – a plutarchy determined at all costs to stifle the beautiful vision of the Proclamation.

And what of the people of Ireland, or at least of the 26-county Irish State, and their seeming inability, in general, to act politically and socially in different ways depending on their particular ‘faiths’ whether religious or political, to rationally debate different ideas, to come to different conclusions, make different choices, act with some evidence of individual autonomy and reason?

How is it that a majority of people in this state consistently act against their own economic or social interests in electing a set of political parties to govern, knowing from experience that the inevitable outcome will be the pampering of the wealthy at the expense of the lower middle and working classes and the poor, and the formulation of social policy so as to achieve as little progressive movement as necessary, thus securing the existing social order?

How is  it that in the face of outrageous and generally un-prosecuted crimes committed against women and children, and the corruption of political institutions by politicians, professionals and business interests, the people give out and then, inevitably, give in?

How is it that the mass of ordinary people, workers and their families, with all of the evidence around them of a contempt for the contribution they make to the companies they work for, and to the State itself, give in to a campaign of vilification of the trade union movement – the very institution that gave them the 40 hour working week, annual leave, legal and regulatory protections, a seat at the negotiating table, a minimum wage, extra pay for unsocial hours and redundancy compensation?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding that classic ‘civil war to counter-revolution’ scenario described earlier by Margaret McCurtain, and adding to it the deliberate creation off a hegemonic state by creating a ‘spiral of silence’ in which all dissident views are regarded as deviant and dangerous and contrary to ‘public good’ and even the ‘natural order’.

The evidence is all there in full view. It is time for us to understand it and to react rationally in our own interest and in the interest of the common good. It is time for us to start naming things for what they really were and are.  It is time for us to stop using ambiguity in language as it applies to public life and to the nation, to stop talking from behind our hands, to stand up and speak out, to stop giving out and then giving in. It is time for us to tear back the Proclamation from the dead hands of that ugly ‘ideological sect’ and to put it into action for the benefit of all citizens – to re-create the Republic.

It is time for us to grow up.


Constitutional reform must be citizen-driven

It may seem churlish to argue against initiatives which claim to seek a greater  involvement by citizens in the affairs of the State, or, in the case of the Labour Party to engage citizens with the process of constitutional reform. But let’s be churlish – with good reason.

Both of these initiatives come out of the political class – a class which has shown scant regard for the notion of equality of citizenship since the foundation of the State, preferring to champion a ‘plutarchy’, a combination of rule by the wealthy and by a special ‘elite’ – a small number of ‘expert’ and/or ’eminent’ people. The outcome of their endeavours to date has been the creation of a hegemonic State in which the desires of the few have precedence over the needs of the many.

Both initiatives have, on the surface, the appearance of offering a semi-revolutionary outcome. The ‘We the Citizens’ initiative, funded by Atlantic Philanthropies, wishes to ‘renew democracy’ and ‘restore trust in  public life’ by creating a ‘national citizens assembly’ to meet in Dublin in June. 150 participants will be selected randomly from a poll of over 1000 people on the electoral register and will, according to the organisers, ‘consider proposals on making the political institutions of the State better suited to serving citizens’. Grand! We can all applaud that effort. Well not all – some may remain churlish, again with good reason.

Who are the organisers of this seemingly fine initiative, ‘We the Citizens’? They are, almost every one of them, members of the same political class that has overseen the maintenance of the very plutarchy that has destroyed real democracy in this so-called ‘Republic’ of Ireland. Apart from Fiach MacConghail, Director/CEO of the Abbey Theatre, almost every other person listed on their publicity material is a senior academic in Irish or US universities. Some, like UCD Professor Brigid Laffan, are ardent advocates of the EU and of Ireland’s integration into it, some might say to the point of madness. Others, like Intel’s Head of Corporate Affairs Brendan Cannon come as advocates of corporate globalisation and capitalism, not seen as forces that promote human equality or true democracy.

The initiative is supported by yet more university academics including those who run the website politicalreform.ie. On the evidence to date there is no reason to suspect that the Trinity College school of politics which seems the driving force behind that website has any interest in genuinely radical reform of the State which, to be genuinely radical requires the destruction of the hegemony which sustains inequality, privilege and injustice.

Many of these arguments can be made against the Labour Party’s fig-leaf of ‘constitutional reform’. What the Labour Party proposes is a constitutional convention which would draw together ‘all strands of Irish society’ with a mandate to ‘review the constitution and draft a reformed one within a year’. Note – reform, not replace. The current 1937 Constitution is the basis on which inequality and injustice and privilege are founded.

And what of Labour’s notion of ‘all strands of society’. Not quite what it says on the tin. The 90 members would include 30 members of the Oireachtas – yes, the very same dysfunctional and corrupted Oireachtas that is destroying our integrity as a sovereign nation, again all members of the political class. Then there would be ’30 members [who] would be academic or practicing lawyers and others with experience or expertise from non-governmental associations and organisations’, again all members of the political class. Bringing up the rear-guard would be ’30 ordinary citizens’, outnumbered at least 2 to 1 by the political class members.

Even if both initiatives brought to their endeavours strong citizens who could stand up for themselves and their fellow citizens the likelihood is that the agenda of both initiatives will have been consciously or unconsciously skewed before a word is spoken. And when it comes to ‘expert’ advice to the citizens in advance of their deliberations, who will deliver that advice? Why, the self-same political class that has overseen the anti-republican direction that this corrupt, hegemonic State has taken, and who now propose to manage its reform!

What is the intended outcome of either of these initiatives? It is to create a ‘new’ republic, or even a ‘second republic’. What the real outcome will be is best summed up by an Irish saying “cur síoda ar an gabhar, is gabhar i gconaí é”, or “put silk on a goat, it’s still a goat”.

What no-one wants to mention is the only republic we have had – the republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of April 24th 1916 and which stood until the Treaty and the counter-revolution which followed immediately. It is, to the Irish political class, the leper that needs to be sheeted, the vampire that needs a stake in its heart, the mad uncle who needs to be locked away. They despise it for its purity and its practicality. They have contempt for its vision of a better future for all. They reject its concrete universal principles of freedom, equality and justice.

There is a real need for an alternative to these spurious pretenses at initiating ‘reform’. That alternative demands a truly democratic convention that does not privilege members of the political class, or any social class. It requires the engagement of citizens – ordinary citizens – to the task of getting the work underway. The process of creating real, meaningful and revolutionary change needs volunteer citizens – as was the case 100 years ago when all appeared lost, but was redeemed.

Minds must meet to start the process. The time was never more right. This volunteer stands ready. Who else will come to the task?


First Principles Fundamental To Constitutional Reform

‘There needs to be real political reform’ was the mantra of all parties in the last General Election. Judging by the text of the Coalition’s Programme for Government constitutional reform can be taken to mean tinkering around with the existing Constitution. But this reform needs to go far deeper. Real change requires the scrapping of the 1937 Constitution – a flawed, misogynistic, sectarian, anti-egalitarian document which has institutionalised inequality and injustice under a range of headings, making it anti-republican in a country that claims to be a republic.

The tone of the current constitution is set in its  preamble which states:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,

And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,

Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

It is legitimate to argue that this preamble is inappropriate to today’s Ireland in which reside many citizens who worship a different version of ‘God’ to the Christian one, or who are non-believers, including Atheists. It is not for the State but for the citizen to pay homage to a ‘God’ or not to do so. There is a valid argument that the State should guarantee religious liberty while maintaining a strictly secular stance of not seeking to interfere in the personal beliefs or practices of the citizen with regard to religious or spiritual belief or lack of same.

A more appropriate preamble in the constitution of a republic would be one which lays out the founding principles and ethos of that republic, and names the republic, and that from this preamble all subsequent articles of the constitution and all legislation by parliament both past and present should flow in accordance with the principles and ethos of the republic. By way of comparison with the existing preamble here is one option:

The Irish Republic is a Sovereign Independent State and is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of all citizens. The Republic declares the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and all of its natural resources and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible, and will strive to achieve this in full by peaceful means. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights, respect and opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts.

This is of course a reconstructed synthesis of the key points of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic which takes into account  the political reality of partition and divided allegiances on the island now, and the need to redress these physical, cultural and psychological divisions through dialogue in parallel with the practical application of progressive enlightenment republicanism, and through this the construction of a State and society worthy of realising the ambition of the unification of the island and its people to the advantage of all.

It is worth using that proposed preamble as a way of gauging how any of the key issues that affect citizens would have to be determined either in the Constitution or through legislation. For instance, there are two words in that preamble that are significant in their own right – one is ‘happiness’, and the other is ‘all’ which is repeated a number of times. The use of ‘all’ with respect to citizens removes any qualification of or diminution of citizenship and fundamental rights by reason of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, social class, disability and so on. The use of ‘happiness’ has significance if it is applied to the State’s duty in providing for the fundamentals of life – sustenance, health, education, housing, care of children and the elderly, human respect and dignity, and so on. It is a word that is subversive to authoritarianism and corruption – the ‘happiness of the whole nation and of all of its parts’. What a great concept! It is time to make those words work for the citizens and by extension for the nation.

If we are to reform the Constitution then we must start at the beginning and define precisely what sort of Republic we want to have. That is what the signatories to the Proclamation intended, and left the template as their legacy to us.

It remains to us to live up to that legacy. The time is right to do it now. We, the citizens, must take control of reform away from the sectional interests of political parties, and must settle for nothing less than our full legacy.


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