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An appeal to (right-wing) authority… October 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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From Pat Leahy’s book ‘The Price of Power – Inside Ireland’s Crisis Coalition’

…this little gem. Writing about the latter days of 2010 and the aftermath of the ‘bailout’ and the ‘four year plan’ he notesL

Fintan O’Toole, probably the country’s leading newspaper commentator, called for the government to be replaced by a ‘short-term technical administration (led by non-political people of integrity and competence) – an idea that appears to require the suspension of the constitution, by an authority O’Toole did not make clear.

Odd that. That point about the constitutional implications of same is well made, nothing like a quick fix – eh?

But if ever it demonstrated how so often centre leftish approaches seem to just fold up their tent at the first hint of real trouble and run for cover to the centre right (which has no such illusions about the exercise of power and the ideological aspects of same) it is near perfect. Of a piece with that was O’Toole’s solo (none) run at the subsequent election with that group of all the talents – which surely was quite an example of supposed political activity.

In some ways the capitulation to the right of generation after generation of social democrats is a part of that – the idea that there’s something ‘above’ politics. It’s genuinely depressing how unmoored some appear to be to their supposedly fundamental approaches. And I wonder is there a broader dynamic at work which is worth considering, is it a function of the hegemony of the orthodoxy?

This Week At Irish Election Literature October 31, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.
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From the 1997 General Election Campaign a leaflet from The Dublin Spartacist Group

From the 1973 Assembly Elections “Spoil Your Vote..And Spoil It Early” From Republican News

A “Don’t Fall For Their Lies We Can Beat The Water Charges” Leaflet from “Right 2 Water Sligo”

Sinn Feins troubles … Forcing The Civil War Parties into Coalition? October 30, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.
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I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that were the current issues afflicting Sinn Fein have happened when they were in Government in The Republic that that coalition Government would have fallen.
Imagine the site of the opposition leader greeting Mairia Cahill in Leinster House, whilst the Taoiseach tells us that the issue is an internal Sinn Fein matter. Sinn Fein might get hit slightly in the polls but it would be the senior coalition party that loses a lot more support. In a way it’s the opposite to the dynamic where the smaller party like the Greens gets obliterated due to their time in Government, it is the senior coalition partner that could suffer the most.
The polls over the past while have indicated that Government formation may not align along familiar paths, Fine Gael and Labour won’t get the numbers, Fianna Fail and Independents won’t either, FF or FG and a smaller party unlikely too.
Politics can of course be fickle but the current events involving Sinn Fein and Mairia Cahill (and whatever else may come out of it) must surely mean that Fianna Fail , Fine Gael or Labour could not go into government with Sinn Fein after the next General Election.The Maths of course may well dictate otherwise but the potential of some form of scandal erupting is surely too much. Imagine the glee in the media who would only be too glad to carry stories damaging Sinn Fein. (The other complication is that the Fianna Fail membership will have the final say on any Coalition deal involving Fianna Fail).
So with Sinn Fein still vulnerable to scandals and probably untouchable by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael…… The Maths may well end up forcing the Civil War Parties together.

Those ‘rumours’ about Irish Water October 30, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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A TD writes… about Irish Water. And who is it, but Pat Rabbitte in the SBP. He’s quite a way with him for defending stuff which others won’t. For example he offers a boilerplate outline of Irish Water’s genesis.

The government decided to establish [he notes 'at the prodding of the troika - wbs], in public ownership, a utility to conserve, treat and supply water. Huge investment will be needed to dig out or refurbish the network in many parts of the country. The exchequer doesn’t have the money, so Irish Water will have to raise that investment off the national accounts. The alternative is to seriously worsen the deficit or raise taxes on people who go to work.

I like that last. But I wonder just what is the aversion to raising taxes? What new horror does it unleash?

He offers a soupçon, as it were, of sympathy…

For many families another charge is a charge too much. They are already struggling to make ends meet. What is heightening the opposition to water charges, however, is the fear of the unknown. The fears of such families are being exacerbated by uncertainty and lack of clarity. There are so many questions that arise where people just don’t believe that they have received clear or definite answers. They are entitled to certainty and clarity and it is the duty of government to ensure that they get it.

Some of us would think that the ‘charge [being] to much’ was… well… enough, and that ‘fear of the unknown’ on top of it was fairly irrelevant. If ‘many families’ can’t pay then they can’t pay. For them he offers no respite. Instead he’s off on a line – now familiar from the government and media proxies – that the ‘bonus culture’ of Irish Water is what raises peoples ire, rather than y’know, the actual charges.

Misrepresenting the remuneration system has become another weapon to undermine the company. Every second day there is a new “revelation” that stokes fear and opposition. The supposed €188 per hour callout charge is especially effective.
Since when did any water authority in Ireland come out to fix a leak on the premises? If there is a leak right up to the stopcock, that is the responsibility of Irish Water. After that responsibility, as has always been the case, rests with the householder who does what has always been done – get a plumber.

I’m a bit puzzled as to how this is a misrepresentation, there is indeed a €188 callout charge for fixing leaks (on their side of the meter). There’s also the following from the Journal:

The price would also include a €282 out of hours call-out fee, with an extra €141 an hour. It would also see Irish Water charging €220 to test water pressure and €17 for a special meter reading.

These are pretty scarifying figures and what about ability to pay? He continues:

The budget sought to address the affordability issue. However, water charges have become totemic for all the ills of society and for all the perceived failings of government. The company’s preoccupation with executing the huge challenge entrusted to it has not been reflected in the quality of its engagement with the public. The government has allowed a vacuum to develop.

But the odd thing is how little exercised he actually appears to be about the affordability issue – to coin a phrase. It’s just not on his radar.

Still, an interestingly apocalyptic note for him to strike at the end:

The new minister, Alan Kelly, seems smart enough and tough enough to take the issue by the scruff of the neck and deliver a water system fit for purpose. That would be an achievement to be proud of. If he fails, it won’t just damage his reputation – it could be the beginning of the end for the government.

Will it, will it indeed?

Who wants to put together a government in 2015/16? Harder than it was two weeks ago… October 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Adrian Kavanagh’s figures for the most recent polls make some reading. Let’s put aside all the stuff as to whether a 3% fall in support for SF indicates a ‘slump’, as the SBP puts it (whereas a 2% fall for FG doesn’t) – or the fact that while Adams has lost popularity he remains just 1% behind the most popular politician, and consider what his projections suggest. He notes that on the SBP/RedC figures:

Fine Gael 26% (down 2%), Sinn Fein 20% (down 3%), Fianna Fail 18% (NC), Labour Party 8% (NC), Independents, Green Party and Others 28% (up 5%).

From which he projects:

Fianna Fail 33, Fine Gael 48, Sinn Fein 29, Labour Party 7, Independents and Others 41.

The Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll is remarkably similar.

Fine Gael 25% (up 1%), Sinn Fein 19% (NC), Fianna Fail 18% (NC), Labour Party 9% (down 5%), Green Party 3% (up 1%), Independents and Others 25% (up 3%).

From which he projects:

Fianna Fail 34, Fine Gael 48, Sinn Fein 28, Labour Party 8, Green Party 1, Independents and Others 39.)

I could easily be wrong, but it seems to me to be some time since we saw two polls by different companies so close to one another. What to make of it?

The all important figure is 80 for even a bare majority in the Dáil. And on this on the SBP and the ST figures suggest it can’t be done other than with FF and FG. Forget about SF and FF or SF/FF and LP. Doesn’t work (IEL has had some interesting points to make on whether there’s a hope that others will work with SF with Adams in the picture. Maybe, maybe not, a lot depends on how matters proceed in regard to the most recent controversy). A minority FG administration? Maybe but on 48 it would be rightly screwed. A corralling of some Independents/Others into government supporting alliance. Those of us with not terribly long memories will recall 2007 and one B. Ahern’s efforts in that direction with Finian McGrath amongst others. Let’s just say things didn’t end that well – perhaps if the boom hadn’t crashed they might have. Perhaps not. But in any event, not a happy precedent. External support from FF in the national interest? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Other than that it’s back to the people time.

Thing is the rupture between said people and the larger political parties appears enormous. Note that in recent weeks support has gone towards Ind/Others, not FF. SF may, or may not – the figures are unclear – have suffered damage. But either way that rupture deepens. Of course we’ve months to go but nothing yet to suggest that there’s any real means of bridging the gap. I think FG and the LP may be resigning themselves to the thought that gratitude is unlikely to be forthcoming from citizens for their approach. Strange that – eh?

And what of that potential Dáil, if a minority government or an FG/FF administration took power with a large and fractious bunch of Ind/others looking on – and most likely SF there too. Who benefits in that scenario? Particularly, and this cannot be ruled out, the situation actually improves or they’re able – as they are already trying to do – to fudge water and other charges? Does it become a situation where 2015/16 is the one to go into government in order to cement power for a good two terms?

And what does that hold in regard to tempting the traditional parties to work together as never before?

Finally, as ever we see long established patterns of party support maintained. Labour at an abysmal vote share and projected number of TDs. What sort of LP would that be? How could it repurpose itself and in what context? A minor, very minor, party of government? But to what end? For Fianna Fáil a not entirely dissimilar range of questions, an improvement but not much of one all things considered. A smattering of urban TDs and some fresher faces, but still one big ‘B’ team all things considered politically. And how to position itself, slightly more left, further to the right? A government party, but in a minor key? That talk of two elections to true recovery ringing ever louder in their ears, but… problematically, no sign of any appetite on the electorate to give them much of anything that might indicate at that recovery.

And Sinn Féin, beset not by the direct issues relating to the conflict – armed struggle itself seemingly not as great a problem in retrospect as some might have imagined, but having to fend off all that went with it, the legacy of armed struggle and the structures and response that that engendered. There’s no doubting – and some of the more measured contributions to the discussion in the last week or two have made this point – that there’s a very certain sort of hypocrisy at work in this state in relation to the issue of sexual abuse and crimes, but there’s also no denying that the issues raised across that week or two in relation to the IRA has been deeply troubling for many. Politically it would seem the impact has been much lesser than might have been thought of.

And the Others/Independents, the last best hope of the Irish electorate – at least as a bloc – in these polls either the largest or equally largest bloc of support. Of course even to state it in those terms is to see the contradictions in operation here. There’s no cohesion, they are of left, centre and right. They are pretty much whatever the voter(s) want them to be. That is their greatest strength in the run-up to the GE. And it may well prove their greatest weakness subsequently if that government formation proves next to impossible.

Searching for a party? October 29, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Irish Mortgage Holders’ Organisation founder David Hall’s unhappy plight, described in the Irish Times this week as regards the near illusory ‘new party’ in a way gets to the heart of matters. He describes having met Lucinda Creighton and Stephen Donnelly ‘about setting up a new party but has expressed frustration at a lack of progress’.

Note, however, that he met them separately. As he says:

“I met with Lucinda and Stephen separately.’

Yeah, okay, we got that already.

But he continues:

‘I don’t know what their intentions are as of yet. I don’t think they have made any definite decisions yet, but discussions are still ongoing,” he said.

Question number one, the thrust of the article is that Creighton and Donnelly are working together. But… why should that be a given? I’ve talked to some who’ve worked with Donnelly on campaigns over the past year or so, people from the further left at that, whose take is that he would not make an easy comrade of Creighton, being fairly clearly to her left (not, admittedly, a difficult achievement). So there’s no reason this ‘new party’ must contain both.

Hall continues:

Speaking to The Irish Times today, he made clear he felt the time was right for like-minded politicians and aspiring candidates to unite as the general election approaches.
“I’ve had multiple conversations with various people in respect of a new party with a common objective to bring about real change,” he said.
“It’s proven very frustrating, firstly in relation to funding such a movement and secondly in relation to various hints, rumours and stories people are floating around different intentions that now need to come to an end.”

That raises question number two. Why? Why should it come to an end? To whose benefit? Creighton obviously wants a vehicle, any vehicle. Donnelly, perhaps likewise, but his isn’t necessarily the same as Creighton’s. Meanwhile, there is, as the IT notes:

The intentions of Independent TD Shane Ross are also being speculated on, after he wrote to Independent councillors suggesting the formation of an alliance.

But Ross had the good sense – as it were – to invite a broad range of councillors of both left and right. Hard to see Creighton managing that trick whereas the somewhat more emollient Ross might just do it.

But the point being that just as that other rather illusory social democratic formation hasn’t manifested itself but is also talked about, the truth is that there’s many different versions of the ‘new’ party out there and many different motivations for one. And the sheer incoherence of the material from which any such party would be crafted is a major stumbling block. Some might think those named as being interested in a ‘new party’ as being of like minds. Superficially yes, that is the case, but in reality – in terms of actual political activity – anything but, and not merely in terms of distinctly different ideological viewpoints, even if all would be centre/centre right to varying degrees. Individual ambition, outlook and so forth shapes them and all others in the mix for a new party.

Small wonder that no-one has been able to conjure a new party into being. There’s already a large right of centre FG in situ and in power. No small thing. For those of a more liberal taste there’s the LP, albeit its stock is falling rapidly. Then there’s FF – whose definition is…erm… obscure. And a plethora of Independents take up the slack. One could even suggest that Hall himself exemplifies the problems in this process. Centre, centre right, but what’s his views on social issues, or austerity or… and there we have it. Try to pin it down and this inchoate mess, in terms of building a ‘new party’, is manifest.

I’ve no doubt someone will try to get it up and running in a more concrete form – though given the popularity of alliances I’d put money on it being looser rather than fighters as a grouping. I’ve doubts as to whether it will be a flier. Too late, again too inchoate, and in a sense entirely redundant given the actual political system we have as against the one the media keep trying to bring into being.

From the Southern Star of Skibbereen, Co.Cork. October 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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…and their Archon contributor, an entertainingly jaundiced view of the current political scene…

Untitled

Losing October 28, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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I was talking to a friend recently who had seen firsthand the Greyhound dispute. The observation was made that those working for the company tended to have little or no familiarity of the very concept of scabbing. To them the protests were simply obstructing their work for which they were paid. And far from the stuff put about that these were non-nationals, overwhelmingly they were Irish.

And that got me thinking, because in the 1990s, which is beginning to feel like a very very long time ago now, I worked for a group of companies, one of which had a foot in basic manufacturing of electrical goods. And what was striking was firstly that those in that particular company were some of the vanishingly few of us who were members of unions and secondly how seriously this was taken by the companies involved. Unlike the rest of us they got wage increases in tandem with those agreed nationally and had slightly better working conditions.

Now, as an aside, one could consider for quite a while the lessons of that and just why was it that their approach wasn’t emulated more widely by workers in the companies. But that’s a different issue, in a way.

The other point was that everyone was aware of the implications of strikes and pickets and what would happen if those in the manufacturing side were at the main gate and there was no appetite to pass pickets whatsoever. And, despite the essentially depoliticised attitude of most workers in the place, that was a given. And I’d suspect that passing pickets, let alone accepting scab workers, was something that many would think twice about, let alone actually do.

I was wondering whether twenty odd years later things might be different, because of that anecdote from Greyhound. Has that broad, almost sympathy, dissipated in the past decade or so?

But it also strikes me that this is, in part, a result of the bizarre lack of interest on the part of the unions in the 1990s and on into the 2000s in extending further into the private sector and seeming to default to seeing the public sector as their primary focus. It’s important, of course, to note the exceptions to that, both in terms of unions that didn’t do that and individuals within unions that did who went above and beyond the call of duty. But I think I am describing a real dynamic. And this was linked into ‘partnership’ and approaches to taxation, unionisation of multinationals and so forth where once more the unions were found seriously wanting.

What do others think?

Alan MacSimóin Interview October 27, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics, The Left, Video interview.
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Via The Irish Republican & Marxist History Project

Alan MacSimoin a long-time Anarchist activist and founder member of Workers Solidarity Movement.

He joined as a young man the Official Republican Movement (Sinn Fein) .

Within a short time he was involved with the Irish Anti Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African goods in Ireland. He was also active with the Irish Anti Nuclear Movement that stopped the building of five nuclear power stations around the coast of Ireland in the 1970s.

Alan was central in the Murray Defence Committee in 1976-77 to stop the state execution of Anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the killing of a member of the police.

‘Look Back in Anger’ Ireland and World War One – Brian Hanley October 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish History, Irish Politics, The Left.
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A paper presented by Brian Hanley at the John Boyle O’Reilly Autumn School
Drogheda 19 October 2014

Many thanks to BH for allowing us to reproduce the text of the paper.

Good morning. Firstly I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak here. At least 40,000 Irish men and women died as a result of the First World War, almost 1,000 from this region alone. Thousands more were wounded and families and communities across the country directly and deeply affected by the conflict; it left scars that lasted for decades. That alone makes it a hugely significant event in our history. Indeed it is impossible to understand why the Easter Rising occurred and the way that the Irish revolution developed without discussing the war. I agree with historian John Borgonovo, who, in his excellent study of Cork city in this period, The Dynamics of war and revolution, argues that it was the First World War which fundamentally transformed Ireland.

As a historian I have no difficulties with researching and discussing World War One, or with its dead being remembered. I understand the very human desire of many to discover more about their ancestors experiences of the war. Furthermore I think the conflict can be researched and discussed, as a group in Belfast working on the Connaught Rangers have argued, without it being ‘a contribution to the glorification of the senseless slaughter of the First World War. ’As far back as November 1934 the left-wing Republican Congress newspaper could assert that ‘no Irishman objects to the commemoration of those who died in the Great War.’ But the important question is what type of commemoration?

This year I believe we have seen commemoration being replaced by a kind of an unquestioning nostalgia about Irish participation in the slaughter of World War One. This is partly the influence of the moves by the British establishment to recast the war as one involving defence of democracy against Prussian militarism (with the strong suggestion that this was simply another form of the Nazism that Britain fought in the Second World War). This has of course involved ignoring or downplaying the nature of the other allied powers, including Belgium’s brutal colonial record and Tzarist Russia’s tyranny. The role of Imperial Japan or the Italian empire, let alone those of Britain and France is also little discussed; but millions of colonial subjects of those empires and also of Germany and Turkey of course, found themselves at war without any consideration whatsoever of their views on the matter. A whole host of nations and peoples were bartered and exchanged as new nations were simply carved into or out of existence; by the Sykes-Picot deal in 1916 for example- look today at its legacy in the Middle East. This was an imperial conflict.

But in Ireland today commemoration of the war is seen by some, very sincerely, as a tool for reconciliation, because the war involved Irishmen from north and south and from nationalist and unionist backgrounds. There are also however, others who want to downplay or ignore Ireland’s place in the British Empire and act as if there was some mandate for ‘our’ participation in 1914-18. This is accompanied by a cynical attempt to convince us that the over 200,000 Irish people (and they were not just men) who took part in the war were completely airbrushed from history, until, as the RTE website informs us ‘this year.’ This view, which reflects a more complex reality about remembrance and forgetting, plays again on the genuine interest of people in their family history and suggests that it is being hidden from them. And finally commemoration of the war is often presented as apolitical and natural.

I would argue that the war was never forgotten in nationalist Ireland but was remembered largely as a waste of life, as a mistake, as something that Irish people should not have taken part in. And that’s the way I believe it should be remembered. Much of the contemporary commentary on the war is part of an effort to make us see it as something else. But the state that emerged here after 1921, whatever we think of the Civil War or the nature of the Pro and Anti-Treaty sides, emerged because of a rejection of Empire, inspired to a great degree by revulsion at the war, which discredited British rule in Ireland. Well before the war was over, most Irish people regretted that John Redmond had promised nationalist support for the war effort.
As a Cork song from 1915 put it:
“Full steam ahead, John Redmond said and everything is well, chum
Home Rule will come when you are dead and buried out in Belgium.”

Redmond and his party paid the price in 1918. It was not the Easter Rising that destroyed Redmondism, but the war. And that was reflected in the views of mainstream opinion in the 1920s and 1930s. Hence Kevin O’Higgins, the Free State Minister for Justice, (whose brother Michael was killed in France), would object to the construction of a memorial to the dead in Merrion Square during 1926, because as he explained such a memorial would suggest that the war was part of the new state’s heritage but ‘The State has other origins and because it has other origins, I do not wish to see it suggested, in stone or otherwise, that it has that origin.’

It is also useful to ask why Irishmen were in the British Army in the first place?
This question may seem obvious but is often overlooked in mainstream commentary. Irishmen went to war as part of the British military machine, because of decisions made in London. There was no even-partially independent Irish parliament to rubber-stamp ‘our’ participation. If there had been I think supporting the war would still have been wrong, but given that there wasn’t even that fig-leaf of democracy, all discussion of Ireland’s participation should reference this.

And yes, Irishmen had participated in Britain’s military for generations, but what did this mean? A future president of this state, Sean T. O’Kelly, put it like this to a meeting of Indian nationalists in New York during 1924 ‘we must feel under deep obligation to work for India and for Egypt until both are free…we owe a deep debt to these countries, for has it not been largely by the work of Irish brains and Irish brawn and muscle that these two ancient peoples have been beaten into subjection and have been so long oppressed…Our Indian friends, could, if they wished, tell us many heart-rending stories of the brutalities practiced upon their peoples by English regiments bearing names such as Connaught Rangers, Munster Fusiliers, Dublin Fusiliers…Egypt has the same sad stories to tell to our disgrace. Until we Irish do something practical to make amends for the wrong doing …that shame will rest with us.’ Irish participation in imperial service is not something to be proud of.

In asking how we would we commemorate those who took part, we have to ask why did they take part?
It is tempting and satisfying in some ways to charge that John Redmond was responsible for their participation and the resulting losses. But I would counsel caution and suggest that despite his own best efforts, argue against conflating John Bruton with John Redmond. Why? Because if we think that nationalist Ireland essentially supported a version of John Bruton’s politics in 1914, or we imagine that the Home Rulers were Unionists, then I don’t think we can understand how by 1918 people rejected the war and endorsed the idea of independence.

This is Redmond in 1892 addressing a rally in Waterford calling for the release of Fenian prisoners in Britain, asserting that ‘They are our kith and kin. They are men who sacrificed everything that was most dear to them in an effort to benefit Ireland. What do we care whether their effort was a wise one or not, whether a mistaken one or not?’ Throughout the 1890s Redmond regularly visited republican prisoners in England and acted as a legal advisor to them. He had himself after all, along with many of his fellow Irish Party colleagues seen the inside of jail cells. When in 1897 Tom Clarke was released from prison, he expressly singled Redmond out for thanks, saying his visits ‘meant a great deal to us…as far as I am concerned I felt the good effects of his visits for a week afterwards and sometimes for a fortnight.’ Clarke’s welcome home rally was chaired by Redmond’s brother William, himself an MP for East Clare. William had been jailed twice during the Land War and in 1902 he would be imprisoned again for attempting to prevent an eviction. During the Boer War William Redmond was Treasurer of the Irish Transvaal Committee, opposing British army recruiting in Ireland. During May 1899 John Redmond and another Home Rule MP John Dillon both provided references for Tom Clarke as he sought to secure a position as a clerk with Rathdown Poor Law Union. Praising Clarke’s ‘character and abilities’ Redmond told his potential employers that he held the Fenian in ‘feelings of the greatest respect and goodwill.’

We are more familiar with later versions of the Redmond brothers, with John Redmond arguing that Home Rule would guarantee Britain a loyal friend within the Empire and William Redmond dying in British Army uniform in Belgium during June 1917. But the movement that John Redmond led was an Irish nationalist movement, whose anthem was ‘A Nation Once Again’ and one of the contradictions of Home Rule is that many supporters of the Irish Party expected it to mean far more than it would have in practice. John Redmond’s professions of imperial loyalty were real, (though sometimes intended to impress a deeply suspicious British audience) but such loyalty was not necessarily felt by many of the party’s supporters. It might surprise some that perhaps ¼ of Home Rule MPs in the early 1900s were ex-Fenians. This was no secret because the party regularly trumpeted its radical past. Indeed it was the Home Rule party which had monopolized the annual Manchester Martyrs commemorations. They protrayed themselves as the inheritors of the Irish revolutionary tradition. As Willie Redmond asserted in 1910 under Home Rule ‘the aspirations of our race will be realised, and…the struggle of the men of ’98, of ’67, of ’48 and of Parnell will be rewarded.’ Nor did the party endorse recruiting in Ireland. As William Delaney the MP for Ossory, put it in 1905 ‘if they joined the Army they would be sent out to fight for the great British Empire, and afterwards they’d get two pewter medals and sixpence a day for five years and they’d die in the workhouse.’ Hence in 1914, unlike Tory, Unionist or Liberal MPs, very few Home Rulers had any worry about being called up as reservists.

At various stages Thomas McDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Rory O’Connor, Sean MacEoin, Patrick Little, Francis and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington had been members of branches of the Home Rule party, while Sean MacDiarmaida was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians until 1906. The distinctions between ‘constitutionalist’ and separatist were often blurred before 1914 and Home Rule rhetoric about ‘Cromwell’s work being nearly undone’ conjured up visions of much more than limited devolution within the Empire. This is not to ignore the deeply reactionary aspects of other parts of the Home Rule movement’s politics, such as its role during the 1913 Lockout or its leader’s opposition to Women’s suffrage, but to try and understand them in the context of their time not as part of our modern polemics.

Before Redmond said anything about the war, there were around 50,000 Irishmen already serving in the British military, and the thousands who were called up initially in the winter of 1914 were reservists, or ex-soldiers. These included at least 1,000 members of the Irish Transport Union, among them members of the Citizen Army; as the Irish Worker lamented ‘some of our best comrades are leaving the North Wall to fight for the glory of England.’ Another 1,000 former ITGWU men would be in British uniform by 1915. During 1914 around 26,000 Ulster Volunteers joined up, as did thousands of other men from Unionist backgrounds, from across Ireland. Redmond can’t be blamed for that either. The war had devastating impact on southern Protestants: a visit to any Anglican Church will show you that. About 24,000 members of the Irish Volunteers did join, most of them probably after Redmond’s Woodenbridge speech. And some nationalists did accept Redmond’s reasoning for supporting the war. The former MP Tom Kettle argued that ‘this war is without parallel…France is as right now as she was wrong in 1870. England is as right now as she was wrong in the Boer War. Russia is as right now as she was wrong on Bloody Sunday.’ Kettle enlisted the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was killed at the Somme in September 1916. Francis Ledwidge, a founder of the Co. Meath Labour Union, and an early recruit to the Slane Irish Volunteers, initially supported Eoin MacNeill’s section of the movement. But he enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914 later explaining that ‘I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilization and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.’ He was killed at Passechendalle in July 1917. (Though not before reassessing his views on the war).

Tom Kettle had been in Belgium buying guns for the Irish Volunteers when war broke out and had witnessed the effect of the German invasion. Reports of German atrocities and pro-war propaganda were very important in recruitment, especially in 1914-15. The pro-war mood saw attacks on German shopkeepers and the arrests of foreigners accused of being spies. But analyzing the reasons why the majority of Irish recruits, most of whom were not members of the Irish or Ulster Volunteers joined up is more difficult. How many were like Tom Barry who reflected that ‘I cannot plead that I went on the advice of John Redmond or any other politician, that if we fought for the British we would secure Home Rule for Ireland, nor can I say I understood what Home Rule meant. I was not influenced by the lurid appeal to save Belgium or small nations. I knew nothing about nations, large or small. I went to war for no other reason than to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel a grown man.’

And here we can discuss class and economic factors and the impact of communal pressure, as when the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral exhorted Irish women to ‘shun those who would not volunteer for service, to visit them with severest disapproval, and when they expect a smile, just look them straight in the face and turn away.’ (This pressure probably existed more within the Protestant community.) But what was noticeable in 1914 was a change in the nature of recruitment. Ernie O’Malley, whose brother was an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, noted that ‘Before the war, scapegoats, those in debt or in trouble over a girl joined the ranks: now all trades, professions and classes were found there.’ So over 3,000 Trinity students or graduates joined up and about 400 of them were killed. The 10th Commercials Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was nicknamed the ‘Toffs in the Toughs’ because it was drawn from men from business or white-collar occupations. Over 250 men were part of the Irish Rugby Football Union volunteer corps; 46 former members of the Trinity rugby club were killed, along with 24 members of Clontarf. The Catholic middle-class were not unaffected. 47 ex-pupils or staff from Dublin’s Belvedere College died in the war.

But after the initial surge of enlistment, it began to develop a familiar pattern. By 1915 the War Office was noting that Irish ‘recruiting is slow and almost entirely confined to the towns.’ Of the 169 recruits from Dublin Corporation, just nine were ‘salaried professionals’ while 113 were unskilled labourers. Even in wartime the army meant for many a pay rise, a chance to learn a trade and a separation allowance for wives and families. And class mattered in a while range of other ways.
In January 1916 Lieut Moorhead of the 10th Dublin Fusiliers (the Commercials) told a women’s recruitment meeting that ‘he’d been through the ranks himself, and he found that it was a not a very pleasant place for men of education and refinement to be huddled together with men who had probably not washed for a couple of months. He came to the conclusion that there was a large number of men who did not join because they did not care to be mixed up with the corner boys, and he got his colonel to allow him to form a company… of these better class men.’ British enlistment officers complained in August 1915 that in Ireland ‘a much larger number of recruits could be obtained from the (farming and commercial classes) if it were not for their reluctance to enter upon their training with recruits from the labouring classes. This class prejudice is probably much more pronounced in Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.’ Not much evidence of shared sacrifice there.

Nevertheless many Irish war veterans were proud of their service, proud of what they and their friends had been through together and retained a sense of comradeship long after the war was over. But they did necessarily identify with support for British policy in Ireland. Nationalist ex-servicemen in Cork for instance, formed their own organization in order to be independent of the Royal British Legion. Their demonstrations were often stewarded by the Republican Police and in 1920 they were involved in bloody rioting against the British Army after one of their members was shot dead by troops. During July 1919 2-3,000 members of the Irish Nationalist Veterans Association met in Dublin’s Mansion House calling for a boycott of the city’s victory parade. Tom Kettle’s widow, Mary, questioned why ‘soldiers were asked to march past College Green, their own House of Parliament, where their rights were bartered away, to salute Lord French, not as an Irish soldier, but as Lord Lieutenant and head of the Irish Executive, which was responsible for the rule of coercion in this country and for the betrayal of every Irish Nationalist soldier who fought and fell in the war. Did any Irish Nationalist fight for any country except the country of his birth?’ (Cries of “No, no’). If they went on the side of England it was because they thought for the first time in her history the grace of God was operating in her, and she was at last about to take the side of honour in the world’s conflict. She hoped, in honour of her husband’s memory, not a single Dublin Fusilier would march in the procession. If it had brought about an Irish settlement they would march proudly; such was not the case; but, on the contrary, they were asked to join and unite with the army of occupation.’ While Tom Kettle is often held up as emblematic of Irish nationalist sacrifice in the war, his widow’s disillusion is less widely referenced.

Some ex-soldiers went further of course. Tom Barry, Emmet Dalton and several hundred less-well known men became involved in various aspects of the IRA’s war for independence. Joseph O’Sullivan joined the Munster Fusiliers in January 1915 and lost a leg at Ypres. Reginald Dunne joined the Irish Guards in June 1916. In June 1922 O’Sullivan and Dunne shot dead Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson (himself an Irish war veteran of course) outside his home in London. Both men were captured and hanged a month later. Dunne told the court that ‘We both joined (the British Army) voluntarily for the purpose of taking human life, in order that the principles for which this country stood should be upheld and preserved. These principles, we were told, were Self-Determination and Freedom for Small Nations…We came back from France to find that Self-Determination had been given to some Nations we had never heard of, but it had been denied to Ireland.’

The experience of other veterans was different. Sergeant Patrick O’Hare from Belfast was a career soldier with 16 years service in the Connaught Rangers, including during the Great War. In July 1921 O’Hare and his family were driven from their home in Urney Street by an armed Loyalist mob. Despite being in his army uniform at the time, O’Hare was told he was going to be shot and his family were forced at gunpoint to leave their house. The likelihood is that O’Hare’s attackers also had war veterans among their ranks. Ex-servicemen were prominent in the violence in Belfast from 1920-22, as IRA members, as nationalist vigilantes, as Loyalist paramilitaries, as Special Constables, as RIC men and back in British uniform as soldiers. One of the ways in which Unionist politicians stirred up tension among workers, which exploded into violence in 1920, was to claim that Protestant ex-servicemen had lost their jobs to disloyal ‘Sinn Feiners’.

There were of course other ex-soldiers and officers of the British and Commonwealth armies in Ireland in this period; the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. Padraig O’Ruairic has written a history of Clare during the revolution and he is one of the few to try and list locally recruited Tans and Auxies. Over 60 men from Clare served with these formations, the majority of whom were Catholic ex-servicemen. There were over 1,000 recruits to these forces across Ireland and it would seem likely that most were Irish war veterans.

During the War of Independence some ex-servicemen were killed by the IRA as alleged informers and others were killed by Crown forces for various reasons; some veterans were involved in labour and land agitation and some were landowners and employers. Some remained supportive of the Home Rule party and its successors well into the 1920s, while very many probably kept their heads down and got on with their lives. The 200,000 or so war veterans were divided by politics, religion and class.

In the Civil War from 1922-23 up to 30% of the new Free State Army were ex-British soldiers, mostly war veterans. They were key to the organization of that army in the early stages of the war. The Free State Army also recruited heavily from the same towns where the British Army had drawn their soldiers. This was of course noted in Anti-Treaty propaganda, (though most of the worst atrocities against republicans were not carried out by these ex-servicemen; the core group around Michael Collins Squad did most of those). There were still ex-British soldiers on the Anti-Treaty side. Famously there was Erskine Childers but not just him, and Pro-Treaty propagandists were also quick to point out examples of Anti-Treatyites being ex-British soldiers. We know of course that the IRA man who more than likely fired the shot that killed Michael Collins, Denis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill, was a war veteran. But what this illustrates is that there is no apolitical or value-free way in commemorating these men. Their war service did not unite and I do not think we should try and unite them retrospectively.

Asserting that the war was forgotten also means ignoring the huge commemorations, up to 40,000 strong, that took place every year in Dublin (and some other towns) until 1939. Certainly in the 1920s the commemorations on 11 November involved thousands of ordinary ex-servicemen. But they were highly political Unionist demonstrations, bedecked in poppies and Union Jacks, and therefore always contentious. As a senior Gardaí complained in 1928 the ceremonies were ‘a regular field day for these persons…if the Irregulars adopted such tactics they would be arrested under the Treasonable Offences Act.’ In 1932 the Garda commissioner alleged that the commemorations were in fact an occasion for ‘anti-Irish and pro-British sentiments.’ (The two Gardaí concerned were David Neligan and Eoin O’Duffy).

So how to commemorate? In my view remember with rage. Identify with those who opposed the war and predicted the horror that was coming. Point out the scale and nature of anti-war protest across Europe in 1914 and look at that activity in Ireland. On the 10 August 1914 the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour party warned that
‘a European war for the aggrandisement of the capitalist class has been declared. Great Britain is involved. The working-class will, as usual, supply the victims that the crowned heads may stalk in all their panoply of state…Irish women, it is you who will suffer most by this foreign war. It is the sons you reared at your bosom that will be sent to be mangled by shot and torn by shell; it is your fathers, husbands and brothers whose corpses will pave the way to glory for an Empire that despises you; it is you and your children who will starve at home if the produce of Irish soil is sent out of this country…to the men of our class who are armed, we say keep your arms and use them if necessary. If God created the fruits of the earth He created them for you and others. Do not allow our crops to be gleamed for any other country. They are yours. Keep them at home! Keep them at home by the strength of your right arm.’

That sentiment was growing in Ireland well before 1916. As historian Keith Jeffrey suggests, there was a ‘progressive disenchantment with the war itself, and the growing feeling that the continued prosecution of England’s- or the Empire’s – war had little specific to offer Ireland.’ The impact of the carnage at Gallipoli for instance, had a deep effect in Dublin. Katherine Tynan, a Catholic Unionist and supporter of the war recounted how ‘for the first time came bitterness, for we felt that their lives had been thrown away and their heroism had gone unrecognized…Dublin was full of mourning.’ In September 1915 Dublin Corporation passed an anti-conscription motion by 31 votes to 7. It is significant that most Home Rule MPs were clear from the beginning that conscription would not be tolerated and many were far less enthusiastic recruiters than John Redmond. By 1915 the Catholic hierarchy, whose ability to monitor their flock’s feelings should not be underestimated were also far more critical of the war.

Widespread wartime censorship and repressive legislation created resentment in nationalist Ireland. But there were also other effects of government policy. Deficit spending created massive inflation and led to demands for wage rises and hence to strikes; wartime government arbitration actually encouraged the growth of trade unions (the revival of Irish Transport and General Workers Union after 1913 being part of this process). On the land rents increased and rising food prices hurt farm labourers, encouraging them to join unions and take part in strikes. Though often forgotten, popular involvement in movements like the Peoples Food Committees during 1917 did much to radicalize opinion. By the time the British government finally attempted to introduce conscription in 1918 large sections of the population were in open defiance.

In Ireland we can actually point to a concrete example of lives being saved by anti-war agitation; the anti-conscription strike of April 1918. Had conscription not been stopped, then several thousand more Irishmen would certainly have died at the front. A united campaign against conscription had been declared at the Mansion House in Dublin on April 18th, involving Sinn Féin, most of the Home Rule factions and the unions with the significant backing of the Catholic Church. Two days later 1,500 delegates at a special Labour convention backed call for general strike. The strike was organized within three days, despite press censorship and in most of the country only banks, law courts and government offices stayed open. It involved most sectors of the economy and members of British based unions along with their Irish counterparts. As even the Irish Times admitted ‘it was the voice of Labour, not the voice of religion or politics, which yesterday stopped the wheels of industry…We think that April 23rd will be chiefly remembered, not as the day when Nationalist Ireland proclaimed her spiritual and moral isolation, but as the day when Labour found itself.’ When we remember the war this is one occasion we should surely celebrate.

We can also look at how, on the 20th anniversary of the war, the left-wing Republican Congress organized their own anti-imperial commemorations. Congress argued that war commemoration should be led ‘by the betrayed and exploited, and not be a demonstration to perpetuate human slaughter.’ Under slogans such as ‘Honour the Dead by Fighting for the Living’ ‘We want war- on the slums’, ‘Freedom for this small nation’ and ‘Provision of decent homes and livelihoods for ex-servicemen and all Irish workers’, war veterans, republicans and socialists presented an alternative to both the British Legion’s commemorations and the increasingly sterile IRA disruption of them. At the first such rally in 1934, Bill Scott, a veteran of the Royal Tank Corps asserted that ‘we were fooled in 1914…we will not be fooled again’ while Frank Ryan, a veteran of the IRA’s campaigns to disrupt Poppy Day, described the event as the ‘proudest of all Armistice Days for me.’

Finally however I think we need to be prepared to critically discuss not just the politics of the war but also the politics of those who opposed it. While I disagree very strongly with John Bruton’s analysis I think that questioning interpretations of history is valid. Easter 1916 is not a religious event- it is not sacred. Neither are the politics of those involved. I think we should debate what Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and James Connolly actually thought about the war. The phrase in the Proclamation about our ‘gallant allies in Europe’ was not there to fill space. It was written in the belief that the Central Powers would win the war and that their reshaping of a new Europe would include an independent Ireland. This was of course a huge hostage to fortune and would haunt Sinn Féin as it sought admittance to the post-war conference at Versailles, and when de Valera argued for recognition for the Republic in the United States. But the idea of a successful rebellion in 1916 was predicated on German aid. In 1915 Roger Casement and Joseph Mary Plunkett had presented the ‘Ireland Report’ to the Germans, arguing for a naval landing in the west of Ireland, involving at least 12,000 German troops. How seriously the Germans took the plan is open to question but the assertion that German aid was coming was crucial in convincing waverers to support an uprising in 1916. During the fighting in Dublin itself the belief that the Germans had landed and were on their way was key to keeping up morale. Most Irish separatists were anti-imperialists as far as Britain was concerned, but were less interested in imperialism elsewhere. The Citizen Army could sing ‘The Germans are winning the war me boys’ on their route marches without any real consideration of what the Germans winning the war might mean. The main concern of Irish separatists, naturally enough, was with the imperialism that they were fighting. Similarly if we can’t get beyond reducing James Connolly’s opinions on the war to the admittedly brilliant slogan ‘Neither King nor Kaiser’, then we are also doing him a disservice. Connolly’s position on the war changed fairly rapidly from despair at the collapse of European socialism, to not just support, but apologia, for Imperial Germany. There is no doubt that from September 1914 Connolly not only desired a German victory over Britain, which was a logical enough position, but also that he eulogized Germany as a modern, progressive state and ignored or played down the reactionary nature of German imperialism, including that of its empire. In this Connolly was allying himself, not with the German anti-war left, but the pro-war right of the Social Democrats. A century on we should surely be able to discuss this.

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