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What if: John A. Costello had not declared the Republic in 1948? January 7, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, The Left.

Here’s a question that has long intrigued me, and I’m not expecting an answer any time soon. But that said it is possible to work through some of the implications. Did Costello on his famous visit to Canada in September 1948 declare the Republic too soon? It’s interesting to read what Joe Lee in “Ireland 1912-1985” has to say about this particular venture:

There may have been a number of motives for Costello’s decision. He himself disliked the characteristic ambiguity of de Valera’s External Relations Act of 1936, which left Ireland effectively a Republic in her internal affairs, while retaining the king as a symbolic sleeping partner in external relations… but a passion for logical consistency rarely suffice sot explain political decisions, even by a part-time politician like Costello. The ‘Republic’ could serve several purposes for FG. It stole Fianna Fáil’s Sunday suit of constitutional clothes. Who were the real republicans now? By behaving in a manner so out of character with the performance of the party for more than a decade, it helped retrieve FG’s fading image as a serious party concerned with the real business of politics, power.

He continues:

The declaration… also… pre-empted the possible embarrassment of a threatened private ‘Republic’ bill by independent TD, Peadar Cowna, and reinforced by Costello’s subsequent decision to introduce the relevant bill himself rather than leave it to his Minster for External Affairs, also had the advantage of stealing MacBride’s thunder. Costello himself justified the decision on the grounds that it would take the gun out of politics.

Lee also notes that at the same time Ireland left the Commonwealth. That is another question again – and perhaps an unrelated one in the context of the potential effects or otherwise of the declaration of the Republic (though Lee notes that ‘it seems doubtful on the whole if Irish absence made much difference to either Ireland or the Commonwealth… Canada, Australia and New Zealand retained benign links with Ireland. Britain continued to treat Irish immigrants as Commonwealth citizens and to offer a special relationship to the Irish economy’).

But it raises many many questions. What effect did that have on the conflict(s) that erupted on the Border and in the North in subsequent decades? What was the effect on partition? Were there implications for the left above and beyond those in relation to the North. And so on.

One thought that struck me in this is that in a way Kenny’s tilt at the Seanad was a sort of faint echo of Costello’s approach in relation to the Republic, albeit much less cleverly done – a seemingly big ticket event that would shake up Irish politics.

By the way, Lee notes that the declaration ‘had at least the merit of diverting attention from Costello’s reassurance to the bemused Canadians of ‘Ireland’s readiness to come to the assistance of Canada in the event of war with a communist power’’.


1. rockroots - January 7, 2014

Assuming it wouldn’t have made any practical difference to the course of events, I can imagine Haughey making such a grand gesture in the early 80s against the backdrop of the hunger strikes and the break with sterling.


Eamonncork - January 9, 2014

I know we’re talking about stuff which never happened but Haughey would never have made such a grand gesture. When he was in government during the hunger strikes, his whole policy was based on avoiding antagonism with the British government because he perceived an electoral advantage in his supposed good relationship with Thatcher at the time.
Hence his efforts to hoodwink the hunger strikers into stopping by what Brendan MacFarlane et al thought was a despicably slippery piece of work. And his silencing of Sile De Valera when she made the not now very controversial observation that the British were being intransigent about the issue..


2. Jim Monaghan - January 7, 2014

My father a DeV fanatic thought it was a big mistake. He figured the best outcome would be Stormont having the same relationship to Dublin as it did to Westminister.


3. benmadigan - January 9, 2014

Westminster ruled over Stormont, even though it passed a law after the declaration of the republic refusing to discuss NI business in the House. Later of course it had to and even take over completely in Direct rule.
– Did your dad want Dublin to rule over Stormont too? Was he advocating joint sovreignty/governance by westminster and dublin?


Jim Monaghan - January 9, 2014

For him it was Dublin instead not with. His politics were not terribly coherent.


EWI - January 9, 2014

In fairness a lot of politically “unthinkable” things do become reality. You don’t have to look far for examples (history is not necessarily an ordered, logical evolution).


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