The Short Sighted Nature of Irish Nationalism
With all the floundering about in search of a political alternative maybe a step outside the box (World Cup pun fully intended) and a look at some realities in Irish republican political history is an option. Not a major assessment by any means, more a debate opener and an attempt at a wee reality check. If we look at the events in Irish history for example the one striking feature that remains a constant is the seeming lack of a protracted sense of necessity or a concerted drive of its own accord for national self-determination in Ireland.
What we do see recurring is a sense of betrayal and disappointment leading to a thirst for revenge as with the diaspora in the USA and events at home in Ireland after major political developments. Rather than a population thirsting for freedom it has historically been more a case of the peoples’ requirements and necessities being repeatedly manipulated by both constitutional and revolutionary elements alike to their own ends. Maybe it is time for republicans to wake up and smell the coffee in 2014 and instead of attempting to forever gain an advantage for an outdated political creed from the people, maybe it is time to consider the peoples wants instead, just for a change?
A common misconception, or perhaps just effective advanced nationalist propaganda, is that of the cruel Protestant absentee landlords and the RIC and army evicted the poor, starving, helpless Catholic Irish from their hovels during and after the famine. During the famine this held weight. Fast forward to the Land War and the reality was somewhat less clear cut. Although post famine Ireland had become radicalised by the Phoenix Societies under the influence of O’Donovan Rossa and others, it was the land issue which really proved the catalyst for change. Fenianism was unable to build up a head of steam and was decimated in 1867, swatted like a fly having missed the boat in 1865. The Plan of Campaign was then formulated. Parnell and the Parliamentary Party also realising that the land was the only issue of concern to the people saw an opportunity himself. Both the Fenians and Parnell intended to use the land issue to get to their own political end game.
By the time the land war was over the peasantry of Mayo were worse off than before they had initiated it all and wealthy Catholics had begun to take advantage of boycotted and bankrupted Protestant landowners to buy up their estates. The Encumbered Estates Act being a mechanism by which Westminster eventually put up money at reasonable interest for Irish tenants to purchase their holdings and bail out the Landlords (Bail outs nothing new then). Point being, a survey of the 4,000 largest Irish landlords in 1872 had revealed that about 29% lived outside Ireland. By then, 43% of all proprietors were Roman Catholic, though the richest owners were still mostly Anglicans. The three ‘F’s for which the Mayo peasantry campaigned in 1879 had largely resulted in cute Irish Catholic hoors ousting what was left of the Protestant landlords and establishing large ranches for themselves. The peasants as usual saw little change and the Ascendancy landlords had their escape route from ruin provided. Parnell on the other hand was very much in the political ascendancy and on the crest of a Land War wave all the way to becoming Parliamentary Party leader.
Later again, whilst some republicans may refute this, the fact remains that when SF was founded in 1905 it sought merely some form of self-government within the Union and Empire under the British monarchy. Griffith wanted a similar situation for Ireland to that which Hungary had achieved within the Austrian Empire in 1867. Griffith was also at the treaty negotiations with Collins which had divided Ireland and Griffith also defeated De Valera by 60 votes to 58 in the ratification of that very same Treaty. Kevin O’Higgins later re-floated the idea of a joint monarchy as a possible solution to partition shortly before he was assassinated.
Historian Diarmaid Ferriter points out that, though he had founded Sinn Féin, Griffith was 'quickly airbrushed' from Irish history, somewhat similarly to Redmond’s Irish Volunteers after WW1. Political events had superseded them all. Griffith’s widow had to beg his former colleagues for a pension, saying that he 'had made them all'. She considered that his grave plot was too modest and threatened to exhume his body. Only in 1968 was a plaque fixed on his former home. How sad and familiar is that? After the debacle of the Rising in 1916 the people had come onto the Dublin streets to throw horse manure at and to spit on those rebels being led away by the British Army. It was only the indelicate executions of rebel leaders over a protracted period that soured the Irish publics’ mood against the British.
Once again it was not an unquenchable thirst for liberty, but rather being rubbed up the wrong way which angered the natives. A reality not lost on the British later on during WW2 when De Valera, the civil war merchant and now FF acceptor of partition and a 26 county Dail commenced executing republicans for fun during the ‘Emergency’. A single similar execution of a republican by the British in Belfast during that same period had resulted in all manner of protestations to their utter dismay. What nationalism has time and again required was a leg-up. It could never do it alone because there simply wasn’t ever the desire in the population.
Fast forward again to the Border Campaign (Operation Harvest) and we see an IRA asserting the republican legitimacy from the 1918 election in arms and no one gave a hoot. The Free State Dail had dismissed without even a hearing a northern delegation lobbying about the Border Commission back in the day when the report was actually being debated and in return for the scrapping of some national debts owed to Britain, the Border Commission report was shelved and never to see the light of day. By the time of the 1950s the IRA border Campaign fared little better. This resulted in poor Cahal Goulding deciding to seek out the Bohemian, trendy lefty lifestyle in and around Trinity and D4 and to hell with a population that was beyond help. Who could blame him?
The damp squib border campaign was put to bed and the next thing we have in the 1960s was a civil rights campaign within the north. British Rights for British citizens. Not a national liberation agenda, a civil rights agenda within Northern Ireland. Once again British loyalist thugs lit a fire that took thirty years to extinguish; arguably primarily as a result of McGuinness and Adams and Co. seeing a chance for republicanism to gain yet another leg-up from events they had negligible influence over. Later again the 1981 hunger strikes gave them an ‘out’ with some election successes evolving into a ‘strategy’. They have been surfing that wave ever since, going wherever it elected to take them; which was all the way quite shamelessly and embarrassingly to Stormont as it panned out! There they pamper themselves on the back of dead hunger strikers, 3000 dead and the GFA which they also had negligible input into.
Presently in 2014 a deflated rump of disillusioned and confused republicans find themselves in the doldrums once more and desperate once more, if they are honest, for that big-bang moment that will send the political situation and population of the north into pandemonium all over again and result in a new reinvigorated armed struggle. Devoid of ideas and a strategy outside that now being pursued by SF, they look increasingly in the rear view mirror and lament betrayals of former comrades and those now despised ‘untouchable’ past leaders.
The only thing that never seems capable of dawning on these principled dyed in the wool republicans is that perhaps they are trying to jump start a political vehicle which only ever tours the same circuit, leading to failure and careers for the select few at the end of the journey. Looking at the ratio of republicans in jail to successful armed actions should also be a very serious cause for concern.
Has anything changed? Rather than awaiting a social volcanic eruption that the Orange Order would surely love to provide is it not high time to look forward and consider that a more up to date and fresh analysis may be the long over-due better option? Who wants to live in 1918 in any case? It’s about as relevant as England winning the World Cup in 1966 and becoming every bit as tiresome. Perhaps whether we like them or loathe them, SF have copped on that trying to manipulate and incite the people for the benefit of republicanism, maybe just maybe, it is a better political option to give the people what they themselves actually want, just for once. PEACE!
In this time of social media with its impact on global political events, were Cahal Goulding still alive he might be well worth sending an email, a FB message or a tweet to!!