Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bailed Out but back off Myers !

It has been an exceptionally difficult week for my country. The economy has virtually collapsed. When the global recession erupted more than two years ago now we were more susceptible to it than most because of our property bubble. However we handled the crisis relatively responsibly by initiating spending cuts and down sizing the public sector. Unfortunately in September 2008 our Department of Finance made a catastrophic decision to offer a complete guarantee of the banking system. While we could handle our budget deficit, we could not handle the guarantee as the cost rose and rose into scores of billions. So this week we had to apply for assistance from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. This is a national humiliation ! Anyhoo, unlike the many loud mouthed punters on radio and TV I remain a proud Irishman. I love my country, as old fashioned as that sounds I love every corner of it. We will bounce back. I am convinced of this. The highly educated, motivated and entrepreneurial under 35's or "Celtic Tiger Pups" will drag us out of this over the next five to ten years. That's all I have to say for now on the economics of it all.

The main subject of this post is not actually the bail out but the circumstances surrounding the foundation of the Irish state. Given current events, many angry citizens have been ridiculing the nation and its history. Perhaps sensing an opportunity, controversial Irish Independent journalist Kevin Myers wrote the following piece during the week in which he attempts to de legitimize the foundation of the state in 1922. I like Kevin Myers. He is a gutzy journalist. He is famous primarily for three things. He was a fierce critic of the Provisional IRA campaign and remains hostile to contemporary Sinn Fein. He has lobbied intensely for the official recognition and participation of the Irish government and people in remembering and honouring Irelands dead from World War One. Thirdly and most controversially he is a historical revisionist who opposes the established version of events in Ireland from 1916 to 1923. I support Myers in the first two areas. I passionately disagree with him on the last issue and frankly, think his timing was tasteless. Below is the entire article.

GERARD Murphy's 'The Year Of Disappearances -- Political Killings In Cork 1921-22' is very properly causing a major stir. Even more than Peter Hart's account of the IRA in the county, this book is revealing the terrible horror that befell the Protestants of Cork.

Moreover, it finally destroys any claim that a non-sectarian Republic could have resulted from the violence of 1916 onwards. In a society as confessionally divided as Ireland then was, with the general Catholic-nationalist and Protestant-unionist divide, political violence would inevitably lead to sectarian war.

Yet not merely does this State still celebrate the 1916 Rising as if it were a fine and noble thing, it is planning a swaggering bonanza in 2016 -- just as the remains of this pathetic, broken Republic are divided up between German banks and Chinese property dealers.

I've been writing a dissenting narrative about this period for most of my life and the response has been for me to be largely ignored by Official Ireland.

No matter. I can truthfully say that I invented the entire subject of historical journalism for the period 1914-23. Yet despite my work on the Irish and the Great War, I was not (of course) invited to participate in Sean O Mordha's acclaimed television series 'Seven Ages'.

Indeed, my exclusion by the 'Irish Times' from its supplement to mark the 90th anniversary of the Rising was one of several reasons why I resigned from that newspaper.

I say all this to establish my credentials here. Despite my knowledge, I've been astounded by Gerard Murphy's revelations, which clearly show that the campaign in Cork against Protestants and non-republicans was on a truly vast scale.

Most Belfast nationalists know of the terrible things that befell Catholics in the city in 1922. What happened in Cork was actually worse because it was accompanied by almost no chaotic street violence. It was a planned assault on a unionist community and executed with abominable method.

This villainy has been matched by the supine silence of Irish historians, to match their previous silence on Ireland the Great War. For Irish historiography has long been the academic wing of party-political republicanism, even though the main villains in Cork -- Corry, O'Donoghue and O'Hegarty -- who are at the centre of Gerard Murphy's book, should be well known to historians of the period.

The most sobering revelations concern Martin Corry, Fianna Fail TD for 40 years, a cheery psychopath and much-loved killer. How much the people of Cork knew about this vile Leeside Robespierre I cannot say. Many men -- and it is impossible to say what number -- were shot and buried at Corry's farm after being imprisoned in a nearby vault in Kilquane graveyard, which Corry called Sing Sing. As TD in the 1930s, he even jeered at James Dillon TD in Dail Eireann: "Come down and I will show you. I will show you a lot of things you never saw before. I would nearly show you Sing Sing. I am sure the Deputy would have to be very fascinating before he'd get out of it."

On St Patrick's Night in 1922 -- ie after the Truce and before the Civil War -- six members of the Young Men's Christian Association in Cork were abducted and executed at Corry's farm. That same week, half a dozen loyalist farmers were similarly disappeared in west Cork.

OVERALL, from the summer of 1920 to the start of the Civil War, 33 Protestants were shot in Cork city proper, while another 40 were killed nearby -- a total of 73 Protestant victims from a small minority community. From around 1921, IRA units murdered or "disappeared" at least 85 civilians. Some 26 were killed after the Truce, thereby making a mockery of the date that this State now chooses to commemorate the dead of all our wars -- July 11. As chilling as anything has been the toxic legacy amongst middle-class Cork Catholics, who until recently thought it chic to make jibes about a Protestant community which has never properly recovered from these terrible days. What you might call An Interim Solution.

We might have learnt all this long ago. A farmer bought some of Corry's land in the 1960s and dug up several skeletons in a mass grave. These were handed over to the local gardai at Watergrasshill, after which they vanished without trace. What a surprise.

Look. You cannot use violence in a divided society without militarising politics, after which, society's psychos and zealots feel authorised to kill their political opponents. The fundamental issue is not the dead of Cork or west Belfast: it is the use of violence to achieve political ends. It doesn't work. It kills people, but it doesn't get you what you want.

Moreover, killing innocents is not some aberration that only occurs at the end of a prolonged period of violence. The first victims in the opening minutes of 1916 -- which this Republic is dementedly determined to pretend was a poetry festival and for which it is preparing another grisly jamboree in 2016 -- were all innocent unarmed Irish people, killed in their native city. But then why not? Killing Irish people in their native cities is, after all, what our "republicans" do best of all. Step forward, Cork, 1921-22.

I think this is an absurd article that is badly argued. I do not doubt for one second that there may have been a sectarian element in the IRA during the 1919 to 1921 war. Nor do I doubt that some IRA men wanted to kill loyalist protestant men so that they could steal their land. But I want to make five crucial points.

1. The 11 months after the truce with the British (July 1921) but before the outbreak of Civil War (June 1922) was an exceptionally difficult and unstable period where lawlessness was rampant and law and order broke down. It is important to note that these killings did not take place during the war with the British when the IRA was united and the GHQ in Dublin successfully controlled and disciplined IRA members.

2. Once the new Irish state came into being in January 1922 the government took quite extraordinary measures to control the IRA, restore law and order, and enforce the new non sectarian constitution.

3. The 1916 proclamation of the Republic and the 1922 Free State Constitution as well as the 1937 Republican Constitution (which is used today) all enshrined the rights of religious minorities. If there was sectarianism in Ireland post independence it was neither official nor institutional, or if it was, then it was illegal.

4. Protestants in the Republic of Ireland have been participating in politics and been successful in business and culture since the foundation of the state.

I took this picture earlier today in Frenchpark Co Roscommon. It is of a statue of the first President of Ireland under the Republican constitution of 1937, Douglas Hyde. Douglas Hyde was a Protestant from the Anglo Irish tradition. Fair enough, there have been many Protestant Republicans over the years. But Hyde was not a republican in the sense that he had no part in events from 1916 to 1923. He was a member of the Gaelic League who attempted to reinvent the Irish language. It is a small indication of the non sectarian nature of the Irish state.

5. My most crucial point and one which I am genuinely bitter over is as follows. How does all this compare to the Northern Irish state which from day one after its creation was institutionally sectarian to the core where "Catholic need not apply" or as its first Prime Minister Edward Carson described it as "a Protestant state for a Protestant people". My Grandparents raised my mother in co Derry during the 1950's and 60's. None of them could even vote. I want to know why does Kevin Myers give Northern Ireland a total pass ?

The circumstances surrounding the foundation of the Irish State were far from ideal. As Myers points out, there was mass murder of Catholics on the streets of Belfast. It appears the same happened to Protestants in West Cork. I don't understand his point that it was worse in Cork because it was organised. The men doing it may have been organised but they were not acting under a wider plot that was sanctioned by the Republican leadership. A street mob in Belfast is capable of being equally organised. In any case both what happened to Catholics in belfast and Protestants in Cork were outrages that should be fully confronted by both sides.

But the arguments of Myers are weak. Two new states were being created during this time. It was an unstable time. There was movement of peoples between borders as different sides tried to place themselves in the majority with their "kind". Some Catholics moved south, some Protestants moved north and some were forced to move as a result of violence. Sectarian deaths were relatively low. There is lots of similar historical precedent as new nations were formed and populations began to move, not least in India/Pakistan, the Balkans and the Middle East. In these cases the death tolls were enormous. To use this argument to completely de legitimize Ireland's independence movement in its entirety is lazy minded journalism and to do so during such a week when Ireland and its people are experiencing such a low point is in my opinion a low point in the career of an otherwise fine journalist. I am not afraid of historical revisionism. I welcome it. There is no debate that I am afraid of but this time Myers is 0ff, way off and in bad taste.


thesystemworks said...

''There is lots of similar historical precedent as new nations were formed and populations began to move, not least in India/Pakistan, the Balkans and the Middle East... To use this argument to completely de legitimize Ireland's independence movement in its entirety is lazy minded journalism.''

Spot on, Ted. This was exactly what I was getting at when I made the point about misleading language and anti-(insert state here) hysteria.

Ireland and Israel's formation did far less harm than that of India/Pakistan, the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern European countries and the Balkans, and the later split of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Ted Leddy said...


Thanks man. I agree that this logic can be applied to the foundation of Israel. The circumstances surrounding the foundation of Israel were also controversial. But to de legitimize Israel on this basis is plain wrong.

Every country in the western hemisphere (The Americas) was founded on top of the displacement of indigenous peoples. I haven't heard the Socialist Workers Party lately call into question the legitimacy of the Columbian, Venezuelan or Canadian nations.

Another similarity between Israels foundation and Irelands is the post independence instability. After Israel won the 1948 war I believe there were elements that wanted to fight on in order to seize more land in violation of the armistace. The newly created IDF ultimately used force to control them. It was a similar situation to that in Ireland in June 1922. The difference is that in Ireland things sadly got out of hand with the civil war where as in Israel I believe there were less than a dozen.

Ted Leddy said...

less than a dozen deaths I should say !

thesystemworks said...

Gary: Sorry for the late reply.

Yes, the Irgun and the very small group Lehi did not accept the armistice. Ben Gurion wanted to get on with the task of building the new country and did everything to avoid a civil war. Thats why the Altalena was attacked. No one expected the shelling of the ship carrying arms to the Irgun would be one of the first acts of the newly independent state. However, he also gave members of these dissident groups amnesty, despite insisting they were terrorists during the war. This was to mitigate the enmity among the Zionist groups that existed at the time.

The Irgun is the ancestor of the modern Likud (or Herut, beforehand), which remained in the political wilderness until Begin's revival of the party and electoral victory in 1977. Some members of Lehi formed a political party after 1948 called the Fighter's List, but they only won a single seat and disbanded in 1951. Though a very fiery former Lehi lady called Geula Cohen had a long career in Likud, as did Yitzhak Shamir (nicknamed 'Michael' after Mr. Collins for his admiration of Irish Republicans).

thesystemworks said...

Apologies for calling you 'Gary'.