Forces of change in Independent Ireland
Title: Forces of Change in Independent Ireland
Written by: Robert James Pollock, holds an MA in Irish Politics from Queens University Belfast Twitter
“My only counsel to Irelandis that to become deeply Irish, she must become European”.
Given the sheer width of the question posed this essay will lend its principal focus towards the ‘European dimension’ of the politics of Twentieth Century Ireland. It will seek to understand the impact that Ireland’s entry onto the European/ International stage had on its national character, its outlook and significantly, in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century, how it provided informal spaces wherein Irish and British diplomats would forge relationships and understandings that would prove crucial to developments in Northern Ireland. Whether or not Tom Kettle’s ‘counsel’ has been vindicated is open to debate and one that is of huge contemporary significance, but, undeniably, the implications for Ireland ‘coming out of the cave’ have been far-reaching and any attempt to analyse the transformation in Twentieth Century Ireland cannot overlook this development.
In the interests of clarity it is necessary to set context to understand the nature of independent Irelandfrom its inception in 1922 and to identify the causes and factors that essentially worked to resist change until the late 1950’s when “Irelandacquired ‘modernity’”. Within this ‘context setting’ attention will be drawn towards the stagnant character of Ireland’s Free State which remained largely Catholic and conservative in its outlook up until Sean Lemass’ accession to Taoiseach in 1959, the year, for Sean O’Faolain, which “a new wind began to blow over Ireland”.
The works of O’Faolain, particularly ‘The Irish’, provide a wonderful account of the damage Ireland inflicted upon itself by living under the ‘hypnosis of the past” and through The Bell he was “to show how much Irish life was not some absolute state of national being but an expression of man’s life in a particular place, bound up with European history, geography, economics and social forces of all kinds”. A fuller analysis of O’Faolain and his periodical are beyond the confines of this paper but it is fair to argue that his ever- readiness to pen criticism towards the stasis he recognised in post-revolutionary Ireland was a real asset in those decades and provides real insight today.
Terence Browne exclaims “that the revolutionary possibilities of an Independent Ireland as envisaged by Pearse were scarcely realized in Southern Ireland in the first decades of the Irish Free State” is something that should not surprise. He points to the “timorous prudence of the economic policies adopted by the new Irish administration after the election of August 1923”. This was in no short measure a result of the sheer economic cost of the Irish Civil War, something which Tom Garvin illuminates when he writes, “ it possibly represented the sociological equivalent of about £6,000 million, all taken out of the economy in eight months… or the equivalent of the entire EU tranche in Ireland for the 1990’s”. The new elite led by Cosgrave and including Blythe, Brennan and McElligot were of a strong conservative disposition and ensured that state policy from 1923 would be one of “rigorous entrenchment”.
The protectionism that had been espoused by pre-treaty Sinn Fein was sidelined as a result and “few tariffs were introduced to interfere with free trade”. Griffith’s pre-independence policies (protectionist/non free trading) emerged hollow when in the face of transition from Union to Independence. Garvin notes, “ The Irish rebels were good at agitational politics and conspiracy, but knew nothing about real government”, the temptation to draw comparison with newly crowned TD Gerry Adams and his well documented economic ignorance of Ireland is too great. The Cumann na nGaedhael administration followed the “post-famine period of close trading connections with Britain” and, as Mike Cronin points out, come 1931 it was absolutely clear that the Free State administration’s economic policy was orchestrated in very close tune with Britain’s. The task before the Free State administration was an enormous one and Terence Browne pains to highlight the predominantly rural complexion of the twenty-six counties, “it was a social order largely composed of persons disinclined to contemplate any change other than the political change which Independence represented”. In 1932 Fianna Fail, formed by way of a split in Sinn Fein and “built on the ruins of an old IRA eager to escape from the political wilderness”, emerged as victors in the general election. The creation of this ‘Republican alternative’ is one of the defining points of theFree State’s early life. That the baton of power was handed to the ‘Civil war losers’ with casual ease is testament to the maintenance of democracy by theFree State government. Tom Garvin attributes this to the triumph of democracy on part of the pro-Treatyites with a rejection, on the part of the electorate, of revolutionary and militaristic politics endorsed by Dev et al. Not to explore the Sinn Fein success of 1918 and Fianna Fails position in constitutional opposition from 1927 signals a selfish ascription of democratic capacity to the pro- Treatyite side only.
Richard Dunphy articulates the hegemonic status often attributed to Fianna Fail, in the 1930’s, as coming from their achievement in “bringing about a unison of political and economic aims which enabled it to seize the intellectual and moral leadership of a developing society”. Their existed a clear talent on the part of Fianna Fail to administer a cross-class appeal. Bew et al acknowledge this by drawing attention to the fact that “Fianna Fail in the 1930’s achieved a considerable stabilisation of small-scale family farming holdings, without reducing, however, the number of large holdings”. The reactive and re-inventing qualities of Fianna Fail are well documented and no less impressive but it is to the stultifying effects their policies had on the development ofIreland’s economy that our attention must turn.
Fianna Fail swept to power in 1932 on a programme that vehemently emphasised the need to achieve economic self-sufficiency which was firmly wedded to the survival of the new Irish Nation. For De Valera the true Irishman and even the Irish nation was the ‘Catholic Bjartur of Summerhouses’. The Eucharistic Congress in June 1932 “provided him with a timely opportunity to baptize the synthesis of republicanism and Catholicism, reminding the papal legate, in his feline way, that he was a loyal son of Rome”. His economic nationalism was packaged and sold using genuine Anglo-phobic spin, these sacrifices were to be understood as necessary in order to preserve, or possibly reinvent, the Gaelic way of life. Nowhere more devastating was the impact of clerical influence than in the field of education. Tom Garvin’s Preventing the Future brings to light the extent of Church influence and notes its insistence on the “position of Latin, Greek and religious knowledge, even at the expense of science, modern foreign languages, geography, history and he social sciences”. The Church showed a disdain towards the non-denominational influence of vocational schools and the notion that education was a means whereby society invested in the next generation was alien to Church and State in the early decades of independence. In 1970 a young Joseph Lee lambasted that “the educational system achieved the intellectual isolation of Ireland much more effectively than Protection achieved economic isolation”.
Before continuing in the vein that the Fianna Fail of this era simply existed to engineer stasis it is important to bear in mind the context it was operating within at the time.
In relation to the pervasive influence of the Roman Catholic Church and the Gaelicisation agenda adopted and rigorously pushed through the schools Margaret O’Callaghan notes how such measures/influences were “symptomatic of a society striving to give cultural expression to its newly won independence”. Indeed Dunphy cites one of Fianna Fails greatest strengths in the 1930’s to be its mirror like relationship with the cultural values possessed by the society emerging behind it.
In regard to censorship there is a tendency to perceive it as a draconian extension of the Irish State without acknowledging that it was practised in many other European countries post World War One, the effects of it were certainly regressive but even George Bernard Shaw could find an understanding as to its rationale if not to its mode of delivery.
Despite notable achievements including De Valera’s handling of ‘The Emergency’ and securing what has been described as the “leitmotif of Irish Independence and sovereignty”- neutrality, it was evident that “the years after 1945 saw a gradual and often reluctant acceptance of the proposition that Irish underdevelopment was neither inevitable nor desirable”. Succinctly, and to borrow a title of Terence Browne’s, it was possible to characterise the post-war years as ones of “stagnation and crisis”. In an assessment/ attack of the thirty year life of the Independent government and its backward approach to education and handling of censorship O’Faolain provides a telling damnation:
“our sails sagged for a generation; we lived under the hypnosis of the past, our timidities about the future, our excessive reverence for old traditions, our endemic fear of new ways, of new thinking, the opiate of that absurd historical myth, and, the horror of the feeling of solitude that comes on every man who dares push out his boat from the security of his old, cosy, familiar harbour into unknown seas”. 
In fact the 1950’s signalled a period where many men were pushed onto a boat, the scale of emigration prompting Lemass to announce in 1951, “I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that, at present, emigration is quite the gravest social problem which with the country is faced”. The period was one where major change in economic policy was fundamentally required. Under the auspices of Sean Lemass Fianna Fail, in 1959, would set out to achieve this. Change would involveEurope.
“What Garvin describes as the alliance of Priests and patriots had, by the mid-20th Century, achieved a kind of independence and a cultural defence against the English-speaking outside world of disbelief, scepticism, anti-Catholicism and greed. But the result was not only economic failure and continued emigration, but a stifling political and civic culture dominated by an authoritarian Catholic church”.
It was against this pyrrhic backdrop, per Rory O’Donnell, that Ireland would adopt an outward-orientated approach and through becoming engaged on the European stage it could ‘snap itself out’ of the ‘hypnosis of the past’.
Academic literature concerning Ireland’s relationship with Europehas paid scant attention to the significance of the efforts of Sean McBride and the first Inter-party government in this realm. Brian Girvin points out that “ In policy terms practically every decision taken between 1945 and 1961 reinforced Ireland’s isolation from contemporary European affairs”. Whilst this is not held in dispute it is held that a failure to see beyond the “ ‘sore thumb’ policy of publicising partition”  approach attributed to MacBride( at this time, not exclusively) serves to ignore notable achievements. As Hederman remarked, “observers might be forgiven for believing that the idea [of closer involvement in Europe] sprang, Minerva-like, from the brain of Sean Lemass”.
MacBride spoke passionately of European Integration, largely untypical of a parochial Irish T.D. Following Ireland’s declaring itself a Republic it soon joined the European Recovery Programme and the Council of Europe, they provided a forum in which Irelandwould make itself known and participate as an equal. Records of Dail debates from 1948 reveal MacBride exclaiming, “Ireland should begin to think about these plans… isolationism is no longer possible” and soon after in the Seanad he declared that the Irish “would achieve the unity of Ireland by playing their part in European affairs and not by sulking in the corner”. If nothing else he at least raised the issue!
The ‘sore thumb’ criticism is by no means an exaggeration however partition was indeed a very raw issue and domestically the Inter-party government was by no means sure of its future. MacBride was integral to the negotiation and ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and his genuine belief and workmanlike involvement in Europe, at this time, would “serve Ireland well after its entry into the United Nations and the European Union” an edifice had been built.
Fianna Fail’s move to seek membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961 “marked the climax of transformation in Irish economic policy formulation”, it can be seen as the definitive conclusion that protectionism held no future for Irish agriculture or industry. It does need to be remembered, however, that Ireland’s application was indeed triggered by Harold Macmillan’s admission that the UK was about to apply for membership. There is irony in the fact that Ireland’s application for membership between 1961 and 1972 was wholly dependent onBritain’s movements, in order to escape reliance on the ‘old enemy’ they had to ‘piggy-back’ a ride from them.
Consistent with an emerging ‘social partnership’ approach adopted by Lemass in relation to “government-financed schemes for the modernisation and nationalisation of Irish industry” where he integrated union “representatives into the various national and industrial committees set up to oversee this process” he was determined to work closely with the Federation of Irish Industries and “to bring them with him on the journey towards free trade and competiveness”.
O’Donnell borrows a quote from Jack Lynch to illustrate Ireland’s motivation for joining the EEC, “ Our future lies in participation in a wider economic grouping. Failure to achieve this objective would result in economic and political stagnation”. 
He utilises it to show the simplicity inIreland’s approach- an instinctive rejection of political and economic malaise.Ireland’s relative success in the first 15 years of membership in 1973 was numbed by the appalling economic experience of the mid to late 1980’s. This has been attributed to failure on behalf of indigenous industries and short-termism on the part of the agricultural sector. The transformation ofIreland’s economy in the 1980’s has been attributed to the ‘social partnership’ adopted in 1987. O’Donnell attributes the social partnership toIreland’s EU involvement,
“the intensification of international competition, Ireland’s disastrous competitive performance in the 1980’s, and a new shared understanding that competiveness was the precondition for the achievement of all other economic and social goals, was the central motivation for the partnership”.Ireland, economic success and Europe is currently a ‘troubled trinity’ to say the least but Europe’s ability to giveIreland its own expression has been deemed by Garvin to signal its greatest achievement:
“In these Island’s Europe symbolises the end of the empire and therefore the obsolescence of the English-Irish quarrel…. this has been the true achievement inIreland”. It is now anyway.
In terms of social impact, EC directives provided ammunition to Irish women and “lead to significant legislative changes on gender equality”.  There has been a widespread involvement of interest groups at theBrussels arena and not wholly limited to economic ones i.e. environmentalist groups.
In terms of identity O’Donnell claims a reinvention of Irish culture has been witnessed alongside “ a much increased confidence in Irishness”. Girvin reinforces this view by recognising little evidence of a European identity amongst the Irish public and that it lies “weak and secondary” to Irish identity. How this relates to Kettle’s ‘counsel’ is for theschool ofAnthropology.
As to how Ireland’s European involvement has altered or improved its handling of the ‘Northern problem’ we can draw attention to one pivotal moment in this Island’s history of conflict transformation: The Anglo-Irish Agreement.
There is some debate surrounding the ultimate significance of the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) in terms of its impact on future peace settlements, many see it as a volte-face in the respect that for the first time Ireland were on board as equal partners to broker a deal in relation to the North and to do is oversee previous statements. Nevertheless the impact ofEuropein the sense that it provided a forum to allow British and Irish Ministers/Civil servants to foster relationships was crucial to the outcome of Agreement. Michael Lillis illustrates this point,
“There can be little doubt that, but for the regular cycle of European Community summit meetings, on the margins of which the Taoiseach and the British Prime minister invariably met-usually on Fitzgerald’s initiative- without fanfare of any kind, the negotiation of any type of Agreement would have been next to impossible”.
Within an EU context diplomatic relations flourished and whilst individuals like Goodhall and Lillis will inevitably overplay the significance of the Agreement it was certainly a crucial development in the conflict resolution history ofNorthern Ireland.
In the current climate of grave uncertainty surrounding the future of Europe and indeed Ireland’s place within it, it is easy to scorn at the European institutions and to lose sight of the profound impact accession to the EEC in 1973 has had on this Island.
The efforts of Sean MacBride and the first inter-party government are too often overlooked, his influence upon the European Convention of Human Rights, something that has altered all of our lives, was surely a great achievement from an Irish perspective. Application to the EEC in 1961 sounded the death knell for protectionism and so laid the foundations for an outward looking economic approach. Our relationship with Britainhas been fundamentally realigned, joining the European Monetary System redefined “Ireland’s economic and monetary relationship with Britain”. In relation to Internal Market regulations that restrict over subsidy of state owned firms this has caused Irish businesses to rethink and improve their performance. Societal change in Ireland has been dramatic, the dominance once held by the Roman Catholic Church has all but disappeared and last month witnessed Ireland’s first gay civil marriage. Irish infrastructure has improved massively by virtue of EU structural funding. In terms of governance social partnership has enabled a more “prominent role for the voluntary sector, rather than the adversarial Westminster-centred British style”.
There is a sense in which this analysis could not have been made had one eye not been kept closed, it is extremely difficult to remain upbeat in light ofIreland’s current dire fiscal situation. Is it time we look toIcelandwho seem to have taken Laxness’ novel off the shelf? It is to be remembered, however, that in the end Bjartur succumbed to the markets and St.Columba.
 Per Tom Kettle as cited in a review of “Thomas Kettle: Life and Times” by Senia Paseta. Reviewed by Sally Richardson, located at http://www.irishdemocrat.co.uk/book-reviews/thomas-kettle/
 Coming out of the cave article
 Girvin, Brian, “Between two worlds: Politics and Economy in Independent Ireland”,Dublin :Gill & McMillan, 1989. pp200.
 This is not to say 1959 was a magical turning point where such influences disappeared but they certainly began to wane.
 O’Faolain, Sean, “ The Irish”. Penguin Books, 1980. pp. 162
 Brown, Terence, “Ireland : A Social and Cultural History 1922-1985”,Fontana Press, 1985, pp. 205
 This is something I would have liked to pursue but I could not source enough material.
 Browne, Terence (1985) pp13
 Garvin, Tom. “1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy”, Gill & Macmillan (1996). pp. 164
 Lee, Joseph. “Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society”,CambridgeUniversity Press (1989)pp. 108
 Browne, Terence (1985) pp15
 GARVIN IN LEE?
Per Mary Daly. As cited in Cronin, Mike: “Golden Dreams, Harsh Realities: Economics and Informal Empire in theIrish Free State,” pp152 of edited text by Cronin, Mike & Regan, John M. “Ireland: The Politics of Independence, 1922-1949, Macmillan Press Ltd (2000)
 Browne, Terence (1985) pp.18
 Garvin, Tom. “Preventing the Future: Why wasIreland poor for so long? Gill & Macmillan (2004) pp31
 Dunphy, Richard: “The Enigma of Fianna Fail: Party Strategy, Social Classes and the Politics of Hegemony” pp70 in Cronin and Regan edited text.
 Bew, Hazelkorn and Patterson: “The Dynamics of Irish Politics”, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd (1989) pp180
 Garvin, Tom (2004)pp61
 The phrase refers to the central character in Halldor Laxness’ famous novel ‘Independent People’ (1934). “The man who lives on his own land is an independent man”, he tells his dog. “He is his own master”, such an extract helps to explain the analogy.
 Lee, Joseph (1989)pp177
 Garvin, Tom (2004) pp168
 Garvin, Tom (2004) pp192
 Garvin, Tom (2004) pp206
 Per Rordan, Susannah: “The Unpopular Front: Catholic Revival and Irish Cultural Identity, 1932-1948” pp99 of Cronin & Regan edited text.
 Garvin, Tom (2004) pp161. Garvin cites French writer Louis- Paul Dubois who on a visit toIreland remarked, “No one can visitIreland without being impressed by the intensity of the Catholic belief there”. Circa 1908.
 See: Kent, Brad “ Shaw, TheBell and Irish Censorship in 1945”. Shaw, The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, Vol.3, 2010, pp161-174.
 Per Laffan, Brigid & Tonra, Ben “Europe and the International dimension” pp.433 in editied text by Coakley, John & Gallagher, Michael “The Politics in the Republic of Ireland” 4th Edition, Routledge (2008)
 Garvin, Tom (2004) pp215
 Browne, Terence (1985) Quote used as a sub-heading within Part 2: 1932-1958.
 O’Faolain (1980) pp162
 As cited in Carter, Beaver, Lynch & Smith, “The Irish Economy Viewed from Without”, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 46, no.182 (Summer 1957), pp.137
 O,Donnell, Rory. “ The New Ireland in the New Europe”, Chapter within edited text by O’Donnell entitled, ‘Europe- The Irish Experience’,Dublin,Institute ofEuropean Affairs, 2000. pp.15
 Girvin, Brian. “ Becoming European: National Identity, Sovereignty and Europeanisation in Irish Political Culture” European Studies 28 (2010) pp.59-93. pp.69
 Keane, Elizabeth. “Coming Out of the Cave: The First Inter-party Government, the Council ofEurope and NATO”. Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol.15 (2004), pp.167-190.pp168
 Keane pp169
 Keane, pp. 179
 Murphy, Gary. “Government, Interest Groups and the Irish Move toEurope: 1957-63”. Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol.8 (1997)pp.57-68. pp57
 Murphy pp.66 Agricultural was probably the greatest determinant in relation to followingBritain’s lead.
 Bew et al (1989)pp.84
 Murphy pp 60
 O’Donnell (2000) pp. 7
 O’Donnell(2000) pp. 22
 O’Donnell(2000) pp.15
 O’Donnell (2000) pp.40
 Girvin (2010) pp.66
 Per Michael Lillis as cited in, ‘Edging Towards Peace’ an essay by Goodhall, David & Lillis,Michael located in:’Essays, Memoirs and Poems in Honour of Pierre Joannon’, Dublin (2009) (ed) Professor Jane Conroy, Four Courts Press.
 O’Donnell (2000) pp36
 McCall,C &Wilson, T. ‘Europeanisation and Hibernicisation: An Introduction’. Essay found in edited text by McCall & Wilson: ‘Europeanisation and Hibernicisation:Ireland and Europe’, Rodopi,Amsterdam-New York (2010)pp.15