Salute to Ireland

I

THE settlement of outstanding issues between London and Dublin is a good deed shining in a naughty world. For this achievement, announced on Tuesday, April 26, the Governments of Mr. Neville Chamberlain and Mr. De Valera deserve equal credit. With the carpenters and property men on both sides of the Atlantic engaged unobtrusively but unmistakably in setting the stage for closer Anglo-American coöperation, it was essential that the Conservative Government of Britain (the ‘National’ garment has worn very thin these days) should recognize one of the factors of the problem to be the muted LondonDublin clash. The spokesman of Irish nationalism, on the other hand, had to rise above the inhibitions of his own and his country’s history.

The Agreement supersedes the defense servitudes of Articles 6 and 7 of the 1921 Treaty, against which every good Irish nationalist never ceased to rage. By the end of 1938, British Admiralty rights and British defense control at Berehaven, Cóbh (Queenstown), and Lough Swilly will have been completely liquidated, and it will be left to Mr. De Valera’s discretion whether or not these bases will be put into shape — by Irish forces — for the eventuality of war. That the Government of Eire has every intention of equipping the ceded ports is common knowledge. Yet it reflects no small credit on the British negotiators that they should have in this case assumed the risks of peace — a responsibility which,

alas, Britain has so consistently flinched from on the Continent of Europe.

When the recent conversations were begun, the Services ministers, from all accounts, impressed upon the Government that it must effect a settlement with Mr. De Valera — which would safeguard British imperial defense — at almost any price.1 In Ireland responsible persons had been fully alive to the dangers ahead. Mr. De Valera himself had shown that he had no illusions about Ireland’s being able, in fact, to cut adrift from the United Kingdom. Geography is here as inexorable as history has been in other spheres of Anglo-Irish relations. And the President2 had more than once given assurances that, once she had assumed her own responsibilities for defense, Ireland would never allow any foreign power to use her for a basis of attack.

In this sphere, then, the doctrinaire rebel has shown himself more farseeing and more amenable than successive British governments. In the matter of the Presidency of the new independent State of Ireland likewise ‘Dev’ has displayed a remarkable breadth of mind. Talking of this with one of Mr. De Valera’s adjutants in Dublin some months ago, I was surprised to hear him say: ‘What a pity it can’t be Cosgrave! He would be just the man. But I’m afraid not. The resentments of the Civil War are still too potent.’ The remark was interesting for several reasons. It showed a spirit of tolerance utterly belying the fierce party antagonisms which we read about in the press, and which, we are told, are bound to wreck the good ship Eire. It reflected the undercurrent of impatience — which one senses everywhere, but particularly among the younger generation — with the feud that for the past sixteen years has divided the twin branches of Sinn Fein. And it provided a flicker of hope that behind all the skirmishing of a presidential election on party lines the idea of an agreed candidate, sponsored by Cardinal MacRory, Primate of the Catholic Church, and known to be favored by Mr. De Valera himself, might yet win through.

The choice, without a contest, of Dr. Douglas Hyde, veteran president of the Gaelic League and a Protestant, has won general approval. Mr. De Valera certainly had no wish to stand for President himself, and would only have done so if his political opponents had carried partisanship to the length of nominating ‘Alfie’ Byrne, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, whose Tammany-like antecedents scarcely fit him for a post of almost viceregal dignity such as that of President of Eire is designed to be.

II

Ireland is a subject on which people are wont to feel passionately and talk vehemently. The fact must be recorded, nevertheless, that the old bitter animosity against the Irish leader among my fellow countrymen has almost entirely disappeared; not any amount of puffing and snorting by Lord Craigavon, the Unionist oligarch of Northern Ireland (whose actions remind one of the proverbial bull in the china shop), can wreck the friendly relationship contrived by the youthful Dominions Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald. In Ireland memories are longer. Yet, when I have carefully wiped away the mud with which so many of my Irish friends delight in bespattering ‘Dev,’ I am still left with the impression of an outstanding and likable personality.

For a man who enjoys the reputation of being a consummate politician, a master of political stratagem, the suggestion of innocence may seem strangely inappropriate. Yet guileless soul he is. It is a fact that Mr. De Valera fondly believed that his new Constitution, with the broad lines of which nine tenths of the population of the Twenty-Six Counties are in full agreement, would therefore be acclaimed by an overwhelming majority; and he was profoundly shocked when, because his Fine Gael opponents insisted on making it a party issue, it was approved by only 685,105 to 526,945 votes. A more recent example of this ‘innocence’ was supplied by a contributor to the Manchester Guardian. At the beginning of the recent London conversations, it appears, ‘Dev’ was well launched upon his remonstrance about Partition when he was interrupted by a remark from Sir John Simon to the effect that, he hoped Mr. De Valera would realize the difficulties of the British Government in this matter — to which the President replied: ‘My great weakness as a negotiator is that I have too keen a realization of my opponents’ difficulties.’

Don’t imagine, of course, that this new Ireland is ‘just a little bit of heaven dropped from out the skies one day.’ Nor does reality always correspond to the lofty sentiments expressed in the Constitution. The ‘Irish Christian State’ which emerged from its swaddling clothes at the beginning of this year deserves, nevertheless, more than passing attention, as — with the possible exception of Belgium — a unique example of a Catholic democracy. Article 44, treating of religion, uses language which is refreshing in these days of state and nation idolatry: ‘The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honor religion.’ The Article then goes on to recognize ‘the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church’ — which is intelligible enough in a community of whom, to take for a moment the TwentySix Counties area alone, over 95 per cent are Roman Catholics; but it continues with provisions for complete religious toleration and freedom of conscience, which the practice of the Irish Free State has certainly not belied. And the democratic character of the régime, I think, needs no demonstration. To the men of property and the business heads ranged behind Mr. Cosgrave in the chief opposition party, Fine Gael, this departure from the orthodoxy of economic liberalism is sheer midsummer madness. They used to contend, of course, that state paternalism, social services, and the like, mean a weakening of the individual’s moral fibre; they still rage against the steady expansion of bureaucracy, and altogether, with incessant jeremiads about the plight to which Mr. De Valera is reducing Irish agriculture, since they can hardly work up a ‘Red’ scare, they see the country heading for bankruptcy. Actually, the area of the Twenty-Six Counties is in as healthy a condition, economically, as any in the world to-day.3

For the first time, doctrines of social welfare as propounded in Papal Encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum are embodied in a nation’s fundamental charter— Article 41, for instance, with its guarantees of protection for the family, with its acknowledgment that ‘by her life within the home woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved,’ and with its statutory exclusion of divorce. More particularly there are the principles of social policy laid down for the guidance of Parliament in Article 45: —

The State . . . shall direct its policy towards securing

(1) That the citizens may through their occupations find the means of making reasonable provision for their domestic needs;

(2) That the ownership and control of the material resources of the community may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good;

(3) That, especially, the operation of free competition shall not be allowed so to develop as to result in the concentration of the ownership or control of essential commodities in a few individuals to the common detriment.

Here is the ‘Providence’ State charged with the duty of solicitude for the ‘underprivileged.’ And, lest the central legislative machinery be overtaxed, the Constitution takes over from its predecessor the provision for the establishment of vocational councils which may be accorded certain law-making functions. In an important speech to the annual meeting of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce on January 28 last, Mr. De Valera outlined his hopes of developing these functional bodies.

All this, you may say, is airy theory. But the interesting thing, on the contrary, is that these principles now formulated only set the seal upon the practice of the past six years. Intervention of the State in economic processes, for example, is manifest in the Conditions of Employment Act (1935), the Agricultural Wages Act, the new Prices Control Board, the various state bodies regulating food production, the pig and bacon boards, the sugar factories, the Electricity Supply Board, and the credit corporations. The Labor Party, needless to say, gives full support to these initiatives of Fianna Fail, only remaining on the watch against establishment of monopoly conditions — as, for example, in the cement and industrial alcohol undertakings.

Labor has its own social programme, of course, which includes demands for the legal recognition and enforcement of trade-union rates of wages, the fortyhour week as a means of spreading employment, a fortnight’s holiday with pay, family allowances. How immune from the Marxist virus, however, are the urban workers of Ireland may be appreciated by a reading of Article 43 of the Constitution, which, in accordance with Catholic doctrine, consecrates the principle of private property: ‘The State . . . guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath and inherit property,’ only stipulating that the exercise of this right be ‘regulated by the principles of social justice.’

III

The best statement of the case for economic nationalism as practised within the area of what was until recently the Irish Free State — social nationalism, it should properly be called — was that of Mr. Sean Lemass, Irish Minister of Industry and Commerce, in his presidential speech at last year’s International Labor Conference. Mr. Lemass’s specific claim was that ‘under the new order . . . we are witnessing a steady development towards the abolition of economic domination,’ and in those words he gave the clue to the country’s recent economic development. Translated into Irish, the phrase means ‘we have successfully rescued the Free State economy from the paws of the British lion.’

Mr. De Valera himself scored heavily in his speech at an American Club luncheon in Paris in June 1933, a few weeks before the World Economic Conference, when he declared that all international trade was wicked unless it was limited to the exchange of surplus production; that under the banner of ‘free trade’ England had killed Ireland’s industry and had turned Ireland into an underpopulated reservoir of foodstuffs; and that the country’s New Economic Policy must be directed to abolishing for all time that situation of dependence on her over-industrialized neighbor which had brought her low.

The rôle accorded to Ireland under the British dispensation, of course, had been to concentrate on animal husbandry and to supply the United Kingdom with good and cheap milk, butter, and eggs, importing in exchange most of the necessaries of life and some of the luxuries. Before the ‘economic war’ no less than 44 per cent of Irish produce was exported to Great Britain, and in 1929 Ireland was England’s second market. Even in 1936, out of eighteen countries supplying Britain with food, the Irish Free State was the only one which showed a balance of trade in favor of the United Kingdom — to the extent, of £5,575,000 (in 1935 it was over £6,000,000; in 1934, £7,500,000).

The consequent Fianna Fail campaign in favor of retaining Irish produce for the home market, of diversifying Irish agriculture (soil and climate are essentially suitable for mixed farming), and of developing native industries, has, of course, shocked those who take their economics from the textbooks; while the lavish use of tariffs and bounties, price-fixing devices, and so forth, has been a standing offense to the exponents of economic liberalism, who would still have us believe that fiscal barriers, quotas, and other expedients of state intervention in business are the main cause of international friction and war.

But Mr. De Valera had a strong case. Ninety years ago there were some 670,000 acres of wheat fields in the area now comprising Saorstat Eireann. Every county contributed its share of that acreage. Not only did Ireland produce all the wheat necessary for her own requirements; she actually exported a surplus. With the repeal of the Corn Laws and the application of the freetrade principles to Ireland in 1847, the market was flooded with cheap supplies of wheat from South America; Ireland’s wheatlands were turned into ranches, families evicted wholesale, and farms consolidated into pasture lands. The result was that in 1931 the acreage sown to wheat was reduced to 21,000 acres. During the Cosgrave régime more land went out of cultivation than in any comparable period. To-day, by the aid of various inducements and intensive propaganda, the area under wheat shows the respectable figure of 170,000 acres. Nor has there been any extensive substitution of wheat for other cereals. The policy is often described as one aiming at economic self-sufficiency. That description, however, is misleading. The Ireland of the Twenty-Six Counties is substantially dependent on external trade. And the idea of the Free State’s setting up heavy industries of its own or going in for large-scale mechanized farming has never entered Mr. De Valera’s head. He has repeatedly defined the limited objective as being ‘to make the country self-supporting in food, clothing, and shelter.’ This definition brings out, as it happens, the distinctive feature of the policy pursued in the last six years. It was never regarded, primarily, as an economic recipe: it is essentially a social, human-welfare policy, in line with De Valera’s whole philosophy of life. Talk to him about a certain expedient being more economic, being cheaper than some alternative project, and he is just not interested. What matters is the social consequence to be expected. Warned by the appalling effects of nineteenth-century capitalist development, ‘Dev is determined to preserve Ireland from that fate. Thus the new factories are established on a highly selective basis, in different parts of the country, and by means of this decentralization he hopes to increase employment without merely shifting the weight of poverty and distress to another district.

There is this much to be said, moreover, for the Government’s wheat campaign: that whereas, during the period (1845-1930) of the change-over from cereal cultivation to cattle grazing, meat prices were continually on the upgrade and cereal prices as steadily falling, with the advent of the world economic crisis the process was reversed. In addition, 1931-1932 was the time of the import quotas established in the British market, together with the penal tariffs imposed on account of the Free State’s nonpayment of land annuities. In this connection Mr. Joseph Johnston, Lecturer in Applied Economics at Trinity College, a bitter opponent of the new policy, ruefully records in the Fortnightly Review, February 1938, ‘the one unpleasant fact that our excessive dependence on the British market gave, or seemed to give, to British politicians a means of bringing economic pressure to bear on us, which in fact they were shortsighted enough to use.’

Whatever may be thought of this shift from the traditional pastoral farming (and, with the world slump of agricultural prices, large numbers of Irish farmers would probably have been reduced, anyway, to subsistence farming if Mr. De Valera and his insulating schemes had not come to the rescue), only a ’free trade’ maniac can lament the fact that the former importation into Ireland of bacon, butter, eggs, and so forth, from Denmark and elsewhere has completely ceased.

The Government’s protectionist shield has also been extended to flour milling, the sugar beet, and the native fuel product of peat. Peat is useful for the production of electric power although coal is still preferred for ordinary heating, and two and one-half million tons are imported annually (to a value of £3,000,000). Apart from wheat, beet, and peat schemes, relief of agriculture figures prominently in the budget. This National Food Policy is combined with a deliberate fostering of native industries. Among the industries ministering to the cult of the homespun one may cite clothing, boots and shoes, sewing thread, cutlery, electric bulbs, aluminum, oil refining, furniture, bricks, pipes, tiles, and so forth.

IV

Every Irish nationalist could not help feeling that the treaty of 1921 had been accepted under duress, and the policy of fulfillment to which De Valera’s predecessors were bound frankly never had the ghost of a chance — any more than it had in a resurgent Germany. As a mother country, as the home of civilization when we were all barbarians, Ireland cannot be expected to regard membership of the British Commonwealth, qualified by certain defense restrictions, as the last word in political wisdom. After seven hundred and fifty years the iron has gone far too deep into her soul. The authentic Irish Nationalist politely repudiates the notion of salvation by Dominion Status, declaring that the hard-worn metaphor of the British family, with grown-up daughter nations, unable nonetheless to deny the reality and importance of the parental tie, is inapplicable. Hence the process of ‘shackle-smashing’ in which ‘ Dev ’ has been indulging these last few years.

He has now achieved the main objective of securing national endorsement — within the limits of the TwentySix Counties — of a constitution from which King and Commonwealth are excluded. For the removal of the bogey of the British King, ‘Dev’ is sure of his place in the Irish saga. At the same time the link with the Crown has not been snapped altogether. The opportunity was there in December 1936 on the occasion of the abdication of King Edward VIII. Instead of taking the bit between his teeth, however, and declaring the ‘Republic’ of Irish dreams, the President put through in record time two bills that had the effect of recognizing King George VI in the sphere of External Relations.

Consistency being his strong suit, — though his opponents would, of course, deride the suggestion, — the phraseology of this legislation reproduces almost exactly the words of that famous Document No. 2 which he had pressed on his colleagues in 1921 as an alternative to the unsatisfactory treaty settlement: ‘For purposes of common concern Ireland shall be associated with the States of the British Commonwealth . . . for these purposes His Britannic Majesty to be recognized as head of the Association.’

This jettisoning of the ‘Republic’ — for the Twenty-Six Counties — naturally has evoked howls of protest from the irreconcilables of his own party, whose mouthpiece at the annual party convention last October was the widow of Tom Clarke, one of the martyr-heroes of the Easter Week, 1916, Rebellion: ‘I am not going into the British Empire either as a Dominion or any part of it. ... I am not going to be blindfolded along a line against which every fibre of my being revolts.’

But ‘Dev’ can afford to ignore the extremist minority. The right of secession, of voluntary association with the United Kingdom, is what the Irish nationalist cares about; the ‘Republic, except to the doctrinaire few, was only a symbol. And freedom and independence in this sense are definitely attained by the new Constitution — which the Dominions, not unmindful of their Irish-born population, have formally accepted as making no fundamental difference in Commonwealth relations.

There is indeed one very simple reason why ‘Dev’ clings tenaciously to the present anomalous position that is neither Dominion nor Republic. It is explicit in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Eire, proclaiming that ‘the national territory consists of the whole of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas,’ and going on to affirm that the laws to be passed under the new régime ‘shall have a like area and extent of application as those of Saorstat Eireann . . . pending the reintegration of the national territory.’ To talk of breaking down the partition barrier at present is certainly idle. The constitution of Eire itself has been regarded as a challenge by the oligarchy that rules in the North, and in the ‘snap’ election early this year formal appeal was made for the closing of ranks against the new threats to ‘Ulster’ patriotism. At the same time it would be unwise to attach overmuch importance to the protestations of Lord Craigavon and his associates (protestations reminiscent of the United Empire Loyalists in Canada a hundred years ago), which mark them out as essentially a ‘garrison’ community, utterly remote from the issues of the present day. One is reminded of the story — dating from 1912 — recounted by a present Fellow of Trinity College, who was accosted by one of these Belfast backwoodsmen with the choice remark: ‘Do you think, is the King loyal?’

Mr. De Valera has never wavered in his refusal to accept the partition deriving from the British Parliament’s Government of Ireland Act of 1920, confirmed in the 1921 Treaty; and there is no doubt that in maintaining the vision of national unity he speaks for the overwhelming majority of Irishmen, at home and overseas. As he said, on landing at Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown), the London Agreement leaves partition as the sole remaining obstacle to final reconciliation with England. With passionate sincerity he will contend that the compromise of ‘External Association’ is demanded by this supreme purpose of a united Ireland — that he is in fact deliberately providing for the sentimental and historical associations of the Unionist and Protestant community in Northeastern Ireland. His case for ending or mending the present cleavage was trenchantly stated in the interview given to a representative of the New York Times and published in that paper on January 24.

There is no question of any coercion of Ulster — as the spokesmen of Lord Craigavon like to describe the issue. It is, of course, quite inaccurate to identify the Unionist remnant with the historic province of Ulster. For the latter embraces nine counties, three of which — the counties of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan — were incorporated in the Free State, on the basis of racial and religious factors, in accordance with the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. And even in the Six Counties there are substantial areas where the majority of the people desire union with their Catholic brethren in the rest of Ireland. Mr. De Valera cites Tyrone, Fermanagh, South Down, South Armagh, and Derry City, in the area immediately adjoining the territory of what was the Irish Free State. The Protestant ‘Pale’ around Belfast is, actually, about 9 per cent of the total area of Ireland, and in about half the area of the Six Counties the population is almost equally divided in its loyalties.

Not that ‘Dev’ expects the accumulated resentments of centuries to melt like the snows. All he asks at present is that the first steps should be taken towards accommodation. And, with his capacity for digging up awkward History, he has unearthed a letter from Mr. Lloyd George to Sir James Craig (as Lord Craigavon then was) of November 10, 1921 (published with all the other material concerning the Treaty negotiations in the British White Paper of September 1924) in which the British Prime Minister mooted the idea of an all-Ireland Parliament, upon which should be devolved the powers necessary to form a self-governing Irish State, by the side of a local Parliament in Belfast with a government exercising the powers conferred under the Government of Ireland Act. It is some such régime that Mr. De Valera now visualizes, with the reserved powers at present withheld from Northern Ireland to be vested in the Government of Eire. But, of course, the mandarins of Northern Ireland — the prototype of the PartyState which is Fascism’s contribution to Europe — regard any such suggestion as an insult.

Consequently Mr. De Valera is probably right in assuming that the way to reëstablish Irish unity is to push ahead with the policy of making conditions sufficiently attractive in the artificially separated Twenty-Six Counties area and leave the impulsive force of Irish nationalism to do the rest.

There is no indication, it is true, that Mr. De Valera or his supporters appreciate the attachment of Northern Unionists to the Crown as a link of Empire. (The abdication crisis, incidentally, revealed how tenuous that link really is.) Certainly the paraphrasing of the royal title in Article 29 of the Constitution by ‘organ, instrument or method of procedure’ hardly seems calculated to win over the loyalist elements!

I do not intend to add to the miles of print about the so-called ‘economic war,’ now happily terminated, arising from Ireland’s nonpayment of the land annuities. The economic dispute had never been treated by either side on its merits, but always set in the wider context of the controversy about political symbolism. And in fact the economic systems of both countries had been in the main adjusted to the status quo post 1932. Nevertheless both Governments clearly benefit by the new settlement. Mr. Sean Lemass had publicly admitted that the Irish home market was just about saturated; and the regular renewal of the Coal-Cattle Agreement each year pointed the moral. In 1937 the Irish Free State was one of Britain’s principal customers, taking £20,313,860 of British goods. Britain still depends on Ireland for the bulk of her imported cattle, sheep, and pigs — a situation which has its own special significance in the event of a major war.

V

Altogether, then, the polity of Eire is interesting from two points of view. On the one hand, it bears witness to Mr. De Valera’s conviction that in the world of to-day social policy should at all times take precedence over economic considerations; and, on the other hand, it marks the penultimate stage of gradual emancipation of the Irish nation from the trammels of the British Empire.

There is, of course, a pleasing irony in the fact that this nascent ‘Catholic’ welfare State is made possible primarily by the proximity of British power. Rank heresy it is to suggest that the Irish nation — in its twenty-six or thirty-two counties’ panoply — owes its opportunity of implementing the will of the people to the protective might of the British Navy. Nevertheless, it remains true. And, by actions which speak more eloquently than words, Mr. De Valera has shown that he appreciates the implications of that ‘common risk’ to which he made allusion when promising that the Free State should never be used by foreign powers as a base for attack upon Great Britain.

Neither Mr. De Valera nor any other Irish statesman can escape from this dilemma of a national interest that conflicts with the national sentiment — though some may think that ‘Dev’ has positively enjoyed himself balancing upon its horns. For, by a paradox which is the essence of the Irish situation, it was that very clement of dependence upon Great Britain, presented in the form of an unappeased grievance, which would seem to have ensured for him and his party another five years of office.

  1. The Financial Agreement provides for a lumpsum payment of £10,000,000 (and £250,000 a year, in addition) by way of wiping out any British claim to the disputed Land Annuities; at the same time penal duties imposed on trade by either side are revoked once and for all. — AUTHOR
  2. The title by which Mr. De Valera is usually spoken of in Ireland. Now, of course, under the new Constitution it is inaccurate; he is the Prime Minister. — AUTHOR
  3. This fact, which is seldom appreciated, was brought out very clearly by John P. Colbert (who has been associated with the Banking Commission investigating Ireland’s finances) in the January issue of Lloyd’s Bank Monthly Review. — AUTIIOK