Page 5, 10th November 1972

10th November 1972
Page 5
Page 5, 10th November 1972 — Lord O'Neill of Ireland

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Locations: Dublin, Belfast, Rochester, Surrey


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Lord O'Neill of Ireland

LORD O'NEILL gave an extremely sophisticated and lucid exposition to journalists on Tuesday of this week on the finer points of his book published the same day. The book is "An Autobiography of Terence O'Neill," published by Rupert Hart-Davis.

The publishers are now part of the Granada • Publishing group and the venue of the press conference, in the imposing Granada building in Golden Square, was kept a secret until the last moment. There was, furthermore, a close check on all those attending the press conference.

Superfluous precautions? Perhaps. On the other hand I had hardly been in the taxi a minute, after leaving. before. there was a deafening report at very close quarters. Nothing more, in fact, than a heavy iron bracket falling from the scaffolding on to the roof of the taxi.

But the last time I was in Belfast I was struck by the extent to which everyone jumped at any unusual sound. And Terence O'Neill made it crystal clear to us that one must constantly bear in mind the unnatural situation of constant fear, and possible murder round the corner, which prevails 24 hours a day in Northern Ireland.

He spoke, movingly, of the "wonderful" British Army and its courageous 1 8 -year-old "diplomats"; of the avoiding trouble-at-any-cost philosophy during the twenty year tenure of office of his predecessor Lord Brookeborough; of the "chainreaction" that set in after the first stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement in 1966; and above all of his reiterated conviction that no solution can come to Ireland before peace is firmly established.

His book is quintessential reading for anyone genuinely concerned (and who can't be?) about the current Irish tangle of trauma and tragedy. It is true that I have been lucky enough to get to know Terence O'Neill a bit in the last year or two, and must therefore "state my interest" lest it be thought 1 am unduly prejudiced in his favour.

On the other side of the coin, however, it must be said that there have been those who — at one or two crucial and critical junctures — were unduly prejudiced against him to a disastrous degree. This, and this alone, was the reason why, not that he "failed" as Prime Minister between 1963 and I969.

but that in, his own words, he "wasn't allowed to succeed."

To take up individual points in his book would be to take up the history of Ireland, both North and South, for fifty years, or even more. For the "chain-reaction" of which he spoke has been relentlessly in operation since before the First World War. The 1916 Dublin Rising was no isolated act of spontaneous fanaticism; it was made inevitable by the Northern (pre-war) threat to frustrate, violently if necessary. the Home Rule Rill which had already passed through both Houses of Cornmons.

But Irish Nationalists knew that the intended "suspension" of this Bill until after the war would — because of opposition from Ulster — in fact mean its scrapping. Hence the Rising. intended to bring matters to a head. The Rising failed, but the villains became the heroes. The British government started to execute them. By now the "chain-reaction" of unrest repression further unrest was not just in operation but was beginning to flail about in all directions.

It had been doing its dirty work for nearly half a century before the sensitive. subtle and human moderation of Terence O'Neill started, with immense political courage, to break new ground. His book is a masterpiece of sagacious comment, laced with humour, which does more to open English eyes than anything I have read since Shane Leslie's rather different "Irish Tangle for English Readers" many years ago.

Is the ex-Prime Minister optimistic? Not particularly. one is forced to report, if only because of the uncomfortable truth he enunciated, that "in Ireland, extremism always wins." But what happens when two forms of extremism, as now, face each other in implacable hatred'? Surely moderation must still he made to win in the long run.

British governmental preoccupation with conflict between races goes back to the Durham Report on Canada and even beyond. When it finally applies itself whole-heartedly to such a problem, British genius invariably finds a solution: and always, in the end, by -the triumph of moderation over extremism; but seldom before bloodshed has managed to force open heavy-lidded eyes.

The prime architect of reform and moderation in modern Ireland is undoubtedly the first Ulster Prime Minister ever to

meet • his Dublin . opposite number. (My picture shows Terence O'Neill with the Irish Prime Minister Mr. Sean Leniass when he was invited to Stormont in 1965. Far from causing dissensions. the O'Neill government had a massive election victory shortly after this historic meeting. A sure proof that moderation can triumph.

Though Terence's official title is Lord O'Neill of the Maine, he has won a wider entitlement to be known as "Lord O'Neill of Ireland." I said at the beginning that his exposition this week has been "sophisticated and lucid": the very qualities, I suspect, most loathed by his adversaries whether extreme Protestants or extreme Republicans — whose crudeness and desire for confusion stand out in such stark and horrifying contrast.

IMUST end this column on a 1 sad note by mentioning the slight stroke sutlered by the

distinguished historian and former Arundel Herald, Mr. Dermot Morrah. This occurred on Tuesday morning while he and his wife were attending the Requiem Mass for their old friend Charles Curran, M.P., at Westminster Cathedral.

Mr. Morrah, before going to the Cathedral, had been, writing his article for us about the Queen's Silver Wedding. I was speechless when hearing from his wife that afternoon what had happened. but knew she would not lack among her and her husband's many friends and admirers — heartfelt prayers of well-wishing and sympathy.

oNE is disappointed to read in the article "Are Our Martyrs Relevant?" (October 27) the disparaging references to the Protestants who were executed during the reign of Queen Mary. According to the author "Catholics forgive . . . the persecution of the Catholic martyrs. Anglicans forgive those Catholics who burnt heretics in the reign of Queen Mary."

It is as well for us to remember that these Protestant people were prepared to die for a cause in which they believed, in the same way as the Catholic martyrs and in my view it is wrong to refer to them as "heretics".

Whilst Martin Luther, in the forefront of the Reformation preached rejection of accepted doctrine, Henry VIII was careful to avoid any such deviations, and his claim to be Head of the Church in England had a great deal of political background.

This change in Headship could well have made little practical difference to most people at the time. since only a small number of Henry's subjects (including St. Thomas More and a few other resolute souls) refused to acknowledge his action, and only one bishop, John Fisher of Rochester, continued to uphold Papal supremacy.


picture was. of course, very different in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I after a number of changes had been made which included abolition of the traditional Latin, the replacement of altars by tables, a new form of Communion service and the discontinuance of the use of images. But nowadays no one would "call" these changes "heresy".

Both Catholics and Protestants were executed for standing up for things in which they believed, and it seems equitable that each group should be accorded due honour.

C. A. Mundy

67 Leyfield, Worcester Park.


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