Page 4, 15th May 1970

15th May 1970
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Page 4, 15th May 1970 — Ireland living in the eye of a political hurricane
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Ireland living in the eye of a political hurricane

From Donal Mooney in Dublin

wOR the moment at least -R-the air of crisis in the Republic of Ireland has been dispelled. Confused and deeply alarmed by the incredible events of last week, when two Cabinet Ministers were sacked on suspicion of possible involvement in gun

smuggling, when the country

was rife with rumours of espionage, assassinations and coups d'etat and when the whole security of the Irish State seemed in jeopardy. the people and politicians alike now seem to be taking time to assimilate the shock, to bring order from the confusion, to search in their hearts and find their true political allegiances.

For the moment social and economic life goes on undisturbed, apart from a bank dispute which pre-dated the crisis. The Dublin Stock Exchange has registered no panic sellings. and the Royal Dublin Society's annual Spring Show, second in social status only to. the same society's Horse Show, continued to attract large crowds last week.

The government, having weathered the initial storm, has done its best to exude selfconfidence and to see to it that the wheels of State still grind with calm efficiency. Despite this, few people believe that the crisis is really over. The country, in effect, now seems to be living in the eye of a political hurricane.

The first inklings of the crisis came when the Minister for Justice, Mr. Michael O'Morain, resigned ostensibly on grounds of ill-health. Then dramatically in the small hours of Wednesday (May 6) morning, the Government Information Bureau revealed that the Prime Minister, Mr. Jack Lynch. had demanded the resignation of Mr. Neil Blaney, Minister for Agriculture, and of Mr. Charles Haughey, Minister for Finance, and that Mr. Kevin Boland, Minister for Local Government and Social Welfare. had resigned voluntarily.

The initial reason given for the Prime Minister's dismissal of two of his ablest colleagues was that they disagreed with Government policy on Northern Ireland. In the light of Mr. Lynch's subsequent justification of his action, the initial announcement was a gross understatement.

Reports of attempted gunsmuggling in which the dismissed ministers were suspected of being involved began to filter through on the evening of Wednesday, May 6. The country seemed to reel with disbelief and, later, speculation. If two trusted Ministers could apparently be involved in activities worthy of a banana-republic, anything was on.

The period between Wednesday and Saturday night, when the Prime Minister offered his definitive justification and won. at least on paper, a decided vote of confidence. gave birth to the rumours of intrigue and planned' coups d'etat and assassinations.

But Mr. Lynch's final statement indicated that he had dismissed the Ministers on suspicion only of being involved in gun-smuggling--the guns being intended for Catholics in Northern Ireland, to defend themselves in the event of their being attacked by Protestant extremists.

The Prime Minister has subsequently handed over reports emanating from investigations he personally took control of, to the AttorneyGeneral for possible proceedings. And there, for the moment, the matter rests.

Ireland is well-used to political intrigue and it rarely causes surprise. What has shocked the nation on this occasion, however, is that the alleged intrigue has emanated from Government circles and that the seemingly impossible has happened.

It is less than a year since Jack Lynch and the Fianna Fail party were returned to power with a decisive majority. The irony of the situation is that the Government was returned precisely to provide stability and security in the face of events in Northern Ireland and left-wing agita tion north and south of the border.

The Government's victory was a victory for conservation. The electorate, despite the social discontent of the past two years, despite all the fault-finding with Fianna Fail (which has been in power since 1957), categorically rejected the adventurism of the Labour party's socialism, or any flirtation with socialism that a possible coalition between Labour and Fine Gael (the country's main opposition and traditionally conservative party) would entail.

The radical social reform advocated by the Socialists was seen as too risky in an already fluid social situation. Fianna Fail was elected because it seemed a monolith of stability, seasoned and matured by the responsibility of power. In a normal political situation, the government should still have a life of three to four years.

But as most political observers were aware. the Fianna Fail monolith was an illusion. The party was rent with divisions, some of them of long standing.

The basic trouble inside Fianna Fail revolves around its Republican tradition and the interpretation of that tradition. The party was founded by Eamon De Valera, now the Republic's president, and initially attracted those with extreme Republican sentiments, who had opposed the Treaty of 1922 which partitioned the country.

The party was founded specifically to further the reunification of Ireland by political means. No advance was made in this direction during Mr. De Valera's Premiership. In the 1950's, however, the party came more under the influence of the pragmatic Sean Lemass.

When Mr. Lemass became Prime Minister in 1959, he concentrated on developing the country economically. He filled his Cabinet with tCchnocrats—among his proteges was his son-in-law, Charles Haughey. But he still pursued the ideal of Republicanism.

His solution to partition was to win theNorth by peaceful persuasion. He even went so far as to open a tentative dialogue with the ill-fated Northern Premier, then Captain O'Neill. Mr. Lemass' logic was that a republic economically and socially developed and a partner with Britain in the E.E.C. would make the border an irrelevancy. Jack Lynch's policy is a logical continuation of Mr. Lemass'.

But even during Mr. Lemass' Premiership there were signs of dissent. Mr. Frank Aiken, for instance, then Foreign Minister, was known to be cool on the E.E.C., arguing that a united Ireland was a prerequisite to a European commitment. In the scramble for power after Mr. Lemass' sudden retirement in 1966, Mr. Aiken backed Mr. George Colley for the Premiership. But Mr. Colley was opposed by Mr. Haughey and Mr. Blaney. A party split seemed imminent, but Mr. Lynch emerged as the compromise candidate.

Messrs. Haughey and Blaney, then regarded as the new technocrats, bowed out of the succession race, but Mr. Colley stayed in for nearly two years after Mr. Lynch's election. Mr. Colley was seen as the dissenter, as the young standard-bearer of the old Republican tradition and there were rumours of his breaking away and forming his own political party. .

Mr. Lynch curbed his revolt with the aid of Messrs. Blaney and Haughey. Ironically, Mr. Colley, who has replaced Mr. Haughey as Finance Minister, is now one of the mainstays of Mr. Lynch's regime.

The trouble in Northern Ireland, which started in autumn 1968. began, however, to reveal some hitherto quiescent Republican sentiment in the party, far more radical than that espoused by Mr. Colley. The sentiment grew as the Northern troubles grew.

When the north was rent by sectarian strife last August, a definite group in the party advocated a tough policy, even to the point of armed intervention to protect the Catholic minority. The leader of this group is assumed to have been Mr. Blaney, himself a Northerner with strong Republican credentials, He found ready allies in Mr. Boland, who last week resigned in protest against the treatment of his colleagues and Mr. O'Morain who, Mr. Lynch insists. resigned for the reasons specified, but also surprisingly it seemed in Mr. Haughey. Last week, commentators were quick to point out that Mr. Haughey too, however, has a Northern Republican background.

At the time the moderate policy of Mr. Lynch triumphed. The party's internal differences were buried in the face of the coming general election. The election over, however, Mr. Blaney again began publicly to espouse an independent line on the North, visualising circumstances when the Republic might intervene to protect the Catholic minority. Until last week, he had drawn merely rebukes from Mr. Lynch.

The future of Mr. Lynch's Government remains uncertain. Most of the new Cabinet are young and inexperienced and Messrs. Blaney, Haughey and Boland could provide formidable internal opposition if they chose to appeal to their grass-roots support. So far, apart from Mr. Haughey. who has merely issued a formal denial of involvement in gunsmuggling, they show every sign of doing so. Like their dissenting Unionist counterparts up North. they may become political mavericks sheltered by. but undermining the Fianna Fail party from within.

Ultimately, all depends on what happens in the North this summer. If trouble breaks out—as seems almost a certainty—and British troops--on whose ,presence the strategy of Mr. Lynch's non-intervention policy is now based—fail to curb Protestant extremism, then Mr. Lynch could find himself in deep political trouble.

Fortunately as long as democratic processes last, there is a possible alternative Government. In extremis, even a national Cabinet is a strong possibility.

The tragedy of last week's events is, however, that peace is now seriously threatened and Irish re-unification has receded still further into the distant future.




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