Page 3, 17th June 1949

17th June 1949
Page 3
Page 3, 17th June 1949 — Eire's Democracy Is Real But Not Yet Creative

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Locations: Dublin, London


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Eire's Democracy Is Real But Not Yet Creative



DURING my recent investiga tions into the working of democracy in Northern and Southern Ireland, I wanted to see Eire's Prime Minister, Mr. Cos tello. I had less difficulty than I would expect to have to overcome before seeing my local food officer in the London suburb in Which I live.

And, perhaps more significant, since it is the bureaucrats rather than the really " big " men who often prove most difficult, I encountered nothing but friendly cooperation from anyone at any level

of Eire's civil service. This wend from the man in buttons at the door, to the Taoiseach's very efficient. yet highly-approachable, secretary,

Typical, too, was an experience I had when I was on my way to see the Premier. Having found the street in which the Government building was situated I went into what seemed to be obviously the right place, • There were uniformed gatemen, end busy people coming and going with portfolios. But it proved to be the university college. And the student from whom I gleaned this intelligence could not tell me where the Government's offices were to be found.

The building which housed the Premier and his Government proved, however, to be next door. It was completely overshadowed by the college.

The approachability of the Taoiteach is not simply a personal characteristic of his own and no more. My experience was the same with his deputy An Tanaiste, Mr. Norton, to whom I was taken without any previous appointment by a friendly Senator, and other leading figures in and around the Government—and in the Opposition too.

This closeness of the Government and its administrative machine to the people is one of the first things which is bound to strike anyone going to Eire from Britain. It is, I believe, one of the most encouraging things in the political situation there, for the first steps towards totalitarianism are the separation of state and people.

Treatment of Minorities

A fair test of the degree of practical democracy obtaining in a state is its treatment of minorities.

"There has never been any attempt here to discriminate against the Protestants who are our principal minority." a Government official told me.

"We know," he said "that we owe a good part of our development to Protestants. Tone. Parnell, Flood and many other nationalist leaders of the past were Protestants. They are pan of our heritage and Protestants still make an important contribution to our national life— despite the fact that we are 95 per cent Catholic."

He added that Eire was also proud of her treatment of the Jews, ' We have," he said, "never persecuted them, even when the whole of the rest of Europe was doing so,"

Now, that was a Government spokesman speaking, His words constituted a valuable official statement —but they were an official statement coming from an admittedly interested party. Fortunately. however, it is not difficult to check its truth.

One thing I think is clear, even to the most casual observer, and that is that the 5 per cent non-Catholic minority have a mathematically quite disproportionate strength in the life of Ireland,

Most of the big Dublin stores have English rather than Irish names, many of the industrial employers are of English-Protestant origin too. A glance through a telephone directory reveals the presence of that 5 per cent minority in large numbers in every single profession— particularly the learned professions. Protestants have been appointed by each Government in turn to positions in the judiciary, from the Supreme Court to the lowest courts throughout the land.

And, there was the quite exceptionally broad-minded appointment of my namesake, Dr. Douglas Hyde, as first President of Ireland.

There are, of course, historical reasons for the many positions held by Protestants. Most belong to the old English Ascendancy who had almost a monopoly of privileges in the past. But, the significant thing is, in these days when members of minorities in so many parts of Europe are having to flee for their lives, that they are still there after a quarter of a century. Either open persecution or veiled discrimination would long ago have resulted in their departure. I met a number of Protestant university professors and others in Dublin, and I would say that they have no awareness of being members of a minority at all.

I met and talked with a Catholicconvert Jew in Dublin. Driving an ambulance he had assisted wounded of both sides during the " troubles." Today he is quite clearly completely integrated in the life of the people, practising his profession without any consciousness of the fact that he belongs to a persecuted race. and subjected to none of that political

anti-Semitism which has become a feature even of democratic England.

The Parliamentary System

Eire's parliamentary system has been described as embodying some of the best and the worst features of

American democracy. It is probably true to say that her democratic leaders of the past inherited more from France and America than from Britain.

Election to the Dail, which is the Lower Chamber, is by Proportional Representation.

The Upper Chamber, the Senate, is elected on a quasi-vocational basis. Some of its members are elected by the professions. some are appointed

by the Government. None fully represent the vocations which return them and a highly-placed member of the Administration confessed to me that " the Senate is, at the moment, a bad half way." It is not an hereditary Mite, neither is it a representative body.

But, having said that much, it must also be admitted that it is more than usually democratic as second chambers go. And Eire has shown herself willing to change and improve her institutions. so that there Is no reason to suppose that the Senate may not in time be developed into a truly vocational body. Recognition and admission of its present weaknesses at top level would appear to foreshadow the hope of future improvements.

"We are proud of our democracy in Ireland." kir. Costello told me. "We have proportional representation, a coalition government and an effective and efficient democratic administration. What more could you want ?"

Actually, I wanted a good deal more and suggested so. In the London Times of a day or two before there had appeared a report of recent industrial developments in Holland—developments which 1 had had the pleasure of investigating personally last winter.

There, due in great part to Catholic thought and pressure, an effective bridge between the two sides in industry has been erected. Known as the Foundation of Industry, it has brought together employers, workers and State in such a way that. with complete unanimity, all wages and price rises and matters affecting working conditions are discussed in the light of broader national considerations, Need for Organisational Democracy I asked if Eire had evolved anything to parallel this. The Taoiseach replied by quoting the case of the Industrial Court which came into existence during the war and is still doing an excellent job. The Court brings together representatives of both employers and workers with a neutral chairman and it is claimed that largely as a result of its activities, no major strike has taken place in Eire since it was established. It arbitrates in disputes and is a most useful development, calculated to bring into being an increased sense of responsibility on both sides of industry. But it is nothing like as wide in its range nor as bold in its purpose as the Dutch Foundation of Industry.

Whether the organisational forms evolved in the Netherlands are necessarily the ideal is beside the point. The more important thing is that both employers' organisations and trade unions in Ireland would have to travel a Tong way before they could even think along such

lines. And until they reach that

point the Government is not likely to go much further than at present. This was revealed when I asked the Prime Minister whether any

thing had been done by the Govern. ment to encourage co-partnership. profit-sharing or similar schemes in industry.

"There are first signs of managements and workers working to gether," he raid. "Workers are participating in the running of their works in the case of two or three big firms. But these are exceptions. The' Government would like to see more and hopes thin such examples in action will influence other employers, in which case every encouragement will he given them by the Government, But no legislation is contemplated."

It is fair. I think. to say that no new or distinctively Catholic forms of industrial organisation have been or are being evolved under Government guidance as yet. Changes are taking place in worker-employer relations but these do no more than modify some of the cruder features of the class war under capitalism and follow lines already explored by Governments in non-Catholic countries.

The Vocational Commission

Under the De Valera administration a Commission was set up to consider the possibilities of Ireland moving towards a vocational order of society along the lines suggested in the Social Encyclicals and repeatedly advocated by the Pope, aimed at bringing together all concerned in each industry or profession. co-operating with all who share their vocational interest for the purpose of the common good.

That Commission was headed by Mgr. Browne, Bishop of Galway. It collected evidence from Portugal, Spain, Italy; it considered the growth of the co-operative movement in Britain; its inquiries ranged far and wide. Finally, it produced a very detailed and elaborate report. Today, there exists an organisation, the Catholic Societies Vocational I Organisation Conference, which works to popularise and implement its recommendations. But the very existence of such an organisation is I the best commentary on what has happened since the report was produced. It has been praised. it has been criticised and it has been quietly buried.

Because the idea of a vocational I order was stolen from the Church and then perverted and exploited by such people as Mussolini there was popular prejudice to overcome. Because it threatened the employers' managerial functions it was resisted by them. It would liquidate the class war and so the T.U.C. " considered " the report — and said no more about it. If fully implemented. it would end the party system, replacing it with vocational representation and so, not unnaturally, no political party campaigns for it since it would be tantamount to campaiging for its own dissolution. Inquiries I made in leading political and official circles showed that most felt that it was a desirable objective — including individual employers and individual labour leaders. There are some who accept all the Commission's recommenda

tions. But they are in danger of being regarded as enthusiasts.

The majority of public men agree with some of its points without accepting all, and the Primate of all Ireland, Mgr. D'Alton, only a week or two ago, again expressed the hope that some, at least. of its recommendations may be implemented.

Most practical official supreme so far given to the idea is the Government's hacking of Muintir na Tire, the Rural Life Movement, whose organisation is built on a vocational basis and is a living advertisement for it.

Approved " In Principle"

The attitude of the politicians is that any progress towards a vocational society must be organic. that there would be no purpose in prefabricating it. It must be a growth and not something imposed on the political system.

" There has been no Government decision on it," Mr. Costello told me, " but it is safe to say that all members of the Government approve it in principle." The Government of Ireland remains close enough to the people and sensitive enough to their wishes and their prejudices for it to be legitimate to assume that when public opinion is ready for new industrial, social or political forms. they will come, backed by the necessary legislation. If the Government were a totalitarian one it would impose these things by legislation. Meanwhile, although judged by ordinary accepted standards, Eire is truly democratic. it has produced very little creative thought or practice in this field so far. That. it seems to me, is the next item on the agenda.

(In a second article, Douglas Hyde will next week deal with the working of democracy in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland).

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