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Irish democracy and its enemies

by Donal Kennedy

WHEN THE French stormed the Bastille in 1789 it was recorded by Wolfe Tone that Irish opinion split between democrats and anti-democrats. He claimed to have been a Democrat from the first.

Democracy he took for a universal value and sought its application to his own country, Ireland.

I think it only fair to suggest that in the 220 years since Tone declared for democracy that those who have sought, by whatever means, to establish the unfettered right of the people of Ireland to determine their mode of government, have been, and continue to be, democratically inspired.

And to suggest also that those who have sought, by whatever means, to frustrate the realisation of Tone's aims, have been, and continue to be, inspired by a contempt for democracy. And that they must be deemed enemies of the application of democracy to Ireland.

For well over a century after Tone's death in British army custody in 1798 the enemies of democracy felt no need to pretend to be democrats.

For example, in 1898 the Tory Lord Salisbury was prime minister. He affected a disdain for mobs, including the House of Commons. Salisbury was succeeded by his nephew, Arthur Balfour, in 1902.

In 1906 the Liberals won a landslide victory, leaving the Tories with about a quarter of all Commons seats. Balfour himself lost his seat. Was he bothered? Not in the least, for he made a speech in Nottingham declaring that the Tory Party, in or out of office, should continue to run the affairs "of this Great Empire."

Not only need the Tories pay no heed to Indian and African wishes but the voters of England too could be ignored. For the Tories were a chronic majority in the House of Lords, which could veto Bills (other than money Bills) passed by the Commons, and do so 'til the Crack o' Doom.

When the Liberals, by threatening the creation of enough non-Tory Peers to circumvent the veto, whittled the Lords' powers to those of delay, the enemies of democracy could no longer display the languorous sang froid of Balfour in Nottingham.

Instead they organized and armed a private army of Orangemen, a Frei Korps of proto-fascists, to defy an elected British government when that government supported a Bill to give "Home Rule" to Ireland. (The Home Rule Bill of 1912, which can be conjured up on the net, was a poor "milk and water" measure. Westminster would, in law, continue supreme.)

For some decades now the enemies of Irish democracy have masqueraded as democrats. These enemies include those who airbrush inconvenient episodes such as Sinn Fein's landslide electoral victory in 1918 out of history, or seek to misrepresent it.

They include those who denigrate those who have followed Tone, or would blacken the character of Tone himself.

They include those who would misrepresent the motives of the misled thousands of Irishmen, who believing that service in Britain's army in the 1914-18 war would hasten if not guarantee justice for Ireland, and use their sacrifice to justify licking John Bull's Jackboots.

They misrepresent too, the motivation of the masses of English, Scots and Welsh soldiers who were led to believe they were fighting for a better world in that war, and whose memory is mocked by the sycophancy of Remembrance Sunday. It is forgotten that the Royal British Legion was founded to divert energies which might have found revolutionary outlets and outcomes when men , who had undergone the grossest abuse for four years at war returned to a country with little to offer them.

The Cenotaph in Whitehall was answered by British veterans with the Biblical: "We ask for bread and you give us a stone.")

It seems too that when the Irish electorate, by a decisive margin, rejected the Lisbon Treaty, those, in Ireland and elsewhere, who have not accepted that rejection, must be counted amongst the enemies of Irish democracy, and of democracy, period.

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This document was last modified by Mick Carty on 2009-04-13 15:00:16.
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Copyright © 2009 Donal Kennedy