Collins might well wonder at Kenny's sorry State
MICHAEL COLLINS, one of the founders of the State, was assassinated 90 years ago today at Béal na Blá. Because at the time of his death he was the driving force in the newly independent Ireland, his central role in the War of Independence, and his relative youth (aged 31) at the time of his death, he has become a cult figure. His extraordinary energy, his organisational abilities, his charisma remain celebrated. Less acknowledged are serious misgivings concerning him.
Those misgivings arise in the main from his involvement in the secret oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood (the IRB). He had become president of that organisation in the summer of 1919 and, in the ideology of that movement, thereby had become “President of the Irish Republic”, outside the ambit of the new State he had been instrumental in creating.
He used that position secretly to win control of the IRA during the War of Independence and he continued to use that role to wage a secret war on the new entity, Northern Ireland, that had been created almost simultaneously with the emergence of the new Irish State. In so doing he was acting behind the backs of his closest colleagues, including Arthur Griffith and WT Cosgrave.
A historian, John Regan, now of Dundee University, has claimed: “The reorganisation of the Brotherhood was part of Collins’s desire to centralise power in himself. He had taken over military power at his own request, becoming Commander-in-Chief of the army at the beginning of July.
“At the same time he remained firmly in control of the civil government with Cosgrave acting as his deputy-cum-amanuensis in the cabinet . . . All sources of power led back to Collins within the regime . . . With Griffith’s death on August 12th (1922) and with no parliament to account to, Collins, for better or worse, assumed dictatorial powers within the new regime.”
Martin Mansergh, the historian and former Fianna Fáil minister for State, has said: “It is unfortunately wishful thinking to present Collins as someone who had definitely decided that force vis-a-vis the North had had its day.”
Martin Mansergh noted that Collins was at best ambiguous about how Protestants would fit into the new independent State. He said of that new State: “We are now free in name. The extent to which we become free in fact and secure our freedom will be the extent to which we become Gaels again.”
In his last speech in Dáil Éireann, Michael D Higgins said Michael Collins had been dismissive of the much-heralded Democratic Programme of the first Dáil, which envisaged a society founded on solidarity and equality.