From the Archives: January 16th, 1965

Taoiseach Seán Lemass visited Northern PM Terence O’Neill, and his government published a White Paper on Irish. Backbencher, aka John Healy, interpreted both events

 

And, of course, things will never be the same again. For one thing, when any newspaperman on this paper rings a bunch of pet Ministers to ask if it’s true Mr. Lemass is going to Belfast in the morning to see Mr. O’Neill and is told they knew nothing about it, it will mean “Yes, he’s going.”

Still, the man in entitled to some secrets, especially from the Irish Times and Backbencher.

And especially this week.

The week started kind of rough for him. Here he picks up his Irish Times and finds on the front page the best part (or the worst part) of the White Paper on the Irish Language, a Government document not due for publication for another week.

He is annoyed. Isn’t anything sacred any more? Can’t we have anything to ourselves? Part of the annoyance, of course, was due to the fact that the Gaelic lobby were rushing to get the worst out and thus influence public opinion. A nice bit of professional public relations and almost on a par with what Mr. Lemass is capable of himself.

And then the other day he ran into Mr. Ken Whitaker, known more soberly as Mr. T. K. Whitaker. Ken is a County Down man from Rostrevor.

Himself and Capt. Terence O’Neill are butties of a kind. Ken mentions to Sean Francis [Lemass] that Capt. O’Neill wouldn’t be averse to a meeting and was ready anytime Mr. L was.

“Right,” says Sean Francis, “we’ll say nothing about it now, but I’ll collect you at ten in the morning: ring him and tell him we’ll have a bite to eat with him at Stormont – you’ll come, of course.”

Such are the ways of contemporary history!

And while that may be an oversimplification of the facts, it is not a million miles wide of the mark.

This morning I am more concerned with the political implication. The deed having been done, I detect a great anxiety to sound the public opinion.

The entire Fianna Fail Cabinet couldn’t buy enough papers yesterday morning to read the comment. They were as holidaymakers from the Midlands seeing the sea for the first time, standing on the diving board waiting for the first brave adventuring soul to surface from his dive to say if it were true the sea water was really salty, and was it safe to go in. O ye of little faith!

And when the papers reassured them they paused and said: “Yes, but what about the plain people of Ireland with their noses stuck up against the window panes of the Intercontinental Hotel outside in Ballsbridge – what will they think?”

Paddy Donegan [the Fine Gael TD] was right – if you live in the lounge too long you can’t hear the vox populi too well. Still there was Mr. James Dillon [the Fine Gael leader] and Mr. Brendan Corish [the Labour Party leader] re-assuring the first swimmer that he was within his depth and doing nicely and to carry on.

And the plain people of Ireland? “Lemass, the businessman again” is my own rendering of the consensus of opinion since the visit.

This morning Mr. Lemass again cements that image with, of all things, the White Paper on the Irish Language! I swear to you that in future he will be known as Seán Griosófar Lemass.

“Griosófar” is to be the great with-it word and this páipeir glas says that in the matter of the Irish language Sean Lemass is not as green as he might be cabbage-looking.

“Griosófar” means roughly “to urge,” or “urges” and it is a word which runs right through the White Paper.

Look at Page 47: every single recommendation made by the Commission is turned gently aside with this one word “Griosófar”.

As always, when the big chips are down, Mr. Lemass gets his priorities right. You can say all you like about him having a conscience about Gaelic and that, because his own Irish is limited to the public platform “Slan agaibh go-léir” bit, he must lean over backwards.

Mr. Lemass, pragmatic as always, will lean anyway you like until the businessman in him meets the politicians, and after that it’s “Goodnight Vienna.”

And so it is “Goodnight Vienna” for another generation to compulsory attempts to Gaelicise the country by legislation.

Read the original here

Selected by Joe Joyce; email fromthearchives@irishtimes.com

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