From the Archives: October 10th, 1925

The Irish Times was far from happy with voters’ choices in the first and only election by universal suffrage to an Irish upper house

 

The processes of proportional representation have evolved the names of the nineteen persons who will become members of the Free State Senate after the 6th December. A few of them are good names, but, on the whole, the result furnishes no cause for national pride.

How many of these nineteen persons are known outside the Free State or even outside their native counties? The election has not fulfilled the intention of Article 30 of the Free State Constitution. In the first place, the majority of those whom the Senate itself and the Dail — especially the Dail — put on the panel of candidates were not, in any sense, persons who had done honour to the nation or had special qualifications for public service. In the next place, the electorate refused to support nearly all of the few candidates for whom these merits could be claimed. It voted in the main for solid mediocrity – when it took the trouble to vote at all.

The facts that only twenty-five per cent of the electors went to the polls and that most of this minority despised the precepts of the Constitution indicate that two reforms are required – a change in the system of election to the Senate and a large improvement in the whole system of national education. For many years the poorest Irishman has enjoyed the run of an educational ladder between the primary school and the university. The taxpayer has been mulcted heavily for this purpose, and pundits have wrangled interminably over various theories of intellectual progress. The net result is a nation singularly ignorant of world history and singularly ill-equipped for the arts of government and for all the other responsibilities of public life.

Everywhere, of course, democracy’s new powers are presenting statesmanship with new problems. Formerly the peoples of Europe, uneducated and content to be so, sat at the feet of the Churches, and the clergy were the dominant force not only in religious, but in social and economic, affairs. To-day the clergy have ceased to hold a monopoly of education, and the right of private judgement asserts itself on every hand.

In his outspoken address, this week, on the decay of preaching the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Our average Church of England sermons have not kept pace with educational advance or with the average man’s and woman’s wider interest in all sorts of human knowledge and human affairs.” We detect little of that “wider interest” in Ireland to-day – on the contrary, the official cry is for narrowness and parochialism – but our people are demonstrating their independence in another fashion. They are becoming impatient of the restraints of the old discipline. They are asserting a new freedom in morals and manners; and nobody who has followed this week’s discussions of the Catholic Truth Society can have failed to realise the grave concern with which the Church of the majority is watching this development. In public affairs the mind of Ireland is singularly incurious and chaotic because, for the moment, it has no standards. England, with all her emancipation of mind and morals, is permeated with ancient traditions of stable government and of individual responsibility to the State. The Irish people never acknowledged those English traditions, and they have yet to acquire the habit of government and to establish traditions of their own. Just now they are between two worlds – “one dead, the other waiting to be born.”

The remedies for callowness and ignorance are education and experience. At the best, experience must come slowly and must be costly; but a sound system of education can make it more profitable and less painful. It is certain, at any rate, that, if the Free State is to prosper, it must adopt within the next years principles and standards of education that will make impossible any renewal of the fiasco of the Senate election.

Our people must learn to recognise their duties to the State and to be intelligent factors in the development of national trade and industry. They must learn to read good books and to think soberly and constructively – in a word, to make themselves worthy of the responsibilities of freedom.

Read the original here

Selected by Joe Joyce; email fromthearchives@irishtimes.com