Plan for a joint Irish history rejected

 

THE Stormont Cabinet of Capt Terence O'Neill rejected a North South initiative to produce a new history of Ireland with the financial assistance of both Irish governments in 1965.

On July 16th 1965, the Minister for Education, Mr W.K. Fitzsimmons, circulated amendment to his Cabinet colleagues supporting the idea of a new history of Ireland with the assistance of the Belfast and Dublin governments.

The Minister recalled that in 1963, Professor J.C. Beckett, of Queen's University Belfast, had written to the Prime Minister informing him of a proposal to publish "an authoritative history of Ireland with the help of historians in all the Irish universities and scholars from Great Britain".

The professor said the committee in charge of the project intended to approach both Irish governments for financial assistance and suggested that, from many points of view, it was better that financial support should come from both governments - rather than one alone.

The issue was reactivated by a request from Professor F.X. Martin, secretary of the editorial committee, seeking financial assistance for a three volume history, to be followed by a more extended work.

The Minister informed the Stormont Cabinet: "If the work was prepared in accordance with exacting standards of scholarship, it would be very valuable. At the present time, no work of this nature on Irish history exists. It would probably be the basis for all school textbooks for many years." Several members of the editorial committee, he added, were known to the Minister of Education's inspectors as "historians of repute".

The Minister said the Dublin Government had agreed to support the scheme in principle by £8,000 over five years. Mr Fitzsimmons added: "Clearly, the production of a history of this nature might lead to embarrassment for the government. I think there is, however, some force in the suggestion made by the proposers that if there is to be support from public funds, it would come better from both governments, than from one alone."

Accordingly, the minister sought cabinet approval to the principle of co operation and to the opening of joint talks between the Ministry of Finance at Stormont and the Irish Government departments - on the funding details.

The issue was raised at a full cabinet meeting on August 11th 1965, at Stormont Castle. The Minister for Education said experts accepted the need for such a history. It was felt that the editorial committee would be reasonably objective and would produce a work of value. While parts of the work might well prove unwelcome in tone or content (to the Northern Ireland authorities), on the whole he considered it would be difficult not to agree to participate, particularly as the Government of the Republic had already promised support. The financial implications were comparatively trivial.

However, the proposal provoked a hostile response from his colleagues. The Prime Minister, Capt O'Neill, Mr Faulkner, the Minister for Commerce, Mr Kirk, the Minister for Finance, Mr McConnell, the Minister for Home Affairs, and Mr West, the Minister for Agriculture, all said. it would be disadvantageous to become associated with a project over which it would have no control and when the result might be unfavourably received in Northern Ireland. There was no real precedent for direct government support for such a work of scholarship.

The Cabinet finally decided that the history should not be supported from public funds.

. At a Cabinet meeting on May 5th 1965, Stormont ministers agreed that the relay of Telefis Eireann programmes into Northern Ireland should be "totally resisted".