An Irishman’s Diary from 1965: Fine Gael’s ‘blueprint for Ireland’

Party leader James Dillon tells reporters: ‘Never let it be said that the Leader of Fine Gael kept the press uninformed of his movements’

The front page of The Irish Times on Friday, March 19th, 1965. Photograph: The Irish Times

The front page of The Irish Times on Friday, March 19th, 1965. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The 17th Dáil has been dissolved and a general election is on the horizon. The leader of Fine Gael at the time, James Dillon, invites the press to Leinster House where he launches the party’s “blueprint for modern Ireland”.

March 19th, 1965: Leinster House can be a difficult building to enter, as more than one aspiring politician will discover in the not too distant future. The fact was brought- home to a colleague of mine yesterday afternoon, a colleague who has no Parliamentary ambitions whatsoever.

In the way of these things, he arrived at the gates of Leinster House to discover that he had left his accreditation card to the Oireachtas Press Gallery at home. So, while a companion who had the necessary document was allowed to proceed, the colleague concerned was left to wait while telephonic advice was sought from the Superintendent of the Dáil, within the august precincts of Leinster House itself.

After some ten minutes waiting, the glad word came and he was permitted to proceed to his business. What particularly irked him as he waited, however, was that the official at the gate, who had halted him on the grounds that he had insufficient proof of his identity, took advantage of the delay to propound a number of criticisms of my colleague’s performances on television.

“If he didn’t know who I was, as he claimed, who did he think he was criticising?” asked the baffled victim of the delay.

All Revealed

Inside Leinster House yesterday afternoon, the centre of attention was the Fine Gael rooms, where Mr James Dillon, the party’s leader, and a number of his colleagues were unveiling their new policy to the public through the medium of the political correspondents and reporters of the national press-a “group of sophisticated gentlemen,” as Mr. Dillon described them.

These gentlemen assembled, Mr Dillon entered with a purposeful stride and expressed his hope that Fine Gael had not delayed them, as he made his way to a seat at the head of the room. The sun shone through the windows with a golden promise of summer as Mr Dillon began the formal business of the day. “Gentlemen, first of all I would like to express our appreciation of your coming here to discuss what I would like to present to you as our blueprint for modern Ireland. ”

Time, he pointed out, had given them little opportunity of presenting the document as adequately as they might have liked, but lest there was a cynic in the room, he added: “This is not an election gimmick for the general election because, as you all know, it is the product of 12 months’ hard work.”

Mr Dillon ran through some of the major points in the plan: there was some frantic rustling of paper as his audience attempted to find the appropriate places in the copies of the full plan and two summaries which had been issued to each of them.

In Short Supply

Mr Dillon, while confessing that he might be betraying himself as a bad politician, repeatedly declared that he had no intention of making promises that he might not be able to keep if he came to power. Someone wanted to know where Fine Gael hoped to get the greater numbers of trained economists, scientists and technologist that the plan demanded. They were prepared in Britain, Mr Dillon said with a smile, to employ Hungarians for the purpose and he did not see why we should not do the same.

The familiar cigarette-holder was out by now, and Mr. Dillon was sitting back expansively fielding the questions as they came. Some 75 minutes had passed before he said: “My ears are burning, gentlemen, to hear the senior of your number say ‘Thank you, Mr President.’ I have a general election on my hands.”

So, indeed, had most of those present in the room, though the majority of them were interested in reporting the campaigns and not in campaigning. As the meeting broke up, a political correspondent asked Mr Dillon where he would be going on his election tour. Instantly, he produced a list of engagements front an inside pocket.

“Never let it be said,” he declared, “that the leader of Fine Gael kept the press uninformed of his movements.”

Midnight Music

While Mr Dillon, Mr Lemass, Mr Corish and politicians throughout the length and breadth of Ireland are competing to attract the confidence of the voting public on April 7th, others are occupied in planning for one minute past midnight on March 31st. This is the curious time at which an April Fools’ Concert of Comic and Curious Music will be presented in the Grafton Cinema, Dublin. We are promised that it will show various Dublin artists playing “unexpected and unusual roles.” This will be the first presentation of the newly-formed Irish Opera Group and Mr Courtney Kenny, one of the group’s co-founders, said yesterday that it would include one work specially written for the occasion by Gerard Victory and another by Dr Brian Boydell, which already had been performed successfully elsewhere.

It will be the first time that a concert of this kind has been presented in Dublin, although Mr Kenny pointed out yesterday that they were highly successful when presented by the late Gerard Hoffnung in London. The concert, though, is not an end in itself. It is being held to assist in the financing of more serious activities by the group.

Council’s Grant

Mr Kenny, who has made a name for himself at Glyndebourne and is a director of the Ballinrobe Opera Society, pointed out that the group’s aim was to provide Irish singers with the opportunity of gaining operatic experience. The April Fools’ concert, and other concerts, would be held to help the group to meet the cost of staging operas.

The first opera season will be held in the week beginning on June 28th, when it will present three performances of Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas, ” preceded by “La Serva Padrona” by Pergolesi, in the Dagg Hall. The Irish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by another co-founder of the group, Mr Janos Furst, will accompany the operas and the leading artists will include Bernadette Greevy, Mary Sheridan, Ann Moran, Austin Gaffney, Martin Dempsey, Angela Carroll and Violet Twomey.

Miss Brenda Stanley, who has been responsible for all six productions in the last two years at the Ballinrobe Chamber Opera Festival, will produce the two operas. Mr Kenny, who thanked the Arts Council for a generous grant yesterday, already is planning ahead for further concerts and recitals to raise money for the group’s operatic activities. He hopes to bring a number of international artists to this country and they include Reri Grist, a coloured American soprano, who has been making a name for herself on the Continent. All being well, she should visit this country in about I8 months’ time.

Mr Kenny, who is hoping to move back permanently to Ireland after ten years in England, will maintain his connection with Glyndebourne.

”Glyndebourne is good for me. It raises my standards, and it may enable me to get artists from there to sing here,” he said yesterday after- noon.

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Our man in Moscow says that there is just a chance that the Soviet Government will allow Astronaut Leonov, the man who walked in space, to come to Dublin to demonstrate to pedestrians how to cross Westmoreland Street.