History and political violence


Sir, – Fr Seamus Murphy writes on the violent events that led to the War of Independence and Civil War (“War of Independence seen as Catholic war on Protestants”, Opinion & Analysis, January 15th). His examples conform to pre-existing conclusions. In Fr Murphy’s memory, British violence and coercion are absent, as is unionist sectarianism. So too is the Irish Parliamentary Party’s decision to withdraw from Westminster, eight months prior to Sinn Féin winning overwhelming support for the policy in December 1918.

Sinn Féin’s election success was due, partly, to British capitulation to a unionist revolt during the 1912-14 period and the sidelining of IPP views in years following. Influential too was the extension of the franchise, making the election more representative of popular opinion. The Irish demand for self-determination led to the setting up of parallel institutions. The British were determined to crush these elements of dual power. In such circumstances Irish and British violence confronted each other.

The use of Irishmen in crown forces to defeat the Irish men and women who rallied to defence of Dáil institutions is unsurprising in an imperial context. It had diminishing returns. Royal Irish Constabulary resignations led to recruitment of new British counterinsurgency forces, adding an extra layer of viciousness. This factor is missing also in Fr Murphy’s version of the past.

Fr Murphy misunderstands the threat to unionist sectarian privilege that Irish self-determination represented. The unionist assertion that Home Rule within the British Empire meant rule by Fr Murphy’s church disguised a determination to exclude Roman Catholics from social, economic and political equality. Fr Murphy offers no practical suggestion that would have reversed unionist political reaction. His allusion to the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement in Northern Ireland illustrates the point. It was defeated by a rerun of 1912-14, a unionist revolt aided by state forces, occasioning murderous violence in Dublin.

Finally, Fr Murphy fails to address the “Rome rule” exercised by Fr Murphy’s church in independent Ireland. Sectarian control over education, health and social services, encouraged within British jurisdiction, was reinforced by Irish governments. Significant, but not sufficient, progress has been made in eroding that influence in recent years. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Fr Seamus Murphy’s condemnation of nationalist violence in 1916 and in the War of Independence might have some moral integrity had he not supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, suggesting that this was justifiable on the basis of liberation theology. The reasons given to justify the Iraq invasion were considered by many, in knowledgeable positions at the time, to be bogus and are now accepted universally to be so. Many millions of people across the globe protested against the war but to no avail.

We now know the consequences of that war, including the many thousands of deaths of innocent people and the resulting devastation and destruction of the country. The aftermath of such actions has led to the turmoil that now exists in the Middle East.

The Nuremberg tribunal declared, “To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes, in that it contains within it the accumulated evil of the whole.” Therefore Fr Murphy’s condemnation of violence, during our War of Independence sounds hollow when one considers his support of violence under other circumstances which were far more egregious and devastating. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.