RTE On The Civil War


Sir, - RTE's Prime Time on the Civil War, broadcast on March 11th under the chairmanship of Prof Brian Farrell (one of a team I happily employed in RTE's Broadsheet many years ago), was a programme on that unhappy event more considered than hitherto this year.

While this is so, it is a pity that the commentary of the introductory film included remarks intended, one presumes, to condition the attention of the general viewer - in particular, though not exclusively, the attempt to draw comparisons between the Civil War and the situation today in the North of Ireland. That is not to compare like with like.

With regard to the distinguished discussion panel (Prof John A. Murphy, Prof Ronan Fanning, Dr Martin Mansergh and Prof Charles Townsend), Ronan Fanning, predictably, disagreed with both John A. Murphy and Martin Mansergh on points fundamental to the issue (among them any English responsibility for the war; de Valera's role before and during), demonstrating that, for some at least, the casus belli of the Civil standing, remains controversial in spite of established facts. That came as little surprise.

What was astounding, however, was that, although the facts are long since well-known and they argued them - if inconclusively - at some length, none of the panel clarified three essential points. Why did de Valera not go to the negotiations before the Treaty was signed? Why was the question of Northern Ireland not a decisive issue in the Civil War? And who exactly fought the Civil War on the anti-Treaty side?

Regarding de Valera's not going to the negotiations: neither he, nor anyone else on the Irish side, could have known that the negotiations would conclude when and in the way that they did. It is clear from the decision of the Cabinet in Dublin on December 3rd, 1921, that "the President shall not go to London at this stage of the negotiations", that his doing so at a later stage was, if necessary, a possibility. That opportunity did not arise.

The reason Northern Ireland was not a decisive issue was because all of Sinn Fein, both those in favour and those against the Treaty, were like the delegation, taken in by the assurances of Lloyd George and Churchill that Northern Ireland, when defined by a boundary commission, would constitute only four counties which would prove economically unviable and would be compelled by that fact to join the rest of Ireland.

The war was conducted on the anti-Treaty side by the (Volunteer) Army Executive acting on its own initiative independently of Sinn Fein, the Dail, or any other civil authority. It is wrong to attribute any influence to de Valera, or any other anti-Treaty political figure, on the anti-conduct of the Civil War. On the contrary, as early as July de Valera was actively trying to bring about an end to hostilities. - Yours, etc., Eoin Neeson

Blackrock, Co Dublin.