Visions of Ireland: Diarmaid Ferriter’s guide
We have had a number of ‘mission statements’ over the past 100 years, but have any visions become reality?
The flourishes of both Patrick Pearse and James Connolly are evident in 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
Assessing the extent to which historic social, political, cultural and economic promises or aspirations have been delivered or reneged on could lead to an excessively judgmental tone and a temptation to read present-day values into very different eras.
It is essential to grasp the context in which various articulations of “vision” for the future were framed and by whom over the last century in Ireland.
Nonetheless, it is striking how, overall, so many hostages to fortune were created with these various documents and the degree to which some of them, rather than delivering on the inspiration they were designed to foster, ultimately became more useful as yardsticks of failure.
Diarmaid Ferriter is Professor of Modern Irish History, UCD
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic was issued by the “Provisional Government of the Irish Republic” on Easter Monday 1916, to proclaim Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom.
The flourishes of both Patrick Pearse and James Connolly are evident in the proclamation, such as “the right of the people to the ownership of Ireland”, Ireland’s “exaltation among the nations” and the guarantee of “religious and civil liberties and equal opportunities to all”.
It was also designed, in historian Fearghal McGarry’s words, to unite, “at least for posterity, the fragmented coalition of secular republicans, Catholic intellectuals, Irish-Ireland activists and revolutionary socialists that had brought about the rebellion . . . its ritual re-enactment over the years would create a powerful illusion of ideological coherency that the Rising did not embody at the time”.
Historians have been critical in recent years about the insatiable appetite to wrench the proclamation from the context of 1916 and latch it on to contemporary causes. Its most quoted phrase – “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” – was not a reference to children, but the idea of equal recognition of unionists and nationalists.
It has also been maintained, however, that the proclamation has to be a “living” document that no longer belongs to its authors, as it was bestowed to the republic for its citizens to make what use of it as they saw fit, depending on the lights of different times.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
Like many other revolutionary declarations, it was essentially an act of propaganda and it claimed, far too conveniently, that the Republic would be “oblivious” to “the differences carefully fostered by an alien government”.
But it should not be forgotten how inspired and emboldened many were by it, including the female activists who hailed it being addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen” and its promise of full suffrage and equality. Full suffrage for Irish men and women, became a reality in 1922. Achieving religious and civil liberties and “equal opportunities for all” has been more tortuous and remains a work in progress, with notable successes, but many failures.
Democratic Programme 1919
The Democratic Programme was unveiled at the meeting of the first Dáil on January 21st, 1919, in the Round Room of the Mansion House. This first Dáil Éireann was established by successful candidates in the UK general election of 1918, who refused to recognise the UK parliament.
As Cork writer Seán O Faoláin characterised it, the programme – which enunciated Sinn Féin’s social ideals and promised to provide shelter for the weak, and abolish the “odious” poor law system, “was listened to and discussed for precisely 20 minutes and 50 seconds, and then buried forever. In any case, its terms were of a purely pious and general nature that committed nobody to anything in particular. The policy of Sinn Féin had always been since its foundation that simple formula: freedom first; other things after.”
The Democratic Programme was a product of compromise between the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. One of its architects was Thomas Johnson, who in a sense, as leader of the Labour Party, was being rewarded for Labour’s abstention from the 1918 election, but some of his initial draft was diluted or omitted, including the assertion, “wherever the land, mineral deposits and other forms of the production of wealth are wrongly used or withheld from use to the detriment of the Republic, then the nation shall resume possession without compensation”, in favour of “it shall be our duty to promote the development of the Nation’s resources . . . in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people”.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
There was a consensus between the parties that “it shall . . . be the first duty of the government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter”. Given all that is now known about the treatment of Irish children over the last century and ongoing failures to provide homes for the homeless, these promises of 1919 proved empty indeed.
The 1937 constitution – the fundamental legal document of the Republic of Ireland – declared Ireland as “a sovereign, independent, democratic state”. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera oversaw its drafting; it was endorsed by the electorate on July 1st 1937.
The constitution asserted the Irish nation’s “inalienable, indefeasible, and sovereign right to choose its own form of government, to determine its relations with other nations, and develop its life, political, economic, and cultural, in accordance with its own genius and traditions”.
De Valera did not use this opportunity to declare a Republic. This was a decision likely to have been made to prevent a hostile British reaction that might have damaged the rights of Irish-born citizens in Britain or their enforced repatriation. Another reason was that, if Ireland was to be a republic, he wanted “to see it in operation, not for twenty-six counties alone, but for the whole thirty-two counties”.
The constitution reflected the values established over the previous 15 years, building on the 1922 constitution with some significant additions, including the principle of judicial review of legislation and extended sections on fundamental rights.
European thinking influenced its principal drafter John Hearne, a legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs. This is not to say that Hearne’s preferred tone always prevailed; his initially more secular draft was altered to include more Catholic influences.
It was also clear that with the constitution, and its emphasis on the exclusive legitimacy of the state, de Valera’s cutting of ties with the IRA was complete.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
Over the decades, the courts, while more widely defining and protecting fundamental rights, also connived in the state’s abuse of its power, particularly in relation to the incarceration in institutions of vulnerable people whose rights were not afforded constitutional protection.
What has been interesting in recent times, in response to scandals of the past decade, is the notion that the constitution needs to be revisited. Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore fairly maintained in July 2012 “there is much in the 1937 constitution that has served us well but we must also acknowledge that there are many whom it has served less well”.
TK Whitaker’s Economic Programme
The Programme for Economic Expansion, published in 1958, was a blueprint for the reorientation of the Irish economy. Its author was TK Whitaker, secretary of the Department of Finance.
The plan was to move Ireland away from failed protectionism, with instead, an increased emphasis on foreign investment, industrial development, exports and a shift in public expenditure from “social” to “productive” investment, with a target of a 2 per cent annual growth rate over a five-year period.
The implementation of the plan led to a significant increase in external trade (there was a rise in the value of Irish exports of 35 per cent from mid-1959 to mid-1960 alone) and a reduction in unemployment and emigration. Some of the elements of reform, such as an export profits tax relief scheme, predated Whitaker’s plan and international economic buoyancy was crucial.
In introducing the report, Whitaker essentially admonished the political establishment: “The greatest fault lies in pursuing a policy after it has proved to be unsuitable or ineffective.”
This document was not just about economics; setting targets and doing something new was also, as historian Joe Lee has noted, “part of the psychological campaign waged by the government” in the late 1950s, led by a taoiseach, Seán Lemass, who was in a hurry to leave his mark.
In more recent years, the programme has been characterised as more conservative than was often claimed, but there is an element of reading backwards in that analysis.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
In looking at it through the lens of the 1950s, it can be fairly asserted that Whitaker’s document was a daring and ambitious initiative. The emphasis on foreign investment and free trade created hierarchies and priorities that did not always serve sufficient public and social purpose, but the engineering of economic prosperity after decades of stagnation was of profound significance and was made possible, not just by the efforts of civil service and political elites, but also workers, entrepreneurs and businesses in a way that benefited many.
1996 white paper on foreign policy
The 1996 White Paper on Foreign Policy, Challenges and Opportunities Abroad, was the first in the history of the State to address foreign policy priorities.
The document presented the following Irish foreign policy agenda (1) Ireland and Europe; (2) international security; (3) the united nations; (4) disarmament and arms control; (5) peacekeeping; (6) human rights; (7) development co-operation; (8) trade and international economic co-operation; (9) the Irish abroad; and (10) public interest in foreign policy.
A section on Anglo-Irish relations and Northern Ireland was omitted given the political situation at the time, a reminder that this was one of the major diplomatic challenges of the era. Many would baulk at the idea of Northern Ireland coming under the term “foreign policy”, but the Troubles became internationalised, and a successful peace process had to involve a reorientation of foreign policy and Anglo-Irish relations.
Brexit will further complicate that; it is clear this will be one of the most significant foreign policy challenges, and relations with the EU will remain top of the foreign policy list.
The economic crash from 2010 also created new priorities and a diplomatic shift towards “selling” Ireland’s recovery and seeking to restore a tarnished reputation.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
It could also be argued there has been considerable success with the Irish promotion of human rights, disarmament, campaigning on hunger and poverty, and UN collective security and peacekeeping systems.
Historically, neutrality has been a defining, recognisable and positive Irish foreign policy priority, but neutrality has been much contested in recent decades, most obviously as a result of the use of Shannon by US troops after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Almost 20 years later, in 2014, a foreign policy review document reiterated the 1996 assertion that: “The values we promote abroad are a statement of who we are as a people.” It has not always been clear, however, what those values are.
National Spatial Strategy, 2002
The National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was launched in December 2002 by minister for the environment, heritage and local government, Martin Cullen.
In the foreword, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern stated it was “a 20-year strategy designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or location. It is about making regions competitive according to their strengths and not against one another; about ensuring a high quality urban environment, as well as vibrant rural areas. The Government will ensure that its own policies are implemented in a manner that is consistent with the National Spatial Strategy”.
It was supposed to have run for 20 years and led to the growth of 18 locations across the State
It did not achieve its aims. Why? It was regarded by many as too theoretical and lacking clarity but nonetheless with the capacity to prevent “excessive and inappropriate” planning decisions if properly implemented. But the challenges in relation to planning were not confronted because the strategy sought to please everyone and because developer-led, free market, excessively local-focused planning and clientelism took precedence over the common good. The decentralisation plan unveiled in 2003 was also in contradiction of the NSS, another reminder that one of the main reasons for its failure was lack of political support.
HOW THINGS TURNED OUT
The National Spatial Strategy plan was finally abandoned by the minister for the environment Phil Hogan in 2013, who insisted it had not worked.
A review last year suggested there is a need for a new national spatial strategy and for it to be put on a legal footing as was requested by the Mahon tribunal report. The review admitted the challenges facing Ireland in planning, yet again, require “leadership, boldness and conviction”.