Saturday, May 13, 2017

Detour from the stepping stone

Irish Leader of the Opposition Micheal Martin mansplaining to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier during his visit to the Dáil (lower house) last week --

It is important for Mr. Barnier to understand that Ireland’s approach to Europe and to international commitments is deeply intertwined with our national identity. Last year, we marked 100 years since the most important founding event of our Republic. The nationalism of the Rising of 1916 and the Proclamation of Independence is a generous one. It defines the Irish nation as having diverse elements and seeks a State which works with others. Our republican Constitution, adopted in 1937 at a dark moment in world affairs, goes even further and explicitly recognises the role of international law and co-operation. We have no nostalgia for a lost empire and no wish to assert superiority over others. We have never sought to stand apart from the world, jealously guarding the right to say no to everything. We fully understand that only when states work together they can secure peace, progress and prosperity for their people. That is why we will remain active and constructive members of the European Union.

Note first that his version of Irish history skips from 1916 to 1937. His next milestone is 1972, when Ireland's EEC membership referendum passed by 83:17 -- a date that in his telling, was the one year anniversary of the death of Sean Lemass, whom he gives the credit for the idea of joining the EEC!  Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, but he can't bring himself to mention a year that Fianna Fail was not in power. (Had he decided to go further in terms of milestones, he would have gone for 1998). Anyway, here's eminent historian Ronan Fanning's assessment of that 1937 constitution --

The paradox inherent in the 1937 constitution is that its architect designed it more as an end than as a beginning: its purpose was not to inaugurate a brave new world but to drop the curtain on the old world of the Irish Free State. Published on 1 May, approved by the Dáil on 14 June, endorsed by referendum on 1 July, it came into effect on 29 December 1937. It affirmed 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’ (art. 1) and declared that ‘Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state’ (art. 5) whose head of state would be a president elected by direct popular vote to hold office for seven years (art. 12). Again de Valera shrank from the straitjacket of the republic, preferring to name the state ‘Éire’ (‘Ireland’) rather than ‘Poblacht na hÉireann’ (‘The Republic of Ireland’). This ambiguity, like the external relations act of 1936, wreathed Ireland's relationship with the commonwealth in a haze of uncertainty designed to deter British retribution that might entail the loss of rights of Irish-born citizens in Britain or, even worse, their enforced repatriation and the closure of the safety valve of emigration. When the name of the state was changed to ‘The Republic of Ireland’, moreover, as de Valera explained to the 1937 Fianna Fáil ard fheis, he wanted ‘to see it in operation, not for twenty-six counties alone, but for the whole thirty-two counties’ (Moynihan, 331). He also hoped that even a vestigial commonwealth link might make it easier to end partition in order that, as he naively explained to the British, ‘when Northern Ireland came in, the contact with the crown which they valued so highly should not be entirely severed’ (Fisk, 63).

Micheal Martin thus operates in a world (at least for public consumption) where pre-1937 Ireland couldn't engage in its own international relations. That's not true. Ireland signed a full international treaty on trade with Portugal in 1929 and in any event, the Free State had been successfully pushing to the limit the powers that it had in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the evolving powers of all the Dominions.

The final irony is that, as Fanning explains, Dev couldn't actually write the Constitution that Martin claims he wrote because he feared that the Free State was too dependent on Britain to withstand a rupture of economic links. That constituency has resurfaced in the antics of the closet West Brexiters. Afflicted with Dev's vagueness on The Irish Question, Martin really needs to say if he thinks, as the West Brexiters do, that Ireland needs to conduct its own Brexit negotiations with the UK. 

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