Speech by Fine Gael Dublin MEP and Dublin South-Central Deputy Gay Mitchell at the Annual Collins-Griffith Memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery today (Sunday).
“Arthur Griffith died in 1922, at the early age of 51, while President of Dáil Éireann, shortly before the foundation of the Free State. He was an ardent Nationalist. He spent some time in South Africa and returned to Ireland where he edited a number of nationalist newspapers.
“He proposed that Ireland develop its relations with Britain along the lines of the Hungarian relationship with the Austrian Empire. He specifically founded Sinn Féin in 1905 to propagate these views. He did not become its president until 1911 a position he ceded to Eamon de Valera after the Rising, remaining then its Vice-President. He was arrested and interred in Reading Gaol, and later Gloucester Prison.
“He had earlier formed Cumann na nGaedheal, later to re-emerge as the governing party of the fledgling Free State.
“He led the plenipotentiaries who negotiated and signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. He vigorously defended the Treaty but died suddenly in August 1922 as the Civil War was reaching its climax. He believed that Ireland’s freedom could have been won by peaceful means and, to quote one of his biographers Calton Younger ‘….he may have been right. It is more likely that if there had been no Easter Rising he would be remembered today as an inspired journalist and skilful publicist, and that Sinn Féin would have been no more than an eccentric footnote in history’. Who really knows?
“One thing is certain, his ‘Hungarian Policy’, for which he was sometimes ridiculed, and upon which Sinn Féin was founded was considered and imaginative. He published his arguments first in the United Irishman and then in a booklet: ‘The Resurrection of Hungary a Parallel for Ireland’, in 1904, which one source suggests sold 30,000 copies.
“The parallel was not with without blemish. Austria crushed a Hungarian revolt in 1848-49 and with it the Republic they tried to establish. Soon after being defeated by the Italians, Austria, finding it difficult to keep its Empire together, tried, from 1860, various constitutional experiments. Finally, Austria and Hungary came to an accommodation, Hungary would have independence but there would be a one Emperor for both entities.
“The point Griffith made was that the Hungarians had won their independence by refusing to send their elected representatives to the Diet of Vienna and by insisting on forming their own parliament, the key accommodation being one monarch for both States. He argued that we should take the same course here. This was indeed the road taken by the Sinn Féin Party which won 73 of the 105 seats in Ireland (the Irish Parliamentary Party won 6) in the General Election of December 1918. The abstentionist MPs met in January 1919 and formed the first Dáil Éireann.
“A majority of people at that time did not vote for a Republic and the way Griffith sought to accommodate those who wanted the Union to continue, and those who wanted independence but had no difficulty accepting the Monarch, was the “Hungarian Policy”.
“How would we in the Republic of Ireland of the 21st century accommodate the Irish Unionists today?
“As constitutional nationalists, what is our sense of Nation? The words nation and nationalism are derived from the word natio which means greater community. If we sincerely want a 32 county community how do we propose to accommodate those who do not share our views of how such a community might function and be organised? This is not a rhetorical question. Politics is the art of the possible. It is about ideas and finding solutions for problems. Above all it should be about leadership. We should constantly explore new ideas on how the majority in Northern Ireland might someday be persuaded to consent to unity or we should give up the pretence of being nationalists, in which case the extremists will fill the vacuum.
“The Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936 (section 3) made provision (rather opportunistically on the abdication of Edward Vlll) that the diplomatic representatives of the State, and conclusion of international agreements, would be henceforth done on the authority of the Executive Council (Government). However, it continued to provide that ‘so long as Saorstát Eireann is associated with …. Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa, and so long as the King recognised by those nations as the symbol of their co-operation continues to act on behalf of each of those nations (on the advice of the several governments thereof) for the purposes of the appointment of diplomatic and consular representatives and the conclusion of inter-nation agreements, the King so recognised may, and is hereby authorised to, act on behalf of Saorstát Eireann, for the like purpose as and when advised by the Executive Council so to do.’
“This remained the law of the State until 1948, when it was repealed by the Republic of Ireland Act. That is eleven years after the passing of Bunreacht na hÉireann which created the office of President of Ireland. Though we had a President, the Government could continue to confer on the British monarch the power to act for this State in certain External Relations but only on the advice of the Government.
Interestingly, Articles 29.4.1. and 29.4.2. of Bunreacht na hÉireann continue to provide that external relations of the State shall be exercised by or on the authority of the Government and they may ‘avail of or adopt any organ, instrument, or method of procedure’, as used for like purpose by any group or league of nations with which the State is or becomes associated for the purposes of international co-operation in matters of common concern.
“Clearly the State can confer certain powers on the British monarch. By constitutional and parliamentary authority, it continued to do so until 1948.
“In 1906, when Sinn Féin was only a few months old, Griffith wrote:
‘We anxiously wish to see the day when every Irishman shall be a citizen, when Catholics and Protestants equally interested in their country’s welfare, possessing equal freedom and equal privileges, shall learn to look upon each other as brothers, the children of the same God and the natives of the same land, and when the only strife among them shall be who shall serve their country best.’
“I therefore raise this question as we stand at the grave of Arthur Griffith. If a united Ireland by consent, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, and the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, could come about are we prepared on this part of the island to re-visit the ideas of Griffith as to how we might accommodate a sizeable number of our fellow Irish who live on the island with us?
“The oldest State in Europe, the Republic of San Marino, has dual Heads of State. Though this is the third smallest country in Europe it shows that different constitutional models can work.
It is Provisional Sinn Féin policy that we should have a 32 county socialist republic. That is not a view shared by over nine-tenths of the nationalist people. But what sort of 32 county Ireland are we as Nationalists, proud to respect the memory of Arthur Griffith, prepared to contemplate? Without taking from the dignity or status of the role of President of Ireland how would we accommodate those Irish who also see themselves as British and have a strong attachment to the crown?
“If we are not prepared to think outside the conventional box and act as persuaders, however gently, are we, the inheritors of Griffith’s tradition, abdicating to hard-line so-called Republicans the sole role of advocates for unity? What a dreadful thought.
“One other point. If Arthur Griffith could have foreseen a Republic of Ireland at peace with our northern brethren, with a Good Friday Agreement approved by the people north and south as the way forward for the two parts of Ireland would he have been a happy man? I believe he would.
“If he could have looked forward to a Republic which in recent times completed its sixth successful Presidency of the European Union, would he have been proud? I believe he would and that we too should be proud.
“If he had looked forward to see an Independent Dáil abdicate (to China or some other member of the UN Security Council) its sovereign right to send its troops wherever it considered it appropriate in international law to keep the peace would he believe us to be truly sovereign? Such is the position in which the Government’s policy of ‘triple lock’, UN Security Council Mandate and Government and Dáil approval has unwisely placed us. We can’t send peacekeepers to Macedonia on the doorstep of the EU because China has vetoed a mandate, but we can send them to another continent to the far more dangerous theatre of the Lebanon. What a foolish position to be in. Should not the Government and Dáil, in a double lock so to speak, make Ireland’s decision on these matters as they see fit? How independent is a Republic which refuses to provide its Defence Forces with the basic tools to defend its citizens, the first duty of a State? A Republic which, at the same time, refuses to countenance joining and fails to participate in designing a Common EU Defence. Would Griffith consider us truly sovereign in defence and security issues or merely a protectorate of NATO? A body whose decision-making we cannot even influence and whose decisions are made by other Governments. Where stands our sovereignty in such a state of affairs, especially in the dangerous times we live in?
“Griffith was a statesman. Statehood brings with it rights and responsibilities. Providing for the defence and security needs of the State is one such responsibility. In ‘Beyond Neutrality’, Fine Gael set out how we see this evolving. Surely it is time, in the manner of Griffith the visionary and pamphleteer, to hear from our 21st century leaders what their vision is on this, the most basic duty of Government. Did we seek independence to shirk the responsibility of governing that goes with independence?
“Some say all political parties are the same. Not so. Fine Gael, for example, set the policy of consent of the majority there in relation to the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. We have a clear and distinct policy on security and defence. We are, and have been, the Party most committed to European integration. Political parties should not be bland and should have a distinct ethos and clear positions on the important business of the State, in an Ireland that people died to gain independence for.
“We can honour Griffith best by not being afraid to do as he did. By exploring new ideas for the good governance of Ireland in the 21st century, and by taking the responsibility that goes with the right to govern ourselves.”
Excellent speech by Gay Mitchell today. It does raise a good few interesting comments. I will post up Enda Kenny’s Speech at the Béal Na Mbláth Michael Collins Commeration as soon as i get it and if its as have as good as Gay’s it should also raise questions on where Ireland is heading.