Moronic statement of the week? Step forward the Irish Times and this piece from today’s newspaper:
“The introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill by Liberal Party prime minister Herbert Asquith on this day 100 years ago, in exchange for Irish nationalist support for the 1911 Parliament Act’s curtailing of the House of Lords’ powers, was for John Redmond an extraordinary moment of triumph.
Today we look back on the Third Home Rule Bill as a landmark in our history, the curtain-raiser and necessary prequel to the revolutionary upheavals that would follow. A moment that heralded a temporary breach in the tradition of democratic constitutionalism whose line the founders, and spirit, of the new State would reconnect with a decade later.”
I’m sorry? Can I have that again? The failure of the British Third Home Rule bill and the subsequent Irish Revolution was a “moment that heralded a temporary breach in the tradition of democratic constitutionalism”?
How exactly does one have “democratic constitutionalism” in a state that didn’t have a constitution? Did the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”, an artificial entity held together by the violence and the threat of violence emanating from one part of it, have a written constitution? No, of course it didn’t. Nor does the rump UK have it now.
And democracy? Excuse me for asking the obvious here, but what does “democracy” mean for an island nation held captive under foreign colonial rule? Ireland was invaded, occupied, annexed and colonised by Britain. I don’t remember too many ballot boxes being involved in that exercise of territorial greed and expansionism by our nearest neighbour.
Our country existed under foreign administration from the medieval period onwards. British governors and British civil servants, later augmented by some locals, native and imported, ruled over the Irish people for eight centuries. That’s eight hundred years of unlawful rule. Rule through violence and terror. Forget Stalin. Forget Pol Pot. London showed all the wannabe imperatores how to build and control an empire.
That “tradition of democratic constitutionalism” didn’t do too much for the one million Irish men, women and children left to starve in fields and ditches across the island in the 1840s and ‘50s. Or the one million refugees forced to seek exile over death. Ooops. Sorry. Did I say something unpleasant? Certain folk don’t want to be reminded of that sort of thing, now, do they?
They’d prefer to remember the days of the Big House, the Irish R.M. and nanny in the nursery reading stories of frontier bravery to the children (Kipling, of course, not that treasonous ingrate, Lady Gregory). Ah, remember the days when one could smear a few bogtrotters with blood and then hunt them with the hounds o’er field and dale for the delectation of your cousins visiting from England? That is how one truly treats the peasants. In Ireland they still did it old school. None of that Chartist or Fabian nonsense here!
The dear oul sod in 1911. What a wonderful place it was. Oh yes, you still had the violent echoes of the Land War, midnight burnings and roadside assassinations, collective punishments and destitute families ejected from their homes. Of course there was an enormous, heavily armed, infantry-trained paramilitary police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, housed in fortified barracks across the country, with a UK-directed system of justice (and judges and clerks or their bastard Anglo-Irish off-spring) ferried hither and thither by armed escorts. But what is wrong with that?
Put to one side the whole apparatus of a colonial police state, replete with its hordes of paid informers and spies and double-agents which would put any tin-pot Middle East dictator to shame. Forget the KGB, my friends; the RIC made them look like amateurs! So what if people we imprisoned, tortured and exiled. Put aside censorship and the suppression of a free press. Or books (you think the Nazis were the only book burners? Think again).
No matter that people were still dying of malnutrition and disease, that emigration was the norm for young adults, that thousands lacked the ability to read or write, that the prisons were full to overcrowding. Ignore (if you can) the censored press, the frequent protests in cities and villages, the acts of vandalism against British symbols and the agents of British power in Ireland.
Empty your mind of the knowledge that the two general elections in 1910 were, thanks to John Redmond and his IPP followers, the bloodiest in living memory, complete with riots and armed gangs roving rural parishes. Or that the eleigible electorate in those votes represented less than one-tenth of the entire adult population of the country
No. This was the heyday of empire. Britain’s empire. The time when Ireland celebrated its “democratic constitutionalism” under the United Kingdom’s rule of our small, oppressed and terrorised island – or as the Irish Times would have it, an island that was basking in the warm and civilizing glow of the Pax Britannica. Thus we witness the moment of triumph for John Redmond, that will only be slightly eclipsed by an even greater triumph several years later when he will defend young Irish men being placed up against a wall in front of military firing squads while taking pride in the thousands of other young Irish men being fed into the war machine of a foreign oppressor.
John Redmond. What a man. The willing servant of those in power with the biggest king’s shilling ready to drop oh so heavily into his greedy, avaricious hand.
Actually, maybe he does represent the tradition of mainstream Irish democracy, after all? Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Greens… the true inheritors of the Irish Parliamentary Party?
Just like the Irish Times.