~ Tom Garvin - Preventing the Future: Why was Ireland so Poor for so Long?
~ ATQ Stewart - The Shape of Irish History
~ ATQ Stewart - The Narrow Ground
# PREVENTING THE FUTURE
Declan Kiberd asked the crucial question: why did the Celtic Tiger of the 1990s not occur decades earlier?
The new Irish state apparently had much going for it. The British had left behind a good physical infrastructure, a well-run and recently over-hauled civil service machine and a fair standard of elementary education. Perhaps most importantly, the population possessed a political culture which understood democratic politics, if not always possessing a complete understanding of democratic government. Friendly links with the English-speaking world, particularly the United States meant that the Irish had some powerful potential friends and no natural enemies other than those generated by the enmities associated with the divisions within the island of Ireland. The new state treated its minorities (mainly Protestant) well within the confines of an overwhelming and often triumphalist Catholic consensus. British rule had left behind it some evil legacies: Irish towns had some of the worst slums in Europe; the unresponsive, patronising and often bullying character of British rule had left bad Irish habits, particularly a persistent popular tradition of being 'agin the government'. However, perhaps the most pervasive legacy of British government in Ireland was the partnership that had developed between the Catholic Church and the British State, giving to the religious organisations the tasks of educating the young, running much of the health system and controlling much of the civic life of the society. In effect, this made the Catholic Church in independent Ireland a powerful and autonomous agency which for many purposes operated like a second government or a state within a state.
The new country was quite successful, both under the pro-Treaty governments of the 1920s and under the partially reconciled anty-Treatyites in the form of Fianna Fail in the 1930s. Depression in the 1930s and war in the early 1940s made independent Ireland a fairly desirable place to be in the eyes of people in war-torn and depressed Europe.
There was a clear anti-modernist streak in Irish official and clerical thinking, generating a reluctance to engage seriously with the modern world. Most importantly, the notion of a static and unchanging order that was regarded as an ideal was quietly accepted, gladly or fatalistically, by much of the population. In the minds of many, modernity was something to be shut out rather than welcomed and coped with. After all, if one really wanted modernity, one could go next door to England or over the Atlantic to America, where there was plenty of the thing. The Irish, it sometimes seems, were hell-bent on preventing the future while pretending to embrace it.
The extraordinary boom of the thirty years from 1943 to 1973 transformed Western societies in an unprecedented way. Among many other things, the boom copperfastened liberal democracy and a governmentally regulated capitalism as the ideological victors in the argument as to whether the future lay with statist socialism or with market capitalism. In effect, the extraordinary success of the Western countries culminated in the massive ideological humiliation of the pseudo-democratic socialist tyrannies of the East.
Before 1959, economic development was sluggish, trade remained stagnant, and despite denials by some writers, cultural activity was under political attack. This cultural war was being waged by linguistic revivalists, Catholic fundamentalists and state censors: writing, painting, theatre, dance and the plastic arts were commonly regarded with indifference, suspicion, and even active hostility by the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. This indifference and hostility were also popular in some circles: such activity was commonly regarded as snobbish, pretentious and 'West British'. Alexis de Tocqueville's tyranny of the majority was alive and well in the emergent republican majority of independent Ireland.
Ireland, though, combined the slow growth rates characteristic of a rich and mature economy with the underdevelopment characteristic of a rather poor country.
In "Federalist Paper Number Ten", James Madison passionately argued the desirability of having a large republic rather than a small one. He bluntly asserts that blocking coalitions which are, in effect, hostile to the interest and property rights of either the majority class of citizens or a minority class are far more likely to emerge and get their way in a small republic. In a large republic, political groups are likely to be many, divided and harder to organise.
[Ch1: Politics and
"Between 1915 and 1960, half a million Irish people went to England, and they had hard lives there many of them. I think that if that siphoning off of the younger generation hadn't happened then, social change would have happened far more quickly... it would have been like an explosion, the lid blowing off a kettle. A lot of Irish problems were avoided through emigration, by getting rid of some of our youngest and best, and that generation who disappeared into England were looked down on by the crowd that stayed, who did very little for the country or anything else."
- John McGahern
The achievement of a parochial, rural, neo-Gaelic and above all, Catholic arcadia was a goal that absorbed the energies of many Irish educators, clerics, planners and politicians for a generation after independence. It also kept many others busy trying to find it off and get on with modernising the country.
At the end of the 19th century, there had already been a sense that all was not well in the cultural matrix between religion and economics in Irish culture. It was eloquently argued by Horace Plunkett and Walter McDonald that Irish Catholics were not very good entrepeneurs and that there was something hostile to moneymaking in the version of Christianity that had won out in Ireland.
"The industrialists shout all the time against high taxes. They shout very loud when they losing money. Then the government is stale and dead but won't lie down. But when they are making money hand over fist they are as quiet as a mouse. The trade union workers don't give a damn about the unemployed. They take good care there will be no dilution of labour lest anybody whose mother and father wasn't a plumber might become a plumber and so shake their monopoly. The wages in the building trade here are higher than in Britain and the output is absurdly less. This beautiful Christian civilization won't do an honest day's work; just as this beautiful Christian civilization won't forego its profits."
- Frank Gallagher, writing in April 1940
The old European empires of the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, France and Portugal disintegrated amid a welter of rhetoric about national liberation followed commonly by the rule of wonderfully corrupt dictatorships in the successor states of empire. The failure of many 'Third World' states because of cultural, structural and demographic forces, the incompetence, aggression and corruption of their governments as well as the often exploitative and interfering activities of both Eastern and Western powers, generated an envy of Western achievement which sometimes developed into a settled hatred. A common form of government in many Third World countries was a form of relabelled fascism, commonly praised by certain Western dissidents intellectuals simply because it was noisily anti-Western.
[Ch3: Agonising Reappraisal]
The Inter-Party government of 1948 reflected both forward-looking and backward-looking social forces. The subsistence farmer, the grazier, urban workers, professional and the bourgeois hostled each other. These strange bedfellows formed an equally strange coalition government. Men who had ordered and stood over the executions of IRA men in 1922-3 were in the same cabinet with men who had hero-worshipped these martyrs and demonized their killers. Men whose economic ideas were classically laissez-faire in character governed the country in tandem with men who were essentially state socialist in idelogical persuasion.
John A. Costello whose hands were clean of IRA blood but who had an honourable Sinn Fein and pro-Treaty pedigree, became Taoiseach.
Costello was possibly more worried about the economic theories of the voter than about those of the Governor of the Central Bank. The former had more power. In some ways, Inter-Party economic and social policies in 1948 were, rather like de Valera's, still intellectually pre-economic. The difference was that Costello was more afraid of the voters than was de Valera, and rightly. The latter watched the Irish voter as a hunter stalks his prey, and understood the voter as perhaps no one else of his generation did.
Concern about Ireland's economic sluggishness mounted in the late 1940s and continued to be voiced throughout the 1950s. Significantly, comparative perspectives were used from the start, particularly comparisons with that Other Ireland, always openly denounced, sometimes covertly respected: Northern Ireland. A northern Unionist leader, Edmond Warnock, certainly ruffled a few feathers in 1947 when he rather grandly announced publicly on a visit to Dublin that the gross national product per head of the North was probably 30% higher than that of the south.
Irish transtlantic aviation did not resume until 1958. The aviation lobby, given the logic of Irish politics, was too weak in 1948 to compete against the dead weight of Irish public opinion and its electoral reflection in the form of populist politicians. The same was true of the proponents of road-building and those who advocated a modern telephone system. In the eyes of Irish democracy and its servants, transatlantic airliners, telephones, and motor cars were all the toys of the rich rather then essential instruments of economic and social advance: the machineries of the future were upper class and therefore to be distrusted. They were 'luxuries' to be enjoyed by rich people only. These things were already the machineries of the present in the United States of 1948.
Electronic communication remained an increasingly moribund government monopoly, the local manned exchange system a source of endless satirical comment and parody. Local post officials were able to eavesdrop on their neighbours' conversations, and even interrupt them with uninvited commentary, in a way that added to both the charm and irritation, often amounting to despair, of living in Ireland. Because of the state monopoly, telephones were scarce and there was a huge pent-up demand for them; house prices reflected in part whether the house came with a telephone installed; powerful politicians 'fixed' telephones for their allies and clients. As ever, scarcity of a resource had its political advantages. Those without political clout commonly had to wait years for a telephone.
One paradoxical sign of hope in 1956-7 was the evident hopelessness of traditional politicies, and the resultant lack of resistance to their being replaced by a new departure. TK Whitaker was later to express his pleasure and surprise at the readiness of a Fianna Fail government to perform a volte-face on economic policy, abandon protection, embrace free-trade and move toward a developmentalist policy at the insitgation of Sean Lemass.
One might even argue that the scandal, ideologically speaking, of British Ireland doing better than Irish Ireland provoked the latter into embracing developmentalism. To put it a different way, a 32-county independent Ireland might still have the living standards of 1945, or at least have taken far longer to wake up from the complacenices of the 1940s and break out of the constraints of veto groups; after all, Northern Ireland also had such groups. The existence of the two parts of Ireland as separate political entities tended to generate a poltiics of mutual recrimination, but also, more healthily, a politics of competition. Partition had certain advantages: it possibly prevented sclerosis from becoming total in a right little, tight little all-island republic. Northern Ireland economic sucess, very visible to southern eyes in the 1950s was quite as much an idelogical embarassment as were the doings of the IRA.
Belatedly, independent Ireland was joining the European and American club, but it had paid a large price for its delay in so doing, including the emigration of hundreds of thousands of young people and the denial of education to many over a long period.
The cultural revolution, or, depending on one's point of view, cultural collapse of the 1960s is looked at in Chapter 4. However, it does seem that it takes a sometimes scary economic downturn to force economically rational decisions injurious to the interests of political elites through the Irish governmental decision-making system. Such a pattern was certainly evident in the late 1950s and again in the late 1980s; veto groups were forced to remove their vetoes when it was put to them that a general collapse of some sort might occur.Both late conversions to new policy lines coincided with a time of electoral instability, the rise of minor radical and conservative parties and absence from government of the Fianna Fail party with its legendary capacity to mobilise popular consent even for rather unattractive and unpopular economic policies.
By educating to a high level even those expected to emigrate, Ireland produced people capable of going abroad and earning a living in a skilled vocation, and also gave herself an eventual flow of Irish immigrants who typically became part of a new generation of innovators. The old, mean-minded custom of filling emigrants boats with unskilled men and women destined for low-paid jobs in England and America had actually been self-defeating. This studied neglect of the education of young people destined for the emigrant ship had actually cost the Irish who stayed at home dearly, partly because no later return immigration was possible, and partly because the diaspora, quite understandably, did not view the native regime back at home with any great fondness. Some of them sympathised more with the IRA than with the democratic Irish government.
[Ch:4 Cherish The Children]
"The child himself must be the end in education. It is a curious thing how many times the education of Europe has drifted into error. For two or three centuries people thought that their various religious systems were more important than the child. In the modern world the tendency is to think of the nation; that it is more important than the child... there is a tendency to subordinate the child to the idea of the nation."
- Senator William Butler Yeats (1926)
"A Department saddled
with the Herculean task of restoring the language, while acting simultaneously
as a major stakeholder between God and Caesar, was in post-independence
Ireland more likely to display caution than adventure."
- Tony White, on the Dept. of Education (2001)
Education in newly independent Ireland was by and large controlled by religious organisations, effectively meaning that the vast majority of children, in so far as they got educated at all, got the education the Catholic Church thought they should get.
At the end of the 19th century, the Catholic Church, having been a major agent of the linguistic anglicisation of Ireland for two centuries, perpetrated an apparent volte-face. While continuing to ensure that its flock had a command of the English language, elements within the Church suddenly proceeded to back the nationalist project of reviving the almost moribind Irish Gaelic language as the common tongue of the new Ireland that was imagined as emerging in the 20th century. Many clerics denounced the British for what was described as the terrible crime of eradicating the Irish language through the school system a crass distortion of historical fact. The sudden support for the Irish language was driven in part by an opportunistic and Machiavellian wish to appropriate a cultural property which was evidently a source of poltical power, given the rise of popular nationalism in late 19th century Ireland... an alliance of priests and patriots was being forged.
Another motivation for this cultural turnabout was to preserve and celebrate the rural and traditionalist character of Irish society so as to protect the Catholic faith of the ordinary people. As Joyce put in almost piteously in 'Stephen Hero', "Do you not see that they encourage the study of Irish that their flock might be more safely protected from the wolves of disbelief?" The Irish language was seen by Stephen Daedalus, Joyce's protagonist and alter ego, as an opportunity to "withdraw the people into a past of literal, implicit faith".
De Valera's interest in general mass education of the kind associated with modern countries was in practice confined to using the elementary educational schools as devices for attempting to change the language generally used in the country from English to Irish. The teaching of English and science was demoted to make way for a project that was even at the time widely and publicly recognised as being non-educational.
During the period 1938-60, some kind of a peak was achieved in the intensity of the marriage between the Catholic Church and Irish society. The gradual, later precipitous decline in Catholic power in the Republic was just about visible in the mid-1960s and was to become very obvious in the following decades. Priests were just beginning to to become ordinary or even comic figures rather then being seen as revered teachers, men to be feared or even beloved gurus. In 1966, for example, a bishop denounced a married woman for saying on television that she had worn only perfume on her wedding night, and was promptly drowned out in a national wave of collective laughter, the latter being a fact that rarely got into history books. Thirty years later, priests came to be sometimes demonised as paedophiles and rapists.
The Church insisted on having a monopolistic control of the education of young people in a Church-owned and state-financed school system. Much ecclesiastically owned property in Ireland was actually purchased with taxpayers' money.
The fact that Irish politics is intensely voter directed could have revolutionary as well as reactionary consequences.
Significantly, by 1954, the public, or at least what were latter to be termed the chattering classes, were not to be fobbed off by an extraordinarily conservative and culturally patriotic set of recommendations for the status quo. Relatively well-off people were voting with their feet or wallets and financing the education of their children privately wherever they could. Increasing numbers of young people advanced to the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate examinations, with relatively little state finance or encouragement. The Catholic Church's system of secondary and higher education was commonly quite understandably exploited by ambitious young men looking for a free education at the Church's expense. The voluntary labour of priests, brothers and nuns meant that education was supplied very cheaply in Ireland, a fact that the emergent Catholic middle class naturally took advantage of.
The period between 1944 and 1960 witnessed a gradual disintegration of the political alliance between "priests and patriots" which had dominated the separatist movement before 1922 and which had, in effect, governed the emergent Irish state since independence. The dream Ireland of Faith and Fatherland that had filled the minds of so many political leadres was quietly abandoned. The related idea that all desirable social and cultural change could be effected by direct state action rather than by impersonal social forces, the market and the efforts of many private individuals took far longer to fade from the minds of political decision-makers. The semi-state bodies that Lemass and others had setup in the 1930s and afterwards have only recently began to come under intellectual and political siege.
Education designed to produce pious patriots and nationalist priests would have to be replaced by education and training for economic growth. Young people were going to be shown how to earn their living in a changing, and often bewildering, world.
In 1957, JV Kelleher, a well-known and respect Irish-American academic, published a measured and detached analysis in an article published in the influential American quarterly, "Foreign Affairs". He skethed a little country living on the memory of real and imagined past wrongs, continually making excuses for itself, while the solutions for her ills were in her own hands. He wrote: "Ireland has no right to be sick. If we compare its resources to other European countries... one can hardly avoid deciding that Irish ills are largely psycho-somatic."
The 1960s were indeed a time when everything changed in Ireland, for better or worse. Free mass second and third-level education, together with the influence of television, foreign travel and higher standards of living, transformed Irish society, a transformation that was forseen with nervousness, anger and foreboding by some of the older generation of leaders and by many traditionalists. Information became more freely available, and older forms of social control withered. Losses also occured; the 1960s witnessed the destruction of the classical curriculum and the virtual cessation of the teaching of the classical languages. This piece of possibly understandable cultural Maoism was not noticeable accompanied by any spectacular growth in the study of modern languages. With the new freedoms came sexual openness and the end of the fear of powerful people. The arrival of the contraceptive pill in the mid-1960s offered an immediate and comic challenge to the blanket ban on contraceptive devices imposed by the law. Irish women were solemnly declared by their doctors to have the most irregular cycles in the world, and the 'Pill' was sold as a cycle regulator but not as a contraceptive. Words were, and are, very important in Ireland.
The years after 1945 saw a gradual and often reluctant acceptance of the proposition tht Irish underdevelopment was neither inevitable nor desirable. It was further gradually accepted that Irish cultural pessimism was self-fulfilling, and therefore both futile and harmful. The ageing elites or an ageing little country slowly came round to accepting the view that Irish education, as supplied by the churches, was increasingly unsuited to the demands of the modern world. Eventually educational policy was changed and took concrete executive form in the mid-1960s in the shape of a rebellion by democratic government against episcopal veto. The original touchstone as the apparently unstoppable flow of emigrants from the Ireland of de Valera, going, after 1945, mainly to England rather than to the traditional destination North America. While the Irish elites wrangled and sometimes pretended everything was fine, hundreds of thousands of young people voted with their feet. In the 1950s, this flood grew even greater and seemed reminiscent of the great flight from the stricken island after Black Forty-Seven.
Irish democratic parliamentary representatives were famously described by Basil Chubb, writing in the early 1960s and quoting a remark made by Michael Hayes more than a decade earlier, as "going about persecuting civil servants". In other words, Irish deputies saw themselves not so much as legislators or policy-makers but rather as agents of their constituents. As such, they were defenders of particularistic, individual and local interests.
Even though innovative men with great capacity existed in all of the major parties, it was generally only Fianna Fail, with its greater weight, internal unity and discipline, popularity and grip on public opinion which could really deliver major and far-reaching changes. Furthermore, the party's leaders were quite capable of denigrating policy changes brought in by other parties' leaders, even when they secretly agrred with them and perceived their necessity. Automatic oppositionism as a political style aggravated the already noticeable sluggishness of the policy process.
An interesting feature of the evolution of the ISA was a drift away from scatter-shot patterns of grant-aided welcome for any industry in favour of a tendency to "make bets" on certain types of industry. This relfected in part a process of learning by experience that eventually made the IDA an internationally envied repository of experience, wisdom, long-range thinking and simple cunning in the area of developmental economics and politics.
The continuing Irish obsession with partition fuelled Irish reluctance to become involved in NATO. Ireland signed up promptly enough for the Council of Europe in 1949. Again, the Council was used as a stage for publicising the evils of partition, things which looked rather trivial when measured against the ruin of Europe, the dismemberment of Germany, the imposition of communist tyrannies on millions of Europeans, the murder, displacement and persecution of tens of millions of people and the possibility of a new European war, this time with a real possibility of nuclear weapons being used.
In the 1950s, the generation born in the 1920s and 1930s was about to take power from the revolutionary generation born in the 1880s and 1890s. As was characteristic of post-Famine Ireland, generations were abnormally long, age gaps of 40 or 50 years between fathers and sons being quite common. The delaying of the occasion of the inevitable succession to power, property and adulthood made the impulse to reject the values of the previous generation, always present in young people, much stronger and more aggressive and even destructive than was normal. The contrast between the historical experiences of the generation born after 1885 and that born after 1935 strengthed a psychological difference between young and old. The younger people had forgotten British rule, or rather had never experienced it. To them, England was rather the progessive welfare state, generous, free and tolerant in a way that independent Ireland was not. This feeling of generational conflict was exacerbated by the sudden refusal of younger people to emigrate in the large numbers that had been traditional. This again was matched by an equally stubborn propensity among some older people to force on the young their values and perspectives on the world.
[Ch:6 Secularism and
The late 1950s very belated Irish dash for growth - driven in part by an intellectual despair, a belated sense of perhaps being left irretrievable behind and in large part by the growing impatience of a younger generation of political leaders - actually worked.
It could be argued that the Irish Catholic Church, by sweeping aside the nascent 'Christian Democrat' tendency in Irish lay society in 1951, irretrievable damaged the prospects for a lay political Catholicism. In effect, it handed over a younger generation to liberal or socialist anti-clericals, people who did not, and do not, represent any broad swathe of Irish public opinion. Over the past half-century, Irish journalism has become increasingly liberal, leftist, often anti-clerical and sometimes anti-American, and is far more radical, albeit in a rather abstract and often extremely self-indulgent fashion, than the general population. The clinging to power by the Catholic Church after popular goodwill had waned seems to be partly at the root of this situation. Certainly, back in 1962, many of this younger generation clearly bitterly resented the Church's popular power.
The result was an eventual total loss of intellectual leadership by the ecclesiastics and their replacement by politicians, academics, civil servants, technical experts and journalists.
In the 1980s, Catholic forces in the form of the priests, bishops and Knights fought aggressive, successful and often unscrupulous battles on the issue of divorce and abortion. These were Pyrrhic victories which possibly merely rendered the emergent liberal consensus far more angry and even implacably anti-Catholic than it ever need have been.
The weaker the Irish Church became, paradoxically, the more intransigent its public postures became. Many Catholic leaders saw change in society as something to be instinctively resisted. The ideas of a dynamic and changing society versus a static and virtuous one faced each other: Aristotle versus Plato.
Secularisation, it has been observed, is a general cultural characteristic of modern societies. Certainly, over the past 100 years European societies have witnessed a great ebbing of the tide of traditional religion. The contrast with North American is quite striking, and the counterexample of the United States, a very religious country, indicates that the death of faith has nothing in particular to do with modernisation or economic development, but everything to do with politics. Faith in the modern world seems to be liable to be poisoned by an overly intimate relationship between Church and state and, more generally, by an intimate relationship between ecclesiastical organisations and political power. Such a relationship eventually tends to be seen as illegitimate, particularly in a modernising society which has become highly educated. Jesus, when faced with an intellectual trap in the form of a coin did, after all, say "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's", a remark that looks very much like a statement of the separation of Church and state. The American extreme version of this doctrine had, ironically, saved American Christianity from this particular fate.
Many people who ignore the Church's instructions, who rarely go to mass on Sundays and who never go to confessions still see themselves as good believing Catholics. In other words, Ireland is not so much becoming secularised as it is becoming declericalised; the laws and rules of behaviour laid down by priests for laypeople to conform to came to defied and afterwards simply ignored, which, from the Church's point of view, was worse.
The Republic of Ireland was unusual for many years in combining a genuinely functioning liberal democracy with most, if not all, of the standard individual rights associated with such a system on the one hand, and, on the other, a popular 'top-down' religious hierarchy which claimed a monopoly of the truth on matters of morality and many areas of public policy. An unavoidable contradiction existed in the system in that the values of free discussion and the right to question official Catholic truths had to coexist with a Church whose theory of truth was not evidential, but oracular - transmitted to the faithful through the Pope, bishops and clergy. Once this system was challenged by simple open discussion or even by public information about the private activities of clerics, it tended to lose its magical power over people's minds. Since the early 1960s, religious matters were freely debated on Irish television, particularly on the programs of Gay Byrne, easily the most important broadcaster of his generation. In the first decades of television, it was quite revolutionary to see bishops, priests and politicians trying, often ineptly, to defend their opinions and policies in front of increasingly emboldened lay audiences.
The most damning fact to emerge about sex scandals involving priests was not the nature of the abuse and assaults, but the undeniable proposition that senior clerics, up to and including archbishops, had actually shielded the wrongdoers and protected them from investigation by secular legal authorities.
Secularisation in Ireland, together with the collective humiliation of the Irish clergy, marked the end of an ambitious social and political experiment on the part of the Catholic Church. This was the project of building a Catholic society that fully realised Catholic moral and social values within the framework of an independent democratic country. Tridentine social and ethical values were to be reconciled with the institutions and practices of Anglo-American liberal democracy, the latter ceding power in areas where the former claimed primacy.
The Irish experience demonstrates that even an apparently all-powerful and historically beloved Church ensconsed in power by a liberal democracy can be far more fragile than it appears to be. Like any political party or democratic government, it cannot drift too far away from the concerns of the electorate, or show itself to be operating in a way that is seen to be contrary to the long-term interests of the population or nation. Furthermore, when an organisation develops a habit of deriving its power from fear or self-interest as much as from faith or love, it courts real catastrophe when the fear and the self-interest evaporate... Eventually, political elites rebelled against this situation, and crucially, their rebellion was ratified by the electorate. Democratic politics was the true agent of declericalisation in Ireland.
The Catholic Church relentlessly hounded Charles Stewart Parnell from power following a sexual midemeanour, to the lasting embitterment of many Catholics. The collapse of clerical power in Ireland a century later was directly related to the obsessional nature of the Catholic clergy's attitudes toward people's sexual life, and its attempt to regulate it in all kinds of rather strange and often heartless ways and the gradual exposure of the seamy and even criminal side of many clerics' own sexual practices. Maybe we have witnessed Parnell's revenge.
One key to the Catholic Church's success in Irish politics and social culture was its air of being essential, that somehow the Irish would never be able to cope with civic life without the good priests and nuns to lead them, advise them and provide for them. This was in part an echo of a traditional English scepticism about the ability of the Irish to rule themselves without the help of the English or of an Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Catholic priests tended to see themselves as a kind of alternative aristocracy, with a God-given right to rule over people not really capable of self-rule.
[Beyond The Book]
Seventy years ago science was made optional in primary schools to allow more time for the Irish language — even though many of the pupils could barely read English. The state deliberately neglected technical education, with the Education Minister in the early 1950s stating that, after religious formation, the "inculation of patriotism is the second great goal of education". These are just some of the stunning observations that tumble off every page in this terrific book.
- Joe Duffy, review in "Ireland on Sunday"
This new study by UCD
politics professor Tom Garvin addresses a question that will surely be
of interest to many Irish people in Britain. After all, the continuation
of mass emigration was one of the most obvious signs of Ireland’s failure
to develop economically in the period between independence and the dawn
of the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s. That failure is the subject of this book.
The picture that Garvin presents is conventional enough in its broad outlines.
Ireland pursued inward-looking economic policies in the 1930s and 1940s
which were inevitable in the context of the Great Depression and the Second
World War, but failed to adapt to the new opportunities of the post-war
boom. Export-oriented economic policies did not emerge until the late 1950s,
under the guidance of Sean Lemass and the Secretary of the Department of
Finance, TK Whitaker, and did not fully bear fruit until the 1990s.
The key question is why this process took so long. One ironic possibility suggested by Garvin is that De Valera’s electoral defeats in the 1940s and 1950s deprived the country of a government strong enough to drive through change, and of its most effective moderniser in Lemass. However his main conclusion is that a ‘blocking coalition’ of interests hostile to modernisation was able to override the national interest. Ironically, while this coalition had a conservative nationalist character, Garvin argues that several of its components emerged as a result of British policies before independence. In its attempts to keep Ireland quiescent, Britain conceded a major social role to the Catholic Church and a land settlement that Garvin argues was uneconomic. The Church and small farmers went on to become two elements of the ‘blocking coalition.’ However, British policy can hardly be blamed for the third component, about which Garvin is particularly scathing, the Irish language lobby. These three forces were all opposed to modernisation of education, which Garvin identifies as the key issue in Ireland’s transition to a competitive economy.
This conservative wing of Irish nationalism was increasingly opposed over time by a more ‘developmentalist’ wing, as the consequences for the country became clear. The developmentalists were themselves divided between statists and free marketers. Garvin comes down largely on the side of the latter, although he argues that the state must play a greater role in smaller countries. In this respect, it is disappointing that Garvin only compares Ireland with other European countries like Denmark, and not with the original post-colonial ‘tigers’ of Asia, where the state has played a key role in creating an export-oriented economy. He acknowledges that Ireland was still largely Britain’s breadbasket in the 1920s, and he cites, but never really addresses, the argument of the young Lemass that state intervention was needed to enable the Irish economy to shift its comparative advantage from agriculture. Nevertheless, this is a valuable and very readable book, with some penetrating insights into modern Irish economic and cultural history. It will no doubt stimulate renewed debate about Ireland’s economic development.
- Tom Griffin, of "The Green Ribbon"
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