Monday, 2 October 2006

Power Sharing and the Good Friday Agreement

The northern political parties have been given until November to resolve their differences in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It would appear that the prospects for success are being deliberately down-played so as not to raise public hopes too high and thereby place inordinate pressure on the talks participants.

The DUP are making the issue of republican criminality a sticking point. They see this as the main obstacle in the way of government in Northern Ireland. Irrespective of the validity of their concerns, others will see their stance as somewhat akin to 'cutting off the nose to spite the face'. Why hand terrorists and criminals the veto on progress? But also, it could perhaps be discerned from comments made by Martin McGuinness at the most recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis that his party too is equally prepared to take a hard-nosed approach:

"... even if it [i.e. the Good Friday Agreement] falls we are confident that ... its substance has been secured as the minimal threshold for anything that might replace or supersede it."

So the question is does the Good Friday Agreement remain a viable framework for a peace settlement or is it in need of serious overhaul? I would suggest that the failure of the Good Friday Agreement to date to provide for democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, as set out in Strand One of the agreement, represents not so much the failure of politics. Rather this failure is the outcome of the type of politics which Strand One seeks to impose.

There is in fact an inherent flaw in the Good Friday Agreement, though it could be argued that it was a necessary flaw to ensure that some form of agreement was reached way back in 1998. At the time of its negotiation the key challenge was to hasten an end to armed conflict, civil and sectarian strife. And it can be said that the Agreement has made considerable progress in this direction. The failure has been in the area of establishing democratic government in Northern Ireland. My own view is that as long as those measures set out in the Good Friday Agreement which basically seek to institutionalise division - nationalist vs. unionist - act as the prerequisite for agreement, stalemate will be inevitable. This may or may not be what the two governments have in mind in their recent joint statement where they mention that: "consideration could be given to proposals for the implementation of the Agreement, including changes to Strands 1 to 3 in the context of a commitment by all involved to participate in a power-sharing Executive".

Is it only in Ireland that the cart is continually put before the horse? Instead of political divisions and party allegiances emerging organically out of political life these become a pre-condition for political life itself! Similarly instead of democratic politics being the mechanism to resolve fundamental differences the emphasis is placed on resolving fundamental differences before democratic politics can be instituted!

I would suggest a few simple amendments to the existing Good Friday Agreement which could enable formation of government in Northern Ireland whilst also safeguarding commitments to cross-community co-operation. Firstly the notion of Assembly members registering a designation of identity (nationalist, unionist or other) should be scrapped. Obviously political allegiances would continue to play a role but they would have no formal sanction. Secondly the appointment of First Minister, Deputy First Minister and other official positions should be by the direct election of the assembly as a whole. This could be by simple majority, or weighted majority if such a safeguard was deemed necessary, but again without regard to political designation. This would enable deputies to take office solely on the basis of their mandates and not on the basis of having 'sold out', or having 'done a deal with the enemy'.

Parties and political allegiances are historical transients by nature. We should remember the advice of US president and constitution-maker, James Madison, handed down almost 220 years ago: "In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce".

10th April, 2006

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in the Irish Examiner newspaper of 14th April, 2006.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2006

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Danish Cartoon Controversy

In the midst of all the commentary and coverage of the Danish Cartoon Controversy a certain theme has, not unexpectedly, raised its head. I refer of course to the 'Clash of Civilisations' debate which is being offered up in some quarters as an explanation for the anger that has erupted.

According to this theory the Arab/Muslim world is in the grip of religious fervour and hence finds itself at odds with the 'western liberal secular tradition' or whatever adjectives you choose to insert. Western Europe (and by extension the Americas) is regarded as having societies where freedom of expression, as applied to public utterances and matters of conscience, is absolute and paramount to the democratic functioning of the state. The adverse consequences of this can only be addressed through vigorous public debate, right of criticism and vigilance.

This state of affairs is considered to have evolved out of centuries of struggle against the forces of blind (one might even say religious) obscurantism. From the Renaissance and Galileo through to the Reformation and the Enlightenment all these events have left their mark on our intellectual and cultural tradition. Fair enough, but do we here in the west really merit such a pat on the back?

If an outsider was to evaluate Irish society solely by reference to the fundamental law of the land, as laid down in our constitution, such a person might well come to some unflattering conclusions. In actual fact there is no such thing as an absolute right to freedom of conscience, or the free profession and practice of religion, according to Bunreacht na hÉireann because Article 44.2.1 makes these 'subject to public order and morality'. If Ireland was a mainly Muslim country, or even a country in which Islam constituted a significant minority (and who is to say this will not happen at some point in the future), a case could quite easily be brought under Irish law for the banning of offensive material such as the Danish cartoons. I should state here I haven't seen them but can only assume that they offend against 'public order and morality' for some at least.

Article 40.6.1(i) of Bunreacht na hÉireann even specifies that 'the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law'. The Irish Times in its edition of 4th February, 2006 is at pains to point out that "while the Constitution and the law in Ireland prohibit blasphemy, the only attempt to mount such a prosecution in the State's history ended in failure". This only begs the question as to why do we have these stupid laws on our statute books in the first case?

I would suggest the reason is that, invariably, laws are the last thing to change as a society and a people change. Legislators are constantly locked in a battle to keep up with changes in public perception.

In my view, if we really wish to address ourselves to our Muslim brothers and sisters from the standpoint of 21st century intellectual enlightenment, and not as just a bunch of condescending chauvinists, then we really should start to clear out the skeletons in our own cupboards. As Ireland moves into a new era of multi-culturalism (and one could raise the question here, when did we ever become mono-cultural?) there is a lot that a lot of us would like to leave behind.

11th February, 2006

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in Village Magazine (Issue 73, 16-22 February 2006) and Irish Independent newspaper of February 21st, 2006.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2006

Iran, Israel, Palestine and the Nuclear Weapons Issue

This was written in response to an article by Niall Ferguson (entitled ‘The Origins of the Great War of 2007 ... And How it Could have Been Prevented’) published in the Irish Independent's Weekend Review section of 21st January 2006 and in The Sunday Telegraph of 15th January 2006.

There is one very obvious reason why Iran is unlikely to use its (as yet non-existent) nuclear capability to achieve some goal of 'wiping Israel off the map'. However Niall Ferguson in his article The Origins of the Great War of 2007 ... And How it Could have Been Prevented appears to have completely missed it. The reason is that it is impossible for Iran to do so, using the nuclear option, without wiping Palestine off the map as well!

Some years ago it was reported that Israeli military 'scientists' were trying to develop biological weapons, which would be lethal only against people of Palestinian ethnicity. I don't know how far they ever progressed in this. What we all know about nuclear weapons is that they are neither so sophisticated nor discriminating. Indeed if you study closely the comments of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad he gives no indication that 'wiping Israel off the map' is something Iran itself proposes to undertake. Rather he seems to be urging Palestinians in this direction. Don't get me wrong. I believe comments like these from the Iranian leadership, even if only rhetorical, are harmful, dangerous and wrong. The international community, particularly those countries (Ireland included) that have persecuted Jewish people in the past, should rally to prevail upon Iran to step down from positions like these.

It may only represent a hair's breadth of a difference but it would appear that the Iranian policy is guided, not so much by anti-Israeli sentiment, as it is pro-Palestinian. And this presents a glimmer of hope. Because what genuine defender of the rights of the Palestinian people would seriously even consider, let alone undertake, an act that would devastate their homeland! So by the same token the long-term security and viability of Israel depends on Israeli people's willingness to reach accommodation with their neighbours, leading ultimately towards a shared homeland. Shower them with love; invite them into your homes! Naive and simplistic, perhaps! But it could just be crazy enough to work. Particularly if Palestinians can be persuaded to desist from undertaking acts of revenge. They should also emphasise to their allies in the region that attacks on Israel are not in Palestinian interests. In Ireland we only have to look over our shoulder to see that achieving such settlements are realistic, even if problematic. Peace is the only sustainable roadmap.

If the historian Niall Ferguson believes that all that is required is a couple of pre-emptive military strikes, (which he appears to advocate) and then we can all go back to sleep, he really is poorly taught. It would mean that WE IN THE WEST are truly acting like the appeasers of the 1930's. This is because short-termism and procrastination would have become the overriding policy of the day, at the expense of international justice.

21st January, 2006

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in Daily Ireland of 26th January, 2006.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2006

Letter to Morning Ireland: On the Question of Religion in Ireland and the former Soviet Union.

Correspondence (or lack of) with RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme

This is the complete text of a letter sent to the RTÉ Radio 1 programme Morning Ireland in response to comments broadcast alleging that communism banned religion in the former USSR.

Dear Morning Ireland,

I refer to comments broadcast on your programme of Friday, 6th January. Your reporter Emer Lowe (hope I’ve spelt that right) finished her piece on the Russian Orthodox community in Ireland and their Christmas celebrations with the bizarre claim that 'religion was banned under the communism during the soviet period'.

Please could you ask Emer Lowe to provide a source for this contention. I am quite conversant with the history of the October Revolution and the construction of a socialist state that ensued. I can assure you, Emer Lowe and your listeners, quite categorically, that no such event as 'the banning of religion' ever took place. If there were tensions of a church-state or church-populace nature then all that this suggests is that soviet society was no different to any other social system, including our own, although every system throws up its own unique features and characteristics.

I do not know what Emer Lowe's position is on any of these matters and therefore can only make a guess at what might have prompted her to make such an extraordinary claim. I would suggest that, either she has been duped by some kind of fanciful, Dan Brown-style, potted history of the twentieth century, or else she just didn’t bother to start her research from facts. It is the job of a journalist to investigate. It is not my job to do Emer Lowe's job for her. But since she is obviously in way over her head I will share the following information with you, that hopefully you will pass on to her.

The first constitution to follow the October Socialist Revolution was the constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic of 1918. On the question of religion it states:

Article 13. In order to ensure genuine freedom of conscience for the working people, the church is separated from the State, and the school from the church: and freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

Can also be read at here, with a slightly different translation but the sense remains the same.

The 1936 Constitution reiterates the same principles:

ARTICLE 124. In order to ensure to citizen’s freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

The 1936 constitution remained in force until 1977 when it was replaced by a new constitution. (Can also be read here.) The previous provision is re-worked, but the guarantee of religious freedom is retained and a new element to do with 'incitement to hatred' is introduced:

Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda. Incitement of hostility or hatred on religious grounds is prohibited.
In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.

All in all this is a less than satisfactory formulation and represents a dilution of the previous position, enshrined in the 1936 constitution. It seems to infer that Freedom of Conscience is exclusively a religious matter. Also the question of 'incitement to hatred' is dubious because how is the 'prohibition' to be enforced? It would seem to me that provisions like these could be open to abuse. Nevertheless all the evidence shows that no such thing as 'religion being banned under communism in the Soviet Union' ever took place. [Quite the opposite in fact - O.D. 29/6/2007.] Of course I may have overlooked something in which case perhaps Emer Lowe or Morning Ireland could enlighten me. The pursuit of knowledge is a worthy endeavour and a reward in itself.

Incidentally if we take the 1936 soviet constitution and compare it with our own Bunreacht na hÉireann, which was enacted the following year, it doesn't take a great intellectual feat to ascertain which is the more enlightened and progressive. References to 'the Most Holy Trinity' and 'our Divine Lord Jesus Christ' or the state's acknowledgement that 'homage of public worship is due to Almighty God' bear testimony to a time and place where certainly, Atheists at least would have had to thread carefully. But indeed people of minority faiths too where left in no doubt as to they stood, with the state's recognition of "the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens". - Bunreacht na hÉireann.

History has shown how ultimately this stance proved near disastrous for almost everyone concerned, not least the Catholic Church itself. In the Northern Ireland it was seized upon by unionist reaction to implement their agenda of creating a 'protestant state for a protestant people'. Why not if catholics were up to the same lark down south?

In point of fact, unlike the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union, Bunreacht na hÉireann, did not then, and does not now guarantee complete freedom of conscience and free profession of religion since Article 44.1 qualifies this by making such 'subject to public order and morality'. So who is living in a police state? You tell me.

So, to conclude on this point I look forward to hearing Morning Ireland issue a correction or clarification in the very near future. To be honest, as a license payer I was rather taken a-back to hear such shoddy presentation from our state monopoly broadcasting service. I suppose the notion of deliberate falsification on your part is a little too Orwellian to contemplate. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s just as well that the semblance of a free market is beginning to emerge in Irish broadcasting.

If standards deteriorate any further at RTÉ I might just float the idea that the license fee be re-distributed more fairly, so that enterprises and individuals genuinely interested in providing public service broadcasting can have a go. Share the wealth is what I say. A little bit of socialism never did anyone any harm.

Is mise,

Oscar Ó Dúgáin 7/1/2006

Feedback and Responses to Date:

E-mail reply received 07 January 2006 13:26:

Thank you very much for emailing Morning Ireland, your message has been passed on to the editor. You can access the programme online at: ""


----- Original Message -----
To: ""
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2006 7:50 PM
Subject: Re-sending: Religion in the USSR

Dear Morning Ireland,

I wonder if you have had a chance to consider the issues raised in my e-mail of 7th January (see below) and if so, what are your comments? I would be most interested to hear what the state controlled media in this country has to say for itself on this occasion.

Is mise,

Oscar Ó Dúgáin


E-mail reply received 15 January 2006 19:51:

Thank you very much for emailing Morning Ireland, your message has been passed on to the editor. You can access the programme online at: ""


----- Original Message -----
To: ""
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2006 10:34 PM
Subject: Re- Re-sending: Religion in the USSR

Dear Morning Ireland,

Since you still have not replied to my letter of 7th January (re-sent on 15th January) I can only assume that you concede the points I made in relation to your broadcast. In which case I would now like to enquire as to when you intend to issue a correction. In the event that you have already done so, unbeknownst to me, could I humbly request a transcript or a statement of some sort from you.

Is mise,

Oscar Ó Dúgáin


E-mail reply received 21 January 2006 22:34:

Thank you very much for emailing Morning Ireland, your message has been passed on to the editor. You can access the programme online at: ""


Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2006

Remembering the past. The Easter Rising and World War One

The anniversary of WWI Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, has once again been observed in Ireland with yet more ruminations and hand-wringing on how we should observe the event and commemorate those who died in the First World War or as some would call it, 'The Great War'.

Of course no reasonable person could object to remembering the dead - what would be the point? Really the debate is about whom they were fighting for, why and for what cause they died. We cannot correct the past only learn from it and move on. History is confusing because it presents itself back to front. The task of the historian is to look at facts in the cold light of day and to be able to perceive events with the eyes of the past, as well as with the benefit of hindsight.

What then are we to make of the recent comments of our government conveyed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern TD, in an article in Irish Times (11/11/2005 - 'Shared History Can Help Build a Shared Future'). Of course it should be taken into account that Dermot Ahern, in his ministerial capacity, has governmental responsibility for the Northern Ireland Peace Process and, therefore, his comments are quite probably influenced and tempered by diplomatic considerations of national reconciliation etc. So in offering my personal opinion nothing that is said is intended, necessarily, to impugn or castigate government policy, which might well be operating on a different level, with different considerations in mind.

The Minister calls for a 'national debate on the issues raised by both the [Battle of the] Somme and [the Easter Rising of] 1916'. He goes on to say that both the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Battle of the Somme, which took place in the same year, were 'concomitants of a wider European movement of national awareness which came with the rise of democracy'. Here I must part company with the Minister - not necessarily because I disagree with what he is saying - rather because I am at a loss to know what he is talking about. I seems to me that the Minister is waxing lyrical without seriously addressing any fundamental, historical issues. In other words he is not comparing like with like.

It is true, as the Minister suggests, that many who marched to their deaths in the battlefields of WWI, did so in the belief that theirs was a fight for the freedom of small nations. But did belief and reality co-incide on this occasion? I personally don't believe that they did and this is not intended to be disrespectful towards anyone. Indeed I would strongly argue that my views on this issue are borne out even, for example, from listening to the testimony of surviving WWI British servicemen in the current BBC documentary series 'The Last Tommy'.

The reason why we cannot, in truth, categorise the act of serving in the British Army in WWI as an act motivated by the same spirit and ideology as that of the Easter Rising of 1916 is because, the aims and objectives of the two events (WWI and the Rising) were, in fact, diametrically opposed. And Minister Ahern's attempt to obscure this truth simply does not stand up to scrutiny. WWI was an imperialist war, a war of conquest, of colonial division and re-division. It was a pointless and futile blood sacrifice. The fact that Irishmen were motivated to enlist on the basis of the promise of Home Rule really only illustrates how little we have advanced despite our pretence of 21st century sophistication. If anyone wants an contemporary example of how war-mongerers in our midst are able to cajole and fool public opinion one only has to think of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that never materialised.

As an historical aside, it is worth mentioning that some accounts of the Easter Rising suggest that, among the insurgents, there would have been British army servicemen who found themselves at home on leave from the front when the Rising happened. It is hard however to estimate their precise numbers because, with the defeat of the Rising and the ensuing military round-up, the only safe way to escape incarceration would have been to re-don their uniforms and return to duty on the war front, where many would subsequently have met their deaths. It's grim, I know, and probably why they don't teach this history in schools.

There are some who characterise the Easter Rising as a doomed, militarist adventure and will draw attention to Pearse's 'blood sacrifice' speech over the graveside of O'Donovan Rossa. However these same elements fail to mention that Pearse made those comments in the context of a global atmosphere of militarism, jingoism, bellicose utterances and world conflagration. So in fact Pearse's utterances, along with the rising itself, was the sanest possible response in a world gone mad. The Rising of 1916 was a militarist act that had a non-militarist agenda. Furthermore it was a spanner in works and a slap in the teeth to the imperialist agenda. It was a constructive first step in the programme of Irish nation building against an international background of war, chaos, greed and destruction. And it has to be said that it was a proposal that caught the imagination of a substantial section of the Irish people. Precisely 89 years on from the Rising we are continuing to follow the programme set out in the Proclamation of the Republic, despite detours, diversions and set-backs that are all the stuff of life itself.

So to return to the question of how we remember the past and in particular those who died - a fate that will befall us all someday. I think it is to be welcomed that An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, at the most recent Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis announced that from next year the anniversary of the Easter Rising will be officially commemorated with military parades in front of the GPO. It was wrong that the practice was discontinued in the first place. Nevertheless a doubt lingers in my mind. With all due respect to the nation's Defence Forces it must be remembered that the 1916 Rising was primarily a civilian uprising. James Connolly's followers even styled themselves 'The Irish Citizen Army'. It was an insurrection against the existing authority in Ireland at the time. Those who occupy that position in the Ireland of today should take care to remember that, if a similar event to the 1916 Rising were to happen tomorrow, it would be their unenviable task to implement the crackdowns which could range from anything from martial law, curfews, internment, suspension of civil and legal rights, maybe even executions perhaps? So the question perhaps, hypothetical at any rate, that those in positions of authority should be asking themselves is - do they really want to be cast in the role of 21st century John Redmonds and General Maxwells? Personally I do no believe that there is an Irish man or woman alive today who seriously harbours aspirations in that direction.

Is it too far-fetched to suggest that, just as the Easter Rising was an event that took place in the context of wider international developments, so too the question of how we mark the event today is also being influenced by global considerations? Maybe it is not a simple, localised issue we all suppose it to be. The present government has failed to date to clarify Ireland's role in the Anglo-American led 'war on terror'. It is interesting to note that in the same week when the Government announced the gradual phase-out of the Shannon stopover there has been no talk about withdrawing the services of Shannon Airport as a facility for US warplanes en-route to the Middle East. This is an issue that the present Government has stuck its head in the sand over. If there is good cause and reason why Shannon Airport should be used in this manner, the Irish public has yet to be informed.

The clock may well be counting down to some kind of regional, or even global, conflagration in the very near future. If the youth of Ireland are being conditioned to fight in future wars it is imperative that we start to publicly debate the issues and demand answers from our elected representatives. The most pertinent questions, I believe, are those to do with what these wars are about, and what end they seek to achieve. And our foreign policy should be directed towards the end of averting war as a priority.

13th November, 2005

A version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in Village Magazine (Issue 60, 17-23 July 2005).

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2005

Disarmament and the Good Friday Agreement. On recent announcements by the IRA, verified by the De Chastelain Commission on September 26, 2005

In all of the reporting, commentary and analysis I've encountered so far on the recent IRA announcement a lot of the focus has been on the (apparently) luke-warm, less-than-ecstatic response from unionist politicians and the DUP in particular. It is surprising therefore that as yet no-one seems to have drawn the obvious conclusion. One wonders even, if this could be deliberate?

What has been remarkable about the reaction of unionism and the DUP is not their lack of embrace for the IRA's historic initiative. Rather it is the fact that they did not respond to it in some kind of triumphalist fashion, which obviously would have been disastrous had they chosen that course.

Think about it. Unionism and the DUP's arch-enemy, the IRA, have completely and unconditionally disarmed (according to General de Chastelain), having earlier declared an end to their military campaign. But no-one from the unionist camp is hailing it as a victory of any sort. There has been no flag-waving, insults, provocations or even any kind of one-upmanship from any quarter. In this sense it has to be said that the reaction has been generally quite respectful, and therefore positive.

I believe that this is firstly because unionism and the DUP represent a constituency of people who are fundamentally decent and don't want to re-open new wounds now that old wounds have a chance to heal.

Secondly it confirms that the DUP are on board in this new departure even though they have reservations and, officially at least, remain opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. It is to be expected that if they are to play a role in facilitating acceptance within their political constituency for the new dispensation that is on offer, they will want to do so on their own terms.

It has to be remembered that DUP leader, Ian Paisley, is actually viewed with suspicion within sections of unionism (those usually labelled 'loyalists') stemming back to the days of unionist protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. For reasons that I must confess are beyond my comprehension, it is perceived by some that he somehow betrayed these sections, sold out. Recent disturbances in loyalist communities may even be a reflection of this, were it the case for example, that word somehow filtered through that a big development was about to take place. But let's not speculate on people's motivations.

I think it is worth saying that there would be no point in any community or individual making triumphalist noises as a sad and terrible chapter closes. Because still one feels that the full story has yet to be told. For my own part, I strongly suspect that when it is told, the picture it will reveal will be one in which everyone of us, without exception, Irish and British, was the victim of duplicity, cunning and manipulation. In short the joke was on us all, but what a pity that it had to be such a tasteless one.

I also believe that the sceptics and dissidents (and there are some of these in the nationalist/republican camp too) to this new departure should be accorded the necessary breathing-space, and whatever time is necessary, to absorb the significance of these developments. In return they must agree not to use this breathing space to physically threaten or attack anyone. Or indeed to prepare for such attacks when circumstances might change in the future. There can be no such thing as 'an acceptable level of violence'.

Also the issue of 'allowing people time to absorb' should not be used as an excuse to hold up progress towards normalisation of civil life that continues to make strides despite periodic setbacks. On this latter question however, I think this can only be accomplished through the vigilance and conscious activity of the population as a whole, not through measures implemented 'from above'.

There is one issue that the sceptics have been raising on which one feels they may have a point. That is the lack of transparency, accountability and consultation in verifying the IRA's decommissioning. It has lead some to cast doubt on whether they really have 'gone away'. It can only be hoped that in the fullness of time these people will accept that, on this occasion, one wrong has managed to cancel out some previous wrongs, without for one moment denying that these wrongs should never have been committed in the first place.

I would go further and argue that it is the lack of transparency and accountability in how politics really works in the society that first fuelled the conflict, then sustained it over 30 years.

29th September, 2005

Versions of this post were published as 'Letters to the Editor' in the Irish Examiner newspaper of 3rd October, 2005, Village Magazine (Issue 54, 6-12 October, 2005) and Daily Ireland newspaper of 8th October, 2005.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2005

The State We Are In. Éire is ainm don Stát. Meditations on politics, partition and football.

This post started out as a response to an article by Niall Gormley in The Northside People, 7 September 2005 entitled Ireland? Never Heard of It.

Being a frequent reader of Niall Gormley’s column in The Northside People I find his views on diverse matters interesting and his column in general to be quite readable.

However, I must take issue with his contention in his column of 7/9/05 where he asserts that 'this state is called Ireland'. I regret to inform him that he is only partially correct in this assertion.

Read again Bunreacht na hÉireann and in particular Article 4 to which Niall Gormley refers. Taking the Irish language version first - as Irish is the first official language of the state and, in the event of legal ambiguity, has precedence over the English language version - we read: "Éire is ainm don Stát nó, sa Sacs-Bhéarla, Ireland." For the benefit of those who are not conversant in the first official language of the state an English translation is also supplied and is equally specific: "The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland". Hence both the Irish and English language versions of the constitution are clear and specific: 'Éire is ainm don Stát' or 'The name of the State is Éire'.

At the same time the constitution is generous to those who may not be proficient in the first official language by allowing that the English equivalent of 'Ireland' may also be used. Hence it is not correct as Niall Gormley suggest that the term 'Éire' is merely the 'Irish language name for the State' - it is the name of the state, full-stop.

The 1948 ‘Republic of Ireland Act’ to which he refers, (and which I must take his word for on this occasion as I do not have a copy in front of me) simply speaks of the ‘description of the State’ - i.e. as a republic, not a monarchy or some other, non-republican, form of government. 'Description of the state' and 'name of the state' are not the same thing and should not be confused.

It is worth citing here Article 5 of Bunreacht na hÉireann which states that 'Ireland is a sovereign, independent, democratic state' ['Is Stát ceannasach, neamhspléach, daonlathach Éire']. This does not address the question of whether Ireland is a 'sovereign, independent, democratic' republic or a 'sovereign, independent, democratic' constitutional monarchy. Of course, in this day and age, any reasonable person would be able to see through the contradiction of a monarchical form of government claiming the credentials of ’democracy’, whatever about being 'sovereign and independent'.

To understand the reasons for the ambiguity reflected in Bunreacht na hÉireann one has to go back to the history of the 1930's, when De Valera was whittling away at the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty by stealth. For tactical reasons, he didn't want to confront directly the question of the right of the British Crown to claim the allegiance of the Irish state, which existed at that point.

This also explains why De Valera and Fianna Fáil were opposed to the 1948 Republic of Ireland Act. Firstly they believed that the declaration of 'the Republic' should await the establishment of an All-Ireland, 32-county government with appropriate institutions. Secondly, and more interestingly, they obviously felt that in withdrawing Éire-Ireland from the [British] Commonwealth, an important, common association with the people of Northern Ireland was thereby broken.

This is also, I believe, why it is still the policy of Fianna Fáil (and possibly other parties) to seek re-incorporation of Éire-Ireland into the Commonwealth. (No longer referred to as the ‘British’ Commonwealth incidentally but simply, ‘The Commonwealth‘, and described merely as an association for whom membership is open to any country which accepts the Queen of England as ‘Head of the Commonwealth‘. Mozambique, which was never a British colony, is one of the more recent members to join.)

As to the question of both Irish soccer teams calling themselves Ireland up until 1953, when FIFA intervened, this is another question that has interesting origins. In pre-partition Ireland it was in fact the Irish Football Association (IFA - today the ‘northern association‘) that served the role of governing body for the game across the entire island of Ireland. The website of the IFA tells us that it was:
"Founded in the Queens Hotel, Belfast back on 18th November 1880 the Irish Football Association is the fourth oldest governing body in the world behind the other three home associations.

"This inaugural meeting was at the behest of the Cliftonville club – the oldest in Ireland – who gathered clubs from Belfast and the outlying districts together with a view to creating a unifying constitution and set of rules along the lines of those adopted by their Scottish counterparts some seven years earlier.

"The aims of this fledgling, but ambitious, body were to promote, foster and develop the game throughout the island. ...

"However, it is off the pitch that the Association has had its greatest impact. A member of the International Football Board – the rule-making body – the IFA sits as an equal with the other British associations and representatives of FIFA itself."

Hence the IFA, “despite a population well below two million, despite only having just over 1,500 registered clubs and despite being able to draw from a pool of approximately 25,000 players spread over less than 5,500 square miles” can justly lay claim, as they do, to being among “the true giants of world football”. Further their website tells us that “the influence the association had – and still does – on the game across the globe is immeasurable”. They even lay claim to having invented the Penalty Kick!

The IFA’s position in world football is something akin to that of permanent membership of the Security Council of the UN. The rules of the game are subject to an annual review by the world’s governing body, FIFA. On any proposed law change eight votes are cast. Four votes are allocated to the associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the remaining four from FIFA. A three-quarter vote majority is required before a rule can be altered.

After partition the IFA remained in existence but jurisdiction was effectively limited to newly created Northern Ireland state. In the southern 'Free State' a new body was set up known as the 'Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS, later the Football Association of Ireland or FAI).

According to the website of the FAI:
"... there was always a feeling among clubs from outside the Belfast area that the IFA favoured Ulster based, Protestant, clubs - especially when selecting sides for international matches. ... Despite this, it was not until after the 1916 Rising and the rise of Nationalism that southern affiliates, such as the Leinster FA, took an aggressive approach in their dealings with the IFA. ...

"[In 1921] the IFA reneged on a promise to play the IFA Cup final replay between Shelbourne and Glenavon in Dublin and scheduled the match for Belfast. Shelbourne refused to comply and forfeited the Cup. A meeting of southern associations and clubs was arranged and on June 1 1921, the Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS) was formed in Molesworth Hall in Dublin. ... "
At this point it’s obvious that FAI’s official history is confused. How for example could an association known as the ‘Football Association of the Irish Free State’ have been formed at a meeting on 1st June, 1921 when no such country as the ‘Irish Free State’ existed as of that date? As any student of Irish history knows, it was not until December of that year, with the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, that a proposal for an Irish Free State was first muted. The Irish Free State can only really be said to have come into existence when Dáil Éireann voted in January of the following year to accept the said treaty. That treaty can only be said to have been endorsed by the people of the ‘Irish Free State’ when the elections held later in June returned a pro-treaty majority. It must therefore be presumed that the association that was founded on 1st June, 1921 operated under some kind of provisional nomenclature.

Also, how can it be said that the ‘rise of nationalism’ contributed towards the formation of rival and separate associations. The setting up of a partitionist ‘free state’ association would hardly have been the ‘nationalist’ response in 1921. Are we to assume therefore that it was the Ulster protestant dominated IFA who were beating the nationalist drum? Well, stranger things have happened I suppose.

I e-mailed the FAI (on 26th October, 2005) seeking clarification. They wrote back very promptly accepting that there is a discrepancy and that the matter would be referred to their press office but to date I have received no reply and no correction appears on their website. However if any new information by way of clarification emerges I will report it here. Watch this space....
"A Free State League was hastily organised, with eight teams taking part. Originally all eight teams were from Dublin, but Athlone became the first provincial club to join the league the following season. ... The FAIFS had greater difficulty in arranging international fixtures.  
"All the home nations' associations had blacklisted the FAIFS, but the Association had better fortune in their dealings with FIFA. ... In August of [1923], FIFA accepted Ireland's application for membership and the FAIFS joined the international community. ...  
"At the time, both the FAIFS and IFA selected players from all over Ireland meaning that many footballers won caps for both Associations. It wasn't until 1950 that FIFA intervened." See FAI website.
Elsewhere on the FAI’s website we are informed that:
"1950 was ... the year that the problem of players playing for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland was finally solved, with FIFA directing both Associations to only pick players from within their own boundaries. FIFA were also to clear up another matter in 1953, when they ruled that the FAI's team would be known as the Republic of Ireland with the IFA's side being called Northern Ireland.

"Up to that point, both Associations referred to their teams as 'Ireland'."
The question of why soccer seems to be unique in Irish sport in the manner in which it was affected by the political divisions arising out of partition remains a puzzle. It can only be hoped that there is some historian/enthusiast out there who is interested enough to take it upon his/her self to clarify the issue.

Of course we can’t change the past, nor can we accurately determine the future, but maybe we can influence it by trying to steer the course of discussion. So in conclusion here is what I am proposing:

Given the recent disappointing performances of both Irish soccer teams in failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup Finals; recognising that this is obviously due in no small part to the limitations on of having such a small pool of players to draw upon; recognising that this in turn is compounded by lack of resources, competition with other sports etc; maybe the time is ripe to at least begin debating the merits of all-Ireland approach to developing the game of soccer on this island. A start to this could be made at international level with a cross-border team to represent the entire island of Ireland in international competitions. I do not suggest that either of the two associations would have to give up their independence. Rather an all-Ireland international squad could be conceived somewhat in the same terms as the cross-border institutions envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. To overcome the political, diplomatic and other niceties involved I suggest that the initial approach could be made with the prodigal son seeking rapprochement and, partially at least, returning to the fold.

8th January, 2006

An earlier version of this post was published as a 'Letter to the Editor' in the Northside People (Vol. 11, No. 38; 21-27 September 2005).

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2006

Bush, Blair, Islam and the War on Terror

Written in response to an editorial in Village Magazine dealing with the background to the terrorist outrages in London, England on 7th July 2005.

Your editorial entitled 'End the War on Islam' was worthy at least for the fact that it addresses an issue absent from most of the official condemnations issued in the aftermath of the London bombings of 7th July. The issue is the need for world leaders to address the Islamic world and bring people of this background and culture into dialogue with the so-called 'western world' and 'western values' which Bush and Blair claim to represent. Sermons about the 'true meaning of Islam' do not suffice in this regard. They don't convince me hence I sincerely doubt that they will convice any Islamic believer in the world today.

It has to be said also that the response of An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern similarly betrayed an unwillingness to grapple with the overall world context in which events like the London bombings are occurring. Speaking after his meeting with Pope Benedict an Taoiseach seemed phased and struggled to find anything meaningful to say. Yet here is a politician who has had numerous occasions to respond to terrorist atrocities in the course of his career. This is the same politician who led the country in mourning in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing. So why all this reticence to address the issues that are so glaringly obvious? Bertie Ahern must come clean and reveal to the Irish people to what extent we are embroiled in the Bush/Blair agenda and how can we disengage ourselves from it. If the current government is not up to the task then we must do what Spanish people did and find a government that is.

An impression is being created that it is simply enough to de-contextualise the issue of terrorism while condemning it. I seem to recall that during the years of the armed conflict in the north of Ireland invariably the official response to terrorist acts were generally along the lines of unequivocal condemnation of the act itself, followed by appeals to the men and women of violence to refrain from further acts, followed by appeal to the various forces to engage in dialogue that could alleviate the causes of anger and hatred? In short an effort was made to fill the void with politics, hence limiting the sphere in which terrorism and anarchy could operate.
In the world today there is no such effort to engage with the Islamic world in this kind of dialogue. In short there is no political response emanating from the 'war on terrorism' camp. In this respect the response of people like Bush and Blair cannot even be called a response at all. Certainly not of the kind that will heal wounds and divisions. Their response to acts of terrorism is for more attacks, more invasions, more encroachments on peoples' rights in the name of 'security' precautions. And ultimately of course all this will lead to more terrorist attacks.
It might sound defiant urging Londoners to re-invoke the spirit of the Blitz but this is not the same world context to that prevailing in 1940. Moreover Winston Churchill (whom purportedly both Bush and Blair would wish to emulate) didn't confine himself to making speeches - he went out into the world and forged war-time alliances - primarily with Roosevelt and Stalin. As well as defeating the Axis powers it was this alliance which was able to establish the basis for a peaceful settlement of a sort in the post-war context the most important aspect of which was the creation of the United Nations Organisation.

Bush and Blair by contrast have alienated themselves on the international stage and created deep divisions within their own countries. They offer no vision as to what kind of world we will have should their wild adventure defy all odds and succeed. They do not even offer a definition of success. And what in any case is meant by repeated references to 'the British way of life' that the terrorists won't disrupt? Historically for a great many people the British way of life has meant the right to interfere anywhere in the world and plunder the wealth of nations. It is this 'way of life' that has stoked the fire and famed the flames of terrorism.
So how can Bush, Blair and the entire western world respond to the new challenge to create a peaceful world? Clearly they must address the Islamic world directly and re-assure these people that 'the west' does not constitute a threat to their existence. For this to have credibility Bush, Blair et al must renounce their 'war on terrorism' (which you correctly characterise as merely a euphemism for war on the Islamic world); disengage from Iraq, Afghanistan and the entire Middle East respecting the sovereignty of the people of this region including sovereignty over resources they possess such as oil; work constructively for a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict; return to the United Nations and work to build and strengthen the UN as the sole authority for use of armed force in resolving disputes between nations and peoples.
A revived and re-invigorated UN could also be the appropriate forum to initiate a campaign for co-ordinated international disarmament - involving not only states but also paramilitary groupings, terrorist cells etc.

Nothing in any of this implies adopting a 'soft' attitude in dealing with the perpetrators of attacks such as that seen in London last week. Justice must prevail in the world. But clearly a consensus is needed whereby Islamic peoples will also become allies in ridding the world of the scourge of terrorism along with other scourges that we have heard much about lately and were discussed at the recent G8 summit.

A lot of this may sound like a bitter pill for some to swallow but what is the alternative if future chaos and destruction is to be avoided?

11th July, 2005

This post represents the complete text of a letter published in Village Magazine (Issue 42, 15-21 July 2005). The letter was in response to an editorial published in the previous issue dealing with the background to the terrorist outrages in London that occurred earlier that month.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2005


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