Sunday 1 October 2006

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

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