Mary McAleese’s latest “unionist engagement”

President if the RoI Mary McAleese has managed to start the New Year with some more controversy. She was speaking at the centenary celebrations held by the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union in Dublin last night. The speech is on her official website. The Newsletter is reporting her as saying:“…the struggle was against starvation, disease and exploitation, where the lack of education of the masses was matched only by the ignorance of the economic and political elites”.

President McAleese continued: “Here was what Thomas Kettle would memorably describe, less than a decade later, as ‘the secret scripture of the poor’ that would drive tens of thousands of young Irish men into the British Army to sacrifice their lives so that their families could eat.”

Predictably she has been attacked by unionists

Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Whilst there may have been some young men who joined the Army at the time because of poverty, I believe there was a majority of soldiers who took part in the First World War out of a deep sense of patriotism and a need to defend democracy and to oppose those who set out to use military methods to oppose people and nations.

“It was only after the Irish state was founded in 1921 that recruitment from the Irish Republic to the Army dropped. Prior to that there had been a long and proud history of Irish regiments playing a military role (in the British Army).

“It would be entirely wrong to suggest that this was only due to poverty. History does not recall that.”The DUP minister added: “I do think that the Irish president should give a lot more thought to what she says on occasion. Either inadvertently or deliberately, at times she uses phraseology that is a poor attempt at rewriting history.”

Meanwhile Ken Maginnis said:

she was “diminishing” the important role played by her fellow Irishmen in the war, and described her words as a “second faux pas” – her first, he said, being her comments four years ago that Protestant children were taught to hate Catholics in the same way Nazis despised Jews.

“The whole idea that men joined the Army to keep their families off the bread line is absolute nonsense,” he said.

“In any case soldiers were paid a pittance in those days, so in actual fact Mrs McAleese is not only doing a disservice to Irish history, but to her fellow Irishmen, by diminishing the role they played, and indeed that they continued to play during the Second World War.”

McAleese’s latest speech is again rather unfortunate to say the least. Maybe this was a case of trying to please her local audience rather than thinking about how the speech would be viewed by those outside. Not that Ms. McAleese has ever seemed terribly bothered about being nice to unionists. I suppose it is because of the bad way we teach our children.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.