Southern “passivity” is a mistaken analysis of the mood the Republic

I’m grateful to Greenflag below for drawing attention to Dan O’Brien’s historical sweep, Searching for the Source of Perpetual Passivity he’s dashed off for the  Irish Times. The piece should provide readers with many happy hours of historical rumination. But although a fan of Dan’s, I’m less sure what it does for the development of Irish democracy. Dan echoes Fintan O’Toole’s Enough is Enough which has much to commend it as inspiration. But the Irish are hell for getting distracted by the great game of history. And why fasten on dissent as the big deficiency? Surely it’s more important for a political system to reflect the interests that make it up. And for that, dissent plays only a small part.

I have my own sweep as I daresay you have yours. I suggest in considerable measure the Irish State was a victim of its own success.  Dan is right here:

Among the most important reasons in explaining the absence of such divisions was the long struggle fo statehood, which unified many forces in society that would otherwise have been at loggerheads.

The big word he doesn’t mention is nationalism. Contrary to1 Marxist analysis which most historians use to some extent, the winning (or the award) of Irish freedom made even the self imposed land war tolerable to its victims.  WW2 likewise.  Post war, we have Lemass, planning and the beginnings of growth with the accelerating switch from the land to the cities. This left behind indigenous change idealists from Thomas Davis to James Connolly.  In this huge transition, the development of social partnership greatly aided national cohesion – after dissent a-plenty like the endless bank strike and bus strikes. Perhaps in the end social partnership bred complacency. The danger of too much cohesion in a small country is the development of a corporate state which gives a structure to clientelism.

The abuse of power alienated many groups in society. To this day suspicion of the state runs deep. When the Irish State was founded it had no such baggage.

Is Dan right here? Was the foundation of the Irish State as clean a break as all that? The State that was created was in large measure the same State they had replaced with a new top. The 1937 constitution changed the language and symbolism but not much of the substance. And surely too “agin the government ” survived independence, as over evictions and the obsession with private property which continues to this day and inflated the bubble. Dan continues:

Other factors worked to inhibit the development of an infrastructure of dissent. One was the unusually close attachment of an overwhelming majority of the population to a religion that has not historically encouraged debate or free thinking.

You could say!  This the northern Protestant well recognises.  Indeed the prevailing analysis of the role of the Church   uncomfortably  resembles nothing so much as Paisley’s in the 1950s. The problem with the Protestant analysis on that point is the beam in their own eye.

Yet for me and with all its rectifiable faults , the Republic remains the mature  State we thought it was before the crash. It enjoys enviable cohesion that will get it through the crisis. I can’t believe many would actually welcome the alternative.  What Dan fails to identify is dissent against whom? The mythic Golden Circle, Fianna Fail, all owner occupiers since about 1990, encumbered credit card debtors,  Bono?  How can you dissent against yourself?

The really intriguing result of the general election would be a Fine Gael majority government which could lead to a left-right rhythm in Irish politics well short of revolution. It’s time to rub out the fault line of the civil war, time to set history aside. Whichever the outcome, this change of government will mean real change in governance to replace the old spit on the palm and shake on it. And given the choice, as between northern conflict and notions of southern “passivity,” I’d know which I’d chose.


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    Latest polls suggest a further fall for Labour and Zanu FF making a critical gain, enough to win 35+seats ie enough to eclipse Labour and become the official opposition and live to fight another day. I

  • Irish Catholicism was one of Europe’s most radical forces and it certainly did not lead to the compliance you suggest.

    The syndicalist ITGWU will be written about when all of us are dead and gone. Ireland was very strike prone duting the 1960s and 1970s so this sectarian, anti Catholic analysis breaks down.

    Irish Catholicism was very heavily Jansernist influenced which helps to explain why superficial analyses often get it so wrong when discoursing on public v private morality. To this day, Imany Irish RCs see nothing wrong with killing people, clergy included, who have it coming to them, oppose the death penalty, aremorally conservative,are far from alone andsee the apparent contradictions in all of this. Such is the Jansenist landscape which those outside the Church can never see.

    The other explanatory leg is that Ireland is post colonial and thus the FFF_FG_Labour must wait split.

    Left and right chit chat also betrays a Blairite mentality, with New Labour, Dick Spring, Mary Robinson on the left and workers on the right.

    But hey, song the Red Flag once a year.

  • “this change of government will mean real change in governance to replace the old spit on the palm and shake on it”

    I’d doubt it; different hands will be shook.

  • wee buns

    ‘What Dan fails to identify is dissent against whom?’

    This is the important question. Equally:

    ‘It enjoys enviable cohesion that will get it through the crisis.’

    A cohesion with whom?

  • wild turkey

    “I’d doubt it; different hands will be shook.”

    For the next round of Slugger Awards, I would like to nominate Nevins comment above for the prestigious Samuel Beckett Trophy.

    Priceless and dead on Nevin. well done

  • skibbereen eagle

    I think this is a very fair article. The southern state is a composite of many parts constantly evolving. Many of us who live there may not or wish to recognise where some o the parts come from. A parliamentary and legal system going back to the 13th century admittedly in fits and starts. Universal national eduction from the early 19th century and mass politicital mobilisation from the same period. I think the well known disputes and differences with the British state may have blindd us to many positaive spin offs from the long association, not asking for a return only a fresh look.

  • Greenflag

    alanmaskey’s comment above

    ‘Irish Catholicism was one of Europe’s most radical forces and it certainly did not lead to the compliance you suggest.’

    Bishop O’Dwyer back in Feb 1912 knew in his heart an ‘soul’ that Irish women did’nt want the vote and neither should it be given to them .

    From the IT archives the full link is below but here’s a little excerpt which displays the Irish Catholic Church’s ‘radicalism ‘ as the unmasked suggests above 🙁

    ‘The game of parties in Parliament (Westminster)often leads to strange results, and it is well for us in Ireland to realise the danger that, without our consent, this measure may become law, and the women of Ireland be placed in a position from which all their instincts and habits of thought would shrink. The objection to giving votes to women is not that they would exercise the franchise with less judgement or honesty than men.

    In intelligence, in conscientiousness, in genuine desire for the public good they are not inferior to men. That is not the objection. But it is the total change it would work in their whole domestic and social position. From the peace of their homes they would be drawn into the angry, and often squalid, strife of political parties.

    Just as well the Bishop never lived to see President Robinson or President McAleese or Senator Mary Henry or the many other women who have contributed hugely to the development of the country’s politics and social development these past several decades .

    So the RC Church was ‘radical ‘ in opposing women’s vote , trades unions , ‘free ‘ second level education in Ireland , the mother and child health reforms of Noel Browne and in the last number of years we can see how ‘radical’ the RC church has been in it’s continuing obsession with maintaining ‘silence ‘ in it’s own organisation in Ireland that lets face it -would be worthy of the Mafia .

  • Greenflag

    @skibbereen eagle ,

    It’s certainly a provocative article in that it pulls together in a newspaper column almost all of the ‘strands ‘ which were formerly and some still are judged to make up the Irish political psyche in the broadest sense . And much of Dan O’Brien’s points layed out I can agree with at least in respect of the past and ‘recent ‘ present .

    Even more interesting are the 5 pages of reply comments on the article in the IT some of which both add to and in some cases knock against the thrust of the article .

    What seems to be coming through is that an increasing number of Irish ‘voters’ are seeing that their current ‘elite’ be it political , religious or economic has been seen to have ‘failed’ the nation across a wide spectrum of issues – and much of this failure is directed at local ‘personalities ‘ even if in many cases the ‘local’ was just a subset of what was, is and will continue to be an international crisis .

    It might be for the better longer term if FG were to get a small majority in their own right . It won’t take very long after the Irish election for the people to realise that they have merely replaced one out of touch ‘conservative ‘ regime with it’s alter ego . That could be the point at which present ‘passivity ‘ turns around to become street opposition of an order the Republic has never seen -this time not directed against ‘British Government ‘ or the RC Church but against the Irish ‘establishment ‘ and it’s failed elite ?

    The extent to which FF are defeated in this coming election will be a marker imo for measuring the extent to which those ‘shibbolleths ‘ referred to in Dan O’Brien’s article in the IT are being faced up by large sections of the electorate . We may be witness to another terrible ‘beauty ‘ being born that of the ‘free thinking Irish voter ‘ who not only looks beyond Civil War divisions but at the how we allowed ourselves to get into that mess and more importantly how we extricate ourselves from it without selling off the country’s assets and exporting another million people in the decade to come ?

    Neither FG nor Labour nor SF are providing any assurance that they have the answers and FF are so discredited that even if they had the answers nobody is listening to them anyway !

  • perseus

    25% of TD’s retiring, is that a record?

  • Greenflag

    Normally about 20 retire at each election but it varies from 15 to 25 . I think that almost 40 have either retired or thrown in the towel to avoid electoral humiliation . Most of the humiliation avoiders are former FF TD’s . So it’s a record .

    Some no doubt ‘retired’ for health or age reasons or to make room for a ‘relative’ e.g Brian Cowen . This could however be the worst election ever for ‘relatives ‘ of incumbents to make their mark .

    How the people perceive this last minute attempt by some of the ‘tainted’ brigade to continue their local ‘dynasties’ is hard to decipher .

  • Greenflag

    Will this be the shape of the post election ‘Irish Revolution ‘ or will if first take root in either the USA or UK ?. Ironic that an American should be ‘behind ‘ the Egyptian Revolution or is it ?
    Given whats happening in Wisconsin with ‘union rights ‘ and the probable spread to other States -2011 could be become the ‘Year of Revolt ‘ as workers and middle classes and the people around the world get up off their knees and demand their politicians confront the corporations and huge banks that demand more and more profit while contributing less and less taxes to Government and yet demand that said governments give them even more ‘freedom’ to loot even more ?

    Just look at how much Barclay’s paid in taxes in the UK ?

    Truly these feckers are not worth saving -hang them all and be quick about it 🙁

  • Careful, Gf. Where would we be if we lost Google in the in the revolution? We’d be left with some Yahoo.