Ideological deficit that weakened the very basis of our republic

SOME people say Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has no real ideology. He has been accused of abandoning the republicanism of Fianna Fáil. Surely it is time that this old doctrine was laid to rest. If anything, Bertie deserves credit for not entertaining bogus republican arguments.

Instead of promoting such ideas the media should expose the so-called republican posturing as arrant nonsense.

For the first quarter of a century following independence our politicians argued about republicanism, and whether this country was a republic or not. In July 1945 James Dillon, the future leader of Fine Gael, complained that only the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, knew whether we were a republic or not. So de Valera responded by clearly defining a republic and leaving everyone to decide whether we fit the bill.

"To save members of the Dáil the trouble of looking up references, I have collected a few," de Valera said. "I give first a relevant passage from the Encyclopedia Britannica: 2571 "REPUBLIC.A state in which the supreme power rests in the people, or in officers elected by them, to whom the people have delegated power sufficient to enable them to perform the duties required of them. In the small republics of antiquity the people usually expressed their preference directly, but in the larger republics of modern times representatives are elected to sit in lawmaking bodies.

"The head of the state is usually elected directly, and in modern usage this fact distinguishes a republic from a monarchy in which the head is hereditary."

De Valera went on to quote similar definitions from Encyclopedia Americana and four different dictionaries. All were essentially the same.

"Dictionaries and encyclopedias in other languages give definitions and descriptions in no wise essentially differing from these," the Taoiseach added.

"If anyone still persists in maintaining that our State is not a republic I cannot argue with him for we have no common language. There is no common set of words and ideas between us."

Of course, if de Valera said something was white, his opponents would insist it was black. They contended that this country was not a real republic. James Dillon derisively dismissed de Valera's Ireland as a "dictionary republic."

After coming to power in 1948 Dillon and his colleagues formally declared the Republic of Ireland. The move confirmed one of the more significant promises that de Valera made a decade and a half earlier.

"Let it be made clear that we yield no willing assent to any form or symbol that is out of keeping with Ireland's right as a sovereign nation," he declared at Arbour Hill on April 23, 1933. "Let us remove these forms one by one, so that this State that we control may be a republic in fact and that, when the time comes, the proclaiming of the republic may involve no more than a ceremony, the formal confirmation of a status already attained."

When the inter-party government declared the Republic of Ireland, it just formally confirmed the status already attained. Lord Rugby, the British ambassador, observed the new government was trying to steal "the long man's clothes". With that republican icon Seán MacBride as Minister for External Affairs, the inter-party government formally declared the republic and then shamelessly betrayed it.

The republican issue is frequently confused with the partition. Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish republicanism, was a Protestant, as were many of the early republicans, but Protestants generally began to fear that the Catholic Church would secretly rule an independent Ireland. Their catch cry became "Home Rule is Rome Rule".

MacBride's initial act following his election to the Dáil in 1947 was to write to John Charles McQuaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, secretly and obsequiously proclaiming his subservience to that would-be Pope in Drumcondra. "I hasten, as my first act, to pay my humble respects to Your Grace and to place myself at Your Grace's disposal," MacBride wrote.

He added that he would "always welcome any advice which Your Grace may be good enough to give me and shall be at Your Grace's disposal should there be any matters upon which Your Grace feels that I could be of any assistance".

McQuaid promptly wrote back thanking MacBride for "the courtesy which you have so promptly shown to the See of Dublin", and he added that he would not "fail to take advantage of your generous suggestion that you are at my disposal for any matters in which you could assist".

MacBride responded to the response with another obsequious epistle.

"In writing to Your Grace I was but doing what I considered to be my very first duty," he wrote. "I say that I shall stand in need of help and guidance in the discharge of my new duties. Accordingly, I trust that Your Grace will not hesitate to call upon me at any time to impart such advice, formally or informally, as may from time to time occur to Your Grace. I know how burdened with work Your Grace is and accordingly I should deem it a favour if Your Grace did not trouble to acknowledge this note of thanks."

As his "first official act" following the February 1948 general election, in which MacBride led Clann na Poblachta to capture 10 seats, he again wrote to the archbishop to "place myself entirely at Your Grace's disposal". He concluded this letter by asking for the archbishop's prayers so "that my colleagues and I may be given the wisdom and light to discharge our duties faithfully as Catholics and public representatives".

After its first meeting the new government sent a telegram to Pope Pius XII expressing their desire "to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and of our devotion to your August Person". The cabinet secretary, Maurice Moynihan, advised against this telegram, but he was ignored and thereafter excluded from cabinet meetings.

That government eventually came unstuck over the Mother and Child Bill in 1951, when the archbishop and the hierarchy objected to the bill on grounds that had nothing to do with religion. Noel Browne was forced to resign from the government, and he then published his secret correspondence with the bishops.

"I, as a Catholic, obey my Church authorities and will continue to do so," the Taoiseach John A Costello declared during the ensuing Dáil debate.

"All of us in the Government who are Catholics are, as such of course, bound to give obedience to the ruling of our Church and our Hierarchy," proclaimed Seán MacBride. The Irish Times concluded that "the Roman Catholic Church would seem to be the effective government of this country".

Costello and MacBride were not only prepared to kiss the archbishop's ring; they would have kissed his arse, if he had asked. Nobody elected the bishops, but the government allowed them to dictate. In the process they betrayed the people and made a mockery of republicanism.

MacBride is usually cited as the great republican intellectual, which is a sad reflection on the rest of them, because he obviously did not even know the meaning of republicanism.

Neither do those who now flout the wishes of the great majority of the Irish people, north and south, by tying toundermine the Good Friday Agreement.

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