“How much more progress, how much more reform, would be possible if senseless old historical divisions were eliminated from our politics?”
Mr O’Herlihy said he was fascinated by the recent suggestion of former Fianna Fáil deputy leader Mary O’Rourke that it was time for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to come together.
Her late nephew Brian Lenihan delivered the oration at Béal na mBláth in 2010. He disclosed then that his grandfather, Paddy Lenihan — Mary O’Rourke’s father and a Fianna Fáil deputy in the 1960s — had actually supported the Treaty and Michael Collins during the Civil War.
In 1996, I delivered an oration at Béal na mBláth in which I suggested there never was any real ideological difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael existed 91 years ago when Collins was shot. Collins and Éamon de Valera each described the ideological differences between them over the Anglo-Irish Treaty as “a small difference,” or “a shadow of a difference”.
After leading Fianna Fáil to power in 1932, de Valera admitted he had underestimated the benefits of the Treaty. Collins had contended that the Treaty contained the means to achieve real freedom, but Cumann na nGaedheal — and later Fine Gael — blinded by their hostility to de Valera, lost sight of that goal and began to think of the Treaty as an end in itself, rather than a means to the desired end.
It is one of the greatest ironies of Irish history that it was actually de Valera who proved that Collins was right about the Treaty containing the freedom to achieve the desired freedom.
All too often, those who extol Collins feel compelled to denigrate de Valera. “Surely now,” Brian Lenihan contended in his 2010 oration, “we have the maturity to see that, in their very different styles, both made huge contributions to the creation and the development of our State.”