Category Archives: Politics

How U.K. election outcome impacts Northern Ireland

BBC results map.

UPDATES:

This is how the UK election may destabilize Northern Ireland,” an excellent “what you need to know” piece from The Washington Post.

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“The tiny DUP, with its newly elevated status, has become an improbable factor in global geopolitics. All over Europe, dusty books on Irish history are coming off the shelves,” The New York Times reports in a story that offers the background.

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DUP cooperation in forming a new conservative government in London could come with a steep price tag, writes John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland economics editor. “One demand could be that E.U. funds, that will be lost as a result of Brexit, are replaced in full.”

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s failed election gamble has cast the Democratic Unionist Party in the role of kingmaker, giving the province an unexpected chance to have a big say in Britain’s divorce from the European Union, Reuters reports. “We will continue to work with our friends and allies in the DUP in particular,” May said.

ORIGINAL POST:

Irish nationalist Sinn Féin and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party have gained seats in Westminster, while the moderate Ulster Unionist and Social Democratic and Labor parties are now shut out of the London parliament.

Results of the 8 June United Kingdom election are still being sorted. Below is one early analysis of the impact on Northern Ireland. I’ll update with more coverage over the next day or so. MH

The election outcome  “put a huge question mark over the future of Brexit,” Pat Leahy writes in The Irish Times.

There will be an immediate period of high uncertainty, as British politics comes to terms with the shock result. The pound fell sharply on the news of last night’s exit poll, creating fresh problems for Irish exporters to the UK, paid for their goods and services in less valuable sterling.

[The DUP could be] in a strong position to soften a future May Government’s line on Brexit, at least insofar as it affected Northern Ireland. It also, however, raises the intruiging question of whether Sinn Féin might be prepared to abandon its policy of refusing to take its Westminster seats if it meant it could deny Ms May a DUP-supported majority.

The remaking of the political map of the North – the election has carved it up between the DUP and Sinn Féin – will surely clarify this question.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was born 29 May 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts, near Boston, a year after the Easter Rising and a month after the U.S. entered World War I.

In 1960, Kennedy was elected president of the United States. He was not the first Irish American to win the nation’s highest office, but he was the first Catholic. Three years later, JFK made a triumphant return to Ireland, land of his ancestors. Five months after, he was assassinated in the U.S.

The end of May brings the official opening of numerous centennial celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.  The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., have partnered for a series of events and initiatives, including the “JFK 100: Milestones & Mementos” exhibition.

Here are some other links to JFK-related content, starting with my own work on the blog:

Here are other external links of interest:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, Boston (boyhood home)

The Kennedy Homestead,  Wexford, Ireland (ancestral home)

John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (centennial celebration)

Official White House biography

University of Virginia Miller Center (essays, etc.)

RTÉ Archives and The Irish Times (coverage of the 1963 Ireland visit)

 

JFK’s triumphant return to County Wexford, Ireland, land of his ancestors.

Rome and Ireland: the latest chapter of a long story

UPDATE:

Following their meeting in Rome, Higgins has raised the prospect of Pope Francis visiting Northern Ireland when he visits Dublin next year, according to RTÉ.

ORIGINAL POST:

Irish President Michael D. Higgins will meet with Pope Francis, 22 May, in Rome, two days ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s more attention-grabbing visit to the Vatican.

Higgins and the pontiff will discuss “issues of regional and global importance,” according to a press statement. They are also sure to talk about Pope Francis attending the August 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

The pope’s trip to the island of Ireland has fueled speculation of a possible side visit to Northern Ireland, which would match or surpass the historic 2011 state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the Republic. Her trip came 100 years after her grandfather, King George V, became the last British royal to travel to what became independent Ireland after the island’s 1921 political partition. Higgins reciprocated the Queen’s visit in 2014 when he became the first Irish president to make a state visit to the United Kingdom.

Pope John Paul II visited the Republic in 1979, but he did not travel to the North, then in the thick of sectarian violence known as the Troubles. One can only imagine what sort of reception he would have received at the time from the late unionist firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley.

“I denounce you, Anti-Christ! I refuse you as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine,” Paisley yelled at the pontiff in a 1988 visit to the European Parliament. Paisley eventually entered a power-sharing government with Catholics, including former IRA man Martin McGuinness.

Six years ago, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny criticized the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, and narcissism” of the Catholic Church for its handling of clergy abuse of children in Ireland. Rome recalled its papal nuncio to Ireland, reporting at the time to Pope Benedict XVI. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs closed its embassy in the Vatican, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure. It reopened in 2014.

Kenny, who just announced his resignation, met with Pope Francis in November 2016 and offered his “full support” for next year’s World Families visit. The lesson here seems to be that whatever is true of today’s political dynamics, they most likely will change in the future. The pontiff and Trump might even patch up their previous disagreement.

For an exploration of an earlier rift between Ireland and the Vatican, read my piece about the troubled founding of St. Patrick’s Church in Rome during the Irish Land War period of the 1880s.

Higgins’ itinerary also includes a visit with Irish clergy and lay staff working at the Vatican during a reception at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. Founded in 1628, it is the last of the many Irish Colleges that were once scattered over Europe when it was not possible to educate priests in Ireland, the college website says.

The Irish tricolor hangs from the balcony of its embassy to the Holy See in this April 2017 photo during my visit to Rome.

Enda Kenny to resign as party leader, taoiseach

Enda Kenny will resign as Fine Gael party leader and as Ireland’s taoiseach effective 2 June. He has served as the Republic’s prime minister since 2011. He is the longest serving taoiseach of his party, which has more often been in minority opposition to Fianna Fáil.

The Mayo-born Kenny, 66, signaled his intentions months ago, but the 17 May announcement caught Irish political observers off guard. His leadership has suffered from bumbling a plan to institute national water charges, and the handling of a long-running police misconduct scandal.

Enda Kenny and former U.S. President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick’s Day visit to the White House.

Still, Kenny leaves a solid legacy. Here’s Stephen Collins writing in The Irish Times:

His crowning achievement was to lead the country out of the financial crisis that brought it to the brink in 2010, and preside over a government that transformed it into the fastest growing EU economy for the past three years.

Kenny’s mixture of political skill, sheer stubbornness and incredible stamina enabled him to achieve what many deemed impossible, but he never managed to win the level of public popularity achieved by some of his less successful predecessors.

His successor will have to deal with Britain’s coming withdrawal from the European Union, which could mean the return of a hard border with Northern Ireland. At the same time, the Republic’s new leader will have to navigate growing calls for the island’s political reunification.

Other big issues include a potential 2018 referendum on whether to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, and whether to allow the country’s diaspora to vote in national elections.

Fianna Fáil could refuse to allow Kenny’s successor as party leader to also follow him as taoiseach. That would mean another national election. 

E.U. would welcome the North in United Ireland

Northern Ireland will automatically join the European Union if voters on both sides of the 1921 partition agree to the island’s political reunification.

Leaders of 27 E.U. states agreed the decision at a 29 April Brussels summit called to prepare for the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Last June, U.K. voters approved Britain’s exit, or Brexit, by 52 percent to 48 percent. Nearly 56 percent of voters in Northern Ireland, however, supported remaining in the E.U.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged E.U. leaders for the commitment to welcome the six counties of the north. The approved statement is now being called the Kenny text:

The European Council acknowledges that the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for an agreed mechanism whereby a united Ireland may be brought about through peaceful and democratic means.

In this regard, the European Council acknowledges that, in accordance with international law, the entire territory of such a united Ireland would thus be part of the European Union.

A vote on Irish reunification is not scheduled at this time, and it appears unlikely to happen anytime soon. “In my view, the conditions do not exist now for a Border poll,” Kenny said after the E.U. statement.

Kenny

The more immediate concern is resolving what happens with the border between Northern Ireland, as part of the departing U.K., and E.U.-member Republic of Ireland.

The border has been nearly seamless since the late 1990s, when military check points began to disappear with the easing of sectarian violence in the North. The biggest difference between the two countries is the change of currency, since the U.K. never adopted the Euro. On the Dublin to Belfast train last summer, I also noticed the automatic change of data carriers on my mobile device.

The is just one part of even thornier Irish-British trade issues.

Stormont deadline extended until June 29

In a related development this week, the U.K. parliament extended the deadline to form a new power-sharing executive in the Northern Ireland Assembly until June 29. Unionist and nationalist leaders have been unable to reach an accord since the 2 March election, in which the pro-reunification Sinn Féin party made dramatic gains in the assembly.

Since then, British PM Theresa May called for a 8 June snap election in the U.K. to bolster support for the Brexit negotiations. The election, which includes Northern Ireland, provided a handy and logical rational to delay the formation of the assembly executive.

Confused? This BBC Q & A should help.

The troubled foundation of St. Patrick’s in Rome, 1888

ROME — The foundation stone of St. Patrick’s Church in the Eternal City was laid during a critical period of Irish history and the eve of a low-point in the country’s relationship with the Vatican.

I stopped by the church, plain by Roman standards, as part of my ongoing project of visiting as many St. Patricks as possible. As it turned out, the church’s foundation date of 1 February 1888 (St. Brigid’s Day) also dovetailed with my interest in Ireland’s late 19th century nationalist struggles and land war.

St. Patrick’s Church, Rome, April 2017. Mosaic of St. Patrick below Celtic cross.

The morning of the foundation ceremony, a delegation of three archbishops, 10 bishops and 300 other pilgrims from Ireland, America and other nations with significant Irish immigrant populations met with Pope Leo XIII. The visitors gave the pope “a magnificent chalice of Irish workmanship,” a photo album of “sights, churches and principal monuments” of Dublin and a nearly £16,000 donation to the Vatican exchequer. The pontiff blessed the trowel to be used in that afternoon’s building site ceremony and handed each of the guests a coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

The pope addressed the group in Latin, according to The Nation, which reproduced his text with an English translation. He assured the visitors that he had viewed Ireland “with paternal care” since the start of his pontificate 10 years earlier.

“We were moved by her many claims upon us, but most of all by the integrity of that Catholic faith which, established by the labors and the zeal of St. Patrick, was preserved by the unconquerable fortitude of your ancestors, and transmitted to you to be guarded as a sacred inheritance,” he said.

The mosaic above the sanctuary is by Rodolfo Villani and depicts St. Patrick converting the High King Laoghaire at Tara, using the shamrock to explain the Trinity. The banner UT CHRISTIANI ITA ET ROMANI SITIS (“Be ye Christians as those of the Roman Church”) — is from the writings of St. Patrick.

The pontiff also briefly discussed the “present state of affairs” in Ireland, noting that a year earlier he dispatched Archbishop Ignatius Persico to investigate the country’s troubles. At the time, tension between Irish tenant farmers and absentee landlords had been stoked by a protest strategy known as the Plan of Campaign, which sought to reduce rents by withholding payments. If tenants got evicted, the Plan called for peer-enforced social ostracism, or boycotting, to prevent others from leasing the land. Some Catholic clergy were tacitly supporting the movement by joining the simultaneous nationalist efforts to secure Irish political autonomy, called home rule.

Persico began his mission to Ireland in 1887 just as the Times of London published a sensational series of stories linking agrarian unrest to Irish leader Charles Steward Parnell. The prelate’s presence generated mixed reactions among the Irish hierarchy, according to their letters to Tobias Kirby, rector of the Pontifical Irish College, Rome, who acted as their representative to the Vatican. In July, Archbishop William Walsh of Dublin wrote that he was “very edified” by Persico’s mission. In September, Rev. J. Hassan of Londonderry said he was “ashamed of the cold reception” some gave the Vatican visitor. In October, Msgr. Bernard O’Reilly of Dublin worried that Persico’s report would be “unfavorable to Ireland” and complained he was “the wrong man to send.” The next day, Rev. M. Mooney of Cahir wrote he was delighted by the “genuine spark of Celtic spirit in his [Persico’s] very tone.”

As if to underscore the troubles in Ireland, boycotted Kerry farmer James Fitzmaurice was gunned down in a widely reported land-related murder a day before the February 1888 foundation ceremony. That may have been on the pope’s mind when he told the Irish delegation he ordered the Persico mission “that we may be aided by his report in ascertaining the actual condition of things, and the steps that in your interest it may be desirable to take.” The pontiff also suggested that he might help ease Ireland’s “difficulties” through his personal diplomacy, just as he diffused anti-Catholic tensions in Germany.

Back in Ireland, however, The Nation noted that there were “wide differences” between the situations in the two countries, and that a similar outcome was unlikely. “The German question was essentially a religious one; the Irish question is an essentially non-religious one. Nor is there in English politics any such commanding personage as Bismarck,” the paper wrote four days later.

Sanctuary statue of St. Patrick. The tabernacle is open because this photo was taken the morning of the Easter Vigil.

About 10 weeks after the St. Patrick’s foundation ceremony, Rome issued a Papal Rescript that condemned the Plan of Campaign and its associated violence and boycotting tactics. While Persico favored grassroots guidance by the Irish bishops, the decree reflected the top-down approach of the Vatican, which at least in part was trying to appease English Catholic elites and the conservative government in London, which soon opened a special commission on “Parnellism and Crime.”

The Irish bishops grumbled that the decree divided their loyalty to the pope with their ministry to the people. The directive also drew a harsh rebuke in the first issue of The Irish Catholic, the latest publishing endeavor of Timothy Daniel Sullivan, a Dublin-based MP who also owned The Nation. “We deplore that the Holy Office has been deceived into accepting as a description of the affairs of Ireland, one without any basis in fact,” the new weekly said in its 5 May editorial.

Two months later, Rome reinforced the rescript with a Papal Encyclical, Saepe Nos, which complained the original decree was “grievously perverted by means of forced interpretations.” The pontiff reminded his Irish readers that he had “carefully inquired” to “obtain full and reliable knowledge of the state of your affairs, and of the causes of popular discontent.” In other words, the Vatican was standing by its original orders against boycotting and the Plan.

The Irish hierarchy and populace only grew further enraged. By the end of 1888, 28 of 30 Irish bishops signed a letter to the pope stating that they could not enforce the decree without jeopardizing both his and their own authority in Ireland. The following year became “perhaps the worst period in the whole history of Irish relations with the Holy See.” The Irish bishops even balked at Vatican directives to hold special collections to help pay for building St. Patrick’s Church in Rome.

Lack of funds and other delays slowed completion of the church for 23 years. It finally opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1911, “in weather that was raw, and chill, and rainy, much resembling that of spring days in Ireland,” the Freeman’s Journal reported. Eight years after the death of Leo XIII, the Kerry People suggested the late pontiff “encouraged and most generously contributed” to the Irish-connected church. (The Nation folded 11 years earlier, and The Irish Catholic’s archive was not immediately available.)

Most of Ireland’s tenant-landlord disputes had been resolved by 1911, but an even more difficult revolutionary period was just about to begin. With it, there would be a new round of trouble between Irish nationalists and the Holy See.

NOTES in addition to material linked above:

  • Freeman’s Journal, 28 March, 1911, page 5.
  • Kerry People, 8 April 1911, page 9.
  • Larkin, Emmet: The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Fall of Parnell, 1888-1891 University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1979. “Worst period” quote on page 3, plus other background.
  • St. Patrick’s Church, Rome.
  • The Nation, 4 February 1888, page 11.
  • The Two Edged Sword.

Irish reaction as America entered World War I

One hundred years ago, during the first week of April 1917, the United States entered World War I. President Woodrow Wilson could no long maintain his pledge of neutrality since the war began in 1914, and Congress supported his decision. The American draft began in June 1917.

“Ireland’s interest in the great decision is obvious,” the Freeman’s Journal editorialized. The moderate nationalist newspaper viewed America’s entry in the war as “vindication” for John Redmond, who in 1914 urged Irish soldiers to go “wherever the fighting line extends” in support of Britain. His call shifted Irish American support from home rule toward more militant Irish nationalism and Germany.

“America today is Ireland’s ally, as desired by Sinn Féiners, but she is Ireland’s ally because the Irish leader from the beginning set Ireland’s feet on the one path that every friend of freedom was bound to tread,” the Freeman’s Journal concluded in April 1917.

Redmond and others in the Irish Parliamentary Party believed that America’s presence not only ensured victory on the battlefield, but also guaranteed the implementation of home rule, the limited domestic autonomy for Ireland approved just before the war, but put on hold because of the outbreak. The IPP’s view was mistaken. Militant Irish nationalism, fueled by the 1916 Easter Rising and Britain’s execution of the rebel leaders, continued to manifest with Sinn Féin‘s 1918 electoral victories and the Irish War of Independence. The time for home rule had passed.

Across the Atlantic, Irish America rallied behind Wilson, putting aside criticism that he hadn’t done enough on behalf of the cause of Irish independence after the Rising and the executions of the leaders, historian Robert Schmuhl writes at RTE‘s Century Ireland. He continues:

The president understood that Irish Americans were a loyal constituency of his Democratic Party; however, he viewed the situation in Ireland as an internal matter to be resolved by the government of the United Kingdom. Bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, Wilson hoped he wouldn’t alienate any segment of Irish America. His political ducking and dodging worked to his advantage for just so long.

Following the Armistice, Wilson once again faced the appeals of Irish-Americans to recognize Ireland as one of what he had called the ‘small states’ that deserved ‘self-determination’. … At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which ultimately produced the Treaty of Versailles and created the League of Nations, Wilson refused to allow the subject of an Ireland divorced from the United Kingdom to enter the formal post-war deliberations and discussions. Despite persistent efforts by the American Commission on Irish Independence to get the president to realize how his numerous calls for ‘self-determination’ had rallied the Irish and Irish-Americans throughout the Great War, the obstinate Wilson remained steadfast in his opposition to raising the fate of Ireland.

Irish republican leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January, forcing the Northern Ireland Assembly to shut down for a new election, held at the beginning of March. It was already clear the former IRA commander was ill, and he said as much in announcing his decision not to seek to re-election. Now, his death stirs further remembrances of The Troubles, and raises more questions about the future of the province as Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists face the uncertainties of Brexit.

Here is a sample of the first wave of international coverage:

“This election is about equality and respect for all our people and integrity in the institutions. Vote SF for the politics of hope not fear.”

–Last tweet of Martin McGuinness, 1 March 2017, just before Sinn Féin‘s historic success in Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012. Probably no other photo says as much about the arc of the former IRA leader’s life.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll be updating this post through the day with news of the Irish and Irish America on this special day.