Category Archives: Politics

Irish local and E.U. election outcomes offer surprises

This post will be updated through June 16. MH

UPDATE 5: Counting completed

After a week of counting under Ireland’s proportional representation system, June 7 election totals are now complete. Among 14 European Union seats, Fianna Fáil doubled its previous total to four; Fianna Gael also has four seats, one fewer than before the election; Sinn Féin doubled from one to two seats; Labor took one seat and independent candidates claimed three. 

UPDATE 4: Local seat totals & turnout

With a 49 percent election turnout, the tally of 949 county and urban district seats shows:

  • Fianna Fáil, 248
  • Fianna Gael, 245
  • Independents, 227
  • Four small party total, 127
  • Sinn Féin, 102

Only 6 of 14 European Union seats had been resolved as of June 13.

UPDATE 3: Call him Mayor Moran

Independent candidate John Moran has emerged as Ireland’s first directly-elected mayor in his native city of Limerick. Mayors are normally elected by local councilors and for one-year terms. “If the new position proves a success, if Moran makes it a success over the next five years, it could well trigger similar elections in other local authority areas and potentially the biggest shake-up in local government in decades, the Irish Times reports. The story details Moran’s high-profile background, including work as a lawyer and investment banker in the U.S.

UPDATE 2: Time to undo Mary Lou?

Media speculation over whether Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald can survive her party’s poor election result is gathering pace, even as local and E.U. counting continues Tuesday morning (U.S. time):

“If Sinn Féin strategists were hoping to conduct their 2024 election postmortem in private, they might be seriously disappointed. The party is struggling to contain the fallout from the local and European elections and, for the first time, McDonald’s leadership is on the table as an item for discussion.” — Irish Times

“(McDonald) adopted an open borders policy which would allow mass immigration into Ireland. (Her) attempts to become respectable with the overwhelmingly liberal and middle-class Dublin mediocracy quite simply blew up in her face, as rising non-EU immigration has come to dominate the political agenda.” The Spectator

The unexpected level of lost support has cast doubt on the leadership of McDonald and her longtime status as a prime minister-in-waiting. Their fall from public favor has left Sinn Féin activists stunned, demoralized and speculating over whether the party needs a new leader in time for a general election that must happen by March.” Politico.eu

UPDATE 1: Uncoupled doubleness

” … The modern Sinn Féin on the one hand drew on the same kind of ethnonationalist identity politics that now fuel the far right across Europe, the United States and elsewhere. Yet on the other, it thought of itself as a progressive socialist party, committed to equality and inclusion. … This doubleness created a kind of ambivalence that was very useful in a society experiencing a very rapid transition from monoculture to multiculture. … And for about a quarter of a century, this accidental mechanism was extremely effective. … What we’ve now seen in the election numbers are the first effects of (an) uncoupling: a shrinking of Sinn Féin’s vote and the emergence of the far right as a potentially viable political force.” — Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times.

ORIGINAL POST:

June 7 local and European Union election results in the Republic of Ireland have prompted fresh calls for a national government contest before the March 2025 deadline. Taoiseach Simon Harris has doubled down on his earlier commitment to have the existing coalition government run its full five-year course until spring. Harris, of Fine Gael, became the Irish leader in early April after the unexpected resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the main coalition partners, have done better than expected in the local elections, each polling about 23 percent. Independent and small party candidate surged to just over 28 percent of the vote at the expense of Sinn Féin, which fell shy of 12 percent. As of early June 10, U.S. East Coast time, 829 of 849 city and county council seats had been decided.

The outcome in Ireland’s 14 European Parliament races is still developing. Far-right candidates in other E.U. member nations have made gains, but the centrist governing coalition in Brussels is expected to hold.

Regardless of what Harris says, Irish political observers expect snap election will take place before the year-end holidays. Why should Ireland miss the “year of elections,” as at least 64 countries (plus the E.U. assembly) decide the representation of about half the world’s population. French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday was forced to call an election for later this month after his centrist alliance was roughed up by the right in his country’s E.U. ballot.

Sixty-two percent of respondents to an online poll at TheJournal.ie website favored holding the Irish national election before the end of this year. Disclosure: I participated in the poll on June 9 in order to see the result and take the screen grab shown here.

Regardless of when the election is scheduled in the next nine months, voters in the Republic will follow the electorate in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The national election there is set for July 4, with the Tory government predicted to fall to the British Labor Party.

A total of 136 candidates are running in Northern Ireland, nearly three dozen more than the last election five years ago. The more moderate Alliance and the Social Democrat and Labor Party (SDLP) are contesting all 18 constituencies, while the pro-reunification Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are each skipping a few races, according to the BBC.

The DUP were knocked off stride in March, when leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigned after being charged with sex crimes. He is not seeking re-election in his Lagan Valley constituency. The DUP had already lost top billing to Sinn Féin in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly.

On recognition & partition: Ireland, Israel, & Palestine

Ireland’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood has gravely disrupted diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel. The latter condemned the gesture as “a reward for terrorism” perpetrated by Hamas in October and withdrew its ambassador from Dublin.

On May 22, Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris said:

“On the 21st of January 1919 Ireland asked the world to recognize our right to be an independent State. Our ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was a plea for international recognition of our independence, emphasizing our distinct national identity, our historical struggle, and our right to self-determination and justice. Today we use the same language to support the recognition of Palestine as a State.” Read his full statement, which also condemns the Hamas attack and supports the Israeli state.

The recognition has generated a new round of media stories about why the Irish identify so strongly with the Palestinians. Such reports began long before the civilian death toll in Gaza from Israeli military strikes surpassed the number of victims from the Hamas incursion into Israel.

Palestinian flag

Fourteen months before that attack, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote a piece headlined “Comparing the Palestinian and Irish-Catholic Struggles.” In each case, he wrote, “a powerful force oppressed local indigenous populations in a clearly racist and paternalistic fashion.” He also details their differences with today’s Northern Ireland.

Kuttab noted that U.S. President Joe Biden, during a July 2022 speech in East Jerusalem, compared the Irish-Catholic struggle against Great Britain to the Palestinians against Israel. But the journalist questioned whether Biden, a strong supporter of Israel, is capable of “real and actionable policies related to Israel and the Palestinians.” The Biden administration has criticized Ireland’s recognition of Palestine, which was joined by Spain and Norway. But Ireland enjoys far more attention and goodwill from the U.S. government than the other two European nations.

In late May, a headline in the Jesuit magazine, America, declared, “Ireland recognizes Palestinian statehood: Why many Irish people resonate with the conflict in Palestine.”

Notice for Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign protest against U.S. weapons to Israel being shipped through Ireland. The bill has been delayed.

The piece quotes an Irish documentary filmmaker who says the Irish have a deep cultural memory of British rule and know what being colonized by a stronger neighbor is like more than most nations. The filmmaker has documented the efforts of peace activists to prevent the U.S. military from using Shannon airport in the west of Ireland as a refueling stopover for its Middle East adventurism, including arms shipments to Israel.

Catherine Connolly, an independent member of the Irish parliament, raised the Shannon issue in a May 23 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Connolly rejected the suggestion that Ireland’s recognition of Palestine is a prize for terrorism. “This is a step for peace,” she said.

Partition plans

The sectarian and territorial conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis parallel those between nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, in the north of Ireland, as detailed by M.C. Rast at History Today.

Ireland and Palestine: United by Partition?” recounts how British officials in late 1930s planned to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in much the same way they had divided Ireland along sectarian lines nearly two decades earlier. A British report suggested “the gulf between Arabs and Jews in Palestine is wider than that which separates Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State.”

Rast also quotes Dublin’s Irish Independent newspaper as saying: “Partition is the Englishman’s favorite way out of a difficulty. But it is in itself a confession of failure.”

Economic impact

The economic impact of Ireland’s recognition of Palestine is beginning to take shape. Israel’s national airlines announced it will not renew direct flights to Dublin, which were only launched last year. Irish officials have said its €15 billion sovereign investment fund would divest from six Israeli companies, the Irish Times reported.

Israeli flag

Israel’s trade deficit with Ireland was €4 billion in 2022. Israeli imports totaled €5 billion, seventh largest among trading partners, but less than a quarter of the U.K.-leading €29 billion and U.S. second-place €22 billion.

Just under 600 Israelis lived in Ireland in 2022, according to the Central Statistics Office. The same census return does not indicate the number of Palestinians, while 2016 data showed fewer than 200 Palestinians. There were fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Ireland in 2016 compared to more than 63,000 Muslims. These figures do not include Northern Ireland.

For more on how activists in Ireland are responding to the recognition, visit the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Ireland Israel Alliance.

Catching up with modern Ireland

March was a newsy month for Ireland, including the failed constitutional referendum, a sour St. Patrick’s Day visit to the White House, and the shock resignation of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Here’s some coverage and commentary that has caught my attention:

Varadkar resignation, Harris ascension, Donaldson resignation

Varadkar

The messiah complex: Neither Leo Varadkar, nor anyone else, could be a ‘savior’ of Fine Gael, Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times (Ireland)

“He was able, articulate and – in the twin crises of Brexit and the Covid pandemic – reassuringly adept. But his great talent was for riding out contradictions, not for resolving them. He managed to walk the line between politician and anti-politician, conservative instincts and an increasingly progressive society. …”

Update 1: The governing Fine Gael has selected Simon Harris as its new leader. There was no opposition to him within the party. At 37, he is set to become Ireland’s youngest taoiseach on April 9; a year younger than Varadkar when he took the job in June 2017. Some are already calling Harris the “TikTok Taoiseach.”

Harris was first elected to the Dáil in 2011 and managed Ireland’s COVID-19 response as minister for education, research and science. He has dismissed calls for a general election before the scheduled contest in March 2025.

Update 2: Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, abruptly resigned March 29 after being charged with sexual offenses. Leaders of the Northern Ireland say the development will not impact the power-sharing government, but it has rocked Irish and British politics.

Reverse reads on referendum result

Ireland’s Snakes of Secularization“, National Catholic Register (USA)

There is a very understandable desire among the faithful in Ireland — and elsewhere — to interpret this month’s rejection by Irish voters of a pair of “woke” constitutional amendments as a decisive Catholic inflection point. According to this narrative, the unexpected and overwhelming rejection of these amendments represents a watershed moment in terms of reversing the tide of secularization that has washed over Irish society in recent decades. Unfortunately, that’s probably untrue. … The hostility of voters toward the progressive inanities expressed by both amendments can’t be taken as a sign that secularism is now generally on the wane in Ireland — or that a concomitant rebirth of Catholic faith is broadly underway.

Ireland and the terrible truth about wokeness“, Spiked (England)

Ireland has become hyper-woke. Its elites are fully converted to the gender cult. They promote the ruthless policing of ‘hate speech’, which really means dissent. They damn as ‘far right’ anyone who raises a peep of criticism about immigration. Their culture war on the past is relentless. Woke is the state religion of Ireland now. And if you thought Catholic Ireland was sexist, irrational and illiberal, just wait until you see what wokeness unleashes. … The irony is too much: in ostentatiously distancing themselves from bad old religious Ireland, the elites have created a system of neo-religious dogmas that makes the Catholic era seem positively progressive in comparison.

Green (and blue) at the White House

Biden

Can the Irish Get Biden to Change His Policies on Gaza?, New York (USA)

Many of the actual Irish — the ones who came over from Éire for this annual celebration of the shamrock diaspora — spent the afternoon trying to talk sense to Biden over his Gaza policies, and his confounding (to them) support of Israel’s relentless military response to Hamas. … The Irish have a long-held kinship with the Palestinians. They see parallels between their struggle against Israel and the Irish struggle against British rule. They see in the famine that is gripping Gaza today a tragic echo of their own. This has been true for decades, but never more so than now. … So just beneath all the stout suds, these were the fault lines on display at Biden’s St. Patrick’s Day party this year: his assumption that the Irish were his friends and that so were the Israelis. But it’s no longer so easy to be both.

Three more stories:

  • Britain is appealing a ruling against its Legacy Act, which gives amnesty to ex-soldiers and militants involved in Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.” Victims’ families have challenged the law, and a Belfast court in February ruled it breached human rights. The Irish government is separately contesting the law before the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Rose Dugdale, who left a life of wealth to become a partisan activist fighting for Irish independence in the 1970s, died in Dublin, aged 82.
  • The Central Statistics Office launched the Women and Men in Ireland Hub, ” which features data from the CSO and other public sources broken down into six main themes: Gender Equality, Work, Education, Health, Safety & Security and Transport.

On marriage, family, and the Irish constitutional referendum

UPDATE: Both referendum questions were defeated by margins of nearly 3-to-1, an embarrassment for the coalition government that put forward the measures. The Irish Times editorialized: “The timing was rushed, the rationale unclear, the propositions confusing and the campaigning lackluster. It was an accident waiting to happen.” Whether the outcome is merely a botched one-off or indicates a conservative turn from the progressivism of the past two decades remains to be seen. I’ll have more analysis in a future post as Ireland now prepares for a general election in 2025. MH

ORIGINAL POST:

My maternal grandparents were married 100 years ago this week at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Pittsburgh. They are seated in the wedding photo below, joined by five siblings of both families. All seven emigrated from Kerry between 1910 and 1921. Other members of both families remained in Ireland.

The newlyweds welcomed six children over the next eight years, all of them girls. My mother, 93, is the only survivor.

I remember these relations ahead of the March 8 referendum on proposed language changes in the Republic of Ireland’s 1937 Constitution. One measure would include “other durable relationships” beyond marriage; another eliminates language about women’s “life within the home.”

The language about women was controversial 87 years ago. The conservative influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the constitution was and is a target of secularists and progressives.

I will report the referendum results as they become available. Until then, an affectionate nod to my traditionally married grandparents and their families, which the Irish Constitution describes as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society.” That language will remain in place regardless of the referendum outcome.

Nora Ware and Willie Diggin, seated. Standing, left to right, John Ware, Mary Diggin, Michael Diggin, Bridget Ware and Annie Diggin. March 4, 1924. (Thank you JVS for the restored photo.)

Guest post: John Bruton (1947-2024), an appreciation

Dublin historian and former public servant Felix M. Larkin’s last contribution to this site was about ‘Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland‘, two volumes of essays co-edited with Mark O’Brien. Larkin is the author of ‘Living with History: occasional writings’, among other works. MH

***

John Bruton, who died on Feb. 6, 2024, was one of the most significant figures in Irish public life for more than 50 years. He was taoiseach from December 1994 to June 1997, and the European Union’s ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2009.

Bruton’s book

In 2015 Bruton published a collection of essays entitled Faith in Politics. The pieces ranged widely over politics, economics, history, and religion. Included in the last category was a paper he gave at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, in which he reflected on the “added value” that Christians can bring to politics. He concluded that paper by saying that “no Christian, and Catholics in particular, should be afraid to bring their beliefs into the public square”. This is today an unfashionable idea in an increasingly secular Ireland, but Bruton never shrank from writing and speaking against the grain of the prevailing consensus.

Also unfashionable was his defense of the constitutional nationalist tradition in Irish history. John Redmond, the long-time leader of the Irish party at Westminster, was his great hero. In a seminal address in the Royal Irish Academy in 2014, reproduced in his book, he argued that “the 1916 Rising was a mistake” and left us with a baleful legacy of political violence. He feared that our continued commemoration of the Rising ran the risk of “saying that killing and dying is something that will be remembered by future generations, but patient peaceful achievements will be quietly forgotten”.

Elsewhere in his book he expressed concern about what he saw as the “higher level of skepticism about politicians nowadays”, but his “faith in democratic, constitutional politics” was absolute – hence the title of his book. His steadfast defense of constitutional politics both today and in the past is perhaps his greatest legacy to his fellow countrymen. I am proud to have known him.

***

Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see earlier contributions.

N.I. Assembly reopens after two years; led by Sinn Fein

UPDATES:

Feb. 7: The death of former taoiseach John Burton, King Charles’ cancer, other news in Ireland and the rest of world have pushed the Northern Ireland Assembly off the home pages of Irish media. This post is now closed.

Michelle O’Neill

Feb. 4: Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have arrived in Belfast for bilateral talks impacting Northern Ireland and other issues between the two island neighbors. …  See “How the world reported Michelle O’Neill’s election as First Minister of Northern Ireland.”

Feb. 3: Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has been named first minister of the restored Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year boycott by unionists. O’Neill, 47, the nationalist party’s vice president, emphasized that she would be “a first minister for all” — including unionists and republicans, Protestants and Catholics, those who want a “United Ireland” and those who want to remain “British Forever” (alongside a growing number in the middle ground), The Washington Post reported. “To all of you who are British and unionist: Your national identity, culture and traditions are important to me. None of us are being asked or expected to surrender who we are. Our allegiances are equally legitimate. Let’s walk this two-way street and meet one another halfway.”

O’Neill has waited for the job since Sinn Féin topped May 2022 elections in the North, three months after the DUP walked out of the Assembly. The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, 44, will serve as deputy first minister, giving the power-sharing government its first all-female co-executives. Though technically equals, this is the first time a nationalist has been first minister.

The growth of nationalist political representation is unsurprising, The New York Times noted:

Demographics have shifted significantly in Northern Ireland, with the Protestant majority’s slow erosion there first attributed to the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control and then to economic factors like the decline in industrial jobs, which were held predominantly by Protestants.

Catholics outnumbered Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time in 2022, according to census figures. And Northern Ireland is not the binary society it once was. Decades of peace drew newcomers in, and like much of the world, the island has grown increasingly secular. The labels of Catholic and Protestant have been left as a clumsy shorthand for the cultural and political divide.A large percentage of the population identifies as neither religion. And when it comes to political attitudes, the largest single group — 38 percent — regards itself as neither nationalist nor unionist, according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.

Feb. 1: Britain’s parliament approved revamped rules governing Northern Ireland trade that were negotiated between the government and the DUP. This prompted the DUP to formally requested the reconstitution of the power-sharing government. Opposition to the trade deal has been minimal, Reuters reported.

ORIGINAL POST:

Jan. 30: The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has agreed to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year walkout arising from its disagreements about Brexit trade protocols. The decision by the North’s main unionist party means nationalist Sinn Féin could lead the Assembly for the first time in the nearly 26 years since the Good Friday Agreement.

“This is obviously good news, but this is only one step and there are about 10 things that could still go wrong,” an unnamed U.K. official told reporter Shawn Pogatchnik at Politico.eu. Or, as former Ulster Unionist Party communications director Alex Kane wrote in The Irish Times: “I’ve seen far too many ‘breakthroughs’ come and go in Northern Ireland to abandon my usual pessimism just yet.”

This story is developing. Today (Feb. 1) the U.K. Parliament is set to vote on special legislation designed to allay DUP concerns about how Northern Ireland is treated under Brexit. Then there is the matter of making Sinn Féin‘s Michelle O’Neill the Assembly’s first minister, a position the party earned by topping May 2022 elections in the six counties.

I’ll curate this post over the next week or so. Email subscribers are reminded to visit the website directly for the latest updates. MH

Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building, outside Belfast.

Why G.B. Shaw, feminists denounced 1937 ‘Eire’ constitution

Voters in the Republic of Ireland on March 8 will decide two proposed changes to the State’s 87-year-old Constitution. Both amendments are related to family life. The first will replace the clause describing women’s place as “within the home” with a new government commitment to value the work of all family care givers. The second will broaden the definition of the family to include all households with “durable relationships,” including the roughly one third of couples with children born out of wedlock.[1]See the current and proposed language.

In 1937, Irish leader Éamon de Valera proposed to update the 1922 Constitution that founded the Irish Free State, which he had opposed because it fell short of republican goals. His revised Constitution asserted full sovereignty for the 26 counties, which were renamed Eire, the Irish word for Ireland. As it widened the separation from Britain, Dev’s draft gave deference to the Catholic Church, confirming the longtime “Rome rule” suspicions of many Irish Protestants.

Since then, Ireland has dramatically modernized and secularized, especially in the past quarter century. Several amendments to the Constitution have removed language about the “special” role of the Church and penalties for blasphemy; while others have legalized divorce, same-sex marriage, and abortion. And the 1937 language about the role of women has received increased attention.

Shaw in 1936.

This section also drew criticism at the time of its introduction, notably from Anglo-Irish author and playwright George Bernard Shaw. He complained “its attitude toward women is simply going back ages,” adding the passage was “worse than ridiculous.”[2]”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937. Shaw continued:

De Valera’s new constitution, reactionary in its attitude toward women, is just another example of the world’s despair and revolt against democratic and parliamentary institutions which do nothing but talk, talk and get no action.  … It’s true that the work of women in the home is extremely important, and so, for that matter, is the work of men who maintain the home. But that is not sufficient reason for writing into the constitution that men should never be anything but breadwinners, and women nothing but home-workers. … Although the constitution generally appears to be modeled after that of the United States, it has a dash of Fascism in the provisions relating to women and marriage.

Two weeks after Shaw’s telephone interview with a Universal Service correspondent, Dáil Éireann TD Patrick McGilligan (Fine Gael-Dublin North-West) raised the celebrity’s author’s comments during a debate about the Constitution. This prompted a laugh from de Valera.

“He talks through his hat sometimes,” de Valera (Fianna Fáil-Clare), president of the Dáil’s executive council, said of Shaw.[3]See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.

Then 54, de Valera was the New York City-born son of an Irish immigrant mother who relinquished the care of her two-year-old toddler to relatives in Ireland. Shaw, then 80, was born in Dublin but moved to London at age 19 and remained in England for the rest of his life. The two famous Irishmen shared a frequently antagonistic but generally good-humored relationship, as revealed in public spats and private correspondence before and after 1937.[4]Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5325/shaw.30.1.0027. In 1945, Shaw famously defended de Valera for offering condolences to the German minister in Dublin upon hearing of Hitler’s death. The playwright, in a letter to The Times, London, described the politician as “a champion of the Christian chivalry we are all pretending to admire. Let us recognize a noble heart even if we must sometimes question its worldly wisdom.’’

Feminist criticism

The Dáil approved de Valera’s draft Constitution in mid-June 1937 by a vote of 62 to 48. De Valera placed it on the ballot of the national elections set for a few weeks later for ratification.

De Valera in 1937.

In addition to Shaw, “a minority of vocal activists” opposed the clause about women in the home.[5]Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421. They included feminists such as Louie Bennett, Hannah Sheehy-Skiffington, and Kathleen Clarke, widow of 1916 Rising martyr Tom Clarke. Mary Hayden of University College, Dublin, and the Women’s Graduate Association, also protested.[6]Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.

Irish journalist R.M. O’Hanrahan, in a pre-plebiscite analysis distributed by the North American Newspaper Alliance, noted these college and university educated women were “up in arms” about the language that referenced their gender. While these women advised a “no” vote on the Constitution, “the effect of this vote cannot be very marked as the time for organizing opposition meetings is rather short,” O’Hanrahan predicted.[7]“Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.

He was proven correct. Historian Thomas Bartlett has observed, “in the crucial areas of paternalist control they failed to make any impression. It is clear that many women and mothers agreed with de Valera’s construction of their role” because the Constitution won approval with 56.5 percent in favor to 43.5 percent against. Subsequent protests by feminists in 1938 and 1943 failed to remove the offending language.[8]Bartlett, Ireland, 450.

But the Constitution’s passage was “not very convincing,” de Valera biographer David McCullagh has argued. The leader’s claim that a majority of the Irish people supported his update was “an implicitly partitionist reading,” since nobody in the six counties of Northern Ireland could vote. Observers then and now agree they would have rejected it and changed the outcome. Just over 1.3 million people cast ballots in the referendum, nearly 76 percent of registered voters, but only 38.5 percent of the total electorate voted in favor.[9]David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.

The revised Constitution took effect at the end of 1937. “It is there now and it is better that people should get to like it the more they study it,” de Valera said.[10]Ibid. In fact, the longer the Irish people have lived under the Constitution, the less they have liked it.

References

References
1 See the current and proposed language.
2 ”G.B.S. Says De Valera Has Fascist Aims In ‘Eire'”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2, 1937.
3 See Dáil Éireann debate, May 13, 1937, Vol. 67, No. 3.
4 Bernard Shaw. “Two Unpublished Letters To Eamon De Valera: With an Introduction by Brad Kent.” Shaw, vol. 30, 2010, pp. 27–35. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5325/shaw.30.1.0027.
5 Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation Of Ireland. [New York: The Overlook Press, 2005] 421.
6 Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History. [Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010] 450.
7 “Women In Irish Election”, The Boston Globe, June 28, 1937.
8 Bartlett, Ireland, 450.
9 David McCullagh, De Valera (Vol. II), Rule, 1932-1975. [Dublin: Gill Books, 2018] 134.
10 Ibid.

United Ireland in 2024? Fiction and fact

Happy New Year! The arrival of 2024 means it is time for the reunification of Ireland, at least according to a 1990 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Declan McVeigh described the television fiction and its historical context in The National UAE:

During the brief discussion, Data gives Cpt Picard a list of successful armed rebellions in ages past, including “the Irish unification of 2024”. This prospect – debated between an entirely fictitious robot and a spaceship captain – was deemed by the BBC to be so objectionable that the episode was not broadcast unedited on U.K. television until September 2007, nearly a decade after the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement that largely ended the 30-year conflict known as the Northern Ireland Troubles.

This 1937 map shows the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland 16 years after partition.

The 34-year-old episode has been reported before but seems to be getting fresh attention now that the designated year has arrived. In fact, future documentaries about Irish politics are unlikely to cite 2024 as the year of the island’s reunification. Just over half – 51 percent – of northern voters would reject a unity referendum, according to an Irish Times/ARINS poll published in early December, while 64 percent of the Republic of Ireland electorate favors eliminating the 103-year-old partition.

Nevertheless, talk of a (re)united Ireland has grown since the 2016 Brexit vote removed Northern Ireland from the European Union. The Republic remains part of the E.U. The economic advantages of that membership have become as much of a driving force toward Irish reunification as the north’s shift to a Catholic majority, or the island’s geographic and historical integrity. Such economic factors were foreseen in a 1923 U.S. press dispatch from Belfast:

The war will continue until Ulster (Northern Ireland) joins the Irish Free State (now the Republic), or until the Free State relinquishes its insistence on a united Ireland. … Ulstermen declare they are not ready to give up their connection to England and never will be, unless it is shown that a united Ireland would be of benefit to them. … There is much speculation but little information in Ireland as to whether and when there will be a united Ireland. … Continued peace in the south, combined with loss of business or reduction of profits to Ulster industry, might shorten the separation.[1]United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

Talk of a united Ireland continued in 1924 as the Irish Boundary Commission began its deliberations through 1925. Ultimately, the 1921 partition lines remained unchanged. Newly released Irish state papers show officials discussed the possibility of redrawing the border in 1975 as a way of reducing Troubles-related violence. It didn’t happen.

The reunification issue has ebbed from time to time, but it has never ceased.

Below the Sinn Féin t-shirt logo are two quotes from Irish politicians that caught my attention late last year. They are followed by a passage from a New York Times op-ed about partition. We’ll have to see what really happens with Irish reunification in 2024 … and beyond.

Logo on the front of t-shirts being sold in Sinn Féin’s online gift shop. The marketing chatter says, “In every phase of struggle Irish America has stood with the cause of Irish Independence and Unity. Lets celebrate the link between Ireland and ‘our exiled children’,” a reference to language in the 1916 proclamation.  .

“Irish Unity is the very best opportunity for the future. In the words of Rita O’Hare, ‘We must keep going. A United Ireland lies ahead.’ ”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Nov. 11, 2023. O’Hare died in March 2023. She was the party’s general secretary and representative to the United States.

“They (Sinn Féin) think in their minds that they would get the United States behind a united Ireland. They wouldn’t. They would actually turn our friends into enemies.”

–Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Nov. 18, 2023. In September, Varadkar said, “I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.”

“It’s the unionists — the largely Protestant faction clinging fiercely to British citizenship and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom — who question the terms of the peace they live under and struggle to articulate their future. And it’s the Irish nationalists — those, largely Catholic, who regard the partition of Ireland as an untenable injustice — who are brimming with confidence.”

–Contributing writer Megan K. Stack, “A United Ireland May Be More Than a Dream“, in The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2023.

References

References
1 United Press correspondent Charles McCann in a story widely published in U.S. newspapers two years after partition.

Why latest Dublin riot rattles Irish republic

The Republic of Ireland faces a reckoning in the wake of Nov. 24 violence in Dublin.

The episode began with the stabbing of three children and one adult outside a local school, reportedly at the hand of an immigrant, quickly followed by a spasm of right-wing looting, arson, and attacks on police. Now, the Irish government and people must take a hard look at tension between the country’s growing non-native population and rising anti-immigrant ideology, and the even tougher challenges of economic equality in a world transformed by globalism and technology.

“The Dublin riots have changed everything,” The Irish Times proclaimed in a next-day headline.

Changed utterly? Perhaps.

Screen grab of images from the Nov. 24 riot in Dublin.

This was not the first time street violence and looting have flared in the Irish capital. It’s worth remembering that the April 1916 Easter Rising began with high-minded nationalist ideals. But it also included opportunistic looting and indiscriminate arson that had nothing to do with republican aspirations.

Most recently, the February 2006 “Love Ulster” riot is the more precise precursor of the latest unrest. It resulted when a group of Northern Ireland unionists came to Dublin to protest alleged government collusion with the IRA. They were met by dissident republican counter protestors. The two groups clashed with each other and the police. Historian John Dorney detailed the event, based on personal observations, on The Irish Story website he edits.

Replying to my outreach on the latest event, Dorney wrote that the 2006 riot started as “a small demonstration of political extremists that attracted a wider crowd of people basically looking for trouble. The looting was the same. The geography of these disturbances was almost exactly the same as those, also.”

What’s different this time around, Dorney continued, is the level of destruction and the driving ideology.

“You have a segment of young people, mostly males, a lot of whom are involved in petty crime or anti-social behavior who have been recruited by anti-immigrant agitators in Dublin over the past year or so. … Thanks to the internet a lot of them believe in conspiracy theories like ‘the great replacement’. We have social media to thank for this.”

Simmering trouble, uncertain future

Kindling for the recent riot has gathered at least since the start of the COVID pandemic. It was apparent in September as 200 right-wing protestors harassed and threatened politicians, government staff, and journalists outside Leinster House, the republic’s legislative home. In addition to anti-immigrant messages, the crowd appeared driven by COVID conspiracy theories, attacks on transgender rights, and other grievances, such as Ireland’s (especially Dublin’s) affordable housing crisis.

Central Statistics Office, Ireland

Unconfirmed social media messages that a native Algerian was the perpetrator of the school stabbings fueled the latest riot. Details of the man’s nationality and status in Ireland have not been released by officials. But Irish census data reveals 20 percent of the population in the 26 counties was born abroad. The growth has been driven by enlargement of the E.U.; the arrival of more than 90,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion; and arrivals from India, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, and other places for a variety of reasons, Shane Harrison noted at BBC.com. Ironically, a Brazilian food delivery driver stopped the knife wielder.

“My Dublin-based friends are mostly internationals; many of them are people of color,” wrote Daniel Carey, a teaching assistant at the Dublin City University School of Communications and another of my transatlantic Irish history connections. “More than one colleague whose experience of Ireland has been overwhelmingly positive has reported being racially abused in the days since. At least some are considering their futures here. How did we – a nation of economic migrants – get here?”

Dublin historian Felix Larkin begins to answer that question by pointing to a broader “root cause of the malady which troubles our liberal democratic societies,” not just Ireland. He noted the American political philosopher Michael Sandel has identified the “competitive market meritocracy that deepens divides and corrodes solidarity.” With meritocracy in practice less based on ability and talent than generally acknowledged, the system leaves those who fall short with a sense of personal failure, hopelessness, humiliation, and resentment.

“That, in my view, is the most convincing analysis of the reason for the rise of populist movements today:  Trump and MAGA in the U.S., Johnson and Brexit in the U.K., and now Geert Wilders in The Netherlands,” Larkin said in reply to my outreach. He continued:

Ireland is not immune to this phenomenon: it has been bubbling below the surface of our society for some years, and it is a factor in the phenomenal rise of Sinn Féin. What we saw on (Nov. 24) in Dublin was an ugly manifestation of it, one not without precedent in other great cities of Western Europe and North America. All it takes is a spark to light the fire, like in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Those of us who value liberal democracy need to take heed.

Keep in mind that while Sinn Féin might have populist underpinnings, the party leans left rather than right. As Harrison observed, Ireland’s right-wing extremists so far have not yet rallied around a single personality or party. But in the early aftermath  of the riot, it appeared former UFC champion Conor McGregor was positioning himself for the role in a series of–what else?–incendiary social media postings. “Ireland-we are at war,” he wrote days before the riot in support of the boyfriend of 23-year-old Ashling Murphy, murdered last year by an immigrant.

American friends of Ireland should keep things in perspective. The U.S. State Department has not issued any travel advisories for the Republic; the usual Level 1: “Exercise Normal Precautions” status remains in place. The September protest outside Leinster House was hardly the same stuff as the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Ireland, thankfully, has avoided the mass shootings that plague American communities.

But as is true for the United States, the Irish will have to move beyond the knee-jerk cliches of political leaders claiming, “This is not who we are.” (Joe Biden, Leo Varadkar) and columnists such as Fintan O’Toole outdoing themselves to denounce the rioters as “scumbags” and “pitiful thugs.” That hasn’t worked on the MAGA crowd, and it won’t work in Ireland. As Irish artist Adam Doyle wrote in guest column for The Irish Times: “Demonizing and dehumanizing these communities pretty much ensures this will happen again. Calling people names and questioning their right to exist in the city means they’ll never trust you. You’ll never see eye-to-eye with someone who thinks you’re an animal.”

Photo essay: 50 years of Ireland in the European Union

Ireland this year marks 50 years of membership in the European Union. The short video below explains the history and how Ireland’s membership has helped the country’s development. Below the video are several images from my current visit to Brussels, including a stop at the Parlamentarium, a multi-language, multi-media museum at the E.U. headquarters.

Ireland at the heart of Brussels

Multi-media display of Ireland’s 13 MEPs at the Parlamentarian, the EU museum and visitor center. See them all from this link.

The museum declares James Joyce is “one of Europe’s best-known writers.” He lived in Dublin, Paris, Zurich, Rome, and Trieste, Italy.

Sign outside the Embassy of Ireland in Brussels, unofficial capital of the E.U., is written in Irish, English, French, and Dutch.

Kilkenny Limestone has supplied Irish blue limestone for street and sidewalk projects in central Brussels since 2019. This work site is outside the newly renovated Bourse, the former Brussels Stock Exchange, circa 1873.

Of course, there’s an Irish pub in nearly every major (and minor) city. This is one of several in Brussels.