The country’s most important and imposing statue, that of Daniel O’Connell, on the capital’s main thoroughfare, should be safe from attack (except by seagulls and pigeons), as he championed the anti-slavery cause. In 1845, he greeted the famous campaigner and at that point escaped slave Frederick Douglass, who was on a lecture tour of Ireland and Britain.
O’ Connell had a clear unequivocal position of principle against slavery, and was on the right side of history, unlike some of his Young Ireland critics, who did not want to alienate potential support from the American South.
A past generation of historians tended to underplay the subject, including the firebrand patriot John Mitchel’s later support for the South and for slavery.
Watching again after 30 years the box set North and South, the last series shows that the legacy of slavery did not go away with its actual abolition at the end of the American civil war. Part of the current crisis has stemmed, not just from heavy-handed policing, but from a misguided political appeal, rarely overt but perceptible, to the after-culture of confederacy.
Ireland, too, has things to reflect on both in its present and its past. We need to interrogate dispassionately how far our idealistic self image as a country with an anti-imperialist identity and without historical baggage articulated at the highest level actually conforms with either present-day or historical reality. It is not about looking for scapegoats, or imagining that the problem came exclusively from one tradition, but about making honesty and credibility coincide.
Catholic Emancipation, which was primarily the right of Catholic MPs to sit in parliament, came at a price, which was the disenfranchisement of a large number of smaller Catholic property-occupiers. Nevertheless, it led to the gradual unravelling of the Union.
Bishop James Doyle of Kildare and Leighlin (JKL) did not believe that repeal was an achievable objective at the time, with or without force. I quote a letter of his from a lecture given in Carlow College by Dr Thomas McGrath, the leading authority on Bishop Doyle, in 2019:
“We must proceed on another course…change not less important than revolutions may be effected without the sword…I would rather see Ireland regenerated than ruined, and I would prefer a lesser degree of happiness than to see her thrown into a furnace having no assurance of her escape from it.”
It looks as if the concluding phase of the decade of centenaries will be presided over by the two parties that are heirs to the Irish revolution and that split over the Treaty”
Nearly a century later, much had evolved, including the advance of democratic rights and a recognition at least in theory that small nations had a right to govern themselves, so that a war of independence, though not without its costs, including partition, at least had some chance of being successful. In contrast, the attempt to reunify Ireland by force ostensibly directed against Britain never had a realistic chance of success.
It looks as if the concluding phase of the decade of centenaries will be presided over by the two parties that are heirs to the Irish revolution and that split over the Treaty, with the very necessary addition of the Greens and support of a few independents.
The electorate voted for change, but, as in any representative system, left it to the parties to work out what form that should take.
There is no merit in trying to postpone further the challenge of getting to grips with climate change, that has manifested itself in Australian forest fires, hurricanes and flooding, and the rapid spread of a deadly disease, the long-term political, economic and social consequences of which are likely to be far-reaching, even if at this point difficult to assess.
Over many decades, a dominant party in the State preached not just the virtues but the practical necessity of single-party government, last experienced over 30 years ago.
Despite the real difficulty and prolonged effort required to construct a stable government from a disparate political landscape, as was shown both in 2016 and so far this year, there is much to be said for harnessing different values, perspectives, interests and objectives as the best method of maximising public welfare. A vigilant opposition that can lead a government on occasion to modify its course is also essential. Since January 1922, we have never had a national government. The Collins-de Valera pact might have averted a civil war, but it was vetoed by the British government along with the draft agreed constitution that underpinned it and which would have removed the divisive issue of the crown.
The confidence and supply arrangement that supported the previous government achieved important advances, even if there still remained glaring gaps. The acting government since the first meeting of the Dáil after the general election has overall coped remarkably well with a full-blown national and international crisis, in a way that can stand up to comparison, even as it exposed critical shortcomings that have to be addressed.
What it shows is that we have a reasonably resilient constitutional framework with which to deal with all eventualities as well as a strong sense of public spirit and solidarity to draw on. All those several challenges may be further compounded by a messy and unsatisfactory implementation of post-Brexit trade arrangements, though, mostly, political realities tend to have a way in the end of politically asserting themselves, as they did in the case of last autumn’s withdrawal agreement
A more holistic vision of progress than the purely economic underlies the Programme for Government”
A quick glance at the negotiated Programme for Government suggests a very ambitious plan that will require considerable and uncommon political will-power and a benign recovery from Covid-19 to fulfil.
A more holistic vision of progress than the purely economic underlies it, with a strong emphasis on a better work-life balance, including extended parental leave and more flexible working, on meaningful regional development (such as the Technological University of the South-East), as well as revived town centres. Getting around will be less car-based. More multi-denominational schools are envisaged, and a referendum promised on Article 41.2 of the Constitution to amend or delete the clause on the role of woman within the home following a citizens’ assembly.