Minister Alan Shatter has justifiably called attention to the horrible historical phenomenon known as The Holocaust – the cruel genocide by Nazi Germany against Jews as well so many other minorities – when he was opening an exhibition at the Department of Justice.
Minister Shatter took the opportunity to criticise Irish neutrality during World War Two, and referred to the policy as ”morally bankrupt”. This has sparked more controversies and arguments about Ireland’s situation during the 1949-45 period, and more particularly, on the pardon Mr Shatter intends to grant to those Irishmen who absconded from the Irish Army to serve the Allies in the fight against Hitler and the Axis powers. It is problematic to generalise about any group of individuals more than 70 years on. And we should bear in mind that people in 1940 did not know what we know now.
Until 1939, for example, there were up to 40 groups in Britain who were in favour of negotiating with Germany – they are now called ”appeasers”, but many of them (including the Quakers and the feminist Peace Pledge Union) were well-intentioned.
In all human endeavours, too, there is usually a mixture of motives. I think it would be graceful to declare an amnesty (for those men who deserted the Irish Army to fight abroad) and acknowledge that even if some individuals did have mixed motives in absconding from the Irish army – some may have done so because pay and conditions were better – they did nevertheless engage in combat against an evil foe.
There must be some formula of words which does not ruffle feathers all round, or cause offence to those who feel that deserting the national army was always wrong.
And maybe this is the moment, too, to emphasise the positive by recalling an admirable Irishman who, from 1938 onwards, ceaselessly pointed out that Hitler’s regime was evil, that it was immoral and anti-Christian, as well as cruel to minorities.
This man was James Dillon, who became TD for West Donegal in 1932, and from 1937 for Monaghan.
James Dillon came from a fine nationalist tradition: his father was John Dillon, one of Parnell’s most prominent supporters in the Land League, and his grandfather was John Blake Dillon, friend of Thomas Davis and Gavin Duffy, and co-founder of The Nation.
James Dillon, who was born in 1902 and died in 1986, was a Fine Gael member who resigned from the party in 1942 (later re-joining it) because he passionately believed that Ireland should join the Allies in the fight against Hitler. He had developed this belief, not through political thinking, but because of a strong Christian belief that the Third Reich was the enemy of our civilisation. James Dillon was a thoughtful and committed Catholic.
Dillon was quite often mocked for his views – he was a colourful orator and a gift to the satirists (even the late Maureen Potter would ”take him off” in Dublin pantomimes) – but, like the man of conscience that he was, he accepted the mockery and stuck to his values, though he often stood alone.
Honouring James Dillon would be a way of revisiting this period of the past in a positive way, and remembering a man of conscience who did what he believed was right, and has indeed been shown by history to have been right. We should be proud of his memory.
Welfare dress code
Should people be forbidden to appear at welfare services offices wearing their pyjamas? A notice appeared recently at the Community Welfare Services office in Blanchardstown saying: ”Please be advised that pyjamas are NOT regarded as appropriate attire when attending these offices.”
Is it unkind to impose a dress code on welfare claimants? If folk feel comfortable rolling up in their jim-jams, who are these bureaucrats to stop them? In any case, the controversial notice has been taken down, on higher orders from the HSE.
There is a less scolding way of making the point, anyway: it is better for our own morale if we get out of your sleeping clothes and get fully dressed. In fact, the more care you take in dressing nicely, the more your spirit and self-esteem will rise. How about a notice saying ”You’ll feel a lot more cheerful if you appear in your day-clothes! And we will too!”
The feast of St Brigid
After some of the gloomy days of January, I always feel uplifted by the arrival of February 1, the feast of St Brigid, and by tradition, the onset of the Celtic spring.
Brigid, who died around 523, has been described as having been a strong, cheerful, compassionate character, who founded a community of women in Kildare, and thus the first Irish Abbess.
The St Brigid’s cross, often fashioned from rushes or straw, relates to special protection of the home, and it has never lost popularity.