Tag Archives: Free State

The Church, The ‘Free State’ & The Women Of Ireland

Women on the march in Dublin today. This generation of young Irish women will no longer accept the diktats of Church & State with regard to reproductive rights and abortion law.

On International Womens Day we reproduce the poignant words of the Independent Irish MEP, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan regarding the brutal oppression of working class women by the Catholic Church in 20th Century Ireland.  Let this serve as a stark reminder of the dark forces that lay behind the counter-revolutionary Irish ‘Free State’ government:

“You’ve had your bit of fun, now feel the bloody pain”

Those were the words said to my mother as she screamed in pain while giving birth to me. They were said to her by a ‘Bride of Christ’ or a nun for those who don’t follow the lingo. Now you’d think the nuns would have loved my mother. Catholic. Didn’t believe in contraception. Pro-life as the phrase goes. Five children already delivered for god. My father was even a carpenter.

But they didn’t love my mother. They loved no one. Just hated. Hated the fact that this world is uncontrollable. Full with people of free will. Full of unpredictability. However that didn’t stop them from attempting to control it. Whatever it took. Even if it meant making my mother feel dirty for having enjoyed the love of my father. Even when my mother had followed their teaching, it wasn’t enough. It had to be hell. Any bit of fun wakes the devil so it seems.

I myself now have three beautiful daughters. If my wife and I had been around fifty years earlier I would now have none. You see the first two were born outside wedlock. Fifty years ago the church would have intervened to make sure the second one would never have happened. My first born would have been sold, she’s pretty. My wife would have died prematurely in a glorified concentration camp and because I wouldn’t have accepted it, I would have been sent to a mental hospital to rot.

I don’t believe in God myself. But the story of Jesus I heard certainly doesn’t chime with what was rammed down this countries throat. Whatever happened to loving your neighbour? Where did the bit about free will disappear to when it comes to women’s bodies? Whatever happened to the parable of casting stones? In fact from what I can see, if Jesus had been around Ireland in the 40s, 50s and 60s he’d have been locked up himself for being different.

When I hear the line that society was complicit in the latest Church atrocity to be exposed, I get angry. Who are we on about here? People living in overcrowded houses with barely enough to eat. They were expected to speak out? Do I really need to write this. Do I really need to spell it out for those bullshit historians. Does one really have to say – ‘But they too would have been incarcerated if they spoke out’ – Is this not obvious?

Well it is obvious. But accepting this obvious truth can’t be allowed. You see if we dont take the blame then the Church will need to. Sure we couldn’t have that. Especially after all they’ve done for us…

I held my children that bit closer last weekend. For fear of what might have been.

Irish Republicanism and the Politics of Identity


By HAL (@michael_hal)

At the recent Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Gerry Adams outlined the party’s future strategy in his Presidential address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2013.

Sinn Fein’s plans centre on a campaign for a Border Poll which is the continuation of the party’s strategy of electoralism. Electioneering or canvassing in pursuit of the objective of a United Ireland has replaced the assertion of the right of national self-determination for the Irish people. Such a strategy reduces the demand for national self-determination to a whim.

The Good Friday Agreement put a qualified distance between Westminster and ‘the province’. A key concept enshrined in the GFA is ‘parity of esteem’ for the ‘two traditions’ in Northern Ireland. “Parity of esteem” is a deliberately nebulous concept. Surely ‘esteem’ emanates from within and cannot be bestowed externally by state agencies? But both republicans and loyalists have bought into the politics of cultural diversity and respecting traditions.

In essence the ‘peace process’ provided a framework that offered a way out for protagonists who were exhausted by the length of a conflict that had no end in sight. The new dispensation is a far cry from national self-determination. The issue of sovereignty is no longer debated with any vigour. Republicanism was an ideology that sought to transcend sectarian differences. Present day Irish republicans are enmeshed in a political system that perpetuates such differences.

However, in the absence of any practical alternative to Sinn Fein’s strategy and given the utter exhaustion of physical force republicanism it is perhaps time to conduct a debate on what Irish unity and self-determination mean today. Historically ideologically driven nationalism was linked to state formation. In his 1862 essay on ‘Nationality’ the English historian Lord Acton observed that: “The new idea of freedom made room for different races in one State… A nation was… a moral and political being; not the creation of geographical or physiological unity, but developed in the course of history by the action of the State. It is derived from the State, not supreme over it.” Ireland by that measure is a nation without a State. There is no unitary Irish state that encapsulates or embodies the will of the Irish nation.

Following the French Revolution in 1789 the ideal of citizenship was not based on race or ethnicity. Any individual born in France had the right to French citizenship. In Ireland the idea of one state for Catholics, nationalists and republicans and another for Protestants, unionists and loyalists represents the antithesis of statehood and citizenship. Incidentally this is why the idea of a ‘two state solution’ in Israel/Palestine is also a flawed one. Inclusivity is the hallmark of stable nation states. That is why identity politics which is based by default on competing identities leads to an impasse.

The historian R.F. Foster’s injunction to celebrate ‘varieties of Irishness’ is a pipe dream in the context of two states riven with antagonism. Both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are failed entities. Both states cemented and reinforced sectarian divisions. That is why Partition was enacted.

The Free State of De Valera’s making was dominated by clerical and political elites and marked by censorship and nepotism. It offered the majority of its citizens a life of stultifying conformity and poverty or the boat out. Today the Free State is decidedly unfree. It is politically and financially bankrupt with its budget decided upon by EU oligarchs based in Brussels. In the North, the ‘Protestant parliament and a Protestant state’ envisaged by James Craig was a vicious little sectarian regime. This was the ‘carnival of reaction’ predicted by James Connolly. Partition is a blight and needs to be dispensed with, but before that can happen we need to create the political conditions that will bring that day forward.

We need to question the politics of national identity and cultural diversity. The loyalist flags protest is an example of identity politics in action. Identity politics and the politics of cultural diversity results in competing claims and a never ending demand for recognition. It freezes inter-communal relations in a continuous present of mutual distrust and hostility. It is an approach that embeds sectarianism.

Embracing identity politics is misguided. For example many Celtic fans lauded the late Paul McBride QC as one of our own yet he was one of the key instigators of the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation and as such an authoritarian and illiberal.

It is important not to confuse expressions of national identity and cultural nationalism with assertions of political independence and self-determination. An identity can be adopted or assumed. It is transitory and superficial. Independence is a quality that is hard earned. You are either independent or not. Republican communities traditionally valued their political independence. They were defined by it. It was more than an identity.

State sponsored peace or state brokered institutional arrangements will never meet the needs of the people or match their aspirations. We need to aim higher. It is time to reassert the sovereignty of the people by rejecting dependency on the state. It is possible that in the future Ireland may look to Scotland for an example of an inclusive, independent nation state. The Irish in Scotland can play a leading role in making such a state. It seems clear that, whatever happens, the status quo is no longer an option.

Twitter: @michael_hal