Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, General, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2009), Letters, Letters, Volume 17

We in Ireland have always prided ourselves on the robustness anddurability of our democratic institutions. Of all the European statesthat gained independence in the twentieth century ours is the only oneto have maintained an unbroken tradition of parliamentary democracy.(HI 17.5, Sept./Oct. 2009, editorial)
Really? Because of a deep and well-rounded ignorance of history Icannot contest your statement, especially if it refers to theparliamentary rather than democracy. The latter word is as impossibleas squaring the circle. All government is dictatorial, whether thedictator is elected or imposed by force. Public opinion seems to acceptas axiomatic that if the dictator is elected he/she will be better thanif he/she is imposed by force. It is with this that I take issue. TheRomans gave us Caligula and Marcus Aurelius by force; the Greeksproduced Pericles and Cleon by election. All four were dictators;whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a matter of opinion. You have amurderer, a philosopher, a builder and a bosthoon mentioned. All weretop-notch at their respective trades.
When Ireland received ‘independence’ it celebrated the occasion by acivil war, about what is never quite clear. On the one hand there wasan elected government, on the other a group that wanted to prevent itfrom governing. The war ended without amnesty or reconciliation butwith a massacre of prisoners and a badly damaged economy. The countrystruggled to its feet for a decade or so, but the civil war continuedto dominate the politics for several decades. This period was marked bystagnation and emigration.
A democratic government, if it ever existed, should be in accord withthe will and desire of the people. For almost a century the electedgovernment has tried to revive Gaelic, although it should be clear bynow that the people are not interested. When they spoke Gaelic, theywanted to learn English because it helped them to find work in theEnglish-speaking world to which they had been forced to emigrate. Abouthalf the work of education is devoted to the compulsory study ofGaelic; the burden is placed on children, but what evidence is there ofbenefit to anybody? Surely that is not democracy. If the compulsionwere removed, the hatred of the language that it generates would atleast soften.
Your mention of Ailtirí na hAiseirghe is intriguing; because of itsGaelic title few knew what it was all about. They might have donebetter if they sang Die Fahne Hoch. I agree with what you say aboutmany Irish being pro-German and even pro-Hitler at the beginning of thewar. The Shannon hydroelectric scheme was carried out by the Germans,and Hitler had ended unemployment in Germany. Even those who had readMein Kampf didn’t really believe that he meant it. That mind-set beganto break as people visited Germany and saw war preparations, butprejudices die slowly.
Ireland has much to be proud of, and its government compares favorablywith most countries, in spite of errors. The Civil War, however, wasnot its finest hour.

—Yours etc.,


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