From the editor

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, General, Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2009), News, Volume 17

Ireland’s fascist real McCoy

We in Ireland have always prided ourselves on the robustness and durability of our democratic institutions. Of all the European states that gained independence in the twentieth century, ours is the only one to have maintained an unbroken tradition of parliamentary democracy. Running against the grain of a traditional ‘800 years of oppression’ interpretation, historians of a revisionist inclination have credited our former colonial masters with schooling us in the ways of democracy—the application of the rule of law, the progressive broadening of the franchise, the Local Government Act of 1898, etc., etc.
Post-independence, the closest we had to a fascist organisation, the Blueshirts, never quite ticked all the ‘fascist’ boxes. As Professor Joe Lee put it rather unkindly: ‘For the average Blueshirt fascism was far too sophisticated an ideology’. While we were neutral in the titanic struggle against fascism and Nazism, at least we were ‘neutral on the Allied side’. Uniquely in Europe today, Ireland has no credible far-right or fascist political party.
The cover feature in this issue by R. M. Douglas (pp 40–4) and the book from which it is abstracted, Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist ‘new order’ in Ireland, cut a swathe through this cosy interpretation. In his book Douglas points out that in the decades before independence the democratic will of the Irish people was consistently thwarted by the British executive and the rule of law effectively suspended through various coercion acts. The consequent cynicism of the populace as regards ‘democracy’ was not helped by the emergence of two states, North and South, addicted to draconian emergency powers and, effectively, government by decree.
Thus the emergence in the 1940s of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe—who definitely ticked all the anti-Communist, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, irredentist and megalomaniac fascist boxes—was not some aberration divorced from the prevailing political culture: the list of the movement’s fellow travellers, right across the political spectrum, makes for disturbing reading. Even more disturbingly, the height of their influence—the local government elections of June 1945—came after wartime censorship had been lifted and the fruits of fascism—the millions of war dead and the bodies piled up in Nazi death camps, evidence denied by Aiséirghe—were plain for all to see.
In due course Ailtirí na hAiséirghe faded away, and the Ireland of today is light years removed from the Ireland of the 1940s. But as we survey the wreckage of our recent economic collapse, for which it seems no one is being held responsible and no fundamental analysis is being offered, should we be surprised if cynicism still prevails? And in the light of recent unilateral measures (cutbacks, levies, etc.), the impending imposition of NAMA with minimal debate and the legal ‘quick fix’ of the Criminal Justice Bill currently being pushed through the Oireachtas, are we not still being governed by decree?

Tommy Graham
6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7
editor@historyireland.com

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