Published in Features, Issue 1 (January/February 2023), Volume 31

By Michael Loughman

In July 1943 Oliver J. Flanagan, a newly elected TD for Laois–Offaly, declared before the Dáil:

‘There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money.’

This declaration, made at a time when the Jewish population of Europe was facing the full wrath of Nazi genocide, was peculiar in its analysis and extraordinary in its venom. This was not, however, simply a bombastic politician’s thoughtless, one-off flourish of rhetoric. Rather it was characteristic of an anti-establishment idealogue who rose to the top of local politics in Emergency Ireland.

Above: A meeting of the Irish Monetary Reform Association in Portlaoise in the 1940s. Oliver J. Flanagan, in profile, is seated in the middle of the second row, below and slightly to the right of the Kelly’s shop sign. (John Whelan)


Born in Mountmellick, Co. Laois, in 1920, Flanagan took a keen interest in politics from an early age. He first joined Fianna Fáil, becoming secretary of his local cumann in 1938, and quickly gained praise for his hard work. As he entered the 1940s, however, it became clear that Fianna Fáil did not satisfy the young upstart. The radicalism that had once characterised the party was diluted as their hold on government continued. The obvious fact that the party could not, despite their efforts, vanquish the scourges of unemployment, poverty and emigration disillusioned some erstwhile supporters.

Flanagan’s disillusionment reached a tipping point in 1941. Writing to a local paper, he painted a picture of an Ireland where ‘life is hardly worth living’ and expressed the fear that he was witnessing the ‘approaching death of the Irish nation’. This was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Fianna Fáil government, and it was no surprise when Flanagan was expelled from the party several months later. He no longer needed Fianna Fáil, however, as he embraced a new organisation that would remedy the nation’s ills: the Irish Monetary Reform Association (IMRA).


Above: Cover (signed by Flanagan) of the constitution and manifesto of the Irish Monetary Reform Association (National Archives of Australia).

The IMRA had its roots in 1930s Carlow, where its central figure was Seamus Lennon. Lennon was an eclectic figure who represented Carlow in the First Dáil but had since moved between various organisations, including a brief flirtation with Fianna Fáil. It was in the doctrine of social credit, however, that Lennon found his true calling. Social credit argued for the issuance of debt-free money to compensate for the shortfall between purchasing power and the actual price of goods. Money was just ink and paper in the IMRA’s view, and so they argued for an ‘endless supply of money to put men working, so there must always be sufficient money in the pockets of the people to purchase the goods thus produced’. This they saw as the route towards true independence and Christianity.

Such views were almost innocently simple but there was also a darker edge. Embedded within Lennon’s framework was the belief that the present lack of money was due to the nefarious rule of ‘Jewish-Masonic bankers’ who controlled the government and were responsible for all unrest and poverty. Such views led Lennon to praise Hitler, while Ireland’s pro-Nazi fringe also took an interest in the IMRA.

Once Flanagan embraced the IMRA, he did so with gusto. He proved highly successful in establishing branches across Laois, with the county quickly becoming the centre of the organisation. As he traversed the county proclaiming the IMRA slogan, ‘Almighty God created the world for man’s use and benefit’, he called for more jobs, higher wages and greater land division. His scorn for the government was absolute and unrelenting. Even a terrible foot-and-mouth outbreak was blamed on the government’s ‘pagan’ agricultural policies provoking God’s wrath.

Against the backdrop of an increasing sense of economic malaise that characterised these years, Flanagan found an eager audience. In the 1942 local election, he and four other IMRA candidates were elected across Laois, Offaly and Carlow, but Flanagan’s enormous personal vote showed that he was the star performer. In the otherwise quiet confines of Laois County Council, a disruptive Flanagan adopted almost every anti-government position conceivable. He almost succeeded in having his monetary ideas put to a vote, but this was abandoned after he stubbornly refused to withdraw his remark that ‘Mr de Valera was worse than Churchill’.

This certainly did not imply any pro-Allies sympathies. In the course of a local speech at the start of 1943, Flanagan, although assuring the crowd that he did not agree with Hitler on everything, just 99½%, he expressed the hope that the dictator would ‘knock the stuffing out of the Jews, the Americans and John Bull’. In the same rambling speech he also called on the crowd to resist evictions with the ‘iron sprong’ and declared that those who robbed banks were worthy of a medal. These comments landed him in court for inciting criminality. To avoid conviction and with some reluctance, Flanagan, who was nonetheless proud to defend his ‘great Christian programme’ in a court of law, agreed not to repeat the comments—a promise he did not keep. He remained a person of interest to the Gardaí, who kept a close eye on his meetings. He was untroubled by this surveillance, however, and the IMRA continued their steady advance.


Above: Oliver J. Flanagan canvassing during the 1965 general election as a Fine Gael candidate. By then he was part of the political mainstream.

Before the 1943 general election, Flanagan wrote to the noted anti-Semitic conspiratorialist Fr Denis Fahy about his intention to contest the election for ‘God and Ireland’ against the ‘Jew–Masonic system’. He certainly primed himself well for this mission as, in addition to being a popular speaker, he was the consummate parochialist. There was barely a local group or campaign in which he was not intimately involved. Someone certainly did not have to conform to Flanagan’s wilder ideas to support him.

The time was ripe for a candidature like his. Just like a rejuvenated Labour Party and the emerging Clann na Talmhan, Flanagan, the IMRA’s sole candidate, made political capital out of the dissatisfaction with the government. At just 23 years of age, this political neophyte was elected to the Dáil after securing the final seat in Laois–Offaly.

In the Dáil, Flanagan cast himself as a one-man crusader against a corrupt system. He refused to vote for anyone as taoiseach, seeing it as a pointless exercise when the control of money was outside the state’s hands, although his efforts to put forward his monetary views only met with derision. He also presented himself as a loyal republican and condemned the government’s heavy-handed clampdown on the IRA.

It was in this context that Flanagan implored the government to instead ‘rout’ the Jews, ‘who crucified Our Saviour nineteen hundred years ago’. Striking as these comments now seem, they attracted little public reaction, even though news of Nazi atrocities was becoming harder to ignore. Nor did the voters of Laois–Offaly mind. In the snap 1944 election, Flanagan topped the poll. Evidentially, anti-Semitism was far from being an intolerable position to hold.


Moreover, Flanagan’s 1944 electoral triumph came without the support of Seamus Lennon and the IMRA, as the group succumbed to that quintessential rite of passage for Irish political parties—the split. The immediate cause of the division was Flanagan’s decision to support the election of a Clann na Talmhan candidate in the Seanad, in contravention of Lennon’s orders. Lennon’s doctrinal belief in the IMRA made him view anyone outside the group as a near-heretic, and Flanagan was now an apostate. He was duly expelled, although he maintained the organisation’s support in Laois–Offaly, which claimed most of its branches and members. This became the Monetary Reform Party and gradually evolved into Flanagan’s personal political machine that helped him maintain substantial influence throughout the constituency, which, combined with his continuous stream of questions on local matters in the Dáil, made him a political force to be reckoned with.

Although free from whatever influence Lennon ever had on him, Flanagan’s anti-Semitic and pro-German views remained. He chastised the government for being too accommodating to British interests in the war and criticised supposed plans to take in Jewish refugee children. In addition, he had other political friends who could make up for the loss of Lennon. Flanagan developed relationships with a diverse range of characters in the pro-Axis Irish far-right. Irish military intelligence believed that he was associated with Maurice O’Connor of the Irish Friends of Germany, and he also cultivated a close partnership with the fascistic Ailtirí na hAiséirghe party led by the aspiring Irish Führer, Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin. From late 1943 Flanagan proved willing to raise any issues in the Dáil the party asked of him.


A 1945 court case provides further evidence of how embedded Flanagan was within the pro-Axis underground. In this case, Frederick Carr accused Kevin Cahill of falsely slandering him for financial impropriety during the course of a car journey. Intriguingly, this car journey included several others and took place after they attended celebrations for Flanagan’s 1944 election victory. When one examines the background of the individuals named as being in the car, an ensemble of the Irish far-right emerges. Carr was an Ailtirí na hAiséirghe member, and Cahill was a veteran of Eoin O’Duffy’s Irish brigade in Spain who went on to aid German intelligence in Ireland. Also present were Maurice O’Connor and two individuals, respectively members of the equally fascist-inclined An Córas Gaedhealach and Celtic Cooperation of Occupational Guilds. And then there was Flanagan himself, of course, nestled tightly among his both literal and political fellow travellers.

‘I hope he is still alive’, remarked Flanagan in the Dáil after Hitler’s death. His hope was understandable, as Nazi Germany’s victory was a prerequisite for the outlandish ambitions of Flanagan’s acquaintances. Now, however, with the Reich in ruins, the ambitious young politician had to assess where this placed him.

His associations with the far-right became less noticeable, and he raised no further questions relating to Ailtirí na hAiséirghe after May 1945. He continued with his idiosyncratic populism, but beyond seeing himself as a representative of the common people there was now little coherent ideology behind his rhetoric. With his Monetary Reform Party, evidence of their ideological roots was even less apparent. As a local paper recognised by June 1945, ‘Monetary Reform candidates know little of Monetary Reform and, indeed, care less: the only plank in their platform is the engaging personality of Mr O.J. Flanagan, TD’.

His anti-Semitism, even with the full knowledge of the Holocaust, did not immediately diminish but it became less common. Even so, as late as 1947 he called on the government to protect the country ‘from the influence and destruction of aliens and Jews’.

Indeed, in the post-war world, as he accustomed himself to the Dáil, the spectre of an imagined enemy lost its potency, especially as it became more apparent that his real foe was always in front of him. Like many on the opposition benches, Flanagan grew ever more exasperated as Fianna Fáil continued their seemingly never-ending control of the Irish state. Removing de Valera, whom he now viewed as akin to Stalin, from office became his abiding political ambition, and he made every effort to achieve this.

He raised allegations of corruption against prominent Fianna Fáil figures concerning the sale of Lock’s Distillery in 1947. The subsequent tribunal dismissed his allegations, but the taint of malfeasance remained with the party, just in time for the 1948 election.


Flanagan’s endeavours rewarded him with the highest vote in the country. He now joined the combined forces of the opposition in ousting Fianna Fáil. The common disdain for Fianna Fáil created strange bedfellows. In the years after the war, Flanagan, who previously never hid his pro-Axis sympathies, found common cause with James Dillon, the most vocal supporter of the Allied cause. The two developed a close friendship, and Dillon no doubt taught him much in the way of constitutional politics.

The two may have had differences, such as during the Mother and Child controversy, when Flanagan, displaying that concern for the disadvantaged that had previously led him so badly astray, delivered the most vigorous defence of the embattled health minister, Noël Browne. Yet, when Dillon rejoined Fine Gael in 1952, Flanagan, Dillon’s ‘political love-child’, as he was christened by Seán MacEntee, quickly followed him. The Monetary Reform Party endorsed his decision and thus ended that strange entity that was a unique feature of Laois politics for the previous ten years.

In joining Fine Gael, Flanagan had officially entered the political mainstream and would remain there until 1987. His youthful exuberance subsided, and although he never lost his rhetorical flair he would instead become best known for his strident Catholicism. It would become difficult to imagine that he was once the young radical intent on overthrowing the established order. No one quite like the Flanagan of the 1940s has entered the Dáil since. Nevertheless, his diligent maintenance of the political parish pump, which effectively maintained his electoral base for so long, is a feature of Irish politics that has endured.

Michael Loughman is a Ph.D student in the School of History and Geography at Dublin City University.

Further reading
R.M. Douglas, ‘The pro-Axis underground in Ireland, 1939–1942’, The Historical Journal 49 (4) (2006), 1155–83.
R.M. Douglas, Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist ‘new order’ in Ireland (Manchester, 2009).
D. Keogh, Jews in twentieth century Ireland: refugees, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Cork, 1998).
M. Manning, James Dillon: a biography (Dublin, 1999).


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