Sinn Féin the anti-corruption party?

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2013), Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—Can someone please clarify for me what point Ciaran Wallace is making about anti-corruption activity in Dublin (HI 21.5, Sept./Oct. 2013, ‘Early Sinn Féin—the anti-corruption party’)? The fight for freedom in our country leading up to the Treaty was concerned with the land of Ireland for the Irish. The city dwellers who had been exploited by first the Unionists and then by the Catholic middle class in the form of the Irish Parliamentary Party were ignored before the war of independence and later when the new state came into existence. The land of Ireland for them might, as Brendan Behan explained, at best extend to a flower box on the windowsill of a tenement house. All this despite the fact that the main centre of revolution was Dublin city. The concerns of politics and politicians were with the land and the farmers, for that was where the political power base lay, and these concerns set the tone and were the driving force in politics for many years in this country. The farming community provided the bulk of the recruits to the Catholic church, which powerfully conservative body readily joined with the administration in a conspiracy against the common man of no property or status, the great majority of whom lived in the squalid festering slums of Dublin.

City folk were fair game for exploitation. Read the plaques on the houses in Henrietta Street and weep at the lists of respectable, middle-class Catholic ‘patriots’ who were slum landlords. Whatever anti-corruption activity took place, it was, judging by results, totally ineffective. I grew into manhood surrounded by the unmistakable stench of the tenement house . . . and this the best part of half a century after the state was formed. It is not so long ago that one could view long lines of eighteenth-century houses propped up with huge baulks of timber in an attempt to prevent a recurrence of the tragedies that saw some tenements fall and kill numbers of the occupants. Living conditions in these hell-holes were awful. We led the western world in poor housing conditions. These conditions were allowed to fester on for many years while the energies and resources of the state went to improve the lot of the farming community (no bad thing in itself). This government stance meant that the great mass of citizens living in Dublin were condemned to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ without access to decent housing and to the great liberating opportunity of third-level education. The effects are still readily evident in the inequalities of today.

Ciaran Wallace tells us that ‘having begun as a somewhat shapeless cultural movement, Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin first crystallised into an elected party in Dublin City Hall’. What does this mean? Did it somehow forget for a while its cultural roots and stumble into local government? Did it have no political aim at the outset for the freedom of the country? What sparked its anti-corruption stance and what are its anti-corruption achievements?—Yours etc.,

JIM KELLY

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