From the Editor…

Published in Issue 3 (May/Jun 2007), Letters, Volume 15

Ireland and slavery

This year marks the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire of which Ireland was then part. Hence the particular emphasis on slavery in this issue. It was, however, a subordinate part, and many readers might shrug their shoulders and wonder what it has to do with us. Quite a bit, as Nini Rodgers explains (pp 17–23). The Irish were heavily involved in the slave trade, and the Irish economy benefited greatly from it. And while we have had our ardent abolitionists, such as Daniel O’Connell and R. R. Madden (pp 24–9), we have also had our apologists, such as John Mitchel (pp 30–5).
Is this something, therefore, for which we should share some of the collective guilt? George W. Bush and Tony Blair have already apologised for their states’ involvement in the trade, and—though they may have missed it—readers north of the border will be interested to know that Secretary of State Peter Hain has also apologised on their behalf. Whatever the value of such apologies, and whether our collective name should be added to them, Irish involvement in the slave trade should at the very least be acknowledged and explained.
Peter Hain has, of course, been busy elsewhere, and at a time when a power-sharing executive has (finally) been agreed it is a happy coincidence that this issue’s ‘curriculum’ section (pp 42–7) looks at an earlier attempt at power-sharing (Sunningdale for learners). Gordon Gillespie reminds us that on Saturday 18 May 1974 loyalist bombs (later claimed by the UVF) exploded in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33 people. It was an unhappy coincidence that on the day of Ian Paisley’s historic handshake with Bertie Ahern in Dublin the McEntee enquiry’s investigation into allegations that the Garda inquiry into that atrocity was prematurely wound down was inconclusive—hardly surprising in the face of the loss or destruction of an unquantifiable amount of Garda documentation on the case. Clearly there is still much work to be done by historians and researchers of this murky period.

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