A Sniper from an Ivory Tower (Part II)

In this article I will look at the “political criticism”made by Dr. McNamara of the ‘Catholic Predicament’ books, ‘Catastrophe, 1914-68’ and ‘Resurgence, 1969-2016’ in his Irish News review (28.7.16). It also deals with the other criticisms made by Dr. McNamara. Previous criticism was dealt with in earlier pieces. “literary criticism was dealt with in an earlier piece.

At the outset Dr. McNamara ridicules the argument that Britain established “an arena for communal conflict in the Six Counties that it hoped would provide leverage over the greater prize, regaining hegemony over the Twenty Six”.

If he disputes this he should outline the reasons why Britain created something so innovative and perverse in the region in Ireland it retained for the British State in 1920/1. This was no simple act of Partition.

So why did Britain construct something in the 6 Counties that no one wanted, Nationalist or Unionist, with its detachment from the rest of the island and semi-detachment from the UK? Why did it not just keep a hold of the territory it partitioned off from the rest and govern it in the normal way? Also, why did Westminster institute an unprecedented boycott of the Parties of State from its ‘Northern Ireland’ region? These Parties of State, fundamental to the governing of the State and its historical development, excluded members from NI and this fact has not been mentioned in a single written history. Neither have “political scientists” commented upon it, despite the knowledge they undoubtedly have about how states function.

What other purpose could such a unique and perverse entity, established by the greatest statesmen of the Imperial State, have had but to act as a kind of bait for the movement that Britain wished to reel in? Surely it was not “the better government of Ireland” or a mere recognition of reality, as is naively imagined. So why is the character of NI uncommented upon?

The emergence of the Irish democracy in 1918, which Britain failed to repress by military means, could still be curtailed as an independent expression. Or so it was thought. So the distinct political innovation called ‘Northern Ireland’ with its Unionist sub-government was created to act as a prize for Anti-Partitionism, requiring “moderation” of the movement taking Ireland away from British control and acting as a deterrent to any enhancement of sovereignty attempted in the state conceded in the 26 Counties by the Treaty.

Having divided the National movement and provoked it into a war about the Treaty, Britain then withdrew from its pseudo-state. Control of the false front it had constructed in NI was then franchised to Unionism. This produced the Stormont era and what is the Catholic predicament in ‘Northern Ireland’.

Dr. McNamara calls this: “The central and very opaque argument, which is advanced but never properly sustained” and says that “Few historians would accept this. Does the author really think that Lloyd-George in 1920 was able to foresee that the ‘Troubles’ in the era of Ted Heath, would allow Britain to supposedly regain influence in the Republic?”

McNamara has supposedly read and reviewed ‘Catastrophe’ and ‘Resurgence’ but all indications are that he did not read ‘Catastrophe,’ the first volume which goes into great detail about the construction of ‘Northern Ireland’ and offers an explanation about what it is all about.

Here is something interesting about McNamara. As far as I could ascertain, he is the editor/author of only one publication on Irish history (according to his biography on the Ulster University website). It is the 2012 Irish Academic Press book The Churchills in Ireland 1660-1965 (purchased from Amazon for 1p). McNamara is the editor of this collection and contributes an article on ‘Churchill, the historian of Ireland’. And yet, even though Churchill features prominently in the events around the Treaty, Treaty War and consequent  establishment of ‘Northern Ireland’s’ pseudo-state apparatus, and is referenced heavily in ‘Catastrophe’ McNamara makes no comment on the area he is most expert on!

Did he not feel The Irish News fee sufficient enough to read two books perhaps? That would be so academic if it were so! If that is the case it puts an entirely different complexion on his description of ‘Catastrophe’ and ‘Resurgence’ as “these extraordinarily long, wearying, badly written, poorly edited and frustrating books”. The money, maybe, didn’t make it worth it!

The argument that ‘Northern Ireland’ was established to be something it did not appear to be takes up about 200 pages of ‘Catastrophe’. The evidence is laid out, including the Parliamentary statements of Churchill, first drawn attention to by Henry Harrison in the 1930s, in a systematic way, and subsequent events have been shown to have demonstrated this irrefutably. If McNamara has another theory that will account for ‘Northern Ireland’ he should reveal it and test it against the one which he ridicules.

In the very book McNamara edited, one chapter, Churchill and Ulster Unionists 1918-25, written by Kevin Matthews states, in a passage about Churchill’s support for the Treaty:

“While he maintained that a single Irish state would be a ‘great advantage’ to the empire, to Ireland, even to Ulster but, especially to Unionists and Protestants in the South, he argued that reunification would come about only when the new Free State convinced Ulstermen of the South’s ‘loyal association with the British empire’. Until that day, he vowed, Britain would honour its ‘complete obligation for the defence of Ulster’… Throughout, Churchill maintained that the best outcome for all concerned would be Ireland’s eventual reunification, albeit as a country firmly anchored to the empire.” (pp.134-5. The reference given to Churchill’s speech is House of Commons Debates, 15 December 1921, vol. 149, cc.175)

In 1922, when Craig decided to defy the 1920 Act and end Prorortional Representation in elections, Churchill threatened to withhold Royal Assent from the Bill. Craig indicated that if Westminster refused Royal Assent he would resign and take his ‘Northern Ireland’ government with him. Churchill conceded. It seemed to be completely understood by all about the importance in the Imperial interest of maintaining a semi-detached entity in existence to act as an instrument on the island. Craig was so confident that he was prepared to call Churchill’s bluff over it and Churchill understood the issue so clearly that he, unusually, backed down.(see p.139 of The Churchills in Ireland 1660-1965, Churchill and Ulster Unionists 1918-25)

In 1926 Churchill told Ulster Unionists at a speaking engagement at the Ulster Hall: “I cherish the hope that some day all of Ireland will be loyal, and because it is loyal be united within itself and united to the British Empire.” (p.151)

I can only surmise that McNamara either does not read the books he edits or fails to comprehend what Churchill was saying in the quotations contained in the book he edited. What Churchill is outlining – as clear as day to me – is evidence for the lever theory, that McNamara suggests few historians accept. Churchill is saying that Irish reunification will only come about within the Empire, on nationalist good behaviour – and Unionists will be the judge of that: “And Pharaoh said you may go, but you won’t go very far.”

So now we can understand why a frontier did not appear in Ulster, why the British State reduced the 6 Counties to a semi-detached status, why the Ulster Unionists were encouraged to make “the supreme sacrifice” of detachment from the Union and to take a pseudo-state with a simulacrum parliament, and why the British parties of State withdrew. It was all about Ireland, not the 6 Counties, in Britain’s mind and that is what had to be implanted in the minds of those in the Treaty State who may be desiring to use the stepping stone of “freedom to gain freedom.” It would take them away, every step, from the object of their desire, the lost Six.

As way of a “digression” can I refer to what the writer says next, in McNamara’s book, about the fate of the Lloyd George Government, of which Churchill was a prominent member:

“… the Coalition’s final ten months were punctuated by a succession of crises, the worst of them taking place in Ireland.”

Now McNamara is a “Senior Lecturer in International History” according to his University of Ulster biography. He edited this book and let this statement pass. Has he never heard of the Chanak Crisis, which actually brought down the Coalition? This was when Ataturk faced down the British in the Dardanelles, Churchill called for a resumption of the Great War to put down the Turks, the Colonies refused his order and the Tory 1922 Committee pulled the plug on Lloyd George’s government.

To me that was a serious crisis that had a great effect on the British Empire, let alone the Coalition Government, which it finished. Britain was never again the same afterwards. Ireland was a victory, in comparison.

The idea that McNamara ascribes to me that “Lloyd-George in 1920 was able to foresee that the ‘Troubles’ in the era of Ted Heath, would allow Britain to supposedly regain influence in the Republic?”is preposterous and a misrepresentation to provoke derision. So let me state what I am saying.

In 1920/1 Britain established the unique and perverse political construction of ‘Northern Ireland’ to retain leverage on the main part of the island it was losing. Lloyd George and Churchill probably did not imagine what would happen next.

Firstly, the Empire at the height of its powers suffered a great moral defeat at the hands of the Turks, its Imperial government “of all the talents” gave way to “governments of the second XI’s” (to use Churchill’s phrases). The U.S. then whittled away British power, particularly after England lost its second war on Germany in 1940 and had to be bailed out by the US and USSR.

Against this backdrop De Valera enhanced Irish sovereignty against the weakened governments he faced in London, who floundered around from crisis to crisis in the 1930s. He did what Collins always wanted to do, but in doing so he sidelined the North, resolutely refusing to let it interfere with the independence of the Irish State he was enhancing. In other words he sidelined the lever (and the Northern Catholics) in going for independence first and worrying about Partition later. This was not the Irish attitude Britain encountered at the Treaty negotiations, which was desperate to maintain island unity at all costs, and which Lloyd George utilised cleverly to impose the Treaty that would divide the national movement on the question of sovereignty, represented symbolically in the Oath.

It was Taoiseach Lynch, in 1970, who let Britain again regain leverage over the State which De Valera had ring fenced against it by putting the North on the long-finger. His drastic about-turn  in policy, leading to the Arms Trials, led to the start of a collapse in national culture in the South and guilt feelings about the trouble in the North. Britain saw its way back and skilfully turned an unpromising situation into an opportunity, as it does so well.

‘Northern Ireland’ again began to function as a lever on the Southern State, as it had always been intended it should. And only Sinn Fein’s recent march into the South has begun to push back at that lever.

Dr. McNamara not only criticises the literary and political merits of Catastrophe and Resurgence but also the methodology:

“The comprehensibility of these volumes is not aided by the method that the writer deploys. Long quotations from books and documents, which will put off all but the most enthusiastic reader, are often followed by what can only be described as sweeping and curious conclusions. This is combined with frequent, unhelpful and misguided digressions, which greatly inhibit any coherence and flow.”

This method is very deliberate so let me explain why I use it. About a decade ago I wrote a book called The Rise and Fall of Imperial Ireland. It sought to explain how the Irish Parliamentary Party went from being anti-militarist and anti-Imperialist at the time of the Boer War to being British Imperial war-mongers in 1914. I saw this as a very important transformation that had major repercussions for Ireland which historians had curiously neglected. The thing that I quickly identified as a central feature of this transformation was the South African War and Britain’s settlement of it. Redmondism latched on to this as a template for Irish Home Rule and British Liberals reciprocated and began to see what was achieved in relation to the Boers as being achievable in relation to Ireland. Interestingly, Winston Churchill was the most prominent exponent of applying the South African template to Ireland in order to create an Irish Imperial nationalism that would replace separatism and enhance Ireland’s contribution to the British Empire – a fact that Dr. McNamara makes nothing of in the book he edited on him. And as late as 1922 the British, having lost Redmond, began to see Michael Collins as perhaps the real deal of a potential Irish Botha.

I set about reading all the main newspapers from the time – about 15 years of them – and particularly the Freeman’s Journal and Irish News. I then began searching out Imperial publications, books, periodicals, pamphlets etc.

What I realised was that the world before 1914 was very different from the world after it. So I had to get into the mind of the Imperial State and that of the Irish Party to understand what was happening from 1899-1914. Much of the history written after 1914 was fatally flawed by containing the understandings coloured by the subsequent course of history. The forgotten world of expected global Imperial domination had given way to nationalisms, commonwealths and mandates. History began to be written to serve and justify the catastrophic behaviour of the British State in August 1914 because how could the victors live with themselves knowing what they had done – even to themselves – if it wasn’t?

So I put full passages in the book to give the reader a flavour of the thought processes of the lost world. I used them as an antidote to the typical academic device of twisting the meaning of a passage by revealing only the part of a sentence. Likewise in Resurgence. The reader needs to appreciate what West Belfast was like in 1969-70 before it Republicanised, another lost world.

It is interesting that in McNamara’s book The Churchills in Ireland 160-1965 Winston Churchill’s dealings with Ireland are completely skipped over before 1918. Why is this when Churchill is so prominent in the Home Rule campaign? Is it that Churchill’s activity is seen of no significance in relation to what happens between 1919 and 1925? What sort of judgement is that but one bereft of context?

Resurgence also contains sometimes lengthy files from the Irish State archives. These reveal, most importantly, that the story concocted around Taoiseach Lynch by our revisionist academics and Dublin media is a fraud. And the State itself proves it.

As for “the frequent, unhelpful and misguided digressions” these are to give historical context, something which the narrow and blinkered focus of Irish academia is keen to avoid, or perhaps incapable of providing, locked as it is, within the set horizons of Britain.

The “digressions” McNamara refers to are usually explorations around the historic characteristics of the English/British State and its activities elsewhere. I find these most instructive in understanding things – as I presume readers will. Granted, they are not usually found in standard “Troubles” literature, which has its own myopic vision and seeks to pin the blame internally in ‘Northern Ireland’ upon the “warring tribes.” But what is wrong with expanding our minds?

McNamara ridicules the following statement made in Resurgence:

“The policy of Dublin was nonsensical. If Dublin believed the cause of trouble in the North to be Partition and that trouble was incapable of being eradicated without an end to Partition and it was ruling out the use of force to achieve it, how was it to end the trouble in the North?” (p.84 of Resurgence).

He says: “It is possible to argue, depending on your perspective, that this was, on the one hand, wise or prudent, or on the other, wrong or cowardly. The policy was not, however, nonsensical. The writer, almost to the point of absurdity, makes sweeping and simplistic judgments about protagonists operating in an often terrifying and complex situation.”

McNamara misses the point, so it needs to be explained. The Irish State files reveal that the Lynch Government were concerned that the Northern Catholics saw their main problem in the general conditions of life they suffered in the Six Counties. This inclined them toward desiring a British reform of these conditions. The State files indicate that the Dublin Government identified all the ills in the North as being connected to Partition and they were concerned that the Northern Catholics did not see it that way. In other words, they were not Anti-Partitionist enough for the liking of Mr. Lynch’s Government.

My point was that if Lynch believed that the problem of the North was Partition and he ruled out the use of force to end it how was the predicament of the Northern Catholics to be dealt with? A consistent approach was the Republican one, employing force to encourage an end to the Border or, alternatively, a campaign for reform of the mode of government of the North to alleviate the conditions faced by the Catholic community. But Lynch’s position rejected both of these and amounted to “moderation” which is not a policy within itself. It was nonsensical and it began to be seen as such by the Irish News as 1970 progressed.

I can’t see that Lynch was “wise or prudent” or “wrong or cowardly” except in the way that his “moderation” was a substitute for policy and then academia has characterised this afterwards as an actual policy which saved the 26 Counties.

I make it clear in Resurgence that Lynch could have had a functional policy. This would have involved recognising the national substance of Protestant Ulster and giving it formal recognition. At the same time he should have maintained his provisions for the defence of the Northern Catholics and continued to guide them toward a resolution of their predicament. He should have applied pressure on Britain where it was vulnerable, on its insistence on the perverse and aggravating governmental arrangements it had made for the North. Instead he insisted that Partition was the problem when Britain could simply point to the million reasons why it was a problem Lynch could not overcome. So when Lynch had to abandon his position the only thing he could do was go into retreat – with the consequent destabilising effect this had within the Catholic community in the North. There was no Plan B, only a moderate form of Plan A.

Now, we get to the crux of the Cork academic’s discomfort with Resurgence:

“Jack Lynch is portrayed as virtually a British puppet. In contrast, ludicrously, Charles Haughey is described as “the only true statesman of Nationalist Ireland” (p.338 of Resurgence). Haughey clearly used public office to enrich himself and his cronies. In his defence of Haughey, Walsh gives credence to John Feehan’s laughable Operation Brogue book, which claimed that Charlie was the victim of British ‘dirty tricks’ in the early 1980s. The only problem with this is that when the real story of Haughey emerged in the late 1990s, the alleged stories planted by Britain barely scratched the surface of how corrupt and venal Haughey was.”

First of all, Lynch was not “a British puppet.”

After the Taoiseach made his “won’t stand (idly) by speech” which exacerbated the situation he adopted an activist policy with regard to the North, instructing his government and army to make preparations for incursions in the North. He began a process of taking the Northern Catholics in hand and moulding them into something “slightly constitutional”.

But he was rumbled by the British and lost his nerve. He ordered an about turn, signalled by the arrest of those pursuing his policy, and the Arms Trials. This drastic act hung out to dry not only those who were pursuing his policy but also negated Dublin’s influence in the North. It produced a vacuum behind the barricades in a situation which had already been made a vacuum by Westminster. The Northern Catholics were abandoned, as in 1922, and left to the mercy of ‘Northern Ireland’.

But this time the Northerners did something different, availing of the solidarity produced within themselves by the events of August 1969, and emerged in independent substance as never before. They reached within themselves to deal with their predicament. And the rest is history.

As for Mr. Haughey – he made no provocative speeches in 1969-70 and followed the Taoiseach’s orders before the Lynch volte face that scapegoated him. And that is what the Irish jury at the last Arms Trial found, when it acquitted him and his fellow defendants of the charges.

Haughey is a hate figure among many in the South and you can usually locate their orientation from their attitude to him. In 1984 Sean Feehan, the former Irish Army Captain and founder of Mercier Press, compared Haughey’s task as Taoiseach with that of Adenauer’s as post-War Chancellor of Germany:

“In one sense the task facing Haughey is almost as great as that which faced Konrad Adenauer when he began the labours of rebuilding Germany after the Second World War… The parallel with Ireland is clear. Haughey will be faced by… the ruins of hundreds of empty factories, and hundreds more of small businesses, destroyed by politicians who were really unable to run a country and by civil servants who pontificated nonsense from their armchairs. Haughey will be faced by a public debt higher per capita than that of Germany… Perhaps, worst of all, he will be faced by an active opposition party, spiritually aligned with the occupying power and more often than not ready to make obeisance to that power and do its bidding. Yet Adenauer built Germany into one of the greatest and most prosperous countries in Western Europe. Can Haughey do the same?” (Operation Brogue, p.112)

For Haughey, the issues of the Northern Insurrection, the Republic’s sovereignty, and the chronic economic underdevelopment of the South were all inter-related, parts of a whole, requiring national rejuvenation. And he set out to tackle all three. Who can say he failed?

Captain Feehan alleged that Britain despised Haughey and set out to get him with dirty tricks. Is that a preposterous suggestion, something completely at variance with the way Britain operates? No one in the North will think so.

Haughey has not been given credit for his instrumental role in the peace process, described in Resurgence for the first time (although I must credit Ed Moloney for seeing it also, albeit from the opposite point of view). Without him it would have got no where. In the beginning it was Gerry Adams/Fr. Reid/Charles Haughey and in May 1987 under Haughey’s tutelage it became a going concern with Fr. Reid’s momentous letter.

In his parting shot the sniper from the Ivory Tower says:

“Dr Walsh has contempt for most other Irish historians. Indeed, he implies that Britain has re-educated them since the 1970s (p.90). He will, therefore, be reassured to know that my historical training is from the Republic of Ireland and uncontaminated by these nefarious foreign influences.”

He shouldn’t be too sure of his immunity. Has he asked himself who wrote his history text books from school, who taught him at University in Cork, who wrote the books he read as part of his Irish History courses? Far from “historical training… from the Republic of Ireland” being “uncontaminated by these nefarious foreign influences” it has been the main object of them and the great success story of the project that Irish academia has internalised the British view that has set its horizons.

And Dr. Robert McNamara’s review of Resurgence reveals him as living proof of that.

Published in Irish Political Review October 2016





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