Sunday, August 22, 2010

Michael Collins versus Brian Lenihan

The legacy of Michael Collins is much argued over in sth Ireland. He became a totem pole and a lighning rod for political parties who used him to champion their positions while ignoring the great many divergences between his vision for Ireland (all of it) and the Ireland Fine Gael and Fianna Fail constructed.

Today is of course the anniversary that Michael Collins was killed in action at Béal na mBláth.  Brian Lenihan, the fiscal taskmasters right hand man, today gave a speech at that location.

As you can imagine there was much nonsense in the media about how this was the polar opposite of what Michael Collins stood for.
Well lets look at a speech from Michael Collins written the month he died.

We will see that the state that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail built was the polar opposite of what Michael Collins could have imagined. Brian Lenihan opined that if Collins had not died then maybe he would have formed a new party pre-empting FF. This is not as fanciful as it may seem. The vision Collins had for the country as laid out below was very different from the attitudes of the CnaG govt. which thought people starving in Ireland due to unemployment was a tolerable economic situation.

In a paper called the "Building up Ireland - Resources to be developed" Collins laid out a plan for Ireland that would have brought him into definite conflict with the men who would eventually set up Cumann na nGaedhael. Equally the socio-economic vision he had for the whole country is hugely at odds with the utopian hippy fantasy of deValera or the gombeenism of the Haughey-Ahern-Cowen years.

The uses of wealth are to provide good health, comfort, moderate luxury, and to give the freedom which comes from the possession of these things. Our object in building up the country economically must not be lost sight of. That object is not to be able to boast of enormous wealth or of a great volume of trade, for their own sake. It is not to see our countrycovered with smoking chimneys and factories. It is not to show a great national balance-sheet, nor to point to a people producing wealth with the self-obliteration of a hive of bees.
Brian Lenihan believes the uses of wealth is for bailing out banks and buddies.

If our national economy is put on a sound footing from the beginning it will, in the new Ireland, be possible for our people to provide themselves with the ordinary requirements of decent living. It will be possible for each to have sufficient food, a good home in which to live in fair comfort and contentment. We shall be able to give our children bodily and mental health; and our people will be able to secure themselves against the inevitable times of sickness and old age. That must be our object.
In today's Ireland we cannot assure contentment in any home. Negative equity and unemployment has seen to that. We cannot guarantee the health of children who die in the care of our health boards while our old fear Irish hospitals because it can kill rather than cure them.

What we must aim at is the building up of a sound economic life in which great discrepancies cannot occur. We must not have the destitution of poverty at one end, and at the other an excess of riches in the possession of a few individuals, beyond what they can spend with satisfaction and justification. Millionaires can spend their surplus wealth bestowing libraries broadcast upon the world. But who will say that the benefits accruing could compare with those arising from a condition of things in which the people themselves everywhere, in the city, town, and village, were prosperous enough to buy their own books and to put together their own local libraries in which they could take a personal interest and acquire knowledge in proportion to that interest?
 After the Cumann na nGaedhael there were actually more people in tenant housing. Both parties failed to provide the infrastructure of a modern state across the south. Today Fianna Fail is still failing but if it were Fine Gael their paucity of vision would mean it would be no different. Michael McDowell a man who worked with Fianna Fail and wants to rejoin Fine Gael believed that such inequality was the bedrock of prosperity.

The keynote to the economic revival must be development of Irish resources by Irish capital for the benefit of the Irish consumer in such a way that the people have steady work at just remuneration and their own share of control.Investors must be urged and encouraged to invest Irish capital in Irish concerns[...]We shall hope to see in Ireland industrial conciliation and arbitration taking the place of strikes, and the workers sharing in the ownership and management of businesses.
 On that charge alone both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have failed spectacularly. Now we develop Irish resources fot the benefit of soverign debt funds. Workers having a share in the ownership of businesses - instead we have a state where workers subsidise developers and the banks own businesses from golf courses to hotels to even selling tractors.

Taxation, where it hinders, must be adjusted, and must be imposed where the burden will fall lightest and can best be borne, and where it will encourage rather than discourage industry.
So much for Lenihan's last budget then.
We have now in Ireland, owing to the restrictions put upon emigration during the European war, a larger population of young men and women than we have had for a great many years. For their own sake and to maintain the strength of the nation room must and can be found for them.
Well room cant be made for them. This island is too small for all of us. Brian Lenihan today is pushing deflationary policies that are forcing people to emigrate.

The development of mines and minerals will be on national lines, and under national direction. This will prevent the monopoly by private individuals of what are purely national resources belonging to all the people of the nation. The profits from all these national enterprises – the working of mines, development of water-power, etc. – will belong to the nation for the advantage of the whole nation. But Irish men and women as private individuals must do their share to increase the prosperity of the country. Business cannot succeed without capital. Millions of Irish money are lying idle in banks. The deposits in Irish joint stock banks increased in the aggregate by £7,318,000 during the half-year ended December 31, 1921. At that date the total of deposits and cash balances in the Irish banks was £194,391,000, to which in addition there was a sum of almost £14,000,000 in the Post Office Savings Bank. If Irish money were invested in Irish industries, to assist existing ones, and to finance new enterprises, there would be an enormous development of Irish commerce. The Irish people have a large amount of capital invested abroad. With scope for our energies, with restoration of confidence, the inevitable tendency will be towards return of this capital to Ireland. It will then flow in its proper channel. It will be used for opening up new and promising fields in this country.
A telling passage. Under Fianna Fail billions of borrowed euros were invested to build houses in Bulgaria, London etc etc.  Cumann na nGaedhael set up an Agricultural Credit Corporation but never managed to set up an Industrial Credit Corporation [eventually becoming Bank of Scotland(Ireland) which last week pulled up sticks from the south].  One of the strange things about Ireland in the 30s-50s was the almost fatalistic belief that Ireland was destined to be always an agricultural country and that any attempt to industrialise was to try to reach above our station. Brian Lenihan's Fianna Fail thought that construction was the new farming. At least Collins had the vision to think otherwise. In that he again is the polar opposite of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Finally Collins ndid not forgot one key point.

He believed that "A prosperous Ireland will mean a united Ireland. With equitable taxation and flourishing trade our North-East countrymen will need no persuasion to come in and share in the healthy economic life of the country."
How very un-Fine Gael of him.

Which begs the question how do Republicans see Collins today? Republican Ireland has never forgotten its patriot dead. It has always remembered the names of Mellows, Sands, Pearse, Farrell, Connolly, Hughes, Tone, Burns, Lynch and Moley and all the many others with pride.

How does Collins fit into Irish history today for Republicans?  Certainly he is not in the same vein as o'Higgins or DeValera. Is he friend, foe or like people note on facebook is the relationship complex?


  1. Collins was responsible for partition, and was prone to some authoritarian tendencies. I have no idea why we would want to lay claim to his legacy, Fine Gael/ff are welcome to him.

  2. i agree anon the real divide is between rich and poor and not between collins and devalera

  3. Isn't it sad to see the way the media have been fawning over linehan. Sam Smyth wrote a real over the top piece setting him up as the new messiah. Many other elements of the media hopped on board.

    Seems similar to how the media praised Cowen to high heaven in the first few weeks.
    Cowen was a dud and sure as night follows day Lenihan is a dud.

    Aengus o'snodaigh wrote today how FG and FF should really just join up because there aint nothing separating them now. And there isnt. What now separates them?

  4. was his vision that much different than dev's. i don't see it. part of dev's problem was that the wealthy weren't investing in ireland in his time. not that he didn't want it. the treaty did nothing to alter the conwellian settlement, the same leaches where still in place, are in place, in the news today that in sligo some absentee landlord has turned up looking for ground rent.
    that quote about natural resorce's should be used by the td's in the whole shell2sea debate though.

    republicans view on dev. a dublin comrade put it to me like this before. 'some people believe he did what had to be done at the time while others view him as a traitor bastard who got exactly what he deserved' truths probably in the middle.

    excellent vol. bad negotiator, maybe.

  5. The biggest tragedy was the execution of James Connolly in 1916 as the socialist content of the freedom movement was largely removed with his passing. Griffith and De Valera were left in control of Sinn Féin and neither of them was interested in anything more than a change of Government from a foreign to a native one. As Republican Socialist Peadar O Donnell said later that the seeds of the Free State were set long before the term was heard for the first time. Collins was no politician being essentially a conspirator (IRB background) and a brilliant and ruthless Director of Intelligence. However when it came to the crunch he signed the treaty under threat of 'immediate and terrible war'..he then fell between 2 stools playing a double game .. arming the northern divisions of the IRA and at the same time implementing British rule finally using British guns and troops to attack Republicans in the four courts and start the civil war, when Collins is commemorated by FG and now by FF he is remembered almost exclusively as the founder of the 26 county state by signing the treaty and pushing it through the Dáil..his role in 1916 and the Tan War is almost ignored.. I couldn't celebrate the founding of the Free State as it introduced the 'carnival of reaction' both north and south as predicted by Connolly. As to modern Republicans I think he is admired for his efforts up to 1921 but with mixed views for his IRB counter revolutionary role later on. My own view is that he sold out when he attacked the IRA using British guns and an army made up mostly of ex-British troops, officered by ex IRA men.

  6. No doubt it is complex and while I regret that he died in the Civil war, I am aware that he was wrong to attack the Four Courts, it was a mistake that cost him his life and also the lives of many on the Republican side. The Civil War was a disaster for all sides, but especially Republicans. There were mistakes made on all sides but it was Republicanism that was left on the mantle piece. It is easy to look back now and say who was right and who was wrong, but in all honesty both halves screwed up. When Sinn Féin split in 1926, in the 26. It was the minority that left, should the movement have stayed together and gone as one, and at least had the chance to control the free state. Would it be different to what is being done now post GFA. Interesting question - how different would things now be. Would the revolution in 1969 have been kicked off with a differing Party Political badge. Supposition is easy, often interesting but always futile

    It is very sad, that the Civil War can still bring such anger to the surface in Irish politics, across all sides. It reflects poorly on us as a nation.

  7. My God the comments are typical of us Irish ungratefull shites we have become , its not enought that a man gives his life for us oh no when he is not here too defend himself the aul nature of us is apparant whinging and doing nothing . We are great people too sit on bar stools and dream ideas and complain , look what we have done as a nation under a regime today almost as ruthless in its own sinister way as the British were NOTHING . And when the elderly are freezing and the sick are allowed too die becuase perhaps they could not afford VHI like the next door neighbour there will be a deal of it and then forgotten . We deserve what we got ye voted for the bastards and your stuck with them so either shut up like sheep or do something about it instead of psuedo intellectual crap about a dead man who had no choice and theres the macheivellian Dev the prerunner of the Charlies Berties imbecilic Cowens Harneys all the gang , i guarantee you when they do go who ever is in power will uncover a lot more inconvenient truths for ye all too bewail your lot over , how dare you i am steadily becoming more and more ashamed of being Irish , God bless you Mr Collins the birth of our nation died with you .

  8. Sign the treaty with one hand and score it out with the other. This was Michael Collins and can clearly be seen in all his words and actions.
    Shamefully Fine Gael disavow him. And
    Fianna Fail see no need for him, already having DeValera. Though that is not a bad thing for us in itself. Sinn Fein bring to the people a symbol: the Lost Leader, and stand for the Republic as Collins truly saw it.