Essays in honour of Brian Farrell

Roy Johnston reviews Dissecting Irish Politics: Essays in Honour of Brian Farrell,Tom Garvin, Maurice Manning, Richard Sinnott (eds), UCD Press, ISBN 1-904559-12-7, 272pp, 40 euro, £30, hbk

THIS BOOK starts with an assessment of Brian Farrell as a political scientist, teacher and broadcaster by Maurice Manning, who identifies his 1971 Chairman or Chief book analysing the role of the taoiseach as his most important work.

Tom Garvin analyses the roots of Irish politics in the Civil War. Garrett Fitzgerald gives a critical assessment of Chairman or Chief. Michael Mills assesses hos role as the first Ombudsman.

Eleven other authors have contributions on the Boundary Commission, De Valera and democracy, civil-military relations, taxation, European governance, the prehistory of the Irish party system, referendum funding, electioneering practice, parliamentary lobbies, the print media and broadcasting.

This is a useful source-book for political activists, with competent indexing.

We are reminded in the Manning's introduction of Farrell's status as the Richard Dimbleby of Irish TV, and interviewer who was '..terrier-like, especially when faced with prevarication, evasion or spin.'. His academic work included a biography of Lemass and The Creation of the Dail, the latter being based on a series of Thomas Davis lectures.

Tom Garvin (politics, UCD) in his background to the Civil War goes into the historical roots of the Irish political elite in the Fenians and the IRB. He reminds us that the Ulster loyalists, who introduced the gun to Irish politcs early in the last century, were aided in 1914 by the imperial German government. He suggests that Collins' support for the Treaty was influence by his understanding of, and linking for, the English leadership with whom he was negotiating, anexperience which de Valera did not share.

He notes aspects of the Civil War, such as the intransigence of the women, the family divisions, the destruction of the prior solidarity, the consequential descent into parish- pump politics married to the post-British state apparatus, and the inability of the successor generation to have any insight into the north when it erupted.

Ronan Keane, currently 26-county chief justice, gives some insight into how Tim Healy as governor-general was influential in getting the Free State to accept the status quo after the collapse of the Boundary Commission. He mentions marginally some interesting nuggets, like a plot detected by Countess Markievicz to marry off Collins to the King's daughter Pricess Mary, and install him as Viceroy. He evaluates this as a 'flight of fancy', presumably in a scene dominated by rumour.

Peter Mair (comparative politics, Leiden, Netherlands) does an interesting 'posthumous rehabilitation' job on de Valera, of which Desmond Greaves would perhaps have approved: a uniquely long career by European statesman standards, extending from the Great War to the Vietnam War, including the 1932 peaceful transition of government, his positive role in the League of Nations, and his 1937 Constitution which could easily have become a licence for dictatorship.

We are reminded of the slim chance of emergent States between the wars surviving as democracies, in a traumatised Europe. Mair enumerates the positive features of the 1937 consitution, which far outweigh its Catholic majoritarian flavour, particularly the role of the President and the Supreme Court. We need more comparative European studies, and indeed comparative post-colonial studies, as an antidote to Irish insularity.

Theo Farrell (Essex, international relations), analysing the culture of the Irish army, comes up with a model which is internally inconsistent, with traditional military and guerrilla traditions in conflict, a situation which he describes as suicidal.

Garrett Fitzgerald (currently chancellor of NUI) emerges as chairman rather than chief; the latter role is more that of Haughey. He has positive things to say about ministerial advisors from outside the civil service, and is critical of the patronage process, especially as regards membership of state boards.

Niamh Hardiman (UCD, politics) has critical things to say about how taxation adapts to changing economic environments, homing in on the 'interia' problem and on the evasion schemes which thrived under the Haughey regime.

Michael Mills (first Ombudsman; previously Irish Press) successfully defended his office against savage staff cuts in 1987, and went on to set up a viable and significant service with regional contact-points, which the civil service has had to respect, initial resistance having been overcome.

Brigid Laffan (UCD, European politics) gives some insight into the complexities of European politics: '...nested games within each member-state and connected games in Brussels..'. All member-states need 'Brusssels insiders'. The growing importance of the European parliament remains unperceived within the Irish system. She expands at length into the Nice referendum re-run and the reversal of the outcome, and its significance.

John Coakley (politics, UCD) goes back to the 19th century for the roots of Irish party political culture, seen as pioneering in European terms.

He goes in detail into the religious dimension. The Catholic-Liberal link was stronger than the Protestant-Tory one; in the undergrowth of the Protestant community lurked the embryonic Protestant support for Home Rule which my father Joe Johnston attempted to mobilise with his 1913 Civil War in Ulster, which was produced in time for the Ballymoney Liberal Protestant Home Rule rally in November.

The introduction of the gun by the Tories at Larne in April 1914 strangled this process, reinforced the sectarian divisions, and prevented the emergence of Labour and socialism as a mainstream political force, as it had done on the contiinent. The divergence of Ireland from the European norm is of course related to the colonial to post-colonial transition process, and Coakley manages to avoid this issue.

Richard Sinnott (UCD, politics) explores the implications of the McKenna Judgment regarding funding of referendum campaigns, expanding on the anomalies presented when there is virtual unanimity on the need for change at Dáil level, and an organisational vacuum as regards 'no' funding. He promotes an equitable system involving Dáil proportionality.

David M Farrell (Manchester, European politics; editor of Party Politics) gives a historical survey of the evolution of party practice, as between constituency and national levels, uptake of market research results, activism on the doorstep etc.

Stephen Collins (political editor, Sunday Tribune) credits John Healy in the Irish Times and 7 Days in RTE with transforming the role of the media in politics, and goes on to credit Frank Dunlop in 1982 with telling the assembled correspondents that he could no longer guarantee the truth of the information he gave them. The concept of the 'prebuttal' emerges (getting your retaliation in first). He notes the decline in significance of Dáil coverage and the rise of 'spin'.

Jean Blondel (Essex, government) attempts an analysis of the relationship between raw 'facts' and the implications of their background, their relative importance, the need for interpretation. This is a philosophical, abstracted contribution, at the European level.

Finally Peter Feeney (RTE public affairs) gives a historical overview of broadcasting, the political interference problem, and the impact of the Northern Ireland crisis, especially the role of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. He goes into the rise of local radio stations and their political impact, which was significant; they were used by politicians though initially they were illegal.

Overall we have what amounts to an interesting an important festschrift, in honour of a significan contributor to Irish public affairs.

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