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Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 31November 1993

Class Struggle and National Liberation

Counter-revolution in Ireland


by Erna Bennett

VI – Consolidating the Compromise

The king of England, speaking at the opening session of the new northeastern parliament at Belfast, provided an occasion for setting the future scene. He called for conciliation, and with fine – if unintended – irony pleaded for an end to divisions in Ireland. The English prime minister invited de Valera to take part in peace talks. De Valera, non-revolutionary president of the revolutionary Dail, “numb, rather than hostile, to the working class struggle”,50 consulted first with a group of southern businessmen in the company of Arthur Griffith. Craig, head of the new northeastern government, was invited but declined to attend.

From these representatives for the capitalist and landlord classes, members of the former Establishment, de Valera and Griffith sought, as they put it to this same group, “to learn at first hand the views of a certain section of our people whom you are representative”.51

No apparent divergence of views was ever reported, and all agreed on the desirability of Anglo-Irish negotiations. But hostilities, it was stressed, should first cease and conditions of normality be restored. And so, shortly afterwards, orders were given to suspend military operations, and the Truce put an end to the “Tan War”.

The Treaty negotiations that followed, tense as they were, torn by the clash of incompatible intrigues, are not a part of our story; they have been reported and analyzed in a number of studies. All we need to note here is that Griffith, at their conclusion, when his signature was still moist on the Treaty documents, went out of his way to consult with these same southern businessmen once more, even before meeting either the Dail cabinet or elected representatives of the Irish people in the Dail itself.

He assured the businessmen that their interests would be safeguarded in the new state which his signature had just brought to birth, to be known so incongruously as the Irish Free State. His assurances, however, did nothing to stem the outward flow of capital from the 26 counties through the banks, which tripled in the years of the revolution 1914-1921 from £40 million to £125 million, much of this money the fruit of war profiteering.

And so, in a historical pattern that was becoming monotonous, the Irish revolution was brought to an end by its own leaders. Griffith was both a monarchist and dedicated enemy of the workings class, de Valera a romantic nationalist who was not anti- imperialist.52 They were to oppose each other in the bitter civil war whose seeds were about to be sown in the divisions created by the Treaty. But they shared a common, concern that the interests of the bourgeoisie and other classes hostile to the independence, struggle – or for that matter to any form of social change – should be safeguarded in the new state.

Supported by the clamour of the press and pulpit, the conservatives now moved in to seize and then consolidate power. "The British Army would supply them with field guns, armoured cars, rifles and ammunition” against those whom they regarded as extremists standing in their way, O’Malley later wrote.

They recruited British ex-soldiers of disbanded British regiments. “Men who had been careful to conceal their opinions during the Tan fight, or who had been hostile to us, would help them actively,” O’Malley observed. There was be no shortage of money – “the middle class was in power and could use its imperial connections. It could borrow money, make jobs for its men, rely on friendly imperialists. The Irish Catholic clergy would support them; a powerful, open and hidden influence”.53

Well, indeed, had republican units reason to be apprehensive when news of the truce reached them on July 9 and 10, 1921.

Next Section: VII – Why did Revolution fail?
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  1. O’Donnell, P. (1963) There will be Another Day. Dublin. Dolmen Press. p.14.
  2. Macardle. loc.cit. p.489.
  3. Patel, quoted by Gilmore, loc.cit. p.30.
  4. O’Malley, in The Singing Flame, p.l41.

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