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26 November 1998 Edition

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New in print

Lenihan's island

Lenihan - His Life and Loyalties
By James Downey
Published by New Island Books
Price £9.99.

James Downey was a friend of Brian Lenihan and this short, chatty biography is almost wholly uncritical of its subject. Downey's basic thesis is that Lenihan was an intellectual who only revealed his erudition in private and resorted to populist bally-hoo in his public appearances.

We are given the picture of Lenihan as a man who privately despised the graft and mediocrity of 26-County politics but who ``loved the game'' and played along because of his loyalty to his party, Fianna Fáil. We are reminded umpteen times about his knowledge of European history and politics and and he is given excessive credit for long overdue reforms such as the ending of book censorship.

Lenihan's relationship with Haughey is of course central to this story. How did Haughey retain for so long the loyalty of a man who, whatever his faults, was his superior in intellect and personality? It seems that fear played a big part; I have heard from a witness that Lenihan literally jumped at Haughey's command on certain occasions. The strange chemistry of political relationships sometimes defies political explanation.

Downey does not consider the point that if, as he argues, Lenihan was a man of higher integrity and intelligence than those around him, then surely his indulgence in the cute hoor politics of Fianna Fáil was all the more culpable. This is seen in a pathetic incident from the 1973 general election when Lenihan ran in Roscommon. He was drunk throughout the campaign and close to polling day was in a little pub assuring everyone who asked a favour that it was ``no problem''.

As he was leaving he took the arm of a man who had asked for a job for his son. ``I'll see your daughter all right,'' said the confused Lenihan. He lost his seat.

His record on the North was also typical of Fianna Fáil. The odd dollop of nationalist rhetoric was substituted for consistent pursuit in government of the policy commitment to Irish unity.

While he did play a positive role in the peace process at the end of his life, the Fianna Fáil record in the 1980s was one of ineptitude and supineness while Thatcher wreaked havoc. The one positive stand against Thatcher that Haughey took in opposing the Malvinas war is denigrated by Downey who says Lenihan disapproved and would have resigned had he been Foreign Minister at the time.

Downey lays his own cards on the table when he says that ``it was clear to any objective student of the question that an ultimate settlement could not possibly feature a unitary Irish state''. (Bertie Ahern please note!) Tony Benn, one of the best friends of Ireland in the British Parliament, is derided for a diary entry in which he appears not to have grasped an ironic remark made by Lenihan. But Benn's main point is ignored; he and fellow Labour MP Chris Mullen were calling on Lenihan not to ratify the Extradition Act until the Birmingham Six were released. Fear of offending Britain, the ghost that haunts Iveagh House, was the reason Lenihan did not take what Downey unjustly describes as ``Benn's unhelpful and unwanted advice''.

The 1990 presidential election is covered in detail and is too involved to deal with in a short review. The squalid hypocisy of Haughey and the PDs is even more breathtaking in hindsight as is the irony that the shafting of Lenihan by Haughey led ultimately to the latter's downfall.

After a brave fight against illness Lenihan's life ended on a high note as he achieved public sympathy and respect. He was by all accounts a nice man. But the political balance sheet, as distinct from the personal, is a different matter. Downey omits Lenihan's most notorious statement. This was during the jobs famine of the 1980s when he was challenged on the growing level of emigration and said: ``We can't all live on a small island.'' I recall a banner which summed up the feelings of republicans about that statement. It said: ``We can all live on a small island - end emigration and extradition.''

Lenihan may well have undersold himself. He may well have deserved a better reputation. But the Irish people deserved better politics than the kind he represented.

By Mícheál MacDonncha

Remembering the real heroes

1916 Rebellion Handbook
With an introduction by Declan Kiberd
Published by Mourne River Press.

I received a review copy of the 1916 Rebellion Handbook a few weeks ago, but never got round to reading it until two weeks ago; probably spurred on, unconsciously by my desire to praise the memory of and remember the sacrifice of those Irish people who died while fighting for the freedom of their own nation.

I also felt the need to respond to the nauseating and sycophantic scenes I witnessed as the Irish media tumbled head over heel to remember those Irish people who died in what is euphemistically called the ``Great War''. It should have been and should be called the ``Great Con'' in memory of the millions who were sacrificed on the altar of European imperialism and in memory of the thousands of Irish people slaughtered on foreign fields in the pay of a British empire that has spent 800 years murdering Irish people.

The contradiction amazes me that those who believe we should sanctify this British war `for the freedom of small nations' deride Republicans who commemorate those who have fought and died for their own country. Where and when is the Easter Rising remembered? And as for commemorating Wolfe Tone the Taoiseach of the day whizzes off to Bodenstown in the middle of autumn and only gets a mention on the RTE news on the basis of what he is going to say about the North. And to think that all those who would have us wear poppies in memory of those poor fools who swallowed the lie and died in Flanders see the symbols of republicanism as anathema.

They conveniently forget that the wee bit of democracy they have in the 26 Counties was won through the barrel of republican guns.

My great uncles and grandfather fought for the British in that war to end all wars, my uncles died and as far as I am concerned they died for nothing. So as I watched Mary McAleese standing at Ypres with Elizabeth Windsor and listened to all and sundry telling me that history was being made I wondered in whose image this history was being forged and who was being reconciled to what in front of their round tower. I found it repulsive that this tower, built from the stones of a workhouse in which hundreds of famine victims probably breathed their last, is meant to be a symbol of friendship.

If, as we are told, friendship is built on reconciliation will Mrs Windsor, if she visits Dublin next year acknowledge the snuffed out lives of the millions of Irish people killed during the famine or by her and her predecessors armies?

Will she be asked to reconcile the crimes of the English against the Irish and lay a wreath in Glasnevin or Arbour Hill?

I think not.


The 1916 Rebellion Handbook is a book which was first published in 1916 by the Irish Times and was meant to record the events of the time, which it does in great detail and to good effect. That the names of all the combatants killed are mentioned is a poignant reminder that the Rising, leading as it did to the Tan War then the civil war and partition, was about violence and death. It was this violence and death that is the cornerstone of limited freedom enjoyed by two thirds of our people and should act as a brake on those who would decry one violent act yet justify another; not least Tony Blair who condemns the `men of violence' in Ireland yet can't wait, it seems, to bomb more Iraqis into oblivion.

I would recommend this book as a memorial to those who fought in the Rising and to those who died. As an Irish republican I have no qualms about remembering those who died for Ireland and putting them before all others as they died asserting the moral authority of Irish freedom in face of foreign occupation. I would apply the same standard to any occupied nation; the occupier is always wrong.

By Peadar Whelan

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1