Lenihan - His Life and Loyalties
By James Downey
Published by New Island Books
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
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
By Peadar Whelan