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Studies winter issue: Ireland 1918-2018

The winter 2018 issue of Studies », the Jesuit quarterly review, showcases essays on the two main centenaries of the year, namely the armistice which marked the end of World War I and the inauguration of Dáil Éireann after the December 1918 general election.

Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy assesses the role and the responsibility of John Redmond in sending Irish men to fight in the Great War – more than 200,000 by the end, 35,000 of whom never returned. Redmond was, of course, not responsible for the war, McGreevy judges, “but he shares the responsibility of all the political classes in Europe at the time, who failed in their duty to ensure their peoples lived in peace.”

It is true that Redmond was himself a victim of the war. His brother Willie fought and died in it, and the whole political movement which he imagined the Irish presence would serve fell apart on account of it. From 1917 on, a resurgent Sinn Féin, who opposed the war, began to beat Redmond’s parliamentary party at the polls, and this dramatic shift in popular sentiment culminated in the practical annihilation of the parliamentarians in the December 1918 general election. John Redmond had died the previous March, broken-hearted both literally and figuratively.

For his part, McGreevy concurs with the judgement of Eamon de Valera on the fiftieth anniversary of Redmond’s death: “I am happy to play my part in doing honour to a great Wexford man to whom we are quite ready to give credit for having worked unselfishly according to his views for the welfare of his country.”

The centenary of the first Dáil is marked with an essay by Anthony White, author of the recently-published Irish Parliamentarians: Deputies and Senators 1918-2018, a directory of the 1,780 men and women who have been deputies (TDs) or senators in the parliament of the Irish state since the first meeting of Dáil Éireann in January 1919. White’s essay summarises the main statistical findings of his book. Attention is paid particularly to “dynastic element within Irish electoral politics”, the presence of women in the two houses, the educational levels and occupations of TDs, and the evolution of the party system. On this last issue, White notes the role played by proportional representation.

“Whether Ireland will again see the level of hegemony of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is uncertain,” he remarks, “but it is also the case that the PR system and the ability of the two parties to exploit it makes it difficult for any party to dislodge them.”

For a fuller account of White’s book, see his interview with Pat Coyle here.

Other essays in this issue of Studies include the incisive reflections on the meaning of Brexit of Fiona de Londras, an Irish law professor living in Britain. Particularly worthy of note is her querying of the accepted supposition that Brexit was a kick against the economic effects of globalisation and the growing power of economic and social elites. She points to a darker reading of the affair. Like the success of Trump, she suggests, citing cultural historian Derek Sayer, Brexit is against globalisation for cultural, not economic, reasons.

According to Sayer, Brexit and Trump supporters “know what they are doing and know what they want. They are fighting for a way of life and a vision of their country. It is a vision in which, however deprived and demeaned they may otherwise be, they retain the privilege and entitlement that comes with being (indigenously) white.”

For de Londras, this conclusion, shared by others who have done the necessary statistical and demographic analysis, denotes a rejection of the whole European project and so should concern all those who remain within the union. It should be seen as “an opportunity, if not an imperative, to re-make the argument for a Europe of rights and to ensure that the European Union operates as such. It can and should inspire us to make once again, and again, the moral argument for European solidarity, and for a post-nationalist solidarity of love and care across our continent.”

In the light of the many forms of intense suffering experienced inside the EU, de Londras adds argues for remaking the argument for a Europe of rights by articulating clearly “the moral case for rights, even when their protection may require us to give up some sovereignty or when a rights violation in question seems far from our own experiences”.