I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Captain Mighthavebeen

Captain Mighthavebeen

Andy Pollak
Terence O’Neill, by Marc Mulholland, UCD Press, 118 pp, €17, ISBN:978-1906359751 Fifty years is a long time in any country’s politics. In Ireland, which has seen three decades of communal violence in the North, the weakening of national sovereignty brought about by both British and Irish membership of the European Union and rapid modernisation culminating in the spectacular rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger economy, it is longer than in most. Thus a man who became prime minister of Northern Ireland in 1963 now seems almost impossibly old-fashioned. An Eton-educated aristocrat, an Irish Guards officer, a believer in the Victorian adage that if you treat Catholics kindly they will behave like Protestants, Captain Terence O’Neill was probably doomed to be the last of a type of Irish unionist leader rather than, as he himself saw it, a moderniser and a liberal. O’Neill’s tragedy was that he tried to be that moderniser in one of Europe’s most deeply fearful and conservative societies, and one that proved to be on the edge of an existential crisis. He himself was full of contradictions: a francophile internationalist in the narrowest of provincial societies; a believer in self-help on economic and moral grounds at a time when Northern Ireland was becoming increasingly dependent on the British exchequer; a champion of reconciliation who failed to support demands for Catholics to be able to join the Ulster Unionist Party; and a democrat who only championed “one man, one vote” in the North’s gerrymandered local electoral system right at the end of his career. At the very least, one has to say that he tried his best to bring change to Northern Ireland. He worked fifteen- to sixteen-hour days (unlike his part-time predecessors) to implement modern concepts of planning and development – only to misuse them in setting up the North’s “new city” in unionist Craigavon rather than west of the Bann where unemployment rates were far higher, and in siting its new university in Protestant Coleraine rather than Catholic Derry. Then there was his championing of intercommunal reconciliation in the mid- to late 1960s. Marc Mulholland quotes fellow historian Feargal Cochrane as arguing that these consisted merely of feelgood policies which ducked the sectarianism woven into the state. Mulholland himself is kinder to O’Neill. He lists his various initiatives: civic weeks which were aimed at facilitating reconciliation at a local level (although these were largely middle…

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