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 Governing in Hard Times

Governing in Hard Times

John Bruton
Freedom to Achieve Freedom: The Irish Free State 1922-1932, by Donal P Corcoran, Gill & Macmillan, 288 pp, €40, ISBN: 978-0717157754 One of the many strengths of this book, a political and administrative history of the Irish Free State from its inception in 1922 to 1932, is that its author, as an accountant, is able and interested enough to explore the day to day executive challenges that faced the young Irish ministers who took over the state from the British administration in April 1922. This is refreshing, because many historians and polemicists, dealing with this period, tend to focus on the high politics of constitutional status and sovereignty, to the neglect of the practical matters that affect people’s daily lives. Corcoran takes each area of government in turn ‑ military security, law and order, the civil service, finance, agriculture, fisheries, trade, education and health ‑ and enlivens what might otherwise be a dry account with biographies of the various ministers, and, equally importantly, of the varied group of senior civil servants who took charge of setting up a state in the midst of civil war and global economic recession. Many new states came into being throughout Europe at this time. In the aftermath of the First World War, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Irish Free State all emerged as separate states. All started out, like the Irish Free State, as democracies. But, by the 1930s, most of them except Czechoslovakia had become authoritarian states of one kind or another. By 1940, none of them had the luxury, which the Irish Free state enjoyed, of being able to decide for itself whether it wished to remain neutral or not. If the state had not remained a democracy, and had become instead, as some wished in 1922 and again in 1931, a nationalistic military dictatorship, it is doubtful if Britain and America would have respected its neutrality. That the Irish Free State would survive to become one of the oldest continuing democracies in Europe, was not inevitable. Three examples illustrate what could have gone wrong. The early versions of the Collins/de Valera pact of mid-1922, negotiated just before the Civil War finally broke out, would have excluded all but Sinn Féin candidates from standing in the election to the new Dáil. This Dáil was to draft the Free State constitution in accordance with the treaty. That version…

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