Ireland's Partition Was Sealed in 1913

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 23, 2013 | Go to article overview

Ireland's Partition Was Sealed in 1913


Byline: JOHN LEE HISTORY

Fatal Path, British Government And Irish Revolution 1910-1922 Ronan Fanning Faber and Faber [euro]17.99 ????? As MPs enter the chamber of the House of Commons there are two bronze statues of former British Prime Ministers either side of the door. One is of Winston Churchill, and one of David Lloyd George. On a tour I was struck that Lloyd George's toe is rubbed shiny. The tour guide told me that it is because MPs, as they enter, rub Lloyd George's statue, and not Churchill's, for good luck. The ex-leader of the old Liberal Party is the politician's politician. Through horse trading, charm, ruthlessness and utter deviousness he became the master of British politics from about 1905 to 1922.

And as Ronan Fanning, reminds us in his history of this period, Fatal Path, British Government and Irish Revolution, 1910-1922, Lloyd George was the father of modern Ireland. Almost all the momentous decisions that allowed us to emerge from the Empire were made by the wily old Welsh Wizard.

The beauty of Fanning's latest book is that it allows Irish readers to look at the formative years of our State from the British parliamentary political vantage point rather than our own, narrow, and sometimes slightly naive, view.

What Fatal Path reveals is that whether we wanted Ulster in our out, whether Eamon De Valera sent Michael Collins to London to negotiate the Treaty, or whether Irishmen killed Irishmen in a fight over Free State or the Republic, it was all irrelevant. We would get what we were given by the British. British politics, the war on the continent and most importantly - whatever it took to keep Lloyd George in power - would dictate what happened in Ireland. That Ireland would be partitioned was set in stone from 1913.

As an Irishman, it is rather disturbing to read that the men making the decisions for our forefathers viewed the Irish very much as their contemporary racists in southern United States viewed black people. Or as the Nazis, a few decades later, viewed just about everybody who wasn't Teutonic.

The 19th Century Conservative PM, Lord Salisbury, did not, Fatal Path tells us, want to grant 'self government' to the Irish because it '...works admirably well when it [self government] is confined to people who are of Teutonic race, but it does not work so well when people of other races are called upon to join in it'. As Fanning says, the Irish campaign for some form of self determination was a godsend to the Conservatives. The Tories would play the 'Orange Card', back the Protestant Irish in their oppo-sition to Home Rule and drive Britain the closest it had come to civil war since the days of Oliver Cromwell. Winston Churchill's father Randolph Churchill, a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in 1886: 'The Protestants of Ireland are at one with England, with 'the English people... in race and religion'. After Randolph went insane, and died young (from syphilis), his son Winston took up the Churchill banner in the Commons. He promptly defected to the then party of power, the Liberals, and continued to back the Orange men just as his charming father had. …

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