Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-Century Europe

By Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Nationalism and the economic question in
twentieth-century Ireland
Alan O'Day

We believe that Ireland can be made a self-contained unit, providing all the necessities of living in adequate quantities for the people residing in the island at the moment and probably for a much larger number.

(Séan Lemass, 1932) 1


INTRODUCTION

It is commonly suggested that the white-hot flame of Irish nationalism has abated gradually since the earlier part of the twentieth century. If so, this at least fits part of E. J. Hobsbawm's controversial declaration that nationalism at the close of the twentieth century is on the verge of redundancy. 2 Certainly it is true that nationalism in Ireland, especially in economic policy, has different contours now from a generation ago. Nationalism in Ireland has four significant ingredients: it is shaped by the archipelago's history, including its political and social structure as well as economic factors during the great age of capitalist development; it is contingent upon Britain's position in the pre-1914 era as the centre of international trade and finance and its continuing role in exercising these functions since then; it is formed by Britain's situation as a world empire at least up to the 1960s; and finally England, more specifically London, remains the hub of a multinational internal economy to which Ireland belonged even after 1921 and arguably down to the present day.

The experience of the area now incorporated as the Republic of Ireland — which is less than the island of Ireland, it is maintained — falls within the contending frameworks of current theories of nationalism. Because Northern Ireland, the area comprising the north and eastern part of the island, remained part of the United Kingdom, it did not have the option of running an economic policy distinct from that of the British government at Westminster. It is therefore given less attention in the present analysis. Ireland has gone through four stages: a modified

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