Scots should recall the poverty of the Irish Free State

“A nationalist state has carved itself out of the UK before. It was a disaster” writes Kevin Toolis in the FT: article here.

64 replies on “Scots should recall the poverty of the Irish Free State”

i read this drivel this morning on route to work and felt embarassed for the FT having printed it to be honest….patronising rubbish

The Irish Free state was in a lot of ways a resounding success. Built strong, durable institutions, didnt dissolve into a protracted (compared to other countries) civil war, managed to remain a democracy during the rise of facism/communism in the 30s.
I dont know what the reasons for its economic failures are, but Id imagine the vast majority of it is international (a small open economy needs an integrated open global economy?) Anyway, does anyone want to (non polemically) explain it to me ? (ie lets not go down the whole ‘woe is us, we just dont have the national characteristics neccessary’ nonsense narrative..)


Irish economic underperformance during the post war era is conspicuous compared to the growth that contintental Europe saw during the same period. Most of that underperformance is explained by idiosyncratic factors. If you’re interested there is a very good book by Prof. Tom Garvin (formerly of UCD) called ‘Preventing the Future’ – why did Ireland stay so poor for long?. The main thrust of the book is that it was Irish institutions that caused most / much of Irish economic underperformance. He gives a good example of the Church insisting on teaching Latin rather than modern languages and having an aversion to vocational education etc. Well worth a read if you get the time.

That said the analogy between Ireland and present day Scotland is unconvincing. You’re comparing apples and oranges…

I doubt the Scots will feel obliged to copy Ireland by throttling their involvement in international trade after independence.

Despite apparently being an artist, the author of this piece is no Gavin Kostick.

British Rule 1841-1911 – Population 6.53 million to 3.14 million, -52%
Irish Free State 1826-2011 – Population 3.0million to 4.6 million, +54%

make your own mind

Of course the comparison is absurd. Comparing Ireland in circa 1920 to Scotland now is for all practical purposes meaningless.

The main question the artcile raises for me is what is in the history books the other side of the Irish sea? This line is a bit much: ‘….own twin British-Irish identity, constructed out of 400 years of colonisation and cultural exchange…’

Of course nationalism did brush over certain aspects of Irish-British identity. However I think most peasants denied land/voting/cultural/religious rights or the descendants of the millions that died in ditches or immigrated due to English policies would probably argue that ‘cultural exchange’ is stretching things a bit when it comes to Englands role in Ireland.

Perhaps he meant to say ‘ cultural imposition’. Either way, just like the Scotish issue England can only blame itself….

Interesting Speech by Karl Marx on the ‘Irish issue’ by for anyone interested. It’s given to the German Workers’ Educational Society In London
On December 16, 1867

On December 16, Karl Marx delivered a lecture to the London German Workers’ Educational Society on the conditions in Ireland, in which he showed that all attempts of the English government to Anglicise the Irish population in past centuries had ended in failure. The English, including aristocrats, who immigrated before the Reformation [386] were transformed into Irishmen by their Irish wives, and their descendants fought against England. The brutalities of the war against the Irish under Queen Elizabeth, the destruction of crops and the displacement of the population from one area to another to make room for English colonists did not change anything in this respect. At that time, gentleman and merchant adventurer received large plots of land on condition that they would be colonised by English people. In Cromwell’s time, the descendants of these colonists fought with the Irish against the English. Cromwell sold many of them as slaves in the West Indies. Under the Restoration[387], Ireland received many favours. Under William III, a class came to power which only wanted to make money, and Irish industry was suppressed in order to force the Irish to sell their raw materials to England at any price. With the help of the Protestant Penal Laws[388], the new aristocrats received freedom of action under Queen Anne. The Irish Parliament [389] was an instrument of oppression. Catholics were not allowed to hold public office, could not be landowners, were not allowed to make wills, could not claim an inheritance; to be a Catholic bishop was high treason. All these were means for robbing the Irish of their land; yet more than half of the English descendants in Ulster have remained Catholic. The people were driven into the arms of the Catholic clergy, who thus became powerful. All that the English government succeeded in doing was to plant an aristocracy in Ireland. The towns built by the English have become Irish. That is why there are so many English names among the Fenians.

During the American War of Independence the reins were loosened a little. Further concessions had to be granted during the French Revolution. Ireland rose so quickly that her people threatened to outstrip the English. The English government drove them to rebellion and achieved the Union [390] by bribery. The Union delivered the death blow to reviving Irish industry. On one occasion Meagher said: all Irish branches of industry have been destroyed, all we have been left is the making of coffins. It became a vital necessity to have land; the big landowners leased their lands to speculators; land passed through four or five lease stages before it reached the peasant, and this made prices disproportionately high. The agrarian population lived on potatoes and water; wheat and meat were sent to England; the rent was eaten up in London, Paris and Florence. In 1836, £7,000,000 was sent abroad to absent landowners. Fertilisers were exported with the produce and rent, and the soil was exhausted. Famine often set in here and there, and owing to the potato blight there was a general famine in 1846. A million people starved to death. The potato blight resulted from the exhaustion of the soil, it was a product of English rule.

Through the repeal of the Corn Laws Ireland lost her monopoly position on the English market, the old rent could no longer be paid. High prices of meat and the bankruptcy of the remaining small landowners further contributed to the eviction of the small peasants and the transformation of their land into sheep pastures. Over half a million acres of arable land have not been tilled since 1860. The yield per acre has dropped: oats by 16 per cent, flax by 36 per cent, potatoes by 50 per cent. At present only oats are cultivated for the English market, and wheat is imported.

With the exhaustion of the soil, the population has deteriorated physically. There has been an absolute increase in the number of lame, blind, deaf and dumb, and insane in the decreasing population.

Over 1,100,000 people have been replaced by 9,600,000 sheep. This is a thing unheard of in Europe. The Russians replace evicted Poles with Russians, not with sheep. Only under the Mongols in China was there once a discussion whether towns should be destroyed to make room for sheep.

The Irish question is therefore not simply a question of nationality, but a question of land and existence. Ruin or revolution is the watchword; all the Irish are convinced that if anything is to happen at all it must happen quickly. The English should demand separation and leave it to the Irish themselves to decide the question of landownership. Everything else would be useless. If that does not happen soon the Irish emigration will lead to a war with America. The domination over Ireland at present amounts to collecting rent for the English aristocracy.

I’m going to the launch of John Dorney’s first book “Peace After The Final Battle” (the story of the Irish revolution) next Wednesday. This guy is a rising star historian and it’s a great read. He’s written a lot of good stuff online – this is the first time he’s gone into print.

As for Scotland voting to leave…. not a chance of it happening.

Can I suggest someone better qualified than me such as Kevin O’Rourke write a letter to the FT pointing out what drivel Kevin Toolis’ article is

Well I know who we* blame: De Valera, the chief insanity being the Economic War.

*Rural Blueshirts

Having actually read the article now, I think it’s pretty good! Fabulously scathing. Exaggeration of course, but can anyone really argue with this?

Single-party misrule was to last for decades. Economic fortunes sank. Irish Taoiseachs – prime ministers – such as Charles Haughey almost openly looted the state’s treasuries. Far from being economically independent, the Irish punt was slave-pegged to the English pound. In all but name Ireland remained an economic vassal of the UK Treasury.
But that was not the worst. From the 1920s to the 1970s, millions of Irish were forced to flee – ironically to the UK, in search of work and social freedom. Amid that stream of exiles were Ireland’s greatest artists and writers, figures such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Edna O’Brien, refugees from the suffocating social prohibitions of the new nationalist order. Rather than bloom, the shamrock withered.”

Different times are being compared and while the early decades were grim, there were also some positives such as the peaceful handover of power in 1932, just a decade after a bitter civil war.

Good relations are important for maintaining historical trade relations in particular for the seceding smaller economy.

Kevin Toolis as a writer presumably would be more conscious of the past negative environment for writers who stayed such as Seán Ó Faoláin and Frank O’Connor.

In the late 1950s we did embrace radical reforms when there were no bailouts and the situation was dire.

TK Whitaker, the head of the Irish civil service, in a 1957 memorandum on the failure of economic policy and the general sense of hopelessness in the country, warned that “without a sound and progressive economy, political independence would be a crumbling facade.”

Ireland decided to abandon its protectionist system and it embraced the emerging globalisation that tariff reduction triggered. It also sought to join the new European Economic Community.

It should be also acknowledged that twice in a generation since then, economic mismanagement brought the economy to the brink of ruin [1981; 2008], triggering jumps in emigration and misery for some of the population.

‘A Lot Done , More to Do’ was the Fianna Fáil slogan in 2002 that beguiled too many folk.

Is the establishment anymore tolerant of dissenting views now than it was when?

Although “Irish Taoiseachs – prime ministers – such as Charles Haughey..”

He was the only one though. The others were mad but ascetic.

@ Sarah

Really? As Conall points out, whatever about the record of the free state in its early years it was a triumph compared to the horror show of life in 19th century Ireland. And how well did other countries such as India fare under the wise and beneficial rule of noble Albion in the post WWI period? Not great I think as the collapse of the former empire over the next 30 years suggests.

But I think the central objection to the article has to be that this has absolutely zero relevance for the Scottish vote on independence in 2014 so the whole basis of the article is a sham.


There is possibly a point to the the article. If Scotland ends up as a one party state by the SNP who resemble peronistas of FF or worse SF then Scotland is a long term short. In contrast, England and Wales will be run by the Tories. LAbour will never ever hold power in London again.
What happens to the Wee 6 in the event of Scottish independence?


Relevance issue fair point. Also the land commission achieved an astonishing thing really – redistribution of land *relatively* peacefully.

But c’mon – the single party rule/theocracy/economic mismanagement. That was our own doing. I think we should take that point on the chin.

@ Sarah Carey

don’t let yourself down…

“I do have one good historical model of what it is like to carve out a nationalist state from within the political union of the UK but it is not one the SNP is keen to cite.

For George Washington and his cohorts, nationhood could be hewed out in blood and rebellion. But the United States that began to evolve in the late 1700s was a national disaster as the blood continued to pour into the Chesapeake 80 years after British rule. Yes the new state turned in on itself, its politics reduced to a continual squabble over the lost battles of a civil war – who had betrayed whom; who was the faithful, who the traitorous. Indeed embers of that particular fall out burn brightly to this day drawn along the original state lines.

In creating its new American identity the Free State cremated much of the puritanical leanings that had stood the states creation in good moral stead since the landings at plymouth rock. Whole chapters of American history, in particular the early settlers “interactions” with the native population, just disappeared until the atrocities were finally acknowledged in the late 20th century.

Single-party misrule was to last for centuries. Economic fortunes sank during the great depression. American presidents – such as Richard Nixon almost openly exploited the power of his office beyond the rule of law…..”

I think you get the point. The article is trivial and shameful for the FT to have printed. It is childish stuff.

Scotland would retain the queen and the pound if London would agree.

At least it would avoid a civil war even though both sides kept most British inherited institiouns intact.

During the last economic debacle, the late UCD constitutional law professor and Fine Gael TD, John M. Kelly, wrote in ‘The Sunday Tribune’ in October 1986: “Ireland’s political and official rulers have largely behaved like a crew of maintenance engineers, just keeping a lot of old British structures and plant ticking over..”

True. But the 31 years from 1914 to 1945 was arguably the lowest point in human history; since the renaissance at least. So when looked on from a global perspective we didn’t do too badly during the initial years of the free state. Its in the decades after 1945 that we really slipped behind the rest of Europe economically.

For all their faults, I don’t think the SNP plan to build a rural, self-sufficient and pious independent Scotland, like the ‘revolutionaries’ who ran the Irish Free State/Eire. Nor will they have to deal with protectionism internally or externally, and hopefully not a Great Depression and World War.

I also can’t find any mention of censoring and burning immoral books in the SNP’s White Paper.

And while post-independence Ireland was relatively poor, stagnant and emigration high, the previous 120 years of London rule had returned the same outcomes (except in north-east Ulster). In 1913, according to Maddison, Ireland’s GDP was 57% that of Great Britain. Surely Ireland is an example of both Dublin and London misrule.

Of possible interest to the author!

Not to mention the Highland Clearances!

This must be the silliest article written in a long time. It is no secret that peoples prefer to be governed (possibly) badly by their own rather than (possibly) well by foreigners.

The one conclusion that can be drawn is that the possibility of the Scots actually voting to leave the UK must be increasing, at least in the minds of those that stand to lose most (not the Scots!).

“Also the land commission achieved an astonishing thing really – redistribution of land *relatively* peacefully.”

Wasn’t the big redistribution of land largely carried out by Westminster pre 1914?


It was but it kept going right into the 50’s and the longer it went on the more sensitive it got. Land was targeted and how it might be divided up was on the agenda at Cuman meetings. The road I live on is all land commission farms. The first movers came up from the west in the 1930’s and voted FF for 4 generations – until the last time when they switched to Sinn Fein. I’m always amazed it’s not referred to more often. I wrote about it once in the IT and another journo wrote to me at the time saying it was very much a part of his area’s history but he was afraid to write about it as it’s still a sensitive subject.

Anyway, I think some of you are taking the article too seriously. It’s OTT but entertaining.

sorry, delete my last comment in moderartion (typos)

peter – thanks for the rec (i remember Garvins book from but never read it, will reply in a little while when near a proper comp)

sarah carey – of course people are taking it ‘too seriously’, but what do you expect with these types of articles, where polemics substitute for analysis ? Sure it’s funny, in the way that a 22 year old writing in the SINDO about something they know nothing about is amusing.
Pointless, but amusing.
Why can’t we expect better?
(and from the FT!)

To get a good handle on what the Brits thought of the Irish in the Victorian era one could do worse than read:
Fiction, Famine and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland.
Gordon Bigelow, 2003

Surprisingly candid for a Professor of English.
It would be an eyeopener for most people.

fyi On poverty in The American “Free” States

*The real unemployment rate in the US is approximately 14%, when the ‘hidden unemployed’ are added to the ranks of the officially declared full time unemployed (U-3) and underemployed (U-6) estimates. That’s approximately 22 million still jobless after five years of so-called economic recovery.

*The share of wages & salaries of total National Income has declined steadily for 30 years, from 55.6% in 1983 to 52.0% in 2007 just prior to the recession. It has continued to fall during the recession period, 2007-09, as well as during the post-2009 recovery, to 49.1% today. [h/t worth a read

p.s. No newz from Blind Biddy in Kharkov (readers should know why by now … ignore the blatant propaganda

Blind Biddy was rumoured to be in Odessa making Molotov cocktails while disguised as a sighted 17 year old. It is assumed she is pro Russian since she was wearing the St George medal, is it possible she discarded her gold Claddagh medal. Has our Biddy gone over to the dark side. Nuland will not be pleased when she hears that. Kenny will be called in by the US Ambassador to explain his lack of control over the diaspora.

@Mickey H

“To get a good handle on what the Brits thought of the Irish in the Victorian era one could do worse than read:
Fiction, Famine and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland.”

Who were these “the Brits” exactly?

In Victorian times might it not be appropriate to recall that most Brits had not the foggiest idea what was going on in Ireland. There were not very many in a position to study the daily newspaper through a mixture of poverty and exhaustion from the effects of ‘Victorian times’, there was no TV news, and internet discussion forums were not widely accessible.

I once heard someone remark that “the Irish” supported Mr H during the war. About on a par for accuracy probably.


Please desist from spreading those shocking rumours about Blind Biddy promulgated by Nuland’s putsch puppets – No she was not in Slaviansk with her bazooka – she is in Kharkov to celebrate the end of the war against fascism next week and to honour her great aunt Katharina [who eloped, aged 17, with a Cossack at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and who commanded a tank battalion at the Battle of Kursk]. I’m very concerned about her welfare … as are all at The Blind Biddy Hedge Fund & Blind Biddy Hedge School

Hold on! A text coming in – [from a one-time cellphone] … she must be OK ..

peter – Im going to get out garvins book, thanks.
Still though, doesnt that kind of institutional argument only go so far ? Wouldnt the main factors be something along the lines of what MH is getting at above (joining the EEC, ’embracing globalisation’ etc) ?

I think the FT is sure on a lot of issues but very weak on climate change, Chinese politics, the Russian politburo and the Scottish vote.

During the Victorian era there was a very healthy newspaper industry with a range from the gutter press to the establishment Times, Telegraph and the like. In 1580 under the command of the Lord Justice, Carrigafoyle Castle (North County Kerry) was besieged and destroyed by cannon fire, the survivors were shot in the water, put to sword on the land and women were hung in the camp. The land was bequeathed to Trinity College. The O’Connor of Kerry was beheaded and his head was put on a stake outside Windsor Castle for the edification of Elizabeth 1st.
The British have had a very good handle on the Irish right down to the parish level since Cromwell’s time. That includes Royalty, aristocracy, military, propertied class and the man in the street.

“The British have had a very good handle on the Irish right down to the parish level since Cromwell’s time. That includes Royalty, aristocracy, military, propertied class and the man in the street.”

Really – all of them?

That’s a surprise to me since a fair number of the less well read ones I have been acquainted with are so ignorant of Ireland that they have to ask whether Dublin is in Northern Ireland or Southern Ireland. As for your account of events in 1580 I would be fairly confident that even today, never mind in Victorian times, you would struggle to find anyone that knew that one in a football stadium full of ordinary British people – who in my experience have little knowledge of or interest in Ireland.

There are the British and then there are the Lager Louts. It is a class ridden society where whole swathes of society are designated as being beneath contempt.
In Ireland we were just a sub set , a lower sub set mind you, of the larger British untermenschen. I worked there and I would say that the majority of them have a few ideas of the Irish and their behaviour. The Irish drink too much, fight too much, live on bacon, cabbage and potatoes, get their sins forgiven every week by a priest. My daughter was at a ski resort last year where a Brit was saying the Irish were mentally retarded and physically crippled due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She learned some bad language in Kerry that she put to good use. He was described to me as speaking plummy Oxbridge not a lager lout. I explained to her that they lost an Empire and are desperately looking around and finding it difficult to find someone to look down on.You cannot open your mouth anywhere, the Irish are everywhere. People who have never left Ireland know as much about the British as the British know about us. The people who know nothing in both countries are not a force to be reckoned with. It is the chattering classes that matter. Most of us here are in the CC club.


Breaking newz on the 5th ‘Fig Leaf’ recipient

Anoth — er … er … er .. ERROR of Judgement …

Blind Biddy will love this – she has never forgiven the X-minister for pilfering a half bag of coal from a blind woman, and others with a disability, to divert the cash to bail-out the bondholders …

Lookit – Have anoth .. er … Fig Leaf

text (on a one-time cellphone) from Blind Biddy in Kharkov:

“A former British ambassador to Moscow warned that the Kremlin’s claims not to be orchestrating the situation should not be dismissed. Sir Rodric Braithwaite told The Independent on Sunday: “It may be true that Putin is losing control of events in eastern Ukraine and that he fears being sucked into a situation which could turn out to be unmanageable. It is unlikely that he has abandoned the proposition that he put forward weeks ago, that Ukraine needs a new constitution of a federal kind with specific rights for the Russian-language population in the East … The West will need to think how to respond to these propositions if a constructive negotiation for the benefit of the Ukrainians themselves is to be got under way.”

@Mickey Hickey

“There are the British and then there are the Lager Louts. It is a class ridden society where whole swathes of society are designated as being beneath contempt.”

I will accept there’s a thin layer of British would be aristo leftovers who have contempt for all nations but you clearly know very little of Britain. I don’t know what the Irish emigration rate was in the 50’s but it has left the UK with a significant Irish contingent. Of my own ‘best mates’ (we are in our 50’s) 3 out of 7 have Irish fathers, all over here in the mid-1950’s and no, we weren’t schoolmates. It is estimated that almost 15% of the UK population can claim at least one Irish grandparent. Of my three surviving uncles in Mayo (I don’t use the Gaelic spelling) one insists that the British made modern Ireland possible (he got the farm by the way), the other two have transferred their decades long hatred of the British rather too seamlessly to a hatred of eastern Europeans in the last few years. Of their collection of nine sons, all born in Ireland since 1955, only 2 remain in Ireland, the others are growing their families in the UK, Australia and the US. So much for the great emigration of the mid 19th century – who do the modern Irish blame for the 20th /21st century, even greater rate of emigration?

Incidentally. during the 1840’s my mothers side of the family were starved, mutilated and exploited in the mines and mills of Derbyshire while a percentage of British absentee landlords (aided by a large contingent of Irish agents) oversaw the tragedy of the Hunger. My mum cannot find any UK born relative who survived beyond the age of 42 prior to the 1920s.

The British – Irish story is and always has been a class struggle and keeping senseless divisive arguments going like this suits the ‘leaders’ on both sides of the Irish sea whose interests are best served by the continuation of this ill informed dispute.

Incidentally I thought the article was rubbish.

email from Blind Biddy in Kharkov:

@Gerry Adams

Peace matters. In solidarity.

@ Fenian Dave

You hit quite a few nails on the head there, but whatever the British Irish story is, it is not part of the British class struggle.

The real question is what happens when a country becomes sovereign.

Getting a little ahead of the Fenians!

That the FT would publish such a rubbish article suggests that certain establishment people may be beginning to worry. That is its only real significance.


“My daughter was at a ski resort last year where a Brit was saying the Irish were mentally retarded and physically crippled due to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She learned some bad language in Kerry that she put to good use. He was described to me as speaking plummy Oxbridge not a lager lout”

This is getting silly. I’ve been there too. First off there is no such thing as plummy Oxbridge – they let a lot of people from both comps and outside the most expensive real estate borders in these days. The Rahs and Yahs are from certain schools and certain areas and they mainly head for about five universities.

If the guy was not completely stupid, and had been let into one of them, you might have to consider the possibility he might have been succeeding in winding someone up, with aplomb as much as a plum.

A silly article indeed. There was a great article on the Gutenberg project website, written in 1911 in which the author said that England tried extermination in the 1600’s, economic strangulation in the 1700’s and willful neglect in the 1800’s. And compared to that we are told independence was a failure?

Having said that, I couldn’t agree with Fenian Dave more. England’s working classes were better off than Ireland’s peasants but not by much.

An aspect of the coming Scottish referendum is the reading that will be given to the results in Scotland of the intervening European elections. The rise in support for what might be loosely described as “nationalist” parties is taken as a certainty.

Insofar as it has an actual European dimension (i.e. is not dominated by the reality of the Tip O’Neill observation that “all politics is local”), the election campaign has centred on the ill-judged nomination of lead candidates or “spitzenkandidaten” for the post of President of the Commission. This may prove to obscure the underlying political reality that only the long-standing informal coalition between the centre-left and the centre-right is likely to have the necessary majority for the European Parliament to arrive at any decision. This is unlikely to involve approving the candidate of one or the other as President of the Commission (a stroke of good fortune for the European Union given the need to strengthen, not weaken, the role of the Commission as an independent body!).

cf this Euractiv coverage.

The only thing that the various “nationalist” parties have in common is that they are generally, but not invariably, “anti-Europe”. They have shown themselves – hitherto at least – to be incapable of building the necessary groupings to have any effective influence in the European Parliament (with the possible exception of the right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands under Le Pen and Wilders). Given the disparity of views between them, this is hardly surprising and no change is to be expected. Their capacity for disruption will, however, undoubtedly increase.


This is worth reading:

Can’t seem to rememember the last time a member of The Oireachtas was detained for 4 days by a branch of HRH’s services? Tipped off by Blind Biddy, I watched Adams’ press conference on Sky Newz – impressive … I fully agree with Peter Hain – there would be no ‘peace’ without the leadership of Adams & McGuinness – and not forgetting significant others. Sinn Fein supported the Haas proposals on dealing with the ‘past’ – the unionists did not.

That said, I’m sure that Minister Gilmore, in his ‘official’ capacity, will have summoned the UK ambassador to express his concern. The Taoiseach, I’m sure, will have been on the blower to the UK Prime Minister …. As Martin Mansergh strenously put it – these guys better keep their eyes on the Big Picture and not on petty politics.

fyi – John McManus on the ball … origin of recent ‘poverty’ in the ‘free’ state …

‘The immediate parents of principles-based regulation in Ireland were Charlie McCreevy and Mary Harney. They were respectively the minister for finance and the minister for enterprise when the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority came into being in 2003.

The decision to create a new regulator had its origins in a report by a group chaired by Michael McDowell, who was taking one his periodic breaks from politics at the time.

All three would have been very much of the “markets know best” school of thought when it came to economics and about as close as Ireland ever came to having political evangelists for free markets and unfettered capitalism.’

Of course, McDowell is not happy having ideologically wrecked the state once – he is salivating to do it twice – with the intellectual EU heavyweight Lucinda — and p’haps x-minister Hanfin might join them in a neu-troika of the rabid neoliberal roight ….

You know i’ve been reflecting on this article and the process I went through.
1. This is entertaining and funny. And has enough truth in it for us to take the criticism with a sense of humour.
2. oops. there are some rather glaring flaws and inconsistencies. Perhaps it is terrible to have such a thing featuring in the FT and showing us all up. I hate looking bad in front of the visitors.

And then last night: an epiphany.


Isn’t this just another version of the diatribes we read every single week from misanthropic, cranky old men in national Irish newspapers who are cheered on by cynical self-loathing hoards? The meme that Ireland is a failed state in which we are the oppressed masses of a corrupt political class/authoritarian church and public service existing merely to reward itself for criminal negligence is the standard output of O’Toole, Browne, Kerrigan and the rest of them. Another common narrative is that this consistent failure to self-govern is enabled by craven, cynical, voters who collude with a system of pork barrel politics, while concealing all kinds of evil from political corruption to state and church institutionalised sexual and physical abuse. All the terrible things that have happened in Ireland did so with the connivance of – not all the people – but enough to perpetuate the cycle of self-destruction.

How many columns have I read regretting the departure of the Troika because they governed better and forced us to introduce reforms our political class could never have managed alone?

So really, why gang up on Kevin Toolis for simply turning back on us what some of the most popular writers in Ireland churn out week on week while loud sections of an embittered public applaud.

Is it really just the old phenomenon of being able to criticise one’s own but lashing out if an outsider dares to make the same observations?

@ SC

When home produced, this kind of fatuous criticism qualifies as masochism, when coming from abroad as sadism.

But this is not really the point. The issue is the erroneous parallels drawn with the Irish experience. A Professor Douglas McWilliams was following the same approach in the Sunday Times under the heading “Divorce in haste and my fellow Scots will repent at leisure”. At least, his piece had some semblance of factual foundation. However, the most startling statistic in it was the following;

“If Scots lived as long as the English, and everything else was unchanged, Scotland would have a budget deficit about thee points higher as a percentage of GDP than it currently is. Life expectancy in the Carlton district of Glasgow rivals the lowest in the world at 53.9 for men – this compares with, say, 67.5 for men in Iraq!”

What his fellow Scots are supposed to repent at leisure is not exactly clear.

The professor does, however, make one very valid point when he says; “In many ways, a small no vote is the worst of all worlds, since unless the Scottish National party loses power, it will keep holding referendums until it either gets a yes or a sufficiently large no vote to give up”.

Measures by both UK and Scottish governments towards improving life expectancy in Scotland would, no doubt, help towards achieving the latter outcome.

Or maybe events will take a different course!

In short, it’s not about us, it’s about them.


“The issue is the erroneous parallels drawn with the Irish experience.”

Weeeell. Fair point. But in the pointless if entertaining land of counterfactuals, how do we know the Scots wouldn’t have made a hames of it? (and according to our popular columnists – like we did…)

In separation referendums the younger voters tend to vote for separatism. National programs such as unemployment benefits, health care and pensions hold sway the older voters. Everybody likes the idea of being “maitre chez nous” they just have to be convinced that life will go on as usual. The EU provides the womb within which separatism can gestate and emerge risk free in all its glory. No currency risk, no threat to movement of goods, people and capital, it could not get better than that.
Ireland took enormous risks and paid the price. Without massive emigration and having been enured to hardship we would have had a second civil war. The proof of the pudding is would we do it again, most people would say yes.

Vive la victoire de l’Ecosse, la victoire de libérer l’ecosse, as they say in France who over centuries made common cause against the “Perfide Anglais”. It is not the end of history, history is rewinding.

I would not bet on the outcome.

well, praising, even indirectly, english rule over Ireland, has a certain hautgout.

For me it looks actually to be more about the English themselves, and not so much about Ireland or Scotland.

In France it is the hard left, where some are musing about outbreeding the Germans, and then they will show us,

In England, I read that somewhere yesterday, it is more on the right side, people dreaming about UK having a bigger d*ck , erm GDP, than Germany in 20 years, overtaking our position 4, as if we care, if they just keep up the fertility rates : – )

And it makes you wonder, is this Europe in the 21st century?

One member of the Empire after the other has left, and now even the Scots? That would throw them back to square one in terms of empire building, the times of William Wallace.

After DOCM mentioned Calton, I looked up German data

it is actually more the “alternative culture /hipster” areas, than the poor folks, who have a little lower life expactancy

@ SC

If you will forgive me for saying so, if there is one word for which I have little or no time it is “counterfactual”. The world it occupies may be entertaining but it serves little useful purpose as far as I can see.

It may be noted that it is not just the Scots who may be leaving the UK, but the UK that may be leaving the EU. I do not think that either outcome is likely but, to borrow a rugby term, all the phases will have to be gone through before the ball is turned over, how near or how far from the line in each case remains to be seen.

cf. these links.

What Blair and Cameron have in common is that they both gave constitutional hostages to fortune, the former in relation to devolution within the UK, the latter in relation to the UK’s place in Europe, which will continue to haunt the governments of the UK, of whatever hue, for the foreseeable future.

There is little Hibernia can do other than watch from the sidelines.

@Sarah Carey:

“All the terrible things that have happened in Ireland did so with the connivance of – not all the people – but enough to perpetuate the cycle of self-destruction.”

Like you, Sarah, I tend to find the meanderings of ‘cranky old men’ in our mainstream media, and on the airwaves, which they tend to colonise disproportionately, more than a little wearisome at times. I gave up listening to the rantings of ‘cranky old men’ a long time ago; although I continue to be amused, and occasionally impressed, by the odd insight they may proffer, to which they are usually commonly oblivious in their own right. That’s what makes them great in a way and why they continue to make a valuable contribution to our public discourse. Much of what they have to say may be noise – like you would hear at the bar of a pub – but there are the odd nuggets of wisdom (even when you set aside the ego-motivated stuff of course).

But I cannot wholly go along with your statement as quoted above. It’s too reductionist. I think our society is more complex than the model which you imply – as are all societies. It assumes a universal interest in politics, and public affairs, which exists no more in Irish society than in any other western liberal democracy. It also assumes a ‘homo economicus’ disposition of rational choice, which I think we call know at this stage is very useful for doing sums about what is likely to happen in society but not actually much use for anything other than subsequent chin-scratching about why the predictions proved so wrong in the face of real outcomes.
Granted though, our macro-economists make a better fist of it than most of the rest of the academic crew who claim to have been ‘proven right’ simply because a stopped clock is guaranteed to tell the right time twice a day.

But most ordinary folks – like myself, and, I suspect, you too – just want things to get better for themselves and their families. Hence, there is no ‘rational choice’ in politics; there is only representational choice which, by its nature, is based on a mix of short term considerations as well as medium term calculations. Further, the electorate can only make a choice on the basis of what is placed in front of them, which up to the present time, continues to be dominated by party-based politics, which then offers stablilty and the possibility of accountability…and so on.

Meanwhile, coming back to the choice faced by Scotland; what I remember from the 1990s and early years of this century, is Mr Salmond and his cohorts pointing to the ‘Celtic Tiger’ as an exemplar of what an Independent Scotland might achieve. One assumes that he would hardly make such claims now. From my history background, I further recall that there were far more attempts at Home Rule Bills for Scotland than there ever were for Ireland in the period from 1801-1914.(? ) (Any historians in the house- please help!)

To my mind, I have no difficulty with the author of the FT article. It’s just one among many perspectives on the relationships between our two islands. It seems to me that there was an inevitability about the separation and establishment of an Irish state after the First World War, and we may forever be in argument about whether or not it was going to be achievable for Ireland without the use of force. The fact is that it happened and that the reality with which we have to deal. What I think is more important is the continuing economic inter-dependency amongst all the ‘constituent nations’ of our little archipelago, the no longer to be named ‘British Isles’ British Isles, which persists irrespective of our political relationship(s) with one another. For instance, right now it is apparent that Irish economic recovery is closely bound with the performance of the British economy…

I would be interested in an opinion as to whether eurozone recovery is of greater economic importance to us than a surge in the British economy?

Meanwhile whatever decision is made in Scotland, the important thing surely is that we have worked out the implications – short and medium term – for ourselves? Who’s working on that, by the way?

HI Veronica

Your general point is well made but when I said “terrible” I wasn’t simply referring to economic and political decision making. I meant the wider history of religious and cultural authoritarianism to which Toolis refers. For example, I read a fair bit of the report on the Magdalene laundries and was left with the overwhelming sense that contrary to what had been portrayed: this wasn’t about malign priests shipping pregnant girls off to psychotic nuns so their babies could be stolen, but in a poverty stricken and totalitarian society was a widely used system to deal with a broad spectrum of troublesome women, from unwanted spinsters to the mentally ill to wayward teenagers and it could only have worked with the consent of the people. In fact, women checked themselves in and out. The laundry was a fail-safe for those with nowhere else to go. So all the rest – farmers sending runaways from Industrial schools back, corporal punishment at school, cruelty at home, mass emigration, sexual abuse, both domestic and institutional. None of it could have taken place without the co-operation of a large number of people for much of the 20th century.

As for the political and economic interests of the people: I won’t make any apology: I think a lot (not all, but enough) of the people vote for the party they believe will best serve their personal economic interests without much thought for long term or wider social consequences.

@Sarah Carey

You are right again sarah.
I would go further than consent, a backward public demanded and rewarded harsh treatment of the less fortunate. Christian charity was for black babies in far away places.


My apologies if I took you up wrongly. Of course you are right about our past society not being a very pleasant place and either approving, or turning a blind eye, to a level of savagery that appears so unacceptable to us in our own times. Endemic poverty, a culture of fear, deference to one’s betters and an authoritarianism that seeps through every layer of social, political and family relationship, may deliver social and political stability but at an enormous cost to those who are caught at the wrong end of the stick. It may also serve to conceal or facilitate outright criminal behaviour. But there’s the rub; the desire for some sort of retributive justice on the part of those who were so afflicted outlasts the social milieu in which the injustice was allowed to take place.

So what you describe is correct; but it is only part of the story. The legacy we’ve all had to deal with is about the licence for extremes that the ‘system’ permitted. Personally, I hold to the view that one should always judge events int he context of their own time, and assess people’s motivations accordingly. What’s happening in the general economy of a society always has a lot to do with it, I think, and some of those looking back tend to judge things incorrectly when they fail to take economic conditions, and their effects on people’s aspirations, collectively and individually, into account. But I also think you have to distinguish individual or institutional criminal behaviour and irrespective of the passage of time, it must be acknowledged and, where possible, held to account. Otherwise, we learn nothing from our past except the possibility of perpetuating its iniquities.


“Personally, I hold to the view that one should always judge events int he context of their own time, and assess people’s motivations accordingly. ”

Couldn’t agree more.

I interviewed the gallery owner Oliver Sears today – it’ll be played on the show tomorrow. Extraordinary tale of how is family survived the Holocaust and the actions of the Polish people. He made the point that you can’t judge people on how they behaved in the war. We have no idea how each of us would act given the circumstances.


How interesting! I did quite a bit of research on Polish soldiers in WW2 a few years back – I became intrigued by the case of one who made his home in Ireland after the war when I came across his headstone in a graveyard in West Clare. As part of that research project, I visited the Polish museum in London and met with some fascinating people who had harrowing tales to tell of war and brutality. I’m hoping to get back to it when I’ve finished what I’m currently doing, which can’t be soon enough!

I will listen to your interview with Mr. Sears – missed the programme itself, I’m afraid. He’s right of course; war throws the norms and values of civilisation out the window. If you want to get a fix on the whys and wherefores of ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentalities, and the pressures that drive them, the work of anthropologist Arjun Appadurai provides some chilling insights.

Cormac, not sure if you’ll read this, but in today’s FT Graham Gudgin (David Trimble’s former economic adviser) responds to Eoin Drea’s “disingenuous” letter.

As one example of Ireland’s poor performance post-British rule, he claims that in 1921 Ireland had a similar standard of living to Denmark. And by 1960 had fallen to becoming the poorest north-eastern state in Europe.

I had always presumed that [southern] Ireland was a relatively poor northern European state before independence, with Denmark often being used (rightly or wrongly) as what Ireland should have been. In your excellent New Economic History book, you along with Angus Maddison suggest that Ireland’s GDP in 1913 was 57% of the UK, with Denmark at 75%.

I’m not sure which metric Gudgin is referring to, but Andy Bielenberg & Patrick O’Mahony have claimed that Ireland’s GDP was fairly good comparatively in 1907, at 67% of UK, and almost on a par with the likes of Denmark.

So I was wondering whether you still stand over those figures from 20 years ago! Or whether I am missing something, there’s more recent work etc.

I suppose its of general interest whether Ireland’s economic performance post-1922 merely continued trends or made matters much worse, possibly preventing convergence with the UK & Europe. Something presumably that unionists like Gudgin would argue.

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