Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dreams of the past few days

Standard

Night before last

I was going to so some dangerous activity like bungee jumping but it may have been parachuting. There was water blow me. I was wiith a bo my age. He cheerfully got on with it. I eas gripped by fear and refused to go through with it. What am I scared of? Maybe I think I am overly catuous sometimes. I need to be bolder.

==========================

3 nights ago

I was with Chris, a Pakistani and some other male. We were in an ill-lit hotel somwerre in the FAR East/ We would be semugglin an illgegal substace. I think i was brown. Chris wa uobeat and naive in his usual chirpy manner. I was getting cold fee about it. I was increasinly nervous. Could I back out/ I padded around the dingy corridor. of this hote. It was almsot desetred and the scene was dispaitringly. It was like a place I once stayed in Sri Lanka the YMCA albtough in fact I have ahppy memries of that spot.

Then I heard the Pakistani man had died of an overdose in his room. In fact in Sri Lanka it was Hans the American who died from alcohol abuse. I was not tha scholc in my dream. Would the mission be abandoe?

I have been thinking of Chris and how foolos he is – oddly childlike.

The Irish Republic in the 1990s.

Standard

Eire entered the 90s with the Northern conflict winding down. President Hillery was coming to the end of his term in Phoenix Park. Haughey appeared to be at the height of his powers. The economic was making a little headway.

In the summer of 1990 Ireland was convulsed by the ectasy of seeing the Irish team do so well in the World Cup. The Republic of Ireland’s team in Italy won an agonisingly close penalty shoot out against Romania. Ireland’s hero was the goalie from Donegal Paki Bonner. The manager was an Englishman Jack Charlton. It was said if he stood for the presidency he would win but he was not a citizen.

Labour chose as their candidate Mary Robinson. Mrs Robinson was a barrister who aged 24 had become a professor of law at Trinity College, Dublin. She came from a Mayo bourgeois family and she defied convention by marrying a Protestant. She was narrowly against  candidates who were establishment figures. It was second preferences that took her over the line. She was well known for controversy. She had long called for contraception to be made widely available, for gay rights and for divorce. These were highly unpopular positions when she first started espousing them in the 1960s.

Mrs Robinson took office that November. She was outgoing and amiable. She set a new style for the presidency which had been semi -retirement for superannuated politicians. She was also the first Labour president. In fact she was the first president not to be a Fianna Failer. (Admittedly the first two governors-general had been in Cumann na Gaedhal – the precursor of Fine Gael) She became known across the world. President Robinson seemed to signal a new era for Ireland. She was an avowed liberal in her views and she had little truck with nationalism. Ireland was said to be becoming post-nationalist.

In 1991 a scandal broke about Haughey. He had become aware that members of his party were plotting to oust him. This was legal political activity.. He had persuaded the Gards to bug his opponents within the party even though there was no suspicion of a crime. Haughey was forced to resign. No one was charged with any offence relating to this wire tapping.

The new Taoiseach was Albert Reynolds. Reynolds came from a small town in the Midlands. He was a sell made dog food businessman. Reynolds was a less flamboyant and more down to earth leader. He was also incredibly boring and a poor orator. However, the was someone the average Irishman could identify with more than with Haughey. Haughey suffered from aristocratic pretensions and liked to parade fly around in his personal helicopter from his stud farm to his private island. Reynolds had non of this flamboyance and his unremarkable rural background gave him more of the common touch.

Under Reynolds economic growth started to speed up. The IT sector got going. The financial services sector in Dublin grew significantly. Albert Reynolds also signed the Downing Street Declaration with John Major. Major and Reynolds had known each other when they were both finance ministers. They had agreed that if they ever got into a position to improve the Northern Ireland situation they would do so. This declaration affirmed that Northern Ireland would remain within the UK unless a majority of people there chose otherwise. It also underlined that the Republic had a legitimate interest in the affairs of the North and some all Ireland bodies should be established.

In 1992 the Republic of Ireland signed the Treaty of Maastricht. This was put to the people as required by a referendum. Only Sinn Fein and the far left were against it. Their posters warned people ”Don’t be Maas tricked.” The Yes campaign won comfortably. Later it came to light that taxpayers’ money had been used to bankroll the Yes campaign but not the No campaign. This was unlawful but was unlikely to have altered the result. Despite this illegal spending of public money the poll was not rerun.

Reynolds began secret negotiations with the IRA and with loyalist terrorist organisations. He tried to move them towards a cessation of violence. The IRA wanted to call a halt to its campaign but maintain the option of attacking security forces in nationalist communities. They called it ”defending nationalist areas”. Reynolds told them they could ”shag off”. He demanded a total cessation of violence.

In August 1994 the IRA announced a ceasefire. Within days Reynolds met Gerry Adams (leader of Sinn Fein) and John Hume (leader of the SDLP). Reynolds posed for a photo with the two. This incensed Unionists. They said it was endorsing the IRA only weeks after it had murdered people. However, others praised Reynolds bravery and said he had increased the chances of a long lasting peace.

In 1994 it emerged that Albert Reynold has known about Fr Brendan Smyth who was a serial paedophile. Fr Smyth came from Belfast and the Catholic Church has known about allegations against him since the late 1940s. That was not a time when there was any incentive to make a bogus accusation against a priest. Fr Smyth had been protected by the Church who never informed the police. He had been moved to the United States and allowed to be in sole charge of children. Reynolds had tried to prevent Fr Smyth being extradited to Northern Ireland. This scandal brought down the Fianna Fail Government. Fr Smyth went on trial in the Republic of Ireland and was found guilty. He was awarded a gaol term. He died of  heart attack in prison in 1997.

This brought about the Rainbow Coalition. This came about without an election. Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left formed a government. Democratic Left had broken off Sinn Fein to become Official Sinn Fein in 1969. It was Marxist at first. Then they changed their name to Sinn Fein the Workers’ Party. Finally they became Democratic Left.

The new Taoiseach was the Fine Gael leader John Bruton. Bruton was a barrister from Meath. He was widely regarded as honest and likable. He was perhaps too effete to really connect. He was much more  intellectual than his two immediate predecessors. He was a restrained campaigner and never at a loss for words. Bruton identified with the constitutional nationalist tradition and not with republicanism.

The Rainbow Coalition introduced some epoch making social reforms. The Republic of Ireland had a Victorian era law criminialising homosexual acts. In fact there had been no prosecutions under it for many years. Howver, it was symbolically important that this was repealed. Moreover, divorce was also legalised by a referendum since this involved changing the constitution and all constitutional amendments had to be put to the people. This change had been narrowly reject in the 80s with Dublin mainly voting Yes and the countryside mainly voting No.

In 1997 it was time for another Oireachtas election. Bruton did not galvanise the public. Fianna Fail won under their leader Bertie Ahern. Fianna Fail did not have quite enough seats to form a government on their own so they created a coalition with the Progressive Democrats led by Mary Harney. This was ironic since the Progressive Democrats had been founded a decade earlier as a breakaway from Fianna Fail by those who could not abide Charlie Haughey. Ahern was a devotee of Haughey! Bertie Ahern was a Dubliner who had been Lord Mayor of his native city. He came from a working class family and seemed to be an everyman. He was without intellectual pretensions. However, it later emerged that he embroidered his CV claiming to have studied at University College Dublin and the London School of Economics. He said he was accountant when in fact he never qualified as one. He had a total disregard for the truth and was no orator. However, many people took him to their hearts. He was Taioseach. The Tainaiste was Mary Harney. She was an unsmiling woman who had never worked outside politics. She had been appointed a senator at the age of 24 before being elected to the Dail. She was also single which was unusual at her age. This invited some unflattering comments.

The government presided over an unprecedented economic boom. People spoke of the Celtic Tiger. Unemployment was tumbling. Salaries were rising but so were house prices. There was a construction boom. People expanded their existing houses or built new ones. Many hotels were constructed. People were appreciative of having considerable disposable incomes for the first time. It was redolent of West Germany in the 1960s. There seemed to limitless economic growth. Property prices rose exorbitantly as did the cost of building houses. Builders could charge more or less what they liked. Fianna Fail liked to claim this spectacular economic expansion was owing to their Thatcherite policies. They certainly made tax easy to avoid. Fine Gael and Labour did not know how to respond. They were unprepared for this unprecedented prosperity. They complained that villages in the west were left behind the and proceeds of growth were maldistributed. The public were steeped in free market ideology and Fianna Fail claimed that mantle.  The Irish Republic was one of the greatest exponents was super fast economic growth due to Monetarism.

Ireland had the ideal conditions for economic growth. The fertility rate was down to 3.0 babies per woman. This was still the highest in the European Union. However, there were not so many dependents. That means relatively few pensioners and few children but there were plenty of adults under the age of 60. All the decades of heavy investment in education had paid off. University tuition fees were abolished. AFTER A few years the government was to reintroduce them. Ireland experienced an unprecedented economic takeoff. Regulatory lightness of touch was said to be part of the magic.

Asylum seekers from Romania began to arrive. There were also economic migrants from Poland, China and Nigeria. Ireland became 1% non white. This figure was rather higher in Dublin. `People spoke of new multiracial Ireland.

Ireland was self-confident as never before. The Republic Ireland’s membership of the European Union was a shibboleth that almost no one questioned. Even Sinn Fein reversed their previous independence policy and supported Ireland being a province of the EU.

Ireland was a rising star of the global economy. Talk of the Celtic Tiger was widespread. Many American companies set up in the Republic of Ireland. They were attracted by an educated, English speaking work force in the EU and very low corporation tax. There was little inkling that Ireland was headed for a fiasco in a few years. Some said the economy had grown too fast and was overheating. Such people were dismissed as naysayers and gloom merchants. The Irish Republic came to be seen as a model for other countries that were bottom of the top third or countries by GDP.

The Republic of Ireland in the 1980s.

Standard

The Irish Republic entered the 80s with the Northern conflict still suppurating. President Hillery was in office. Charles Haughey of Fianna Fail was Taoiseach. People were feeling conflict fatigue. It ceased to be the most salient issue for many. But then came the hunger strikes. The UK Government brought in a policy of treating republican and loyalist terrorists as ordinary criminals. They had to wear prison uniform. The republicans refused to accept this and some went on hunger strike to try to get Prisoner of War status. This forced the Northern issue back onto the agenda. There were anti H block committees in many Southern towns. Feeling was running high. Marches and protests were the order of the day. People kept vigil outside the British Embassy. The Irish Government tried to intercede to persuade Thatcher to make major concessions. This proved fruitless. Some hunger strikers died. This attracted far more attention that the victims of terrorism. The hunger strikes ended in 1981. Relations between the UK and the Irish State were as an all time low.

In June 1981 just after the hunger strikes ended Charlie Haughey and Fianna Fail were voted out. Fine Gael and Labour took office. The new Taoiseach was Dr Garret FitzGerald. Dr FitzGerald had a reputation as being a mild mannered and dreamy academic. He was very moderate on the Northern issue. His grandmother was an Ulster Protestant so he did not simply dismiss Unionist beliefs as so many others did. He had told the families of hunger strikers that the best chance of saving the lives of their relatives was for the IRA to end its campaign. Some of the hunger strikers stood for election to Dail Eireann as Anti H Block candidates. Some were elected but overall their share of the vote was derisory.

In 1982 FitzGerald’s government called an election and lost. This brought Fianna Fail and Haughey back to office with a wafer thin majority. The economy was in parlous shape. This was partly a knock on effect from the recession in the UK. FIANNA Fail was forced to go to the country a second time that year. They lost and FitzGerald and his coalition were back in office again.

President Hillery’s term was coming to an end. To general relief he chose to stand and no one got enough nominations. He was re elected unopposed. Three elections in one year would have been too much.

it was agreed that contraceptives could be proscribed to married couples. Despite AIDS becoming a grave threat in the 1980s the government decreed that condoms must not be available in machines.

In the early 1980s a significant amount of drugs started to be smuggled into the Republic of Ireland. Sometimes republicans were doing this. While they brought in a consignment of illegal weapons they would also bring in narcotics. The IRA had cordial links with FARC  ‘ Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The IRA and the INLA were selling these substances to fund their terrorism. It was becoming increasingly difficult to effect bank robberies. Drug addiction became a significant problem in Cork and Dublin. Despite unemployment being up to 20% and low wages Ireland was still a relatively prosperous country. There was enough money to make it worth selling these substances. Addicts could rob the rich to fund their habits.

In 1984 the government held the New Ireland Forum. They invited people of all different shades of opinion to present their views on Northern Ireland. Different political parties participated in the hearings. However, no unionist was willing to address the New Ireland Forum. They thought it wrong that the Irish Government should seek to determine the future of Northern Ireland. Even the Alliance Party refused to send a representative. The NIF examined various possible futures for Ireland and concluded that a 32 county unitary state was the most desirable. It was also the most objectionable from a unionist persepective. However, the unionists had themselves to blame for this partly since they declined to submit their opinions to the NIF. Their opinions were already well known.

Dr FitzGerald really tried to win Margaret Thatcher over. His attempts to be reasonable made little progress with her. They finally succeeded in signing the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1984. Fianna Fail denounced it but the people voted it through in a referendum. Some Fianna Fail people who voted in favour of improving relations with the United Kingdom were expelled from the party.

Haughey was known as the boss. He ran his party like a dictator. Haughey was able to intimidate the Bank of Ireland into extending him an enormous loan and then writing it off. ´´I can be a very powerful enemy´´ he warned them darkly. Some people who could not abide him broke off and formed the Progressive Democrats. They were led by Des O’Malley a solicitor from Limerick. They managed to gain a few TDs. The Progressive Democrats were free market liberals. In 1987 FitzGerald and the coalition lost office once more. Haughey and his party were back. By the late 1980s the economy was slowly growing. EEC funding was starting to make a significant difference to people’s lives. Aer Lingus was becoming recognised as a global brand. A financial services centre was established in Dublin. The Irish duty free company set up duty free shops across the world.

From time to time the Republic of Ireland held the rotating presidency of the European Economic Community. Other EEC heads of government would come to Ireland. When Thatcher came to Dublin in 1989 she faced furious protests.

The Republic of Ireland declared that artistic earnings would be tax free. Ireland was to be an island of saints and scholars. This appealed to the imagination of Haughey. However, it was totally inequitable. A multimillionaire musician or writer would live tax free whereas someone on minimum wage would have to pay tax.

An increasing number of Irish people started to work in the Middle East as doctors, teachers and engineers. They could not become citizens there. This was a different migration pattern from the usual emigrant destinations of the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

The Republic of Ireland in the 1970s.

Standard

In 1971 the Republic voted in a referendum to join the EEC. At the same time people voted to remove the clause in the constitution stating that the Catholic Church had a special position. This proposal was also carried. The Republic was becoming more secular. It was also a bid to mollify Unionist sentiment.

On 1 January 1973 the Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC). This was the same day that the United Kingdom and Denmark also acceded to the EEC. Up until that time the punt (Irish pound) has been pegged to sterling. Pounds sterling were legal tender in the Republic of Ireland along with the Irish pound. The State followed interests rates set in London. Furthermore, the Irish pounds was divided into shillings as well as pence. Joining the EEC was when Ireland broke the link with sterling. Ironically joining the EEC was seen to make Ireland more independent and not less. Moreover, the Republic now set her own interests rates. Sterling was no longer to be accepted in Southern Ireland.

In 1973 an Oireachtas election marked a defeat for Fianna Fail. Fine Gael took office in partnership with Labour. Liam Cosgrave was the new Taoiseach. He was the son of an earlier Taoiseach W T Cosgrave. Liam Cosgrave was born in 1920 and was a well heeled Dubliner. He did not have so much of the common touch.

Cosgrave took over at a very difficult time for Ireland. The Troubles in the North spilled over into the Republic of Ireland. The IRA used the South as a base. Loyalist terrorists occasionally launched forays into the South.

The IRA tried to raise funds by staging bank robberies. Until 1969 bank raids had been very rare. By the early 1970s Ireland was awash in guns and there were plenty of people who said they had an ideological justification for commmandeering people’s money. Bank robberies became very commonplace. The government was compelled to send the army to accompany deliveries of cash. Banks improved their security with bullet proof glass and time delay safes. The number of bank robberies dropped dramatically but did not fall to 1960s levels.

In 1973 de Valera retired as required by the constitution because he had served two terms as president. Carll O’Dalaigh was elected in his place. O’Dalaigh was a former supreme court judge. He had also served in the European Court of Human Rights. He came from a lower middle class family in Wicklow. He was an ardent Catholic and had an overdeveloped sense of self-importance yet he lacked the gravitas of his predecessor.

The government tried to quieten the conflict by locking up more IRA men. At least this would save them from being killed by the British Army. O’Dalaigh sent the act to the supreme court to test its constitutionality in 1974. This was his prerogative as president. The defence minister gave a speech to soldiers in AThlone in which he described the president as ”a thundering bollix.” Word got back to Aras an Uachtarain. President O’Dalaigh demanded that the minister be sacked. Cosgrave had the minister concerned issue and effusive apology but this was inusfficient for the president. He said the dignity of his office had been impugned and if this minister was not dismissed then he must resign in order to preserve the supremacy of the presidency. Cosgrave stood firm and O’Dalaigh was as good as his word. He resigned after a year in office and this caused a new presidential election. In the end it would not have mattered much since he died of natural causes two years later.

Erskine  Hamilton CHilders was elected. President CHilders was the son of the more famous Robert Erskine Childers. Confusingly both father and son were known as Erskine Childers. President CHilder was a Fianna Failer and unusally he was a Protestant. He had attended a public school in England and spoke with a pukka accent. He died after two years in office. That was 1976

Then another president had to be elected – the fourth in three years. Dr Patrick Hillery was elected. Dr Hillery was a Fianna Failer and had been a County Clare GP before entering politics. He had served as Foreign Minister. He was a keen golfer and a people person but he chose to be withdrawn for the first two years. He said people should know that they had lost a president through death. Thus he accepted very few public engagements. He seemed very banal at first. He was certainly respected and noted for his integrity.

In 1974 there was the oil shock. Many Arab countries were angry at Western support for Israel. They stopped producing oil for a few months so as to economically penalise Western countries. Oil prices quadrupled. Ireland was entirely dependent on oil imports as it had no oil or coal of its own. This hit the economy hard. Many people took to free wheeling down hills.

This also gave the government a spur to encourage more exploitation of Ireland’s peat resources. People began burning peat at home to save on imported fuels.

In May 1974 an explosion in Dublin and one in Monaghan caused 34 deaths. This was the worst mass murder in Ireland since the 18 th century. The UVF claimed responsibility for this. The IRA was eager to cause as much hatred against the United Kingdom as possible. The IRA insisted that the British Government was behind the blasts.

Cosgrave had some IRA men arrested and prosecuted. Some people were imprisoned for IRA membership. They would typically serve a year. There was considerable sympathy for the IRA especially in border areas. The Gards did not like to be called traitors and West Brits.

The conduct of the British Army was not always good. Suspects stopped at check points in the North were sometimes beaten up. The Army had shot dozens of civilians in different incidents. In some of these cases there was a mistake in other cases it was wilful murder.

In 1976 Sir Christopher Ewart Biggs, the British ambassador, was assassinated by a car bomb. It was an appalling breach of the internationally recognised status of diplomatic immunity. The IRA carried out the murder. Cosgrave rightly denounced the crime as outraging all right thinking Irish people.

Funding from the EEC helped to improve the Irish infrastructure. The economy grew slowly. Mass emigration was still the order of the day.

Contraceptives became available to married couples on prescription. Some feminists went to Belfast and travelled back to Dublin by train. They would declare to customs officers that they had contraceptives but that these were in their bodies. The officers would be too embarrassed to do anything. This is partly what led to a change in the law.

Dublin also began to restrict smoking in certain places. Health warnings were placed on packets of tobacco. At the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis (conference) the delegates were forbidden to smoke on the stage so as to set a good example.

In the mid 1970s the IRA began to kill more civilians. This bombing campaign reduced sympathy for them in the South of Ireland. It also caused  a spike of anti-Irish sentiment in Great Britain.

The Irish Government took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights over the alleged torture of IRA suspects. The ECHR initially found against the United Kingdom. On appeal the Court downgraded this to abuse. The mistreatment was not severe enough to make the use of the word torture.

In the 1970s more tourists started to come to Ireland as air travel became cheaper. These were mostly Americans. The other nationalities who came in large numbers were German and Dutch. British tourists were often put off by the Troubles.

In 1979 the new pope, John Paul II, visited Ireland. It was the first time a pontiff had ever come to Hibernia. Most people were elated. A huge congregation greeted him at Phoenix Park in Dublin where he celebrated an outdoor mass. He urged people ”turn away from paths of violence and turn to paths of peace.”

Just after the pope’s visit Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA along with other civilians. This harmed tourism even more. The IRA had broken its own rules not to kill people in the Republic of Ireland.

In 1979 there was an enormous explosion at Whiddy Island in Cork. This was an oil refinery. Dozens of people were killed. The company that owned the oil terminal won its court case so it was not held responsible for the explosion.

Ireland ended the 70s with the Northern conflict still raging. The Republic’s economy was hardly growing but the country was in better shape for being in the EEC. New markets had opened up.

The Republic of Ireland in the 1960s.

Standard

In 1962 Sean Lemass was Taoiseach and another Fianna Failer Eamonn de Valera was President. The population of Ireland was just above 3 000 000 – so the 1966 census would reveal. The population had been falling since the 1920s. This was not due a a low birthrate. In fact the State had a fairly high birthrate for a European country. The reason it was not even higher was due to late marriage. The average age of marriage was 26 for women and 31 for men. Children being born out of wedlock was very rare. If a woman was pregnant but not married she would plead with or even demand her boyfriend to marry her. Her male relatives may threaten the man that he must make a decent woman of this kindred. This is what was called a shotgun wedding. This was the case in all Western countries at the time. In Catholic Ireland sexual shame was very strong and so the pressure to marry under these circumstances was even more acute than elsewhere.

The reason that the population was tumbling is that so many people left the country. There was mass unemployment. Wages were low and taxes were high. The Republic had no natural resources to speak of. The State had only just begun commercial sea fishing. Emigrants went chiefly to the United States. Other popular destinations were Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, West Germany and even South Africa.

Australia had an assisted passage scheme. An emigrant would only have to pay ten pounds for the passage on board a ship so long as this person spent at least two years in Australia.

Until the Kennedy presidency an Irishman was almost guaranteed entry into the United States. The law stated that there were quotas for each nationality coming into the United States. These quotas allowed a  certain number of immigrants in from each country. The system strongly favoured North-West Europe. Kennedy said this was a racist system and had Congress scrap it. There would be no preference for any section of the globe thereafter.

The door to America was not as open as it once was. This is why Irish emigrants had to consider other countries to move to.

In the 1960s the economy was more or less stagnant. Nevertheless the government managed to move further with electrification and road building. A large reservoir was built near Macroom. The school leaving age was raised. There were still fees for university but these were heavily subsidised.

Television was launched in the Republic of Ireland in 1963. Up until that time some people living near the UK had been able to received BBC. The Arcbhishop of Dublin was John Charles MacQuaid. MacQuaid demanded that RTE submit its programmes to him first since their studio was in his archdiocese. He would have the right to censor its broadcasts. RTE politely refused.  RTE broadcast just one channel for a few hours each evening. Its content was fairly conservative but for a programme called the Late, Late Show. This was hosted by a Dubliner named Gabriel Byrne. Gay Byrne, as he was known, had all sorts of guests on his show. Some were from the worlds of sport and showbiz. He also had guests on who were willing to question accepted mores. It enabled people to discuss what had previously been taboo topics. Young radicals showed disrespect for bishops and started to call for reform.

The Lemass Government began to think about the Republic joining what was then the European Economic Community. The Republic repeatedly rebuffed invitations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This was because Eire should be neutral. Moreover, then the State would be an ally of the United Kingdom. As Northern Ireland was within the UK then the Republic of Ireland would not befriend the United Kingdom. As for the EEC there was a question as to whether this would undermine independence too much. Moreover, since the early 1960s the United Kingdom had also become keen on being admitted to the EEC. If the UK joined then that would seem to reunite the Republic with the UK but it would also reunite Ireland. In the end it was decided that joining the EEC was a definite goal. Very few people opposed it. Ireland had always been in the shadow of her much larger neighbour. By joining the EEC she would be part of a comity of nations some of which were smaller than Ireland.

Lemass was broadminded on the North. He gave a speech in Killarney in which he recognised that most people in the North were adamant that they should stay part of the United Kingdom. He did not seem to regard this as baneful.

Lemass and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, met in Belfast in January 1965. Only Rev Ian Paisley seemed to take exception to this. As O’Neill said this amounted to a de facto if no de jure recognition of Northern Ireland’s place within the UK.

The Republic and the North co-operated on lighthouses, waterways, fisheries, electricity bus and rail travel. The RUC even lent vehicles to the Garda. A new era of amity and understanding appeared to be opening up.

In 1966 there were commemorations for the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising. The media was full of little else. President de Valera was also up for re-election. His principal opponent was Sean MacEoin. MacEoin had been a prominent IRA man in the 1919-21 conflict. Indeed the Blacksmith of Ballinalee had been under sentence of death at the time of the truce. MacEoin campaigned with verve. The ailing de Valera was blind and chose not to campaign. This was partly due to his infirmity. He may have felt he was going to lose and if he campaigned and lost that would be more of a humiliation than if he lost without having campaigned. He was very much an elder statesman. He had already been THE nationalist leader for half a century. But perhaps his era was over. In the end de Valera was very narrowly re-elected.

In the late 1960s feminists in Ireland began to push for reform. Women had to give up their jobs in the civil service or teaching if they married. The government eventually conceded to this demand. Women were paid less than men for the same work. Feminists demanded equal pay. This change came in the 1970s. They also wanted contraception to be freely available. The Catholic Church was steadfastly against contraception. The government took its queue from the Vatican. AT this time the constitution said that the Catholic Church had a special position. People noticed that in the United Kingdom contraception was freely available. There were other reforms in the UK such as the legalisaiton of abortion and homosexual acts. Many people in the Republic thought that the UK was decadent and these changes proved how the Republic of Ireland was morally superior.

In 1966 Sean Lemass stood down. He was in poor health – surprisingly so for a man who was not so old. He was replaced by a Corkman named Jack Lynch. Lynch was born in centre of Cork in 1917. He grew up in a working class family and became a clerk in the civil service aged 18. The civil service later recognised his talent and sponsored him through a law degree that his family could not afford. He was called to the Bar. He was well known for captaining Cork to an All Ireland hurling victory in 1939. Lynch was seen as dull but decent – rather different from Lemass.

Lynch had the unenviable task of trying to handle the Republic’s response to the deepening crisis in Northern Ireland. There was strong public pressure to do something. To do what? Some people were closed mindedly republican and wanted the Republic to declare war on the UK. Lynch knew this would mean instant Irish defeat and no chance of joining the EEC. There was no much he could do but set up field hospitals. He was in a bind. For repubicans anything he did was too little. Unionists would say anything he did was aggravating the situation. He demanded that the British Government reform. He found it increasingly difficult to co-operate on security with the UK. Public opinion found that unacceptable.

In 1972 the Parachute Regiment shot dead 14 people in Derry. There was fury throughout nationalist Ireland. An irate crowd gathered in Dublin to storm the British Embassy. The Gards tried to hold them back. Eventually they decided they could not and they pulled back. The mob then torched the embassy. No one was in the building at the time. Other buildings with British links were also vandalised.

Ireland in the era of the foundation of the Republic.

Standard

The Second World War ended in 1945. Southern Ireland had been indirectly involved by the hundreds of thousands of her sons who had volunteered for the US Army, the British Army and the armies of other Commonwealth nations. Some had even served in the French Foreign Legion and only a handful had been in a German Irish group. There was some ill feeling towards Eire for having stayed aloof from the conflict.

Eamonn de Valera had successfully pursued his policy of neutrality. Southern Ireland had done well to maintain most of its civil liberties through the war. She had also prospered by being able to sell much agricultural produce to the United Kingdom.

Peace returned and so did normality. Within a couple of years the British economy was starting to recover and the UK no longer needed to purchase so much food from Ireland. Food and alcohol were almost Ireland’s only exports. Soldiers, sailors and airmen were demobilised by various Allied countries. These Irishmen often returned home.

In rural Ireland there were many unpaved roads. Piped water and electricity were still rare luxuries in the countryside. A child usually had to take a pail to the nearest pump or well each morning. Horses and horse drawn carts were very commonly used for transport in the countryside. The same was true almost everywhere else in the world except North America and the United Kingdom.

In 1945 Douglas Hyde stood down as president after his seven year term. He did not seek re-election since he was already of a very advanced age and in failing health. A Fianna Fail candidate was elected in his place. He was Sean O’Kelly.

A Cold War was in the offing. This was another conflict that de Valera was determined to keep Ireland out of for several reasons. Peace is almost always better than war. He did not wish Eire to be a junior partner of a mighty country like the United States. Moreover, he felt it wrong for Eire to form an alliance with the United Kingdom whilst the rights of the Unionist majority in the North were still respected. The United Nations Organisation was founded in San Francisco before the war was even over. The League of Nations still existed but was a dead letter. The League of Nations was not formally wound up until 1946.

The United Nations was another name used by the Allies during the war. At first membership of the United Nations Organisation was only for Allied countries. It was very soon opened to former neutral countries. Eire applied to join. She was vetoed by the Soviet Union. This was wounding to Irish pride. Eire had been a leading light in the League of Nations. Sean Lester had been the chairman of the League for a while and de Valera had also been a notable player in the Geneva based organisation. The Soviets said that every Irishman had an American cousin. They thought that Eire would be little more than an American lap dog. In that they were very much mistaken. If that had been the case then Eire would have fought alongside the United States in the Second World War. Eire was to pursue an independent course in the Cold War. However, Eire’s High Commissioner in London attended the wreath laying at the Cenotaph in 1945 and 1946. The Irish ambassador has never attended since.

The Irish economy was soon sluggish after the wartime boom. Factories from Great Britain would send recruiters to Eire to persuade people to come and work in them. They had a press of applicants to sift through. There was no shortage of work in the United Kingdom but there was a shortage of labour. This was partly due to the Labour Government’s full employment policy being too successful and also National Service.

In 1948 there was an election to the Oireachtas. Fianna Fail failed to achieve a majority yet remained the largest party. As de Valera was unable to form a government the President, Sean O’Kelly (himself a Fianna Failer) asked the opposition to form a government.. Fine Gael could not govern on its own. Fine Gael agreed to share power with Labour – the third largest party. Fine Gael obtained the support of a small breakaway from Finna Fail called Clann na Phoblachta (or ”Clan of the Republic). They also had Clann na Talmhan join them. This was a farmer’s party. This would be the first Interparty government. But who would be Taoiseach? The leader of the opposition was Richard Mulcahy. Due to his role in the Civil War he was too tendentious. He was unacceptable to some of Clann na Phoblachta many of whom still hankered after the Republican side in that conflict. Clann na Phoblachta was headed by Sean MacBride. This French born barrister was the son of John MacBride who had been executed in 1916. Sean MacBride had been Chief of Staff until only 10 years earlier. Therefore a compromise candidate was found. John A Costello, a Fine Galer, would be Taoiseach. Note that his surname is pronounced ”COSS te low” not ”coss TELL o”.

The first Interparty government took office.

Fine Gael styled itself ”the Commonwealth Party”. This legend was seen on their election posters. How curious then that they were the ones to break from the Commonwealth.

The story goes that a Commonwealth gathering took place in Canada in late 1948. Costello A Murphy felt snubbed by one of the Governor-General’s staff there who happened to be an Ulster Unionist. Costello called a press conference and on the spur of the moment announced that Eire would leave the Commonwealth and become a republic. There are other possible explanations. Clann na Phoblachta wanted it. It would steal a march on Fianna Fail. It would give lie to the claim that Fine Gael was insufficiently nationalist.

The decision having been made by the government it was time to call a referendum on the issue as all constitutional changes must by law be put to a referendum. In early 1949 a referendum was held. Few people campaigned for remaining within the Commonwealth. The Yes campaign won handily. The Oirechtas then legislated that Eire would become the Republic of Ireland. The change was to take effect on Easter Monday 1949. Easter Monday was chosen since that marked the start of the Easter Rising. As Easter is a movable feast it was not the exact anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Ceremonies were held in Dublin to mark the birth of the republic. In Cork there was also public pomp with a salute by a gunboat. Tom Barry played a prominent part in the ceremonies.

De Valera had said that Eire was already a republic in all but formal designation. The monarchy was hardly mentioned. There was already a president and not a governor general.

This blazed a trail for other Commonwealth republics. Up until this point Commonwealth states had to be monarchies. India was itching to declare a republic. The Commonwealth was eager to keep India within it so law was amended to allow republics to stay within the Commonwealth. If only this had been done before then perhaps Eire would have remained a Commonwealth country.

In office de Valera decided to broach an issue which he had not said much about when he was Taoiseach. He talked about partition. He went around the world talking about the iniquity of the people of Northern Ireland being allowed to remain within the United Kingdom. He debated the issue at the Cambridge Union in 1948 just after he had been voted out of office. He also lost this vote. So soon after the Second World War there was a great deal of fellow feeling in Great Britain for the Unionists of Northern Ireland who had been their wartime comrades.

The Labour Government in London was informed in 1949 that in Northern Ireland Catholics were often discriminated against. Attlee’s Labour Cabinet said that the internal affairs of Northern Ireland would not be handled by London. There was a convention that most matters there were reserved to Stormont. The Cabinet moved on to other business. It was to prove a costly oversight.

Clement Attlee, the British Prime Minister, took his holidays in Eire. He drove around without a bodyguard. He was perfectly safe and the IRA do not seem to have even considered harming him. Only 20 years later a British Premier travelling in the South of Ireland without security would be unthinkable.

In 1951 the Interparty government brought forward the Mother and Child Bill. This was proposed by the Health Minisiter Dr Noel Browne. This was to provide government funded healthcare for mothers and children. The Catholic Hierarchy denounced this compassionate legislation as immoral. The government backed down and the bill fell. This was seen by many as a terrible example of ecclesiastical interference in politics. Moreover, the Catholic Church was intervening on the wrong side. It was supposed to try to reduce poverty and to be benevolent. There had been a lash of the crozier. Dr Browne remained a hero to secularists and left wingers.

There was mass emigration. The Interparty government did little better than Fianna Fail to achieve economic growth. They were hand in glove with the Catholic Church as much as Fianna Fail. The coalition parties started bickering as de Valera had predicted. They had a wafer thin majority. The government fell in 1951 and this precipitated an election. This time Fianna Fail was returned to office with de Valera as Taoiseach. The Fianna Fail Party tried to bring forward the Mother and Child Bill again but in a much watered down form. Healthcare would only be available free of charge not to those under the age of sixteen years but under six weeks. The Catholic episcopate still spoke out against this as anathema. The Fianna Fail Party dropped this legislation that would have done so much to relieve suffering among the poor.

In 1952 Sean T O’Kelly completed his first presidential term. He was re-elected to serve a second term.

At this time the Catholic Church assisted the state. Public finances were not good. Priests, monks and nuns worked as teachers, nurses, doctors and childcarers. They donated most or all of their salaries to the institutions they worked for. This kept the state afloat financially.

The Republic of Ireland had very little crime. It was a cohesive state. There was a blossoming cultural life in terms of literature and theatre. Radio Telefis Eireann was the only broadcaster in the state and produced many high quality programmes.

In the 1950s the countryside started to be electrified. That is to say electricity came to rural communities as did running waters. By the 1970s this process was completed.

Many people still worked on the land. Ireland was one of the most agricultural countries in Western Europe. The government tried to found factories with little success. Bearing in mind the relative poverty in Ireland and the overweaning influence of the Roman Catholic Church it is surprised there was no antithesis to this in terms of major communist party. The Communist Party of Ireland existed as a 32 county party. It was tiny and strangely it was more active in Belfast than anywhere else. Other western European countries had significant communist parties. At this time in France and Italy the communists were attaining at least 10% of the vote.

One of the successes of these years was the Shannon Free Zone. Around Shannon Airport a tax free zone was set up. This stimulated the economy in one of the most depressed parts of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland finally gained admission to the United Nations in 1955. The USSR lifted its objections to Irish membership.

In 1954 there was another election and this time Fianna Fail lost. The Second Interparty government assumed office. John A Costello was the Taoiseach once again. Fine Gael was again compelled to share office with Labour and Clann na Talmhan. Clann na Phoblachta had been dissolved by that time.

The IRA reactivated after the war. A few IRA men met in a pub in Dublin to discuss how to reinvigorate a dormant organisation. They managed to steal weapons from Armagh Barracks. They had one of their men take an Oath of Allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen for the purpose of garnering intelligence. They noticed that the sentry on the gate of Armagh Barracks had a rifle but no magazine. That raid was a coup for them and no blood was drawn. They also managed to steal weapons from the poshest school in Northern Ireland – Campbell College. They deprived the Officer Training Corps there of its arms. They also carried out the Arborfield Raid in England. However, the men who committed this crime were caught and served several years in gaol.

By 1956 the IRA had plenty of modern arms. The IRA had an energetic young Chief of Staff Ruaraidh O’Bradaigh. It also had plenty of new recruits from the South who were spoiling for a fight. They decided to launch attacks on New Year’s Eve 1956. There was a series of co-ordinated actions. Customs posts and the like were blown up. There was the infamous attack on Brookeborough Barracks in Co Fermanagh. This attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary was a farrago for the IRA. There were no RUC casualties and six IRA men were shot. Two of them died. These were Fergal O’Hanlon and Sean South. The only gain for the IRA was the song that memorialised South. Sean South was the sort of man that the IRA could use as a poster boy. He was a Limerickman and thus had greater appeal in the South. More importantly he was fervently religious to the point of trying to stop couples kissing in the cinema. He was not compromised by communism or having served in the British Army. He had however been in the FCA (Local Defence Force). For doctrinaire republicans this was an abomination. The Irish Defence Forces served the partitionist parliament of Leinster House. The Irish Government was callow and served British interests – so republican propaganda said. Somehow republicans managed to overlook the fact that South had been in the FCA and this not been a strict republican.

O’Bradaigh was expedient enough to issue standing order number 10. No armed action was to be taken in the Republic of Ireland.

There was no violence in Belfast in the IRA Border campaign of 1956. The IRA had a hunch that someone high up in their Belfast organisation was an informer for the RUC. They also feared provoking a loyalist backlash.

The RUC became very active against the IRA. The B Specials patrolled the remote areas. IRA suspects were arrested an interned in the North. The IRA had anticipated that.

In 1957 there was another Oireachtas election and Fianna Fail was swept back into office. Eamonn de Valera resumed the Premiership once again.

To the surprise of many people de Valera reacted sharply to the IRA starting a conflict that he wanted to be over. He immediately ordered suspected IRA men to be arrested and detained in the Curragh. Hundreds of suspects were locked up there. The IRA campaign foundered. There were fewer and fewer incidents over the next few years. The IRA only ever targeted the RUC and not the British Army. Off duty British soldiers often went around in uniform but unarmed.

Some IRA men in the North were convicted of treason against Elizabeth II. This was even if they were from the Republic. The law stated that anyone in her territory was claiming her protection and was thus duty bound to be loyal to her.

In 1959 Sean T O’Kelly was compelled to retire after serving two terms as President of the Republic. Eamonn de Valera sought election to the highest office. He won comfortably. He stood down as Taoiseach so he could become Head of State. It appeared to reinforce Fianna Fail’s mastery. The new Taoiseach was Sean Lemass. Lemass was a working class Dubliner who had supposedly been on the the Squad of IRA men who shot dead a dozen British agents in 1920. He refused to confirm or deny this. That seems like an affirmation.

Lemass was a generation younger than de Valera. He was a more personable and sunnier character. He was less dogmatic than de Valera. He was willing to recognise the reality of Partition. He wished to concentrate on economic growth and not on staid nationalist mantras.

In 1962 the IRA called off its campaign. A dump arms order was issued. There had been almost no incidents in early 1962. Almost no one among the Catholic community in the North had assisted the IRA. They wished to get on with their lives. The Welfare State had considerable improved the lot of the Catholic population in the North.

”A Spy Among Friends” by Ben MacIntyre – a review.

Standard

I have read this book at least thrice. I have read it with a keen eye underlining the sparkling phrases and unusual words.

This is yet another offering from the prodigious writer of espionage history – Ben MacIntyre. His training as a journalist ensures that he gives his text pace.

This book is partly a biography of Harold Adrian Philby – better known as Kim Philby. The nickname says it all. His father gave him this handle because it was redolent of the spy him in the eponymous novel by Rudyard Kipling. Kim Philby is said to be English to his backbone yet he was born in India and died in Moscow. This book focuses almost entirely on Kim Philby’s adulthood. It is worth noting that his father St John Philby was in the Indian Civil Service. St John Philby attended Westminster School as a Queen’s Scholar and participated in the coronation of Edward VII as Westminster scholars have that honour. St John Philby was an outstanding linguist and a total eccentric. In the Middle East he went native. He spoke flawless Arabic and became a confidante of King Saud. He passed sensitive information to King Saud and was sacked for it. St John then worked for King Saud. This gave the example to Kim Philby. Kim also attended Westminster and Cambridge.

This is a rollicking good read. There is a very colourful caste of characters. MacIntyre lays them bare with his inventive and humourous prose. Their physiques are describe in some detail and often bitchily. There is not a banal sentence in the book. One can deduce that MacIntyre admires the subject of his book but also recognises him for the self-justifying rat he was.

There are quotations from numerous sources. Sometimes MacIntyre has to picture the scene and use some artistic licence. He imagines what the facial expressions will have been. This may also be true of some of the dialogue.

MacIntyre has the advantage of writing about riveting subject matter. He has to overcome the disadvantage of this being a topic which has been well worked on several times.

This is also a study of a class and an era. It is certainly true that snobbery goes a long way towards explaining how Kim Philby was able to get away with 30 years of spying on his own country. He was clubby and canny enough never to hint at his communist leanings after 1934. The public schoolboys who ran the British intelligence services could not bring themselves to believe that one of their own had gulled them for so long. One thing which seems to be an exaggeration is to say that Philby was upper class. He was upper middle class but he was by no means an aristocrat.

There are two mistakes in this book. He talks about Buster Crabb floating to the bottom of Portsmouth Harbour when it should be sinking. He also says that St John Philby died at the aged of 65 which would mean he was 17 when his son was born. These are typos but a better proof reader would have weeded them out. This does very little to detract from a superb and extremely lively tale.

This is a scintillating and memorable book. I bate my breath for the next book from this prolific author.

Gorbachev – a vindication.

Standard

A vindication of Mikhail Gorbachev.

The very name of Gorbachev causes many Russians to spit blood. The same is true in many other countries of the former Soviet union. Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its dissolution in 1991.Mikhail Gorbachev is not long for this world. He is 84 years of age.

What did Gorbachev do and why she he be more appreciated? Look at the situation when he took office. The Soviet people were heavily oppressed.There was no free media, there were no elections worth the name, it was a one party state, there was no freedom of assembly. People were not allowed to live where they wanted in the country. They required permission to travel abroad. This was only granted to trusted communists. People were very rarely allowed to leave the USSR. Religious leaders had to be informers for the KGB (secret police) or else go to a labour camp. Religious
schools were seldom allowed and they were spied upon by the KGB. There was no independent judiciary and fair trials were rare. The Soviet economy was faltering. The USSR was embroiled in a particularly horrendous war
in Afghanistan. The 1980s conflict was far worse than the NATO conflict in Afghanistan. A much larger number of people were killed in the 1980s
than in the 2001-13 conflict. The conduct of NATO sometimes left much to be desired. By contrast the conduct of the Red Army and its Afghan enemies was often ghastly. We know about the wrongdoing of certain NATO soldiers because there was a free press to report crimes. In the 1980s there were many
large scale massacres by Soviet troops. The torture of enemy combatants was standard procedure for both sides in the 1980s. Millions of Afghans became refugees
in 1980s whereas after 2001 Afghans were coming back. People often say the Afghanistan was the USSR’s Vietnam. But there are many differences.
In the 1960s there was an anti-war movement in the United States. American jounrnalist were free to execrate their military. The USA had an open society.
Politicians were compelled to respond to public opinion and end the war. In the USSR none of this held true. Anyone who publicly asked worthwhile questions
about the war would spend years in a labour camp.
The Red Army occupied many countries that were ruled by communist toadies.
The identities of the non Russian peoples were downgraded and their languages were discouraged. The Soviet Government did not want the other union
republics to push for independence. Their flags were all copies of the Soviet Flag with a slight variation.

Not everything was bad. Everyone had a job and enough to eat. There was excellent education although there was plenty of political indoctrination in the
curriculum. Much time was wasted with Marxism-Leninism. In fact up to a third of the curriculum was spent learning about this ideology. There was very little academic freedom. However, there was a thriving intellectual life. Classic literature from many countries was widely appreciated. Books were cheaper than bread. There was free healthcare. The USSR had the highest per capita number of doctors in the world. A person who was good at Maths and Science could not become a stockbroker or accountant so she or he would be a doctor. There was no homelessness. Petty crime was very low because this was a police state. Unfair trials ensured that the guilty were convicted as well as the innocent. Sentences were very harsh. The USSR did very well in the Olympics and Moscow hosted the 1980 Olympics. The USSR had marvellous accomplishments in space exploration. There was a rich cultural life in terms of ballet and opera.

The USSR did not follow the egalitarian ideal it was founded on. There was much nepotism.

There were very few contraceptives available. Hence abortion was used as the main method of contraception. This meant that the average Soviet woman had six abortions.
This was unhealthy and psychologically damaging if not to say ethically questionable.

Gorbachev saw that the Soviet economic system was failing. It was all built around oil and oil prices were low. Soviet factories produced shoddy goods and not
enough of them. The agricultural sector was also creaking. Gorbachev took over in 1985 when the Soviet economy was a supertanker going in the wrong direction. It would take years to stop it. He realised that changes needed to be made suuch as cuts to defence spending as well as marketisation. He was circumspect and at first moved slowly. He was unsure of his position. He could yet be ousted by elder statesmen.

The environment was being ruined by irresponsible practices in the oil and gas industry. Whole lakes
were drained for irrigation.

Gorbachev wisely chose a reformist path towards capitalism. It has since been followed by every country except North Korea.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev also introduced democracy for the first time since March 1917. He allowed other political parties. Other communist leaders had ruled through terror. Thet knew they were so unpopular that they dared not allow any opposition. Gorbachev permitted other parties to seek election. When they won control of Leningrad he was encoruaged by others to annul the elections but he let them stand. He had a different style from other leaders. He was human and approachable. He chatted with people and revealed information about his family life. The others were lofty and even frightening.

Gorbachev was not a paranoid control freak. He had the moral courage to acknowledge when his country had done the wrong thing. In 1985 it was dawning on the Soviet leadership that victory in Afghanistan was unobtainable.
He pulled the Red Army out of Afghanistan in 1989. Nobody complained. How many more millions of people would have had to have been killed for Soviet victory? The war had cost the Soviets 40 000 lives, billions of dollars and a huge amount of goodwill. He was also decent enough to acknowledge that it was the Soviet secret police that carried out the Katyn Massacre. This was in April 1940 when 20 000 Polish army officers and intellectuals were murdered. They were prisoners of war and political detainees. This was not killing in combat. This crime was so huge and so foul that Stalin had hoaxed the world by blaming it on the Third Reich.

Gorbachev ended totalitarianism. He allowed people to travel around the country. He freed political prisoners. He unchained the media. He allowed people to enjoy themselves with casinos and porn. He gave people the right to travel abroad. He permitted other religious denominations to proselytise. There was to be no more cartel of state approved religions. Do all these freedoms count for nothing? People had political freedom for the first time as well as freedom in the personal sphere. They had choices whereas previously choices were made for them.

Gorbachev said the USSR would no longer hold Eastern Europe in subjugation. Each land would be permitted to determine its own future. Some people seem to think that Eastern Europeans would be happier if they were still under the heel of Moscow. If they were happy with that then they could have begged the Red Army to stay. They could have voted to maintain the communist way of life. What is the alternative posited by those who detest Gorbachev? Should the USSR have kept down the peoples of Poland and Hungary? Should they have massacred demonstrators? This is what had happened when these countries were invaded before and thousands of freedom fighters were killed.

If communism was so good why did it end? It was ended by popular will. Despite decades of brainwashing it was not supported by public opinion. People could have voted it back in and have persistently refused to do so.

Glasnost and perestroika were in many ways successes. Gorbachev was briefly overthrown in August 1991 whilst on holiday by the Black Sea. Yeltsin, the President of the Russian Federation, led protests against the coup. Hardline communists were attempting to save totalitarianism. People power defeated these waxworks. Yeltsin’s speech on a tank
outside the White House obliged the conspirators to back down. Gorbachev returned to Moscow and resumed the supreme position. However it was clear that he was yesterday’s man. Yeltsin was the man of the moment. The USSR was permitted to break up.

On 31 December 1991 Gorbachev retired. He is the only Russian leader to ever relinquish power voluntarily. Others died en poste or were forced out. The fact that he retired from the paramount position shows that he was a reasonable man and not egotistical. He had defended communism most of his life and wanted to make it more viable. In the mid 1980s he tried to reform it and this process led to him observing that most people wanted freedom.

What most people detest him for is not for what he did. It is for what Yeltsin did. When Russia became independent from the USSR Boris Yeltsin became President. Many state assets were sold off. KGB goons controlled these auctions. Public assets were sold for an infintessimally small fraction of their real
value. This rake off did huge damage to the public exchequer. These chekists had been living in luxury for decades while ordinary people were penurious. This explotiation continued under capitalism as it had under communism. There had been an economic crisis looming for years and finally it struck. So much money had been squandered on arms and on Afghanistan. The USSR had sold huge amounts of weapons to Iraq and Iraq would not repay them.

Western economic advisers counselled shock therapy. Shocks are very seldom good. There was too much change too rapidly. People were not prepared. This happened on Yeltsin’s watch. He found it convenient to scapegoat Gorbachev. Those who really ruined things through incompetence and larceny like to lay all the blame at Gorbachev’s door for wrongdoing that they committed AFTER Gorbachev left office. Not even his most implacable foe has accused him of graft. He lives modestly. This is in stark contrast to just about every Russian statesman currently.

Some of the liberties he introduced were very soon usurped. He introduced a parliamentary system. But when the State Duma clashed with Yeltsin in 1993 the president had the White House (Duma building) bombarded. Yeltsin the hero of democracy in 1991 was a man who only two years later was assuming semi-dictatorial powers for the presidency. Because he was a hero in the West and was pushing through necessary and painful free market reforms Western government forgave Yeltsin.

Journalists were free to report problems for the first time. They would talk about all the horrific things people were suffering. It is not so much that the perception was worse but the reality was worse.

The country felt humiliated by having to go cap in hand to the United States. There were wars in former Soviet countries like Azerbaijan versus Armenia. That was partly due to problems that the Soviet Government had purposefully created. Moreover, that was owing to the fact that Russia armed and encouraged Armenia to attack.

There were flashy foreigners in Moscow buying things up and behaving arrogantly. They got the girls and showed disdain for Russia. This must have smarted. Russia became a laughing stock. She could not even contain a rebellion in Chechnya. The once mighty Red Army was feeble under Yeltsin.

There are some things to castigate Gorbachev for. He was First Secretary at the time of Chernobyl. That was an accident waiting to happen. Much of the problem was from before his time as First Secretary but he had been in the Politburo so there is some collective responsibility for that too. He should have evacuated the area sooner after the calamity
struck and been honest with people.

In January 1990 the Red Arm shot dead dozens of protestors in Baku. Several Armenians had been murdered the day before which is why the army was on the streets. The Red Army claims to have been fired on first. Even if this is true their response was disproportionate. Gorbachev did not command the soldiers to open fire. However,  he did not deal well with the fallout by having an investigation. Perhaps there could have been courts martial or at least an apology.

In the 1990s there was some poverty in Russia. This was nothing compared even to the 1950s when many starved to death.

Gorbachev is underrated. He deserves laud for his valour and wisdom. He did the right thing. People should value the freedom many countries have today because of him. The economy was going in the wrong direction in 1991. It took until 1997 until is started to grow again. This was mainly down to Yeltsin and robber barons.
There are considerable problems in Russia now but it is still much freer than in the 1980s. In the fullness of time history will judge Gorbachev more kindly than it does now.