by Leonard P. Liggio
The current economic crisis in Ireland has a political dimension. Since 1987 the Irish government has been formed by the Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny) party as has been the case for most of the years since Irish independence. It is a populist party not too concerned about fiscal limits and closely associated with the real estate developers in the recent boom. Ireland has been able to attract foreign investment in production in Ireland with a low corporation tax. It had drawn revenue strongly from a tax on real estate transactions which now have disappeared. The EU powers want Ireland to increase its corporation tax so as not to be competitive with the continental states.
Ireland had had an independent parliament from the Middle Ages until 1801. Poynings Law (1494) which required London’s approval of the Irish parliament’s legislation was the model for the English colonial legislatures. Out of fear that the Irish parliament might declare independence of the British crown, the Irish parliament was abolished in 1801 and the Irish granted seats in the English House of Commons. Irish members of parliament advocated a return to Home Rule which was supported by their allies, the Liberal Party. William Gladstone, the Liberal prime minister, proposed Irish Home Rule but some members with economic interests in Ireland broke away from the Liberal Party and joined with the Conservatives as Unionists. When the Liberals return to power in the early 20th century, they re-introduced Home Rule legislation which passed three sessions despite negatives by the Lords. Home Rule passed in 1914 and was challenged by the Protestants in the northern counties (Ulster). Their challenge was supported by the British officers in Ireland (the Mutiny of the Curragh, a major cavalry base in Ireland). At this point, the crisis caused by the Serbian assassination of the Austrian heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, caused the British government to postpone Home Rule.
In 1916 the British cabinet extended conscription to Ireland, although Ireland had provided a great many volunteers to the war effort. At this point the Irish Republican Army, which had been a minor group, organized the Easter Rising. Key parts of Dublin were held by the rebels and then subdued. After trial, the rebels were executed (except for Eamon de Valera who had US citizenship) changing public distance into public sympathy. When post-war elections were called for December, 1918, Sinn Fein (political wing of the Irish Republican Army) swept most of the Irish seats, and held an Irish meeting of the MPS in January,1919. Thus began an irregular warfare between the IRA and British troops in which there was notable civilian casualties. On December 6, 1921 the Irish Peace Agreement was signed recognizing the Irish Free State with Dominion status. The Protestant north was excluded and a commission was to determine the border. As London envisioned a possible Irish invasion of the north, large sections containing Catholic populations were included in Northern Ireland. Eamon de Valera and Sinn Fein would not accept the settlement, leading to a civil war between the IRA and the Free Staters. The Free Staters won but of its two leaders, Arthur Griffith died and Michael Collins was assassinated.
The Free Staters controlled the Irish government until de Valera and Sinn Fein abandoned armed struggle and entered politics (a part of IRA remained not reconciled). In 1937 de Valera became prime minister of a Fianna Fail cabinet and elected Dr. Douglas Hyde, a Protestant Gaelic scholar, as president. Eamon de Valera as prime minister and later as president dominated Irish politics. Fianna Fail’s populist policies were challenged by the economic common sense of the Fine Gael party. In the future, the Labor party and Sinn Fein (now legal) are likely to benefit from the current financial crisis.