Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dissolve the Dáil now, I say

If I were the President I’d dissolve the Dáil immediately on my own initiative. No waiting for the no confidence votes next week.

Not very democratic I know. But the government in complete disarray, 6 cabinet ministers vacant because the two coalition parties can't agree on filling them, and, as of this afternoon, the Taoiseach no longer the leader of his party …

On the other hand, here's one advantage of sticking to the March 11th date for the general election, announced yesterday (or was it the day before): there are two new political movements springing up which will make Irish politics more interesting. And they need time to organise. I dare say for them every extra day counts.

Joe Higgins in the Dail. 
Currently he's an MEP, not a TD.

One is the United Left Alliance, which includes Joe Higgins and the Socialist Party.

They say they are opposed to the governments’ bailouts and the slash and burn policies which are only making the crisis worse. In the general election they aim to provide a real alternative to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, as well as Labour and Sinn Fein, who also accept the capitalist market.

The other is even more recent, just in the past few days (or at least I only became aware in the past few days). It's something called the New Ireland Movement.  For over a year, I've listened to callers to talk radio shows like Liveline moaning on that they want “a new political party”.  I say moaning on because what characterised these callers was an extreme naïveté about what a political parity is. They didn’t even to appear to know whether they were seeking a new left-wing party or a new right wing-party.  Well I think they’ve got a new right-wing party. But I'm not quite clear how right-wing.  I suppose in the next few days or weeks we'll find out.

See Elaine Byrne in yesterday’s Irish Times, Loosely aligned Independents could have significant impact in next Dáil.  There's David McWilliams, an economist, and a 35-year old management consultant called Donnelly. Elaine Byrne says they are primarily well-educated young professionals in their 30’s, many of them female, and most of whom had never engaged in formal politics until now, exceptionally hostile to Fianna Fáil and particularly negative towards Enda Kenny and political parties in general.

My Swedish cousin and the German cigarettes

Last year my cousin Tolle related this childhood episode from the Second World War.  Prompted by the neutrality debate earlier this week, I asked him to remind me of it, and here's an email I got from him today which I have translated (eller läs Tolles meil på Svenska) :-   

The Luleå - Kiruna - Narvik railway. 
The iron ore is mined at Kiruna

As you know Germany had permission from the Swedish government to send military personnel by train through Sweden [to German-occupied Norway].  This has been heavily criticised both during and since the war.  What sort of neutrality?  

In Kiruna there were two railway stations, the central station, but also a small one which administered the iron-ore trains to Narvik.  The German trains, as we called them, always halted some hours at the small station.  We small boys (I was 11 – 12 years) were of course curious and used to collect beside these trains. Then it happened that the soldiers in the train wanted to have their water bottles filled with fresh water, and we had permission from the Swedish military who stood guard over the trains, to fill the bottles. For this we got cigarettes. All tobacco was rationed and the allowance was rather small. Since my dad smoked I thought he would be glad of an extra portion. But he wasn’t. He was absolutely furious.  He threw the cigarettes on the fire and forbad me to go errands for the Germans. As you perhaps know he was an engine driver, as was Albert [my grandfather] and drove mainly iron-ore trains between Kiruna and Narvik, where he had many good friends, which as a result he wasn’t able to meet. The ore trains were driven to Luleå instead. But he died in 1942, so it was only a short time he drove the Luleå trains.

He was anti-Nazi to his fingertips, so it’s easy to see why he burnt the cigarettes.

Tolle at the Luleå rail museum, 2005

Tolle's father and my grandfather (Albert) married two sisters.  

The map shows the railway line over which they drove engines such as the one in the photo pulling the iron-ore trains.  

Kiruna was where my mother was born, and Luleå was where she grew up, in this house.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ireland and the Second World War

Have been hunting around since the Irish Second World War neutrality debate I attended on Monday, and I see that the protagonists, Ryle Dwyer and Geoff Roberts, have clashed about this before.  I found this article
by Ryle Dwyer in the Irish Examiner, September 26, 2009, So we should have sided with the Allies in 1942? That’s nonsense.

Another article arguing the same case, by Kevin Myers, a columnist for the Irish Independent, appeared the following month.  De Valera had an exceedingly difficult game to play, without the benefit of hindsight.

Myers’ case is summed up by these two paragraphs.

“Any wise government avoids war, even when well-armed: for Eire, without a navy or an air-force, artillery or armour, to have freely provoked war with the Third Reich would have been a suicidal folly unsurpassed in the annals of democracy. Nonetheless, the issue of war-time neutrality remains alive in Ireland: hence the endless books on the subject. Yet do Spain, Sweden and Switzerland - all of them essentially passively complicit with the Third Reich - still fret about their strategies for national survival, 1939-45?”

[Here I have to butt in and say: yes, in Sweden they do still fret about it.]

The Kevin Myers article continues: “As Ryle Dwyer points out, just days after Eire celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Easter Rising, German night-bombers crossed Britain and laid waste to Belfast, without interruption from the RAF. No part of Ireland would have been immune from attack, as was shown in February 1941, when German Condor bombers … based in Bordeaux-Merignac successfully attacked Iceland. What might the Luftwaffe have done, and at their leisure, to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway, in daylight-raids flying over the Bay of Biscay?”

A blogger on writes : “Essentially, the main reason people give for their desire to have Ireland involved in WW2 is down to moral reasons based entirely on hindsight. Realistically speaking, Ireland would have suffered greatly from direct involvement while still being unable to provide much advantage to the allies.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Irish & Swedish neutrality during the Second World War

Ryle Dwyer
To University College Cork and a debate at the historical society about Irish neutrality during the Second World War.

Irish neutrality in the war was extremely favourable to Britain. Ryle Dwyer argued that Ireland made a positive and partisan contribution to the allied war effort, and this made it a phoney neutrality.

Geoff Roberts claimed Ireland could, and should, have done more, and Irish neutrality was favourable to Britain only for the same reason that Swedish neutrality was favourable to Germany. Namely a powerful neighbour. Indeed Swedish neutrality was considerably more favourable to Germany, which proves the point, he says. Irish neutrality wasn’t phoney or pragmatic, it was ideological and principled. Which raises the moral question that there was a right and wrong side in the war and Ireland failed to ally itself with the right side.

Swedish neutrality. Hmm. There's a big debate in Sweden about this (and rightly so says Geoff Roberts, and there ought to be more of a debate here in Ireland.) My cousin Tolle showed me warehouses near Luleå where the Germans kept supplies for their Norwegian garrison during the war. And once I was out walking in Stockholm with my aunt Inger, and she pointed up to a building and said “From that building we were ruled during the Second World War.” The building in question was the former German embassy.

When I'm in Stockholm this summer I must get a photo of that building and add it here.

... and here it is (July 2011, and yes that's me standing in front) ...