Saturday, January 14, 2006


Today in History - O'Neill/Lemass meeting

Men of reason and courage"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw

It was on this day, 14th of January, 1965, that a very important moment occurred in Irish history. On this day, Taoiseach Seán Lemass and Prime Minister of the North, Terence O'Neill, met together after the Taoiseach had accepted an invitation from O'Neill to visit Stormont. Lemass had sought a meeting with the North's PM on several occasions but the then Prime Minister, the bigot himself Basil Brooke, refused to invite Lemass to the North. The meeting between Lemass and O'Neill was seen as an end to the 'Irish Cold War'.

Both men were future-focused. Lemass wanted to reform the Irish Republic economically and make it a place that unionists would want to join, whereas O'Neill wanted to tackle the sectarianism that was widespread in the North at the time. In O'Neill's case, he suffered strong opposition from within his party.

The Prime Minister went on television to justify the meeting, observing that north and south 'share the same rivers, the same mountains, and some of the same problems'.

However some unionists were too enamoured with their sectarian outlook. Ian Paisley infamously threw snowballs at Lemass' car during the visit.

In February, O'Neill paid a visit to Lemass down in Dublin. Opposition to O'Neill's reforms was so strong however that in 1967 George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster who supported the Prime Minister, was pulled off the platform at the Twelfth of July celebrations in Coagh, Tyrone, and kicked unconscious by fellow members of the Orange Order.

Charming bunch that Orange Order don't you think? This sort of mentality is what mainstream unionism appears to be derived from. This is what mainstream unionism is built upon.

Today, Ian Paisley, the man who threw snowballs at the visiting Taoiseach in 1965, now regularly met with the current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in 2005. It took forty years but better late than never I guess. Sadly for us, he meets the Taoiseach as the leader of the largest unionist party in Ireland's north.

However, whilst mainstream unionism appears to celebrate the men who were renowned for saying 'No' to progress, people like Craig, Brooke and Paisley, it is my honest belief that future generations who study Irish history will regard these three men as forces of great evil in Ireland and that Terence O'Neill, the man who put up with so much hostility from his fellow unionists, will be given a warm place in the annals of Irish history. While I feel he should have done alot better in his dealings with the Civil Rights campaign, overall I think this is a fault of unionism in general and not something that O'Neill should have to bear the burden of alone.

I feel he was a good man who wanted what was best for all the people of Ireland. These are the kinds of people we need to acknowledge and celebrate. People like Seán Lemass. People like Terence O'Neill.

As Shaw would say, reasonable men who adapt to the world around them.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

© 2008 United Irelander.