Sean Lemass: A Profile
Sean Lemass was the dominant personality of the Sixties. In december 1969, Nusight undertook a comprehensive and in-depth profile on the man and his career.
THERE WAS little difficulty in identifying the dominant personality in Ireland of the decade. For Sean Lemass virtually moulded the Ireland of the Sixties. Since the war the country languished in a maze of depression and atrophy. De Valera, who so imaginatively and effectively led Ireland through the thirties and the war years, simply retarded development and growth-not simply in the economic sense but in the political one also-thereafter. The Inter-Party Governments and especially the latter one also failed to provide the stimulus for growth -because of their political weakness and brevity in office.
Thus approximately twelve years were wasted for Ireland after the war during which the country lost practically a generation of her youth. By 1957 Ireland was a dying community and insular and smug to boot.
Even throughout this depressing period Sean Lemass represented a restless frustrated potential which pervaded throughout society and in the agonies of the country's gravest hour he symbolised Ireland’s determination to survive, recover and grow.
He was an unspectacular, practical but dynamic Taoiseach. He concentrated on economic expansion perhaps to the detriment of other development-but that is what the country needed at the time psychologically if not entirely socially. When he retired as Taoiseach after just seven years in office-the country had recovered its self-confidence and economic health and other objectives looked plausible rather than the makings of a bad joke.
Of course all this wasn't Lemass's doing; Ken Whitaker, several other civil servants, even Gerard Sweetman, the former Minister for Finance, who set the basis for recovery and thousands of others contributed too-many of them much more than did Lemass. But politicians represent movements, trends and feelings and to a large extent they require politicians to survive and develop. Without effective and strong political mouthpieces-they languish. Sean Lemass was the personification of dynamism within Ireland which since the war was stultified 'til he gave it release on assuming office.
But that isn't all. Lemass's career and the history of Ireland are interlinked in the most remarkable manner. He participated as a child at the spiritual conception of the nation in the GPO in 1916. He suffered the birth-pangs of the country's independence in violence throughout the war of independence and civil war-through which he was the hottest of hot-heads, but so was Ireland. In his early days as a politician he was unsophisticated, often garrulous and naive. But once mature he was stubborn, independent and dynamic. Throughout the war he provided the sinews of the nation's survival and since then...
Perhaps his greatest achievement was his retirement in 1966 when his creation was outgrowing him. History may judge him our greatest patriot.
SEAN LEMASS was born on July 15, 1899, the second son of John Timothy Lemass, a hatter with premises in Capel Street. The family had strong Parnellite connections-his grandfather having been a member of that party on the Dublin Corporation. He attended the Christian Brothers' school in Richmond Street and at the age of 1St he joined the Irish Volunteers-surprising in view of his father's strong parliamentary party leanings. At that age he was actually too young to join the Volunteers-but he was admitted by the connivance of an active member-Pat Murphy, who was employed in his father's shop. He joined A Company of the 3rd Battalion of which De Valera was shortly afterwards to become battalion commandant. Lemass was appointed his personal aide. It was with some feelings of awe that he viewed Dev even then for "notwithstanding his queer appearance" he had enormous powers of personal magnetism.
The 1916 Rising
Neither he nor his brother Noel, who was two years older than he, knew in advance of the 1916 rising. For the spring 1966 edition of Studies Lemass wrote of his own involvement in the insurrection.
"On Easter Monday, 1916, my elder brother, Noel, and I, having had no orders or information about what was going to happen, since Professor MacNeill's cancellation of the Parade of Volunteers on Easter Sunday, went for a walk in the Dublin mountains with our friends Jim and Ken O'Dea. We walked to Glencree and returned in the afternoon. I was then seventeen years of age and my brother nineteen.
"Around 5 p.m, and some distance outside Rathfarnham, we met Professor MacNeill and two of his sons riding on bicycles outwards from the city. We had a slight acquaintance with the MacNeill boys and they dismounted and spoke to us. It was from them that we first learned of the Rising.
"Professor MacNeill seemed agitated and depressed. He informed us that the Volunteers had occupied various positions in the city, but that he had no information as to further events. He was very clearly unhappy about the whole situation.
"There were no trams running from Rathfarnham so we had to walk into the city. We went to Jacobs factory, which was the first position occupied by the Volunteers which we came to, but the windows were barricaded and we could make no contact with the defenders.
"Noel and I got up early the next morning and, with no word to our parents, left home determined to take part in the Rising. We went first to the Four Courts, which was the position nearest to our home in Capel Street, where we were informed that our own unit, the Third Battalion, was in the Ringsend direction. We decided to make our way there, but when passing the G.P.O. we met a friend, Volunteer Hugh Holohan, on sentry duty and he brought us inside where we were absorbed into the garrison and given arms.
"Noel was despatched across the street to the Imperial Hotel, where he was wounded in the subsequent fighting. I was sent to a position on the roof of the G.P.O., at the corner nearest the Pillar, where there was a group of eight or ten Volunteers, including a couple of Citizen Army men, under the command of a Volunteer Officer named Cremin who had come from London to take part in the Rising.
"At this position on the roof there was a number of rather crude bombs made out of billy-cans and equipped with slow-burning fuses. The idea was that, in the case of a mass assault on the G.P.O., we were to light the fuses and throw them on the attackers in the street below.
"We remained in position on the roof until Thursday, when we were ordered down into the building. The stage of serious fighting was beginning at the G.P.O. and there was tremendous activity inside preparing for the attack which was assumed to be pending. Later on that day, the shelling started, and activity was directed to fire-fighting, although the initial damage done by the exploding shells was surprisingly slight.
"The shelling continued on Friday, and later on that day as the building became well alight the word went around that its evacuation was to begin. O'Rahilly and his men had made their gallant but ill-fated charge up Moore Street, and it had been decided to work up this street by tunneling through the houses so that another charge on the British barricade at the Parnell Street end of it could be attempted. We were given to understand that the general objective was to occupy a new position in Williams and Woods factory in Parnell Street.
"Many people have claimed to have helped in carrying the wounded Connnolly from the G.P.O. In fact, the process was so slow and so frequently interrupted, that almost everyone in the G.P.O. helped in it as some stage. Personally, I assisted to carry Connolly's stretcher for a short distance to a small door opening on Henry Street, where however, I was ordered, with all those around, to proceed at the run up the small back street, Moore Lane, opposite to the G.P.O.
"Another back street running parallel to Moore Street intersected this lane and down this a continuous flow of machine-gun and rifle fire poured. Those who were first across the intersection, of whom I was one, escaped unharmed, but some of the main body following us were killed or wounded here.
"A house at the corner of Moore Street was entered and all that night relays of men tunneled through the walls up the street. Moore Street was littered with dead people, including some of the Volunteers who died in the O'Rahilly charge and, much more numerous, men, women and children who had tried to leave their homes.
"The next day the tunneling process ended in a warehouse yard not very far from the British barricade. Those volunteers who possessed bayonets for their rifles, of whom I was one, were directed to this yard, and I arrived there when various obstacles which had been blocking the doorway were being quietly removed, so that the way would be cleared for us to pour out in the intended charge.
"During the week I had eaten very little and slept hardly at all. Surprisingly enough, however, while waiting in the yard I experienced both hunger and fatigue. I ate a tin of preserved fruit from a shop through which we had passed, and while seated on the stairway into the yard, watching the obstacles being removed, I fell asleep for a few moments.
"When I awoke, Sean McDermott had come into the yard and had begun to address us, to tell us of the decision to surrender. He spoke briefly but very movingly and many of those present were weeping. Some time after he had departed, we were paraded in single column and marched out of the yard into Moore Street, headed by Captain M. W. O'Reilly and a Volunteer bearing a white flag.
"We marched back up Moore Street into Henry Street, which was littered with debris from the burning and destroyed buildings, and into O’Connell Street.
"In O'Connell Street, under the guns of the British military lining the street, we laid down our arms. We spent that night in the open, crowded into the gardens outside the Rotunda, and were marched the next morning, in long column under guard, to Richmond Barracks in Inchicore."
He was kept there for about two weeks -during which time many of those arrested with him were deported and of course executed. He recalls-"One night we were marched down to the gate and told we were free to go home. This was about half-eight or nine o'clock and, of course there was a curfew in operation from seven o'clock. W/e suspected it was a trap and that they were letting us out on the street only to shoot us; but, fortunately we all got home safely. .. I remember next morning my father came into the bedroom with a great big celluloid button in his lapel, which was his way of telling me he had come over to our side."*
After his 1916 escapades he returned to school-his father's ambition was that he should become a barrister-but on re-joining the Volunteers his formal academic career terminated.
At first he joined a Colonel Maurice Moore who had a private volunteer army of his own-with some rather crude arms; but in this he acquired some military training and skill.
In late 1917 he became a Lieutenant in the second battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Resurrected Volunteer force-despite his relative youth. However, his military training with Colonel Moore and of course his 1916 experiences recommended him for officer rank. Frequently he held training exercises for his company throughout the entire night.
Lemass is very reticent about his activities in the Volunteers during the War of Independence. He concedes however, that he was involved in a number of active engagements. "I don't like talking about it because individuals were killed."* A question puzzling many contemporary historians concerns his involvement in the "Bloody Sunday" incident on November 21, 1920. It occurred at the height of the guerrilla campaign-when atrocities were common to both the Black and Tans and the Volunteers. Tim Pat Coogan describes some of the incidents of the period in his book Ireland since the Rising. "Black and Tans seized six Volunteers near Cork city and killed them all. When the bodies were found the heart had been cut out of one, the tongue from another, the nose from a third. The skull of a fourth had been battered in and the bodies of the two others were identified only by their clothes. In the West the bodies of two brothers were found tied together in a bog, their legs partially roasted away. In Meath, Black and Tans trailed a live Volunteer behind a fast-driven lorry until he was literally smashed to pieces. Some Volunteers were just as degenerate. In Tralee, two Black and Tans were thrown into a flaming gas-retort alive. In Miltown-Malbay, Clare, the execution of a resident magistrate was bungled. Still alive, he was buried up to his neck on a beach. Finding that they had buried him above the high-water mark, Volunteers returned the next day, dug him up and reburied him further down the beach where he could watch the tide advance before it drowned him."
In October 1920, seventeen Irishmen were killed in circumstances which convinced Michael Collins that "shooting by Roster" was being officially organized. He became aware that the Secret Service and Propaganda of the police "was a camouflaged institution having as its avowed object the extermination of Sinn Fein extremists." The centre of this system was a group of agents who lived as ordinary citizens in private houses or lodgings in Dublin. Collins decided that they should all be exterminated and planned accordingly.
It was one of the most meticulous operations he had prepared-plans of the houses to be raided were drawn up, keys were cut, servants were bribed, etc. To carry out the operation Collins relied on his famous "Squad" (of twelve men under his personal direction, operating on a full-time basis and paid £4 10s. Od. a week) and a handpicked group of tough steel-willed men from the Dublin Volunteers. Sean Lemass is reputed to have been among this latter group. Early on that famous Sunday morning these men forced their way into private houses in the Mount Street area of Dublin and shot fourteen men while they were in their beds and in some cases with the wives and children looking on. It is believed that some of these men were innocent but one of those directly involved in the incident claims this is not so.
That afternoon a detachment of Black and Tans went to a football match at Croke Park to look for LR.A. gunmen in retaliation for what had happened that morning. Gunfire broke out-it is not known if the Black and Tans were shot at first-however, they fired indiscriminately on the crowd killing twelve people and wounding sixty others. When the firing stopped the men were searched for arms-none were found.
Shortly after midnight that day the Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, Dick McKee-the Vice-Commandant Peadar Clancy and Conor Clune were arrested during a raid on Vaughan's Hotel, one of Collins' meeting places. They were taken to Dublin Castle and were shot dead a few hours later. These too, were regarded as reprisals for the morning's assassinations.
In December 1920 Lemass was captured and interned in Ballykinlar, Co. Down, where he spent a year. While there he commenced his studies of economics and read generally as much as possible.
The Civil War
He was released on the signing of the treaty and naturally welcomed it on that account. However, on consideration he realised that the terms of the Treaty embodying partition and the oath of allegiance were unacceptable concessions-though had the Treaty contained just one-either one of these clauses-he would have accepted it. By opting again for armed rebellion against the Treaty his hopes were that the situation would again be thrown open and the possibility of getting a better deal, enhanced. A rather typical posture for one who was to display a near reckless gambling streak again and again throughout his career.
On being released following the signing of the Treaty he was appointed a Training Officer to the new Irish police force. When he received his first cheque and found that it was drawn on the Provisional Government, he resigned. (He had assumed that Dail Eireann was to continue as Government.) Shortly afterwards he went to Beggar's Bush again as Training Officer. From there he and a group of other Training Officers occupied the Four Courts. Lemass was second in command there under Paddy O'Brien.
After the surrender of the Four Courts garrison in June 1922, he and his fellow prisoners were marched to the yard of a distillery in Stoneybatter. From there he escaped through an unlocked door with Ernie O'Malley and others. He borrowed a bicycle and cycled to the house of Paddy O'Brien, who had been wounded-but not seriously. The two joined Andy McDonnell’s brigade which had joined up with a Tipperary contingent, in Blesssington. Confusion reigned here and eventually it was decided to return to Dublin. The troops were loaded up on the steam train that ran that time between Blessington and Dublin, "and we were rushing along at about two miles an hour when we broke down somewhere near Tallaght."
They then decided to march south and Ferns and Enniscorthy were captured from the Free State troops. However, a confusion of plans arose with Sean Moylan and the North Cork Brigade. On returning to Baltinglass they were surrounded by Free State troops-however, Tom Deirig (later a Fianna Fail Minister) and Lemass succeeded in eluding them and walked all the way back to Dublin. *
From there he was given conduct of the Civil War under Ernie O'Malley for the Eastern Command. He emerged as one of the toughest hard-liners on the Republican side. It is believed that he favoured the assassination of some of the leading figures on the pro-Treaty side. But again on the details of his activities during the civil war-he prefers not to talk-"Firing squads don't have reunions."
In December 1922 Lemass was again captured and interned in the Curragh. While there he endured considerable physical torture at the hands of the Free Staters. An escape tunnel which the prisoners were constructing was discovered and he was one of those singled out for punishment. He was brutally beaten-up in what was known as "The Glasshouse" and then handcuffed for several hours to a rack on a wall with his toes barely touching the ground. He endured all this without even a groan earning from some of the toughest of his colleagues the accolade that he was one of the most courageous and fearless men they had known.
It was probably the intention of the Free State Government to execute Lemass and his comrades-for at the time attempted escape was a capital offence. It was at this time that De Valera had published his cease-fire order and perhaps it was because of this that they were taken from "The Glasshouse" to Mountjoy and later returned to the Curragh.
On the news of his brother's (Noel) body being found on the Featherbed Mountains-Lemass was released in October 1923, some time before the other prisoners were let out.
On his release Lemass returned to his father's business for a while, during which he got married to the daughter of one of the family's closest friends Kathleen Hughes. His best man was the late Dublin comedian-Jimmy O'Dea.
Minister for Defence
In September 1923, Lemass stood unsuccessfully as a Sinn Fein candidate in a by-election. However, two months later he was successful in another by-election in South Dublin. Shortly after his election Lemass was appointed by De Valera as Minister for Defence (in place of Frank Aiken, who remained on as Chief of Staff) in the Republican Cabinet. Very soon after the appointment a group of three Repub1icanssGerald Boland, Sean Russell and "Pa" Hayes were sent to the Soviet Union to acquire arms and other help to recommence the Civil War. It is believed that that was done with at least Lemass's support, if not initiative. The expedition turned out to be a farce and the three emissaries returned home a month later after they had got the feeling that they were about to be bumped off. Whether it was due to this failure to acquire arms or support from the Soviet Union or not, shortly afterwards Lemass concluded that another armed rebellion was out of the question and that the energies of Sinn Fein ought from then on to be devoted to political action. This was a purely pragmatic decision (typically so) as he was later to admit in the Dail on March 21, 19288"Fianna Fail is a slightly constitutional party. We are perhaps open to the definition of a constitutional party, but before anything we are a Republican Party. We have adopted the method of political agitation to achieve our end because we believe, in the present circumstances, that method is the best in the interests of the nation and of the Republican movement, and for no other reason. Five years ago the methods we adopted were not the methods we have adopted now. Five years ago we were on the defensive, and perhaps in time we may recoup our strength sufficiently to go on the offensive. Our object is to establish a Republican Government in Ireland. If this can be done by the present methods we have, we will be very pleased, but, if not, we would not confine ourselves to them."
In a series of five articles appearing in An Poblacht between September 1925 and January 1926, Lemass scathingly attacked the policies and organisation of Sinn Fein, of whose standing committee he was then a member. His advocacy of the policy that Sinn Fein should concentrate on an immediately recognisable political objective such as the abolition of the oath of allegiance, caused a considerable furore within the party and Lemass and his views were attacked in the columns of An Poblacht.
In November 1925 the army decided to break away from the Republican Government because of the consideration Lemass and others were giving to attending the Free State Parliament.
In fact the pressures to enter the Dail had reached a crescendo at this stage. The Boundary Agreement which was signed on December 3, 1925 and which virtually recognised and accepted the fact of partition was anathema to most Republicans-many of whom like Austin Stack argued in favour of going into the Dail for the day for the purposes of defeating the agreement.
On March 9, 1926 the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was held in the Rotunda, Dublin and was attended by over 500 delegates. De Valera proposed the motion "that once the admission oaths of the twenty-six and six county assemblies are removed, it becomes a question not of principle but of policy whether or not Republican representatives should attend those assemblies." A counter motion was proposed by a fundamentalist, Father O'Flanagan, and his amendment was .carried by a tiny majority. In fact it is doubtful even if it did get a majority, for there was total confusion in the hall when the vote was being taken and had De Valera wanted to he could easily have challenged the result. However, it seems that in face he wanted to be defeated on the issue to allow him the opportunity to set up a new party. Gerald Boland had gone around the hall ensuring that those committed to vote against Dev's proposal, did in fact do so. Furthermore, Lemass had been thinking in terms of a new party for some time-he wanted to be dissociated from the "cranks" and "nuts" who proliferated in Sinn Fein and only a new party would allow the necessary flexibility. It was he who proposed this idea to Dev and virtually forced it on him at a time when the latter was having some difficulty in coming to decisions expeditiously.
(Indeed the story is that following his rejection of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Dev. said privately to Lemass that he was resigning from politics, and it was then that Lemass sprung the idea of a new organisation on him.)
Within a few weeks of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis a meeting was held in the house of Colonel Maurice Moore (who had the private army in 1917) in Sandy mount. Present were De Valera, Lemass, S. T. O'Kelly, MacEntee, Ruttledge, Dr. Ryan and Boland. It was here that Fianna Fail was formeddbut De Valera refused then to take any office. The Chairman was Ruttledge, Vice-Chairman-S. T. O'Kelly; Secreetaries-Lemass and Boland; Treasurers-MacEntee and Ryan. The party was launched on May 16, 1925 at the La Scala Theatre, Dublin. Dev. made the major speech, but as he said himself, "As a private and with a private's liberty."
The first Ard Fheis of the party was held on November 24, 1926, in the Rotunda, with over 500 delegates in attendance. De Valera was elected President; Vice-Presidents-Sean T. O'Kelly and P. J. Ruttledge; Honorary secretaries-Sean Lemass and Gerald Boland; Honorary Treasurers -Dr. J. Ryan and Sean MacEntee; National Executive: F. Aiken, T.
O'Deirg, Rev. E. Coyle, P.P., M. Kilroy, Dan Breen, Mrs. Pearse, Madame Markievicz, P. J. Little, Mrs. Tom Clarke, Dr. Con Murphy, Prof. E. Mullen, Prof. P. Caffrey, B.A., Miss Dorothy MacArdle, Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington and Miss L. Kearns.
There was some disagreement over the choice of name for the new party. De Valera opted for Fianna Fail (Warriors of Fal, i.e. Ireland)-but Lemass in his own inimitable hardheaded manner argued that the use of " Fail" would• be exploited by the opposition. He favoured "The Republican Party."
Dev insisted insisted rather sentimentally as " Fianna Fail" had been the name chosen by an tAthair O'Laoghaire for the Volunteers. A compromise was agreed to when the Republican Party became the sub-title of the new organisation.
The two party secretaries, Lemass and Boland were appointed full-time and over the next five years they crisscrossed the country in the establishment of one of the most effective and powerful political organisations any democracy has known. It was in this capacity that Lemass' enormous administrative abilities first flourished and indeed it can be certain that without them, Dev's magnetism, personality and appeal would have come to naught.
Fianna Fail was built on the ruins of the dilapidated Sinn Fein Party and the IRA. It was cemented by jail contacts formed during the civil war and war of independence. Lemass himself toured the country in a Tin Lizzy and dressed in a wing collar and bow tie and by 1932 nearly 1,000 Fianna Fail branches had been formed.
Fianna Fail's chief policies for the two general elections held in 1927 were abolition of the oath, the withholding of the land annuities and the imposition of protective tariffs. In the first election in June, Fianna Fail won 44 seats as opposed to Cumann na nGael's 46 seats, Labour's 22, Independent’s 22, Farmers' 11 and Captain Redmond's 8. Fianna Fail had secured the same number of seats as Sinn Fein had in 1923-which in view of the deep rift in Sinn Fein and the success of independent and small party candidates in 1927 was quite an achievement. Its drop on the Sinn Fein percentage vote in 1923 was only marginal, whereas Cumann na nGael had suffered a terrible blow-dropping its number of seats from 63 to 47 and its percentage vote from 3900 to 2700,
The new Parliament assembled on June 23, 1927 and Fianna Fail sought entry to the deputies chamber without taking the oath which they had promised not to do. However, they found the chamber's door locked in their faces.
On July 10, 1927 Kevin O'Higgins was murdered and the Cosgrave Government decided that in the interests of political stability the opposition should be forced to accept the oath and enter the Dail. (This at least is the generous interpretation.) The Electoral Amendment Bill was introduced on August 10 -its purpose being to disqualify the election and make vacant the seats of deputies who failed to take the oath. On that evening Fianna Fail held one of its oft to be repeated marathon meetings. Boland and Lemass both of whom had been pressing for some time to take the oath regarding it as an empty formula pressed the issue and this time successfully. (Already two of their colleagues Dan Breen and Patrick Belton had taken the oath and were sitting in Dail Eireann.) On the following day Fianna Fail entered the Dail and accepted the oath.
Just five days later Fianna Fail nearly succeeded in bringing down the Cumann na nGael Government. It had aligned the support of Labour and the National League for a vote of no confidence with the artificially induced slumbers of a Mr. Jinks torpedoed the plan.
Because of the very slender majority the Government enjoyed it called a second election on September 15 and in the process gained 15 seats from 47 to 62 and increased its percentage share of the vote from 27.400 to 30•4" o- Fianna Fail also improved its position winning 13 extra seats and thereby returning with 57. It also increased its percentage share of the vote from 26 . 100 to 43 . 900, The smaller parties fared disastrously Labour lost 9seats, including that of its leader Tom Johnson; the National
The Lemass-O'Neill meeting. January 1965
League and the Farmers' Party were also shattered. Whereas this election secured Cumann na nGael's position it also consolidated the gains which Fianna Fail had made. It was left in an advantageous position to strike for power at the next election.
Over the next five years Lemass played a major role on the opposition benches. He gradually assumed the role as spokesman on economic affairs, a topic in which he had most interest. He also played an important part within the party, apart altogether from his incredible organisation work in formulating policy on various issues and drafting general directives. The fact that he was a full-time politician consolidated his role in the party enormously and he was to benefit from this advantage throughout the rest of his career.
Indeed those five years proved an enormous benefit to Fianna Fail in general. Had the party come to office in '27 either on its own or in coalition with Labour its ignorance of parliamentary procedure, unsophisticated knowledge of the details of economic and social policies and its overall unrefined intellectual and administrative abilities could only have spelt disaster for it, then and maybe for quite a while afterwards. As it happened by 1932, the Party had overcome the inevitable ill-effects of political banishment and was able to pick up the reins of government however clumsily when its turn came.
The years 1929 to '32 were disastrous ones for the Cumann na nGael Government. The world-wide economic depression had caused serious economic difficulty in Ireland, leading to a severe drop in bacon, dairy, cattle and sheep prices; the closing down of 117 factories and an increase in the numbers of unemployed by 50%. Even by the standards of those days the Government's ameliorative measures were orthodox. Police and teachers' pay was reduced as were social welfare benefits. Not surprisingly this did not enhance the already declining fortunes of that Government. The election which took place on February 16, 1932 increased the number of Fianna Fail seats from 57 to 72, while decreasing those of Cumann na nGael from 62 to 57. The Fianna Fail percentage share of the vote jumped from 32.9% to 43.7% while that of Cumann na nGael decreased from 38.4% to 35.3% On March 9, the Dail reassembled in a tense and loaded atmosphere. Many of the Fianna Fail deputies believing that Cosgrave and Co. would not quietly hand over power to its battle-field enemy of just a few years previously carried guns in their hip pockets and there is a story that one of them actually assembled a machine gun in the telephone booth near the door of the chamber.
However, the power was surrendered quietly and De Valera with the support of Labour and James Dillon was elected President of the Executive Council and he named the man who apart from himself bore most of the credit for the Party's historic victory on that day Sean Lemass-as Minister for Industry and Commerce. At the age of 33 he was the youngest minister in Europe.
Fianna Fail began the 1932 election campaign with a series of detailed and comprehensive explicit policy statements never before or since matched by a political party in Ireland. And economic policy was no exception.
In the Dail as early as February 1928 Mr. Lemass remarked, "We believe that Ireland can be made a self-contained unit, providing all the necessities of living in adequate quantities for the people residing in the island at the moment and probably for a much larger number." In essence this was the policy advocated by Griffith within Sinn Fein in the early years of the century. It was ironic that Griffith's policies should have been for the most part ignored by his political friends. Cumann na nGael while in office.
It is true that tariffs had been applied by the first Government in 1924-25 and '26-but they were of marginal significance and applied with extreme caution. A Tariff Commission was appointed in 1926 to examine applications for protection by tariff. But again it discharge its duties meticulously and cautiously.
The Cumann na nGael Government priority was agriculture-however, by the time Fianna Fail had assumed power the Great Depression had deprived us of free markets for our agricultural produce-and protection had become the order of the day. Virtually overnight the new government imposed tariffs on a wide range of goods-they were imposed when and as they were needed frequently without prior consultation with the interests involved.
The economic war with Gt, Britain strengthened the protection policy which was founded on "no rational basis with tariffs of different levels imposed on similar articles, and higher protection extended in some cases to raw materials or intermediate products than to consumption goods" (Garret Fitzgerald-Planning in Ireland). Despite blunders and inefficiencies however, the policy was a good one-for Lemass largely through his own personal drive and initiative succeeded in having industries established behind these protective walls which otherwise would never have come about. Between 1931 and 1936 industrial employment rose sharply from 111,000 to 154,000 and the increase was almost entirely in the manufacturing industry. The policy was virtually canonized in 1933 when in a lecture in U.C.D. attended by the prominent politicians of both parties-the brilliant British economist J. M. Keynes said, "If I were an Irishman, I should find much to attract me in the economic outlook of your present government towards greater self-sufficiency."
During this period under his aegis as Minister for Industry and Commerce the Sugar Company and Aer Lingus were established among other semi-state bodies.
At that time the Dept. of Industry was also responsible for welfare functions now delegated to other departments-and some of the State's welfare benefits such as unemployment assistance, widows and orphans scheme, children's allowances were introduced by Lemass.
Indeed the entire department was different then from what it is now for then it encompassed the functions now performed by the Department of Industry and Commerce, Labour, Social Welfare and Transport and Power. As well as this it was the main enervating force in the economy at the time vaguely performing the function now carried out by the development division of the Department of Finance. The latter department in those days was not much more than an accounting office.
Prime mover behind Lemass at this time was the Secretary of his Department - John Leydon - whom Lemass regards as the ablest person he has ever known. Leydon was appointed by the conservative head of the Department of Finance, J.J. McElligott, just after the formation of the new Government. McElligott who was an ardent anti-protectionist had cause to regret this appointment on many occasions afterwards.
The Lemass- Leydon team was dynamic; the latter could get decisions out of the former who in turn could get action out of the latter.
Unquestionably Lemass was the ablest Cabinet Minister of any of Dev's Government and, rather untypically Dev. admitted this on one occasion. It was during a Dail Debate when
Paddy McGilligan, Lemass's opposite number, was launching yet another attack on the young Minister. Eventually Dev. rose to his feet and said how unfair the attack was "on this my most brilliant minister."
But despite this, even at this early stage differences of attitude and approach can be detected between Dev and Lemass. It is inconceivable that the latter could have done anything but squirm at the idea of-
"The Ireland which we have dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living, of a people-who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to things of the spirit; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths, the laughter of comely maidens: whose firesides would be the forums for the wisdom of old age. It would, in a word, be the home of a people, living the life that God desires men should live."
Lemass had no real empathy with rural Ireland or rural life- indeed even when the Fianna Fail organisation was being built up Leemass's incursions into some rural areas were often counter-productive. His whole orientation especially from the thirties onwards was economic, and therefore necessarily primarily urban. In any event he was temperamentally a "townie" as he was often called.
The scope for his initiative in Industry and Commerce at the time was unlimited. Dev. never interested himself with mundane economic matters and anyway he was too preoccupied at the time with the great political and constitutional issues of the nation. It is questionable that had he bothered or been able to enquire into what Lemass was doing, he might not have approved. But he didn't and things got on just fine.
Not that Dev. wasn't warned by some of his other colleagues. Senator Joe Connolly who had been appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1932 and was perhaps the only real socialist in Fianna Fail, warned Dev. that Lemass was selling the Party out to big business. Others, too, like MacEntee and Boland had their gripes -but Lemass was so clearly more competent than any of them Dev. was content to let him be.
Department of Supplies
But it was in December 1939 when the Department of Supplies was set up to cope with the shortages caused by the war-that Lemass was really given an opportunity to shine. And shine he did-again in harness with John Leydon who had transferred with him from Industry and Commerce. The new department they set up was quite unique in the Civil Service. But typically, Lemass decided a job was to be done urgently and efficiently and he wasn't going to be bound by official red tape or outmoded civil service tradition.
They recruited into the new department some of the best talent in the civil service and gave that talent full scope. There was a meeting between the Minister and each principal officer of the Department every morning when the problems and work of the day would be discussed. Each officer was invited and expected to contribute his own opinion on all matters raised. The discussion was usually brief but frank-and constructive. When decisions were required from the Minister, they were given clearly and precisely-he had as much a detailed and comprehensive command of the issues as they did. But most importantly, they kept the minimum of files-paper work was reduced to a minimum.
It required a bold experiment like this to keep the country in necessary supplies during the war and Lemass was unique among politicians in being sufficiently daring and original to go ahead with it.
It was during this time that Irish Shipping was set up-specifically to ship supplies to Ireland when the British had broken an agreement about the chartering of ships.
Much credit has gone to Dev. for keeping Ireland out of the war but without Lemass's success in keeping Ireland alive while out of the war the exercise would hardly have been possible.
Lemass's standing in the Party and the country was enormously high after the war, and Dev. recognised this by appointing him Tanaiste in succession to Sean T. O'Kelly after the latter had gone to the Presidency in 1945. Despite the respect that was had for Lemass then within the Party, there was also some annoyance that he had been appointed heir-apparent-or so it seemed. A number of prominent parry men went to Dev. and told him they didn't like it. Indeed Lemass's popularity within the Party was never very great. He was very independent and kept to himself quite apart-he seemed to care little about the ideal of an Irish-Ireland or any of the other great Fianna Fail ideals. He could be blunt and curt-especially at Cabinet meetings and at least three of his Cabinet colleagues went to pains to avoid him.
In and Out of Power
After the war Lemass was free to devote himself exclusively to Industry and Commerce again. In retrospect it is perhaps surprising that he wasn't moved to another department-e.g., Agriculture, Finance or Education which could have done with his energies for a while. However, back in the old stall he supervised the establishment of Bord na Mona under Tod Andrews, and in January 1947 he was relieved of the Welfare functions of his department -when they were taken over by the new departments of Health and Social Welfare.
By this time Fianna Fail had been in power for fifteen years and things were beginning to go wrong for it. A number of scandals broke around the same time concerning the take-over of the Southern Railway, a bacon factory and Locke's Distillery. Then, of course, there were the inevitable after-effects of the War-prices soared, wages froze, bread was rationed and then in October 1947 a severe supplementary budget was introduced to cope with the worsening balance of payments situation.
There was no need for Dev to go to the country in February 1948-but he calculated that with the Labour party split it was an opportune time to strengthen his government's hand. This surprise tactic had paid off in 1938 and 1944 but not in 1948. Though under the circumstances Fianna Fail did quite creditably, winning 68 seats and 41 . 9~o of the vote. It had won the same percentage vote in 1943 and one less seat and managed to hold on to power-with the aid of Independents (though, of course, the total number of Dail seats had been changed in the meantime from 138 to 144). The National Labour party had fought the election campaign on the basis that it was going to support Fianna Fail-had it done so the latter could have gone back into office-but National Labour coalesced with the other opposition parties and an Interrparty Government was formed under John A. Costello. Fianna Fail was out of office for the first time in sixteen years.
During the Inter-parry Government years Lemass was managing director of The Irish Press and supervised the launching of The Sunday Press. Dev and Aiken went on a world tour, leaving Lemass to hold the fort and even when they had returned the burden of business rested mainly with Lemass for Dev's eyesight was failing and he was losing much of his old verve. Lemass availed of those years to revamp the Fianna Fail party machine which had grown rusty over the previous sixteen years-however, from the point of view of party renewal or self-analysis those years were a waste.
The Coalition Government broke up in May 1961, over the Mother and Child controversy and in the ensuing election Fianna Fail, though increasing its percentage vote from 41'9°~ to 46'3% gained only a single seat. However, it was returned to office with the support of Independents, including the controversial Dr. Noel Browne.
Lemass was again made Minister for Industry and Commerce and Tanaiste, while MacEntee was made Minister for
Finance. It was perhaps the worst of the Fianna Fail Governments-for it was politically unstable, it had encountered a difficult balance of payments situation in 1952, and generally seemed to have run out of steam.
Relations with Dev
For Lemass it was a frustrating and difficult period and it marked the beginning of his irritation with Dev. The latter, suffering from worsening eyesight, had slowed down and was no longer in command of things. In any event the Dev era was over-it had ended with the war. The post-war world was one of economic reconstruction and development-a milieu quite unsuited to the romantic nationalist who was happier dealing with great issues of constitutional and philosophical import. It was typical of Dev to have opposed the repeal of the External Relations Act in 1949-for he would have preferred to have played constitutional footsie with Britain for years longer. It was equally typical of Lemass to have welcomed the repeal-for it rationalised our constitutional position and allowed us get on with other things.
But on with other things we did not get-mainly because of De Valera, who, in the midst of a severe balance of payments crisis, would waste hours of valuable Cabinet time thinking aloud his dreams of a Gaelic Ireland-united and free.
Lemass had fully appreciated the changed realities of the postwar world and itched to come to grips with them. It had been assumed, of course, by everybody with perhaps the exception of Dev-that Lemass would be the next Taoiseach. (Dev probably never adverted to the fact that there might be a successor to him.) The question was how long would he have to wait? He must have pondered this many times from 1946 onwards-not that he was desperately personally ambitious (though he certainly had his quota of ambition)-but his restive energies must have longed to cope with the challenges of the new era. And indeed that new era was tailor-made for Lemass-dynamic, pragmatic and practical. One of the great tragedies of modern Ireland is that Lemass did not become Taoiseach immediately after the war.
However, it did seem that Dev might go in 1952 when Sean T. O'Kelly's first term of office as President expired in June 1952. It was hoped by some in Fianna Fail that O'Kelly would stand down-Dev would become President and Lemass Taoiseach. But Sean T. was quite adamant about staying on for a second term and that was that. The idea of Dev retiring to private life was inconceivable and nobody in Fianna Fail would have asked him to do so.
Inevitably that Government broke up before long in April 1954 and in the election of the next month Fianna Fail lost four seats and another Inter-Party Government was installed.
During those Inter-Party Government years Lemass set about drafting his own plans for economic development which he unburdened to an audience in Clery's ballroom in early 1956, having previously had them published as a supplement to The Irish Press in 1955. It isn't the content of these plans that are significant but rather their very existence. With perhaps the sole exception of Gerard Sweetman, then Minister for Finance, Lemass was the only Irish politician to appreciate the need for an economic development plan and the urgency of launching the kind of economic expansion which Europe knew after the war. Though he would strenuously deny it-the publication of these plans represented Lemass's determination to get on with economic developments irrespective of Dev's views or feelings which were at best apathetic. It represented a resolution to take command of the situation whether he was Taoiseach or not.
Through all this time Lemass's feelings were for the most part sublimated and unconscious. He never at any stage plotted to get rid of Dev and indeed at times he must, like most Fianna Fail people at the time, have dreaded the prospect of Dev leaving, for Dev was Fianna Fail and without him there might be no Fianna Fail. There was never an open breach between the two men, though they gradually became more remote from each other and Dev often confided to colleagues that he could never really "size-up" Lemass.
Coinciding with Lemass working out his ideas for economic expansion parallel developments were taking place in the Civil Service and in particular the Department of Finance. The new Minister, Gerard Sweetman, was perhaps the ablest ever to occupy the position and he was certainly the ablest Minister in the Inter-Party Government at the time. While in office he established the pre-eminence of the Department of Finance which was to be so vital a factor in the later economic growth of the State.
But Sweetman's most significant decision was that to appoint Ken Whitaker as Secretary of the Department of Finance and therefore number one in the Civil Service.
Ken Whitaker was born in Rostrevor, Co. Down, in 1916; he was educated at the Christian Brothers School, Drogheda, and took a postal degree in economics through the London School of Economics. From the very beginning his career in the Civil Service was a brilliant one. He gained first place in the entrance examination with marks never before or since surpassed and he rose rapidly through the ranks.
Sweetman's decision to make him Secretary was a deliberate and conscious one. Though Whitaker was the youngest and most junior Assistant Secretary he had impressed Sweetman by the outline work he had been doing on economic development for the Commission on Capital Investment, and a paper he had prepared on capital investment for the Statistical and Social Enquiry Society of Ireland. Sweetman also recognised the priority that should be given to economic expansion at the time-so he chose Whitaker as the Department of Finance's Secretary in May 1956 intending to begin work on a plan for economic development. However, the balance of payments crisis of 1956 s intervened-two levies were slapped on in two stages--economic growth foundered-unemployment rose and thousands of people left Ireland by the week.
It was perhaps the most serious national crisis in the history of the State -not just in the economic sense but in terms of morale and self-confidence. The integrity of our State was threatened not by outside forces but by internal ineptness. The country's failure to come to terms with the new postwar world was nearly disastrous.
The Inter-Party Government collapsed in February 1957 when Clann na Poblachta withdrew its support. In the General Election Fianna Fail won the greatest number of seats in its historyy78, though it had bettered its percentage vote slightly in 1933 and 1944.
Lemass was again in Industry and Commerce in the new Government (which had introduced to the Cabinet Jack Lynch, Neil Blaney, Kevin Boland and Michael Moran). However, his position was immeasurably strengthened by his appointment as Chairman of the Economic Cabinet. This gave him a directory role over the entire area of economic policy and effectively he was Taoiseach from then onwards.
Of course the most significant development of those years from 1957 to 1959 was the publication of Whitaker's "Economic Development." On December 12, 1957 he addressed a memorandum to his Minister, Dr. Ryan, outlining a study he proposed undertaking on the economy and suggesting the broad lines such a study should take. The memorandum was submitted to the Government four days later on December 16 and was immediately approved.
The study was presented to the Government in May 1958, and formed the basis for the First Programme for Economic Expansion announced by Lemass at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in October 1958. The fact that the programme was announced by Lemass and not by either De Valera or Ryan is indicative of the position he held in the Cabinet at the time.
The First Programme was an outline of the more important contributions direct and indirect, which the Government proposed to make in the years 1959 to 1963. It was the first time that an official statement of policy as a whole was made. The fundamental principle of the Programme was that a greater proportion of public capital expenditure should be incurred on productive projects than formerly. This implied that investment purely for unproductive employment, was to be discontinued. Savings were to be encouraged and direct taxation to be reduced.
The Programme set out the objective to be aimed at in the main sectors of the economy and indicated what means were to be used in order to attain them. It was in the industrial sphere that the greatest departure from previous policies was to be observed. Protection was to be given to new industries only in cases where it was clear that after a short initial period the industry would be able to survive without protection, the aim being to expand industrial exports rather than cater for the home market. Another new departure was that foreign participation in Irish industry was to be encouraged. The Programme rather cautiously projected an overall growth rate of 200 per annum over the period.
Of course in several respects this Programme represented a major break with the past for Fianna Fail. Indeed, for Lemass himself, it was an about turn. It was he who had been the most ardent exponent of protectionism and domestic control of industry. But then he had always been an ardent believer in the Edmund Burke dictum "you can never plan the future by the past," so he just got on with the job.
Lemass elected Taoiseach
In 1958 the Government announced its intention to hold a referendum to change the electoral system from proportional representation to single seat constituencies and single vote. The proposal immediately met with considerable opposition but Fianna Fail and especially Dev, were determined to press ahead. Up to that time Dev had given no indication of his intention to retire though there was an obviously imminent occasion for him to do so when Sean T. O'Kelly would be relinquishing the Presidency in June 1959. Even some of his closest colleagues had begun to feel that he was no longer physically fit to be Taoiseach, especially with the new demands of government direction of economic development. Even those unsympathetic to Lemass had begun to feel that he had waited long enough for the office which he was obviously designed for and in justice merited. Consequently, in late '58 Ryan and MacEntee convened a top-secret meeting of Cabinet ministers where the issue of Dev's retirement was discussed. All agreed with the exception of Frank Aiken that Dev should be approached and asked to stand for the Presidency in June of the following year. Again, MacEntee and Ryan went to Dev, told him of the consensus within the Cabinet and Dev agreed to go.
Lemass became Taoiseach on June 23, 1959, having been approved of by the Dail by 75 votes to 51. Two days later De Valera was installed as President having defeated General Sean MacEoin by 538,000 votes to 417,536. However, in winning the Presidency Dev lost the last great political battle the referendum. In a poll of 979,675 there was a majority of 33,600 in favour of retaining P.R.
A few weeks before assuming office, Lemass made quite clear what the objectives of his administration were going to be. "The historic task of this generation," he asserted, "is to secure the economic foundation of independence." If there was failure in the economic aims of the country then the political gains would be lost, he said. The primary aim was economic above and beyond all others: patriotism would take a new form, love of country and language would inspire new heights of economic endeavor. State concerns would be extended to new activities; new state units would be formed; some of these on achieving their purpose would be handed back to private enterprise, others would co-operate with private enterprise. "The industrial forest must be cleared of deadwood and create new growth." No more hiding behind tariff walls but, if necessary exporters must surmount tariff walls.
In his first press conference as new Taoiseach, he announced his new policy on partition. The use of the negative phrase anti-partition ended and was replaced by "restoration of the national territory"-good will was the only policy, not a policy of coercion and force.
Shortly afterwards he gave an interview with The Belfast Telegraph, he said "I have no illusions about the strength of the barriers of prejudice and suspicion which now divide the people, but given good will nothing is impossible. Meanwhile better relations can be fostered by practical co-operation for mutual benefit in the economic sphere . .. Even at present, and without reference to any wider issue-we would be prepared to consider and to discuss proposals as to how policy might be directed so as to ensure that economic progress of both parts of the country will be impeded as little as possible by the existing political division."
In October 1960, Lemass spoke on partition, at the Oxford Union and referred to the different cultural traditions of the mass of Northern Protestants. To ensure them due liberty of religious belief and expression-to this end he suggested an arrangement might be hammered out "which would give them effective power to protect themselves very especially in regard to educational and religious matters." He then referred to the proposal that the question of Irish re-unification might be considered on a federal basis-he said, "the suggestion seems eminently reasonable and should effectively dispose of the apprehensions of the North of Ireland Protestant population about the consequences of re-unification which they seem most to fear."
Meetings with O'Neill
Speaking in Tralee on July 29, 1963, Mr. Lemass said: "We recognize that the Government and Parliament there (Northern Ireland) exist with the support of the majority of the Six County area-artificial though that area is. We see it functioning within its powers and we are prepared to stand over the proposal that they should continue to function with these powers, within an all-Ireland constitution, for so long as it is desired to have them. Recognition of the realities of the situation have never been a difficulty with us.
"We believe that it is foolish in the extreme that in this island and amongst people of the same race there should persist a desire to avoid contacts, even in respect of matters where concerted action is seen to be beneficial. We would hope that from the extension of useful contacts at every level of activity, a new situation would develop which would permit of wider responsibilities in accord with our desires . .. The solution of the problem of partition is one to be found in Ireland by Irishmen, and as we move towards it we can be sure that there is no power or influence anywhere which can prevent its implementation when the barriers of misunderstanding and suspicion which have sustained it have been whittled away."
This attitude to partition represented by far the most realistic and positive attitude to the problem that any politician hitherto, (and few since), had displayed. Gone was the idea that it was Britain that was perpetuating the Border and instead there was a sensible appreciation of the apprehensions of Northern Protestants. Instead of tub thumping on the inalienable right of Irishmen to be united-there was a positive suggestion how the cultural values of the Presbyterian Northerners could be safeguarded. But above all there was the recognition that contacts at all levels of national activity was the only thing that could dispel misunderstandings and fears.
It was against this background that the Northern Premier, Captain O'Neill decided to invite Mr. Lemass to Storrmont in January 1965. It was indicative of the stature of Mr. Whitaker at the time that it was through his agency that the meeting was arranged. Whitaker had become a close friend of O'Neill and his private secretary Jim Malley having met them on numerous occasions at World Bank meetings when O'Neill was the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance. They kept up their friendship after O'Neill became Premier. The latter was as concerned as Lemass was to introduce an element of rationality into North/South relations and viewing the new realistic attitude of Lemass to relations with the North-he was encouraged to invite him to Stormont. He had discussed this in general terms with Whitaker on a number of occasions and was promoted to go ahead.
In November 1964, O'Neill sent Jim Malley to Dublin to discuss the idea with Whitaker-who suggested it to Lemass, and the latter without the least hesitation agreed immediately.
Because of the security problems involved there was no pre-publicity for the meeting. Lemass informed just a select few of his colleagues of the proposed visit. O'Neill told none of his.
The meeting itself was a rather formal affair. It was agreed that O'Neill should visit Dublin-a list of possible areas of co-operation was drawn up and it was decided that meetings should be held at ministerial levels.
But it was the psychological impact of the visit that was significant. There was general relief both North and South that at last sanity had intruded into an area of national life that previously knew only emotion and unreason. Of course there was adverse reaction from some extremist elements in both parts of the country-in the North in particular-but at the time it was insignificant.
On February 9, 1965, O'Neill payed a reciprocal visit to Dublin, which was obviously cordial. Again there was general favourable reaction. (In Storrmont when Mr. Ivan Neill broke the news there were cries of "hear, hear" from both sides of the House. Mr. D. Bleakley said it was appropriate that the announcement should come in a debate on adult education.)
The meetings with O'Neill were perhaps the highlights of Lemass's tenure of office as Taoiseach. It was typical of the man to appreciate the realities of the situation and to act accordingly.
The significance of those visits has probably been forgotten in the light of recent Northern events and reaction in the Republic. But the breach has been made in the iceberg of North/ South relations and even if there has been a frosting since then, it would be impossible to revert to the former frozen positions. If Lemass did nothing else as Taoiseach he would deserve to be honoured for this. But however momentous Lemass's contribution to North/South relations were, it is with economic progress that he is most closely identified.
Director of Economy
The First Programme for Economic Expansion was enormously successful especially in its psychological impact. Writing in Studies in Winter 1964, Garret FitzGerald remarked: "Six years have passed since then (i.e. 1958) -years that have foreseen the transformation of the Irish economy that no one would have cared to predict in the depths of that disastrous recession. During this period the outlook of the people has changed gradually, but radically, from one of cynicism and near despair to one of confidence and self-assurance. This psychological breakthrough is of far greater importance than any purely economic achievements, the obstacles to economic and social progress in Ireland have in fact always been psychological rather than physical in character."
This was Lemass's most outstanding achievement. For, however brilliant a technical economic programme was and whatever tempting economic incentives the government offered it was the creation of confidence and self-assurance that was most necessary. This Lemass did consummately. He himself exuded a determination to succeed-he clearly and consistently defined the national aim at that time in terms relevant and urgent to the people at the time. He did for Ireland in economic difficulties what Churchill did for Britain in the Second World War.
The success of the First Programme was very encouraging. Following a growth rate of just 100 in GNP from 1949-1957 it proposed a target of 2% growth per annum over the period 1959-1963. In fact the growth rate was 4~ 0 o- Employment in industry (and services) increased over the period, this off-setting part of the drift of manpower from agriculture; emigration fell off quite sharply, population increased slightly and there was a marked rise in investment in manufacturing industry.
The Second Programme for Economic Expansion was a far more technical and detailed programme than the First and was drawn up by the Economic Development Division of the Department of Finance which had been set up in 1959.
The Second Programme unlike the First gave detailed targets for all sections of the economy and for branches within those sections. In drawing it up the programmers consulted closely with industrialists and other interested groups. The average growth rate is projected was 400 per annum.
Political involvement in the formulation of the Second Programme was minimal. The complex technical work that had to go into it-made that impossible. However, in deciding on the overall growth target-it was agreed that a lower target would be psychologically damaging and a higher target unattainable, This was largely a political decision though taken in the first instance by the programmers.
The fate of the Second Programme is now well known. Balance of Payments difficulties in 1965 called for deflationary measures which slowed down the growth rate-to 2'500 in both 1965 and 1966. The causes of these were multiple-restrictions on the outflow of capital from Britain-overestimation of targets in the Second Programme and wage inflation in Ireland. Despite these set-backs, however, the economy had made the break-through in the years 1959-64 and Lemass will be remembered for this more than for his programmers' failures in 1965-66.
Perhaps the greatest set-back during the Lemass years was the failure to get into the EEC. He himself had laid great store in the prospect and the assumption behind both the First and Second Programmes was that Ireland would gain entry in the Sixties.
However, this disappointment was offset somewhat by the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement which was signed on December 14, 1965 and came into effect on July 1, 1966, which was viewed as a step towards the inevitable Common Market membership. It provided for the freeing of industrial trade between the two countries within 10 years and a more general guarantee of access for Irish agricultural products to Britain.
It was paradoxical that the Minister who built the protection walls against British imports in the 1930s should be the Taoiseach to dismantle them entirely in the 1960s.
Lemass excelled himself in the negotiations on this agreement. He was fully conversant with all the complex details of quota restrictions, subsidies, etc. British civil servants were astonished by his complete grasp of all issues at stake and his independence from his civil service advisers. But this was typical of him-in all the negotiations he was involved with he had a thorough knowledge of his brief. Members of delegations that went to see him recall how on some occasions he would refer a matter to one of his civil servants accompanying him-and then if he felt that the latter had inadequately dealt with the question, he would proceed to answer it himself usually displaying better acquaintance with the matter than his civil servant.
With the possible exceptions of Paddy McGilligan, Gerard Sweetman and Charles Haughey, no politician in Ireland has been in any respect so totally in command of his job as was Sean Lemass.
On the retirement of Dev from the political milieu (and Lemass ensured that it was a complete retirement by keeping him as remote as was courteous from day-to-day politics) many, both outside and inside Fianna Fail were convinced that the party could not command such mass loyalty from the Irish people any longer. Lemass himself shared this view and foresaw a realignment within Irish politics. He believed that the Fianna Fail right-wing represented by MacEntee, Aiken and Smith would break away and join with conservative Fine Gaelers. He thought Cosgrave, perhaps Sweetman and others would come and join him.
That a breach did not come in Fianna Fail was indeed remarkable, for under Lemass the party abandoned one tenet after another of traditional Fianna Fail policies. Certainly there was unrest’s exemplified by Smith's resignation as Minister for Agriculture in 1964 and the squabble with MacEntee prior to the 1965 General Election; but that the Party did not split testified to its instinct for survival and rigid monolithic structure. There was no tradition of dissent in Fianna Fail and however dissatisfied feelings might be in the Party they rarely found expression at Party meetings, but instead floated around the corridors of Leinster House. In any event Lemass moved so quickly that possible dissenters were outmaneuvered again and again. Furthermore, the issues at stake in the sixties were ones strange and bewildering to Fianna Fail and therefore articulate opposition in the Party was virtually non-existent.
One might logically have expected dissent on the EEC, the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement, the Proogrammes for Economic Expansion, etc. -but the fact was that Lemass was probably the only person in the Party to fully appreciate their significance the others were confused. They were also surprised at Lemass's political successes. But they were qualified successes. In his first General Election as Taoiseach in 1961-Fianna Fail lost eight seats and 4.5 o~ of its share of the vote. However, he was able to form a Government with the support of a number of independents.
In April 1963, Dr. Ryan introduced the 2~ 00 Turnover Tax-which caused a major political controversy. The Tax was vehemently opposed by Fine Gael and Labour. However, Lemass defended it in his famous "shift to the left" speech the day after the Budget. The Budget, he said, rested on the proposition that economic and social progress required higher social spending. The realization of higher levels of employment, the extension of health, education and social welfare services, the provision of more houses, the improvement of communications, better living in town and country-all had to be financed through the Budget. "One beneficial effect of the Budget is that it will help to clarify the really fundamental differences in approach to national problems between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Fine Gael is negative, deflationary, deflationary, timorous and political in the extreme. The Fianna Fail approach is positive, constructive and national."
The Fine Gael T.D. for Dublin north East, Jack Belton. died and the by-election was held in May of 1963. The main issue was the Turnover Tax. The Government lost the election to the deceased's brother and dropped 6,000, compared with the 1961 general election.
The result was claimed as the people's verdict against the Turnover Tax and was followed by a "no confidence motion" to refuse to sanction the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. Defeat in this would have meant a Government resignation and a general election, and there was some little doubt up to the last moment whether the Government would secure a majority. With the aid of two Independents, however, Mr. Frank Sherwin and Mr. J. Leneghan, the Government survived, as it had done with the no confidence motion on incomes policy earlier in the year. The result of the by-election had not changed the balance of forces in the Dail. In November of that year, another crisis occurred, when another vote of no confidence was proposed.
All of the Independents, except those who had traditionally supported the Government, had promised support. Labour was confident that the vote would be a tie, and it took the unusual step of passing a resolution to the Ceann Comhairle that he should vote against the Government in the event of a tie. But four Independents, including James Carroll, and Mr. Joseph Sheridan, also voted with the Government, giving it a safe majority of 73 to 69, in spite of the loss of one deputy through death, Mr. Galvin.
In early 1964 two by-elections were pending-in Cork City and Kildare. Judging by the government's record in Dublin North East it seemed doomed to lose both of them. But, in the event, it won both. This was, perhaps, Lemass's greatest political triumph. He had clearly made it an issue of confidence in the government, saying that if it was defeated there would be a General Election. He made it quite clear that the people had to decide if they were prepared to pay for the economic, social and educational benefits necessary for their future welfare.
In the midst of the campaign the 9th wage round was negotiated providing for a 12° o increase in wages and salaries. The Opposition claimed that in granting this the government bought the two by-elections but m fact Lemass had proposed a much smaller increase and was outdone by the employers who, without consulting him, offered a 12°o increase.
Later in the year there were two by-elections, in Roscommon and East Galway, following the deaths of opposition T.D.s. The government lost both the by-elections but it didn't make any difference to its strength in the Dail.
In the General Election of May 1965, Fianna Fail increased their number of seats by two and its percentage share of the vote from 43'8°0 to 47,4°, .. This was as near as Lemass ever came to an overall majority in Dail Eireann.
Despite his success in this election Lemass was for the first time since becoming Taoiseach rattled by the opposition. Just prior to the Election, Fine Gael announced its Just Society policy which was critical of the government's exclusive emphasis on economic policy and neglect of social issues.
During the campaign, Lemass was forced to concede that a social programme might be desirable as a complement to the economic one. Up to that time there was virtually no political debate in Ireland since 1957. Fine Gael was completely nonplussed by Lemass, for basically it endorsed his economic orientation and policies. Sweetman, who was perhaps, the most forceful personality in Fine Gael at the time, had, of course, laid the foundations himself for the later economic advance and he was forced to concede again and again that basically there was no difference between his and Lemass's policies. Cosgrave, too, who was prominent then, was also an admirer of Lemass and, indeed, had been so since the mid-forties (the Cosgraves had become very friendly with him and they were regular companions at race meetings), Dillon was never able to cope with Lemass's pragmatism. He would have been far happier as a foil to De Valera. The rather commonplace issues of economic and industrial progress did not sit well on his eloquent tongue, which was far better employed dealing with the threats of atheistic international communism than the targets for the textile industries. In a sense, politics was devalued during Lemass's reign, for the great issues of Irish life were decided outside the political arena, in one case by Whitaker, in another by the faceless men in the economic development division of the Department of Finance, and later by the National Industrial Economic Council. There was also the factor that Lemass was really the only politician at the time, again perhaps with the exception of Sweetman, who agreed with him anyway, of coping with the intricacies of modern economics.
Having detailed the chronicle of Lemass's success as Taoiseach it may be surprising to state that he really wasn't very happy in that office. Basically, a Taoiseach is Chairman of the Cabinet and has few specific executive or administrative functions of his own. Lemass would very much have liked, and was very tempted, to interfere in the work of some of his Ministers, but he assiduously avoided doing so. Having been in the Department of Industry and Commerce for so long, which afforded him full scope for his considerable administrative abilities, he often felt at a loss presiding over other ministers while he was Taoiseach. He did introduce, however, a new dynamic and vital element into his Cabinet. It was he who gave Haughey, O'Malley, Colley and Lenihan their chances, and in doing so, he changed the entire character and image of Fianna Fail; from bawneen pullover style to the mohair suit cut.
His retirement was consistent with his career of pragmatic realism. The results of the 1966 Presidential Election convinced him that Fianna Fail needed a new face at the top and anyway he felt he had made his contribution, and was no longer relevant. He took little part in the succession stakes of 1966, conceptions of it on the grounds apparently that there can be no such thing as a minimal characterisation of the natural law theory within the scholastic tradition, that those who do not agree about everything cannot be said to agree about anything. Perhaps Mr. Turner should consider the possibility of philosophers disagreeing without being totally disagreeable.