BLACKSHIRTS, HITLER SHIRTS, BLUE SHIRTS AND THE ENIGMA OF FINE GAEL by Donal Kennedy

In October 1939 Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty,Winston Churchill spoke on the wireless –

“ I cannot forecast for you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, inside a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.”

The old scoundrel had a way with words, some  of which he stole from others with out acknowledgement, a trick of the artists praised by Oscar Wilde. And  like Wilde he had no scruples about lying, nor dispensing with Queensbury rules.

I’m pretty perplexed about what Fine Gael did in the past and flummoxed about what it’s doing and planning now.

Over forty years ago I read Maurice Manning’s book on the Blueshirts, and having read it concluded that I had known more about them before I opened the book than I had when I’d finished. Maurice sat in Seanad Eireann and Dail Eireann, is Chancellor of the National University and oversaw planning for the Decade of Centenaries, and these are only some of glittering prizes he picked up in a busy career.

Many of the founder members of Cumann na nGaedheal, and Blueshirts/Fine Gael were still hale and hearty when he wrote his book, but their story remained a riddle and a mystery to me after reading it

In a previous BLOG I quoted from “GREAT IRISH SPEECHES” the contribution of John A Costello on the Wearing of Uniform (Restriction) Bill in Dail Eireann on 28 February 1934. Fianna Fail had introduced the Bill, following the passing similar Bills in European democracies to maintain public order, when opposing parties wearing uniforms were threatening civil war.

Costello said, inter alia –

“The Minister (for Justice) gave extracts from various laws on the continent, but he carefully refrained from

drawing attention to the fact that the Blackshirts were victorious in Italy and the Hitler Shirts were victorious in Germany, as, assuredly, in spite of this bill and in spite of the Public Safety Act, the Blueshirts will be victorious in the Irish Free State.”

The Bill passed the Dail, but the Free State Senate with Unionists and Redmondites supporting Fine Gael prevented it becoming law. No similar Bill was introduced later. When IRA men, in the 1970s marched in uniform in Dublin, without attacking anyone, at least one pig-ignorant Fine Gael spokesman publicly asked why there was no law against political uniform.

John A Costello was a brilliant lawyer but his speech is one which reflects no credit on him. On the same day Sean Lemass answered him, analysing the various stages of fascism which had brought dictators to power in Europe, finally brandishing that day’s Evening Herald and its headline Critical Day for Austria. Nazi Ultimatumto the Government Expires.”

Now that was an analytical, constructive, responsible speech at a critical time in Irish and European history deserving a place in any anthology of Irish speeches.

But I only became aware of it by reading  “Lemass in the de Valera Era” by Manus O’Riordan in this month’s Irish Political Review  yesterday.

Mr Costello’s “Hitler Shirts” better known as the Brownshirts didn’t last much longer than his Great Speech.

On the long NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES 30th June -2nd July 1934 Himmler’s SS, Goering’s Police, and Hitler himself surprised the “Hitler Shirts” in their Nightshirts and murdered them. Ernst Rohm, Hitler’s earliest disciple, didn’t understand why his leader had turned against him. In an unusual show of humanity Hitler offered him the chance of shooting himself, but Rohm told Hitler to pull the trigger, Instead an SS man did the job. Hitler got up in the Reichstag claiming there had been a plot against him and he, Hitler was the judge.

Anyhow I’ve been looking at another entry in the collection of Great Irish Speeches.It was given at Cork City Hall on 21 May 1972 at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis by the Party Leader, Liam Cosgrave . It ended with the following comradely passage –

“The party now faces what might be the most critical stage in its history. Some members of the party have given their time to building it up when they might have been better occupied to their own advantage. They have made it possible for members to come into the organization and squeak and bleat about something which they knew themselves they could not achieve.

I don’t know whether some of you do any hunting or not, but some of these commentators and critics arenow like mongrel foxes, they are gone to ground and I’ll dig them out, and the pack will chop them when they get them.”

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