Stephen Collins & the Peaceful Transfer of Power (mach ii)

Thanks and apologies to the people who pointed out that Stephen Collins’ article in the Irish Times about the peaceful transfer of power in an Irish context (in my previous blog) is subscriber-only.

Here’s the gist of what he said.  He told the story of what he calls probably ‘the defining moment in Irish democtracy’, a test of the State’s legitimacy: In 1932, the Cumann na nGaedhal government was voted out and a Fianna Fáil government was elected in its place. This was within ten years of the civil war. According to Collins, “There was fevered speculation that the government would refuse to hand over power to its victorious opponents.”

Apparently, some members of Fianna Fáil were so convinced there’d be a coup they brought guns to work with them that day. Meanwhile, the defeated government were afraid that once Fianna Fáil came into power they wouldn’t ever let it go – (quiet in the back!) – that there wouldn’t ever be another free and fair election.

Imagine the atmosphere in Leinster House that day. Collins reminds us that the pattern for many post-independence states in the 20th century was that the immediate party to come into power subsequently held on to it by force.  I suggest we take a long hard look at what’s happening around us, right this minute, not just in the US but also in countries like Belarus, to see that the 21st century isn’t immune from that kind of danger either.  But Cosgrave and De Valera acted like proper democrats. Cosgrave accepted defeat and De Valera didn’t give in to pressure to exact retribution for events during the civil war. They accepted the people’s vote.

Collins makes an argument that our own politicians would do well to avoid what he calls ‘ritual bouts of in-fighting and intrigue.’ He warns against ‘the purveyors of anger and hate’ and those who want to undermine our belief in our democratic institutions.

It really is a thought-provoking article, I wish they’d make it open-access.  The good news is that the episode is contained in Saving the State: Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar by Stephen Collins and Ciara Meehan (Gill Books)

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