Sunday, 30 August 2015

Seán McBride

Seán McBride – That Day’s Struggle. A Memoir 1924-1951. Recorded and edited by Caitriona Lawlor. Currach Press, Dublin, 2005.

(Caitriona Lawlor, was Seán McBride's secretary from 1977 to 1988)

The following review was written on December 31st 2005 and was published in the Irish Times

Seán McBride was the only son of John and Maud Gonne McBride. He lived in Paris for the first fourteen years of his life. His mother was barred from entry to Ireland by the British because of her separatist views. His father was executed in 1916 following the rebellion.

It is not surprising that McBride was committed to the republican ideal with this family background. He opposed the Treaty on grounds of partition and the oath. Like many opponents of the settlement, he had little insight into the ineluctability of partition. He arrived in Ireland in 1918 and, despite his youth of 15 years, he acted as a messenger for the Sinn Féin and military leaders during the War of Independence.  He spent the entire civil war period in jail. He remained in the IRA after the civil war but his activities were confined to defending dissident republicans who were charged under the Offences against the State Act.  He was appointed chief of staff of the IRA for 18 months in 1936 but claimed that he was only appointed in a caretaker capacity and was opposed to violence against the state forces.

In 1961 MacBride became the first director of Amnesty International
He was instrumental in forming the Clann na Poblachta party in 1946. He was Minister for External Affairs in the first Inter-party Government in 1948. This Government was defeated in 1951 following the Browne controversy and because of mounting economic difficulties. He refused a cabinet position in the second inter-party government and lost his Dáil seat in 1961. Thanks to his French background and ministerial contacts with British, European and American leaders, he became involved in international affairs at a high political and social level.

His family background determined his early and uncompromising political views, but shifts in political attitudes made him an enigmatic figure. His memoirs read as the spoken rather than written word and terminate at the time of his retirement from the cabinet in 1951. His views on several controversial issues are largely based on self justification and he tends to be dismissive, patronising and even embarrassingly personal about his opponents. He takes more credit than is consistent with the facts for such events as the formation of the inter-party government, the passing of the External Relations Act, Ireland’s departure from the Commonwealth, and the new and enlightened economic policies of his government. His views on these and other issues cannot be accepted without appropriate research and documentary evidence. He provides none.

His interests extended beyond his remit as minister for external affairs to such areas as forestry, waterways and the railway system. He tended to lecture civil servants and to interfere in other government departments, thus not always endearing himself to colleagues. In his capacity as an energetic minister for external affairs and during his subsequent career abroad, he undoubtedly helped to counteract the insular attitude of the post World War Irish. Later, after retiring from national politics, his career was distinguished by many important contributions to European unity and to the human rights movement. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, an irony not lost on some of his opponents.

McBride’s emerges as a man of energy with a wide interest in social, economic and political affairs. However, he also emerges from his own writings as a man of unusual vanity, less than charitable to his opponents, happy in the company of world figures, consistent in seeing himself in a favourable light and without providing the necessary evidence to allow historians take an impartial view of his contributions to recent Irish history. 

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