A recent issue of the Cork Weekly Examiner (22/3/41) prompts us to recall an article in the Socialist Standard of January, 1918. From that 23-year-old article we quote the following extracts : —
“Imagine 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 people, and in many cases different families, all huddled together, eating and sleeping and performing the ordinary functions of life in one room! How is it possible for the physical, mental and moral life of these men, women and children to be maintained when they are forced to herd together under such awful conditions ? The death rate in Dublin is the highest of the United Kingdom. The infantile death rate is 200 per 1,000 in Summer Hill and Gardner Street districts, and 220 in Church Street district. In Dublin there are 20,000 houses of one room.’ This is an extract from an article published in 1914 on the conditions in Dublin. At a sworn housing inquiry in the same city in 1913, Dr. McWalter, a member of the Insurance Committee, stated that about 10,000 families in Dublin were living under unhealthy conditions. Practically two persons out of every five died in institutions or asylums in Dublin, and that was absolutely abnormal. If they had 40 per cent. living in institutions, it meant that there were 40 per cent. who could not normally provide for themselves. He had known women who were obliged to live on 3d. per day. In twelve wards the influence of the slum landlord was very strong. He did not think there were more than three or four members of the Corporation who were slum landlords.* * * * *Let every British Socialist face the fact that Irish ‘patriotism’ is not Socialism, and that the achievement of Irish nationality, even up to the highest professed ideals of traditional Irish patriotism, namely the complete political separation of Ireland from Britain, would not ‘free Ireland’ one iota in any sense satisfactory to the international Socialist and absolutely demanded by Socialist principles. This age-long struggle of Irish ‘patriots’ to ‘free Ireland’ is, therefore, from the Socialist point of view, an utter chimera which, if it could be achieved, would be to the wretched wage-slaves of Ireland but as the apples of Sodom, fair to the eye, but turning to smoke and ashes when plucked. The international Socialist who happens to be an Irishman can, and does feel profound sympathy with all the struggles of his countrymen and even their pathetic efforts to achieve the utter futility—from the strictly Socialist point of view—of Home Rule, or of an Irish republic, can excite his pity for their useless sufferings, even though he cannot take part in their misdirected exertions.”
Another paragraph refers to the useless slaughter in Dublin the previous Easter, when 1,300 casualties occurred, many of which were women children and non-combatants. The article concludes : —
“Our solemn word to Irish wage-slaves is, let them use their remaining strength to shake off the leeches of capitalism, that are sucking their life blood, instead of hastening their destruction in a mad effort to set up Tweedledum in place of Tweedledee. Let them beware of ‘republics.’”
The Irish workers did not heed our message. Now, in 1941, after many years’ functioning of the Irish Free State, Mr. Hickey (Lab., Cork) is quoted as stating in the Dail: —
“An examination of the facts revealed that there was poverty among a large section of their people. The M.O.H. in Cork had reported that thousands living in Corporation houses had not more than 4s a week each to live on. Doctors in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, had complained that expectant mothers attending the ante-natal clinic were grossly under-nourished, and they had all seen appeals from the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Again, the Minister for Justice had told the House recently that 90 per cent. of the children sent to industrial schools represented dire poverty. In 1940 home assistance was double the 1939 figure in Co. Kerry. Like Deputy Dillon, he felt that the country was suffering increasingly from speculators and monopolists. Their law were grinding the poor and the rich were ruling the laws. The meagre unemployment assistance allowance was something any country in the world should be ashamed of.”
If another speaker (Mr. Esmonde, F.G., Cork West) is to be believed, the worker’s inability to obtain food is not due to shortage of supplies. He says:—
“They ought to tell the people the truth—that at this moment they were probably the richest nation in Europe so far as supplies per person were concerned There was no country where there was such plenty per head of the population, and it would be well to prepare the people for the fact that the situation could not continue. The people who were suffering were the people with fixed unemployment benefit.”
But some people are doing well. Mr. Milligan (F.G., Dublin North-west) stated: —
“Wheat Importers, Ltd., were making a profit of £250,000, which they had for distribution among themselves, after paying importing expenses, and, although the Board was supposed to be composed of those who had imported a certain amount of wheat over three years, it had emerged that people who had not that qualification, but who were friends of the Ministers, had been put on it. The elastic mills in Clare, which was a monopolist concern, had made a profit of £25,000, and the cement company, because of criticism of its profits, had lowered its dividend from 10 to 8 per cent.”
The influence of Irish capitalists upon the policy of the Government is shown by the statement of Mr. Hugo Flinn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, who said : —
“The report of the Banking Commission showed that the majority of the moneyed opinion in this country was implacably of opinion that the accumulated savings of this country should remain locked up in sterling assets, and overseas investments and conversion into consumers’ goods. Did that opinion alter now when it was too late; there was a growing recognition among those interests that the better policy would have been to try to straddle between sterling and dollars and to convert more of their assets into consumers’ goods. If the Government had tried to purchase dollars or purchase reserves of goods while there was yet time, he doubted if the commercial and moneyed opinion would have backed the Government.”
The above-quoted extracts of speeches give the normal picture of a capitalist State. Despite its “national independence,” there is in the Irish Free State widespread poverty going arm in arm with great wealth.
This story of Irish poverty, Irish struggles, and the results of the achievement of Irish “independence,” has its lesson, not only for the workers of Ireland, but for the workers of Britain and of all other countries.