25 OCTOBER 1975, Page 10


Franco, and Dr Herrema

Ronan Fanning

These are interesting days for governmentwatchers in Dublin. Twice recently the Irish government has clearly demonstrated what sets it apart from the prevailing liberal orthodoxies in vogue in government circles in most of the other European democracies. The first instance was during the aftermath of the Spanish executions when Ireland, alone of the EEC Nine, to say nothing of the Scandinavian bloc, did not withdraw her ambassador from Madrid. A strange response, the casual observer might think, from a coalition government in which the socialists of the Irish Labour Party are one of the two partners and whose Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Garret FitzGerald, has constantly pleaded for a common front among the EEC countries on foreign policy issues.

Such an interpretation is sustained, moreover, by the predictable call of two prominent Labour backbenchers for the withdrawal of "our man in Madrid” and by the emotional outburst of the Commissioner for Industrial Affairs in Brussels, Signor Spinelli, who, in his bizarre and unwonted role as keeper of the Community conscience, taxed Ireland with a breach of Community solidarity. But more powerful factors were operating in the opposite direction. The coalition government has so far engendered a strong, practical spirit of working partnership, the fruits of which the Labour Ministers would not easily jeopardise by striking the attitudes of those of their party colleagues whose informed socialist consciences are unhardened by the cement of office.

Appeals for Community solidarity were no less likely to sway a government increasingly disillusioned by repeated examples of the major European powers' blatant disregard for such a concept when major issues were involved. The most notable example of this kind occurred during the Helsinki talks. Then the British, French and Germans got together with the Americans in discussions aimed at the reform of the Western world's economic and monetary system which they had not even mentioned to their partners. The question of a united Community reaction to the Spanish executions was, in comparison, the merest of exercises in diplomatic public relations as we can see from the fact that the withdrawn ambassadors, led by the British and the Germans, have already begun skulking back to Madrid.

Irish attitudes to the Spanish civil war, while very different, were no less relevant in shaping the response to the executions. Then, despite the rigid non-interventionist policy of de Valera's government, Irishmen fought on both sides: over two hundred IRA supporters for the Republicans and more than twice that number of Blueshirts (the peculiarly Irish manifestation of European fascism) for Franco. Just how relevant these divisions are may be seen from the fact that Fine Gael has its origins in the split caused by the Blueshirts in the political party with which they were affiliated. Given such antecedents and given the taint of IRA-ism often associated with Irish support for the Spanish Republican cause, the unlikelihood of the Irish government's joining in the lem

ming-like exodus from Madrid becomes still more apparent.

Mention of the IRA, moreover, should remind us that the problems posed by a terrorist threat to the integrity of a state of whatever political complexion are more real in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe. Dr FitzGerald, indeed, has been in the US throughout the present controversy engaged upon the thankless task of trying to stem the flow of Irish-American funds and arms to the IRA. Nor was it coincidental that Mr Cosgrave made a major speech on state security just when the pressure upon his government to withdraw their Spanish ambassador was at its height. Having delivered a swingeing, and by now familiar, denunciation of the IRA and all its works, he referred to the ambivalence which so often characterises Irish attitudes to the IRA and the reasons for which, he suggested, "lie deep in history; and they may spring in part from what people like to regard as common humanity. It is time for us all to look critically at these forms of national double-think . . Those responsible, whatever side they come from, are entitled to no regard from us. They must be considered as criminals and rejected by society."

The government was immediately called upon to practise what Mr Cosgrave preached when, next morning, the kidnappers of the Dutch industrialist, Dr Herrema, called for the release of three Provisional IRA prisoners. The government's immediate and uncompromising rejection of this and their other demands on the grounds that any such concessions would "place the state in jeopardy" is again in contrast with the modern fashion which has recently characterised the acquiescence in comparable terrorist demands upon other European governments.

The fate of the unfortunate kidnap victim is still in doubt at the time of writing. What seems in no doubt is the strength of the government's resolution. That that position has won popular assent seems indisputable, as we can see from such developments as the massive public demonstration of support for Dr Herrema by his workers and by the citizens of Limerick; by the visible irritation of the Provisional IRA leadership at the affair and by their own publicised efforts to find the perpetrators whom they have disowned; and by the hysterical apprehensions expressed by some of the left-wing commentators in the media that we are about to see the introduction of military tribunals to placate what they describe as public 'panic' but what in reality is a deepseated sense of public outrage.

Indeed, one of the most striking features of the affair has been the consistently low key in which the government has responded since it began, again at odds with the behaviour of other European governments in similar situations. Thus the Minister for Foreign Affairs did not find it necessary to curtail his American visit — in fact he has since been joined there by anotter senior ministerial colleague; nor did Dr Cruise O'Brien rush home from Israel. A still more impressive testimony to the government's sang-froid was Mr Cosgrave's own decision to fulfil a long-standing engagement in Rome where, on Sunday, he was joined by ministerial colleagues and all sorts of other distinguished Irishmen at the canonisation ceremonies of Blessed Oliver Plunkett — an occasion eagerly awaited by Irish Catholics ever since he was hanged, drawn and quartered on Tyburn during the Popish Plot, as hapless a ' victim of the politics of the past as is Dr Herrema of the politics of the present.