Frank Aiken (1898-1983)

Miscellaneous information

Life
 
b. Camlough, Co. Armagh, 13 Feb. 1898; ed. Newry CBS; joined Irish Volunteers, 1913, and Gaelic League, 1914; Sinn Féin organiser, S. Armagh; commandant 4th Northern Div. IRA in 1921; derailed cavalry regt. which escorted George V to Stormont Opening, 1921; opposed the Treaty, but sought neutrality and arranged the Collins-de Valera pact; organised reprisals following alleged rape of Catholic woman by member of the Presbyterian community (hence styled ‘the Butcher of Altnaveigh’), 17 June 1922; refused to support Provisional Govt., and imprisoned by Free State government in Dundalk; he led an escape of 100 prisoners but was soon recaptured;
 

succeeded Liam Lynch as chief of staff of the IRA in April 1923; ordered the cease fire and ‘dump arms’, terminating the Civil War, 24 May 1923; elected abstentionist MP Louth, 1923; founder member of Fianna Fáil and close associate of Eamon de Valera; appt. Minister of Defence, 1932-39; appt. Min. for Co-ordination of Defensive Measures during the Emergency [WWII], 1939-45, with authority to impose censorship in support of the neutrality policy; supported formation the Turf Development Board, 1933, and later the Turf Development Act, resulting in formation of Bórd na Mona, 1946;

 

enraged President Roosevelt with his defence of Irish neutrality in the White House, but secured two ships for the Irish navy (renamed Irish Pine and Irish Oak); appt. Min. of Finance, 1945-48, and Min. of External Affairs, 1951-54; represented Ireland at United Nations and fostered non-aligned international identity, promoting decolonisation in Africa, and voting for discussion of Chinese admission to the United Nations, independently of American lead and Seán Lemass’s policy of support in relation to it, 1958;

 
appt. Tanaiste under premiership of Jack Lynch (FF Taoiseach), 1965, showing himself a moderate at the outbreak of the Northern Troubles; retired to back benches, 1969, registering his dislike of the new ‘mohair-suited’ Fianna Fail politicians and subsequently retired from Dáil when Haughey was endorsed as a General Election candidate, Feb. 1973 - purported for reasons of health, acc. to Jack Lynch; abstained completely from party occasions afterwards; suffered the death of his wife in road accident, 1978; d. 18 May 1983. DIB ODNB DIH DUB
 

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Criticism
Dorothy Barlow, ‘Aiken’s Mission to the United States in 1941: An Interpretation’, in Études Irlandaises, XIX-I (Printemps), pp.121-138; Donal Ó Drisceoil, ‘“Moral Neutrality”: Censorship in Emergency Ireland’, in Irish Studies Review (Summer 1996), pp.46-50; Bruce Evans, ‘Frank Aiken: Revolutionary, Statesman, Polymath’, in History Ireland (May/June 1013), pp.8-9 [see extract].

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Commentary
Joe Carroll, ‘Hear no Evil, See No Evil, Speak ...’, in The Irish Times (Wed. 26 Jan. 2005), p.15: ‘When I interviewed Aiken years later for my book on Irish neutrality, he brushed aisde the charge that he prevented the Irish public from judging which side was in the right [in World War II] by suppressing reports of German and Japanese atrocities. “One side was as bad as the other”, he said. [...] Even when Irish priests were the victims of Japanese atrocities in the Phillipines, Aiken and his censors stuck rigidly to their rules to the rage of the US Ambassador in Dublin, David Gray. [..] It was understandable that the government of a neutral country would wnat some control over the flow of news from countries at war and to filter out the propaganda and lies. But Aiken wanted to go much further and ban expressions of opinion. There whould be no debate allowed on the merits of the conflict, he told his censors. [...] Attempts were made in the Dáil and Seanad by the few pro-Allied members such as James Dillon and Frank MacDermot to debate the more ludicrous examples of the censorship. Aiken would concede nothing. “By and large we operate this censorship to keep the temperature down internally and to prevent it from rising between ourselves and other countries.” One exception to the rule against criticising the belligerent powers was Northern Ireland. The censors could allow “non-violent” criticism of the British and Northern Ireland governments over partition and the internment of Republicans. [...] The Irish Press had tols its readers in April 1943: “There is no kind of oppression visited on any minority in Europe which the Six-County nationalists have not also endured.” / The historian J. J. Lee has commented drily that “This was a revelation that would no doubt have helped the victims lining up for the Auschwitz gas chambers [i]f only circumstances had permitted them to gratefully clutch their copies of the “Truth in the News”.’

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Bruce Evans, ‘Frank Aiken: Revolutionary, Statesman, Polymath’, in History Ireland (May/June 1013), pp.8-9: ‘With Dev moving to the Aras in 1959, many feared that the unity of the long Fella’s era would be shattered. The rivalry between Lemass and Aiken, two of de Valera’s most loyal lieutenants, is renowned. A notable point of departure between the two men was Aiken’s determination to cement a nonaligned Irish identity at the United Nations. With Lemass orienting Ireland ever closer to Anglo-American hegemony, Aiken bravely stuck his neck out and steered a different course, passionately pursuing decolonisation in Africa and Asia and ensuring Ireland’s palatability to the UN as a peacekeeping nation. Aiken’s left-leaning image is bolstered by his disdain for “the men in the mohair suits”, the likes of the brash Charles Haughey, who brazenly canoodled with speculators and builders in Dublin bars and restaurants. And yet he remained, like Lemass, a social conservative who was anxious about the creeping liberalisation of Irish society. / Under Jack Lynch, an aging Aiken was reappointed tinaiste and minister for external affairs. Far removed from the republican thug of unionist lore, Aiken would maintain a moderate stance when the modern Troubles erupted. Such was his venom towards Haughey, Aiken privately announced that he would resign rather than fight the 1973 election if Haughey was ratified as a candidate. Disillusioned, Aiken never attended another party event in the last ten years of his life.’ (p.9.)

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Stephen Kelly, "The Haughey factor: why Frank Aiken really retired from party politics", in The irish Times (24 June 2014): ‘[... ] Aiken’s opposition to Haughey first came to prominence during the mid- to late-1960s. During this period Haughey played a prominent role in Fianna Fáil’s burgeoning links with big business, especially the building industry. Under Seán Lemass’s premiership, the link between Fianna Fáil and business was institutionalised through the establishment of Taca, a fundraising organisation of 500 businessmen, who paid £100 per year and in return obtained privileged access to ministers and exclusive dinners in the Gresham Hotel, Dublin. In Aiken’s eyes, Taca was indicative of the party’s moral collapse. He was gravely concerned by accusations that some senior Fianna Fáil figures, including Haughey, had allegedly abused planning laws, with inside information lubricating the accumulation of substantial private fortunes.’ (See Irish Times - online.)

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Notes
Daggers drawn?: Aiken’s tight control of neutrality censorship during 1939-45 was criticised by Bertie Smyllie, editor of The Irish Times, and led Aiken to issue him with an invitation to the end-of-censorship dinner at Dublin Castle in 1945 with the words: "Dinner jacket optional. Rapier de rigueur. Dagger verboten." (See Bruce Evans, ‘Frank Aiken: Revolutionary, Statesman, Polymath’, in History Ireland, May/June 1013, pp.8-9, p.9.)