Seán Lemass (1899-1971)

Notes


Life
[Seán Francis Lemass]; b. Ballybrack, Co. Dublin, 15 July; son of Capel St. draper; ed. O’Connell Schools, Dublin; 1st class exhibition, Junior Grade Intermediate exam; joined Irish Volunteers, 1914; accidentally shot death an infant brother, Jan. 1916; served under de Valera; present in the GPO during 1916 Rising; interned in Ballykinlar, 1920; Republican in Civil War; suffered the death of his br. Noel in the Civil War, 1923 [aetat., 25]; interned Curragh Camp and Mountjoy, Dec. 1922-Dec. 1923;
 
helped organised Republican jail-break from Mountjoy in 1925; Dublin city TD, 1925-1969; founder-member of Fianna Fáil, the party whose formation from the elements of Sinn Féin he proposed to de Valera for purposes of entering the Dáil, 1926; called Fianna Fáil a ‘slightly constitutional party’ in Dáil debate during 1928; Min. of Industry and Commerce, Mar. 1932; also Min. of Supplies 1941-45; Taoiseach, succeeding de Valera, 23rd June 1959; promoted state boards and national industries;
 
Fianna Fáil wins general election, 1965; re-established free trade with Britain, 1965; visited Belfast, 1965; agreed the principal of free secondary education with Donogh O’Malley, but without cabinet discussion, resulting in the temporary overturn of the measure during following taoiseachship of Jack Lynch; hon. degrees and international honours. incl. Order of Gregory the Great (Pian Order), Order of Merit of FD Roosevelt; resigned as Taoiseach, on the basis of a ‘political decision uninfluenced by any personal considerations’, 9 Nov. 1966, but contested ensuing election; d. 11 May. DIB DIH.

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Works
The Role of the State Sponsored Bodies, with comments by C. S. Andrews & J. P. Beddy (Dublin: IPA 1959), 28pp.

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Criticism
  • Michael Farrell, Sean Lemass (1983);
  • Michael O’Sullivan, Seán Lemass: A Biography (Blackwater Press 1994);
  • John Horgan, Sean Lemass: The Enigmatic Patriot (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1997), 424pp. [leader ‘for whom executive power was the primary language of political communication’];
  • Brian Girvin & Gary Murphy, The Lemass Era: Politics and Society in the Ireland of Séan Lemass (UCD Press 2005), 288pp. [viz., 1945-73];
  • Tom Garvin, Judging Lemass: The Measure of the Man (RIA/Prism 2009), 320pp. [reviewed by Barry Andrews in Irish Times (3 Oct. 2009), Weekend, p.10];
  • Harry McGee, Seán Lemass: Democratic Dictator (Cork: Collins Press 2011), 328pp.
  • Bryce Evans, Seán Lemass: Democratic Dictator (2011), q.pp.

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Commentary
“O’Neill says Lemass has eaten his own words” (Irish Times, 8 Nov. 1963): ‘[...] Captain O’Neill noted that in his Tralee speech, Mr Lemass recognised that the Parliament of Northern Irelnad existed by the will of the majority of the people of the North, but that in Washington the Taoiseach had asked for American help in the way of pressure on Britain to being partition to an end.’ [See further under O’Neill, infra.)

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George D. Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn.), espec. Chap. 11, ‘State and Nation in Modern Ireland’: ‘[De Valera’s] Government still included many of the old guard: Dr James Ryan, Sean MacEntee, Frank Aiken, and of course Lemass himself. But not only were there new men as well, Jack Lynch, Neil Blaney, Charles Haughey, Donough O'Malley, Kevin Boland and Dr Patrick Hillary: one member at least of the older generation, Lemass showed that not all old republicans lived for the past. Lemass showed the importance of political control of the machinery of administration; for he gave life and vigour to the economic proposals contained in a report prepared by Dr T.K. Whitaker, the secretary of the department of fnance, which drew attention to the failures of 25 years of self-governrnent: the backwardness of agriculture, the stagnation of industry, the decline in population, emigration, the lack of public capital and the lack of intelligent direction of public capital. The remedy he suggested was for the State to spend money on modernising agriculture and industry, to solicit for foreign capital by tax concessions and other facilities, and to abandon the old Sinn Féin policy of protection for its own sake. Ireland would before long find herself participating in some way in the European economic community, and “it must now be recognised that protection can no longer be relied upon as an automatic weapon of defence”. The initial cost of the new plan was high: but taking a risk was a necessary part of economic expansion. Lemass took up the Whitaker report, and used his power and skills to hurry along the civil servants, dispel gloom and defeatism, and convince workers and employers of the need for planning. He was helped by the general economic climate of the 1960s; and the return in 1965 of the problem of an adverse balance of payments, together with inflation and disappointing agricultural performance showed that the 'economic miracle' was by no means accomplished- for all time. [… &c.] (p.356 et seq.)

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John Waters, review of Michael O’Sullivan, Seán Lemass: A Biography (Blackwater Press 1994), in The Irish Times, 17 Dec. 1995; finds that it gives only occasional flashes of Lemass’s personality, as did Farrell’s biography; quotes Lemass’s excuse to another biographer, ‘I think that my life, if you mean my educational attainments and personal experiences, is of minor interest and has little bearing on public events during the past 30 or 40 years’; Waters considers it not the book we have been waiting for.

Conor McCarthy, Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland 1969-1992 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000): ‘If, as Terence Brown suggests, Lemass’ chief ideological success lay in dissociating modernisation and Anglicisation [...]’ (p.50, quoting Terence Brown, Social History of Ireland, 1985, pp.246-47). Note comments, passim, on the nature of Irish modernisation in the era of Whitaker and Lemass. Further, Lemass provided IDA grant and a State Development Bank loan to Ardmore Studio, May 1958 (Ibid., p.166ff). Note, however, that this is seen in the context of the progressive imbrication of Irish cinema in the state project of statist representation, substituting a nationalist agenda for an independent intellectual and aesthetic project.

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Quotations
Arthur Griffith (1928): ‘We believe that Ireland can be made a self-contained unit, providing all the necessities of living in adequate quantities for people residing in the island at the moment, and probably for a much larger number.’

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At his resignation

‘The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising reminds me that I have been on active national service during all these years, almost 30 of them being spent in Government, and over seven as Taoiseach. If the next general election takes place in 1970, when it is due, I shall then be over 71 years old. My resignation before this date would be inevitable and I believe that my successor, who will lead the Fianna Fail Party then, should have ample time in which to prove his worth and acquire the experience which will enable him to achieve another victory for the party.
 Political life, notwithstanding all the strains and frustrations it involves, is one of the most satisfying activities to which any man could commit himself - or any woman either. I regret that time would not stand still for me so that I could go on indefinitely. I believe, however, that it is right that the representatives of the newer generation should now take over. There are today, working in every field of activity, and especially in the Government, younger men who ar efar better equipped than their predecessors, by training and experience, to leada the nation thorgh the challenging years ahead. This is not to disparage their predecessors, but to emphasise their own high qualities.
  I have given the date of my retirement very careful thought, and decided that it shold be now. The 1916 celebrations [in 1966] marked the ending of a chapter of our history and a new chapter had now to begin.
  As one of the generation, this marked the end of the road for me. The economic difficulties of the last few months show signs of easing and a new derive for national exonomic expansion is getting under way. There is need now to preapre a revised Programme of Economic Development, for the next five years or so, based on current realities, and its preparation should, I am convinced, be undertaken by a Government that can expect to have continuing responsibility for its fulfilment.
  I will remain a member of Dáil Eireann, at least during the lifetime of the present Dail.’
 
Further, on any intention of writing memoirs, Lemass said: ‘I have no built-in literary gifts, and in any case writing is hard work. My life in poliitics was generally conducted in the open, and except for gossip, is fairly well known.’ Lemass counted President Kennedy the highest world leader in his estimation; he was much impressed with Charles de Gaulle and found Mr [Harold] Wilson ‘a very agreeable personality’ and not at all the ‘hard-bitten Orangeman he had expected’. Called the failure of Ireland to gain entry to the Common Market ‘a major disappointment’ and called his visit to Belfast to Captain O’Neill ‘one of the events of my time end of the road for me as one of the generation.’ Humorously admits to seeing himself as ‘a historical relic’.
(See The Irish Times, 9 Nov. 1966, p.1-6; rep. in The Irish Times, Weekend Review (17 Oct. 2009, p.14.

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Notes
Partisan?: In 1935 Lemass was accused of favouring members of the Fianna Fáil party in allocation of mining leases, and defended in the Dáil by de Valera: ‘Here were charges of improper action, partisan action, corrupt action in a sense - although corruption, of course, properly means using one’s political office, one’s public office, for personal gain. It was not personal gail the minister is accused of, but partisanship and giving gain to his friends.’ (Irish Times, 23 Feb,. 2008; in context of debate over the use of FF party funds for the private housing requirements of Celia Larkin.)

Gun play: Eunan O’Halpin (TCD) finds that a one-year old Herbert Lemass was shot through the head by a bullet from a revolver that 16-year-old brother John (later Seán) was fiddling with in the family home at 2 Capel St. in late January 1916. In the coroner's inquest held on 29th January 1916, it was ruled that the death was accidental with the additional information that ‘[t]he jury expressed the opinion that something should be done to prevent boys getting possession of firearms’ (Irish Times, 5 Feb. 1916). Eunan infers that Lemass’s ‘unwillingness to engage in Civill War recriminations’ iduring his career to this childhood tragedy. (See O’Halpin, ‘Lemass’s silent anguish’, in The Irish Times, 20 July 2013), Weekend Review, p.1; also shorter article in the main section, idem, p.1.]

‘An inquest was held at the Children’s Hospital, Temple street, Dublin, on Saturday [29 Jan. 1916], on Herbert Lemass, aged 2, who died the previous evening from injuries caused by a bullet fired from a revolver by his brother John, aged 16, at the residence of their parents in Capel street. Evidence was given by the boys' sister, who stated that she was minding Herbert, who was standing in front of her. John was sitting about five yards away with a revolver in his hand. She heard a report and Herbert fell at her feet. The jury found a verdict of accidental death and expressed the opinion that something should be done to prevent boys getting possession of firearms.’

(See The Irish Times, 20 July 2013, Weekend, p.1-2; 2. [Text given in photostat insert from original report in The Irish Times, 5 Feb. 1916.]

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