Posted by Jason O on Aug 16, 2014 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
But for Deputy Martin Faraday, it could all have been so different. The Irish government, pressurised by a politically active Pro Life Campaign (PLC), would still have held a referendum in 1983 to insert an anti-abortion clause into Ireland’s constitution. The 8th amendment to the constitution would still have overwhelmingly passed, declaring that the state would vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn. Then Ireland would have continued on its “Do as I say, not as I do” way, turning a blind eye to its women leaving the jurisdiction to seek abortions in the UK. The PLC would celebrate their surreal victory as the one pro-life organisation in the world which celebrates not what happens to a foetus, but where it happens. An Irish solution, as it were, to an Irish problem.
The problem, however, was that Martin Faraday was that rare beast in Irish politics, a politician who actually believed what he said. A devout Catholic, the young deputy from Kilkenny was tall, handsome, charismatic, and had led his native county to victory in the GAA hurling championship in 1979. Although socially conservative, Faraday nevertheless had respect on the liberal left for his consistency, speaking out just as strongly on issues of poverty and on opposition to the death penalty. Many spoke of him as a future cabinet minister, perhaps even party leader.
The problem, political correspondents muttered to each other over a pint in the Dail bar, was that Faraday wouldn’t play ball. He wouldn’t keep quiet when it was wise to do so. He had been a key player in forcing the government to hold the referendum, and now he was going to take the outcome of the referendum to its logical conclusion.
The Protection of Life (Border Controls) bill of 1984, prepared by Faraday with a group of pro-life barristers, was placed before the Dail formally by him in a private capacity. The purpose, he told the house, was to implement the imperative in article 40.3 of the constitution. The state was committed to “defending and vindicating the right to life of the unborn, as far as practicable”.
This bill is, he declared, the practicable means of doing so. To the horror of both his own party and the opposition parties, all nominally pro-life and supporting the new amendment in its intent, the young deputy outlined a proposed system of border controls for pregnant women. All doctors would be required to place newly pregnant women on a national register, allowing the state to track each pregnancy to its completion. Any pregnant woman would require a special exit visa from the state, and would be examined upon her return to the jurisdiction to ensure that an abortion had not been procured. Aborting a foetus whilst abroad would result in a criminal conviction and a life imprisonment for both the woman and any individual who knowingly assisted her.
“If you oppose this bill,” he summed up, “you are not pro-life. By opposing abortion in Ireland but supporting the right to seek abortion abroad, you are just slightly less pro-choice. But you are not pro-life.”
The bill received major international media coverage, with many speculating that it would never pass. Both government and opposition spokespeople, speaking off the record, dismissed it as totally impracticable. But they hadn’t counted on Faraday, who mobilised the PLC once again, bringing to bear even greater pressure than had been brought on individual TDs and senators to enact the original amendment. First, politicians were publicly lobbied, harassed and cajoled into supporting “the Faraday bill” at least being put to a vote in both houses. What could be more reasonable, the PLC asked, than at least having parliament debate the deputy’s proposals?
Once that hurdle had been passed, and the bill was allowed be put to the floor, the campaign really started. The PLC publicly identified who was voting for and against. Parish priests singled out local politicians who failed to commit. TDs’ houses and family members were picketed, and the Catholic hierarchy, deeply wary of the bill, nevertheless came out in favour after threats from the laity.
Charles J. Haughey, who found the bill to be deeply objectionable, did what he usually did, and threw his support fully behind it on the basis that it was causing chaos for the Taoiseach, Garrett Fitzgerald, within his own party, and that was grounds enough. A number of Fianna Fail TDs refused to support the bill and were expelled for “conduct unbecoming a member of Fianna Fail”.
With the governing coalition, pro-lifers in Fine Gael and Labour held the majority, and demanded support. Fitzgerald kept his cards close, until the day of the vote, when he stood and announced that such a law went completely against the republican principles to which he subscribed, and he would therefore “stand by the republic” and vote against the bill, announcing a free vote and his resignation as Taoiseach.
The bill passed the Dail with a clear majority. The minority of deputies from across the political spectrum who had voted against the bill emerged from Leinster House to a large crowd of pro-life demonstrators. A small, unrepresentative number proceeded to rush the deputies, and there was a prolonged fight in the car park until baton wielding Gardaí managed to rescue them.
The new Taoiseach immediately appointed Martin Faraday as minister for justice with a clear responsibility for implementing his bill.
In the weeks that followed, abortion clinics in the UK reported a large upturn in Irish women seeking abortion. International TV crews gathered in Irish ports and airports to watch crowds of pro-life vigilantes carry out impromptu “inspections” of women leaving the country whom the suspected of being with child. BBC TV news rang footage, which was repeated worldwide, of a pregnant woman being called a “whore” by a group of self-appointed sash-wearing “Unborn Protection Officer” middle-aged men in Dublin airport, before being hit with a bottle. She later died that evening. The child was not saved. Faraday, to the surprise of many, publicly condemned the attack and the vigilantism, and demanded the prosecution of the individuals concerned.
The bill came into law within weeks, and soon large numbers of women were being denied exit permission on the grounds of suspicion that they may be seeking to terminate their pregnancies. The PLC celebrated (with non-alcoholic sparkling wine and orange juice) a sharp fall, in the first six months of the bill’s operation, in the number of Irish women registering for terminations in the UK. Faraday applauded the result as proof of the will of the Irish people, as expressed in the amendment, being carried out.
In the north of Ireland, the unionist parties, both strongly pro-life, attacked the law anyway, as proof of Rome Rule, in that wonderfully first principle gymnastic way at which Northern Irish politicians excel.
Then Marie-Louise Dufour, a young French 21 year old woman living as an au-pair for a middle class family in north Dublin, got pregnant by the family’s 19 year old son.
Dufour, on visiting a doctor and discovering her predicament, had decided to return to France and seek a termination. Oblivious of the Faraday law, she was stunned to find herself arrested at Dublin Airport and charged under the Faraday act.
Within half a day, the French foreign minister was on the phone to his colleague, demanding her release. The story was the lead item on French television news.
The Attorney General advised the cabinet that the Faraday act was correctly applied. The 8th amendment did not distinguish between the nationality of the mother or the unborn child, even if the foetus was half Irish.
The cabinet decided to instruct the AG to approach the Director of Public Prosecutions to see if the case could be dropped. The DPP, who had opposed the Faraday law, nevertheless was committed to enforcing the law, and this, he told the AG, was a clear cut case.
The Taoiseach received a phone call from President Mitterand. It was not a pleasant conversation. The French President left the Taoiseach in no doubt that France would not permit one of its citizens to be treated this way.
On returning to the cabinet, the AG suggested a last ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the act. At this point, Faraday resigned, questioning his fellow cabinet members’ commitment to the unborn, including that “beautiful creature inside Marie-Louise Dufour. That is whom we are fighting for.” Faraday was met by a huge crowd from the PLC who hung on his every word.
That afternoon, to massive media coverage, the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, accompanied by support ships, became visible off Dublin Bay. The boom of patrolling Super Etendard fighters could be heard in the city. The Irish Naval Service ship LE Aoife was despatched to “escort” the French ships, but proceeded to have an engine failure and had to be towed back to port by one of the French escorts.
The Taoiseach quickly contacted President Reagan, asking for assistance and perhaps even US protection. Reagan, although sympathetic, pointed out that the US had been alarmed at Mitterand’s election in 1981 and was threading very carefully to keep France in NATO, and so didn’t really want to cause waves. He also pointed out that the story was getting awful coverage in the US.
President Mitterand then called the Taoiseach again, and suggested that as it seemed a legal resolution was impossible, France had a suggestion. Initially appalled, the Taoiseach consented.
Marie-Louise Dufour was moved to Garda headquarters, and at 3am on Sunday morning a helicopter carrying French commandos from the Clemenceau carried out a lightening raid. Gardaí on duty had been warned 10 minutes previously by the commissioner that they were not to offer resistance, and the French commandos, as agreed with the Taoiseach, were carrying unloaded machine guns. Nominally under duress (but after offering tea and coffee, which was politely refused, although a few chocolate digestives were received gratefully), the duty officer led the commandos to Dufour’s cell, where she was handed over to the French soldiers, and they departed.
The government protested formally, and a large PLC demonstration had to be beaten back by a large Garda force at the French embassy.
The cabinet then discussed repealing the Faraday act to prevent a future occurrence. The AG grimaced. It won’t make a difference, he said. The act, by its operation, has proven that it is actually practicable to detain pregnant women. It has actually reduced the number of Irish women seeking abortions. Even without a law, the state still has an onus to act to defend the unborn. It’s arguably illegal to dismantle the Faraday system. There is only one real option.
A week later, the Taoiseach went on TV to announce that the 8th amendment as currently structured was causing the country serious harm. He announced a referendum to repeal it.
The PLC, led by Faraday, mobilised a massive campaign of opposition. Polls showed overwhelming opposition to repeal.
Three weeks later, 62% of voters voted to repeal. In the exit poll conducted on the same day, 62% of people actually speaking to pollsters said they were against repeal, and had voted against.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 24, 2014 in eNovels & Writing
*A warning to readers: this is a long, speculative short story. Cup of tea and a chocolate digestive recommended.
Lars Wentworth III was a right wing Tea Party supporting billionaire who thought that President Obama was a communist. Throughout his life, most of which was spent as America’s ninth richest man, he had funded right wing candidates who held such extreme positions that many of them would have been arrested had they opened their big yaps in Europe, or Canada or any of those countries where not letting poor people die from illness was not regarded as proof of Marxism.
However, acute observers of Wentworth would have noticed one surprising factor about the candidates that the billionaire generously funded. They all kept quiet on gay issues. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Jun 10, 2014 in Fiction
, US Politics
President Nixon: Tragically Slain in Dallas, 1963.
PRESIDENT NIXON DEAD. SHOT IN DALLAS. VICE PRESIDENT CABOT LODGE SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT.
The murder of Richard M. Nixon on the 22nd November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald brought a meteoric political career to a cruelly abrupt end. The man who had risen from entering Congress in 1946 to defeating Senator John F. Kennedy in the razor thin election of 1960 was almost certain to be re-elected in 1964, given his adroit handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, tough line on Vietnam (remembering Truman’s “losing China”) and his hard-line on civil rights solidifying black votes into the Republican column. The death of the young, cheerful and endearingly awkward war hero president stunned America.
Vice President Henry Cabot Lodge easily defeated Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, running on a thinly veiled racist (against his own better judgement, he admitted years later) states rights campaign the following year. As history now shows, the Republican landslide of 1964 was the last good thing to happen to the former Massachusetts senator. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Mar 14, 2014 in Fiction
, Ireland 2020
, Irish Politics
Action Party Leader Suzanne Smith
The newly formed Action Party continues to lead in the recent Red C poll in the Sunday Business Post. Excluding don’t knows, the poll puts the AP on 38%, FF on 24%, FG on 18%, Labour on 6%, Sinn Fein on 13% and others on 1%. Sources in the FG/Labour coalition said that “the only poll the government is interested in will be on polling day.”
Political pundits have called the continued strong performance of the Action Party extraordinary, considering that it is only a year old and has no TDs or senators. Suzanne Smith, the well-known businesswoman and party leader, continues to lead in the polls as preferred choice for Taoiseach. Tom Haskey of the Irish Times: “What’s interesting is the level of enthusiasm for the party. People either love it or hate it, and let’s be honest, the National Guard is the source of much of that strong feeling.”
The local elections continue to cause mayhem in the constituency, which always makes me laugh when one considers the relative powerlessness of county councillors. They have the power to call for, urge, and yearn for things. All very Danielle Steele. Of course, let’s be honest: for the parties, the local elections are basically a taxpayer funded run out for the general election, and a chance to separate the doers, the talkers, the poseurs, and the actually insane.
In the Feckerstown ward convention last night, Cllr. William Jennings Hanrahan, a henchman for my constituency colleague, arch-enemy, all-round devious bastard and throbbing verucca on my political big toe, Senator Maurice The Gimp Mahaffy, was waxing lyrical about his devotion to the party. For 48 eight long laws-of-physics breaking minutes he went on about his devotion to Fine Gael, and how as a young man he’d fallen to his knees to remove chewing gum from Liam Cosgrave’s shoe during the 1976 Ballyfermot by-election, and how his wish, when The Lord Our God called him, that perhaps someone would sprinkle a handful of soil from Beal na Blath over his casket, so that he may rest if only slightly close to greatness.
When the ballots were counted, he missed the last place by 5 votes. He was out of his seat, big red pudding face on him, accusing all and sundry of conspiracies and agendas, jabbing a finger at the young woman who had won the nomination of “dangling her female wiles”, before announcing that the party could f**k itself, and storming out. He could be heard on the corridor screaming at a young crony for Lucinda Creighton’s mobile number.
Watching the various “campaigns” for the European Parliament, I pretty much reckon that most Irish candidates could happily be running for a seat in Hell: “Fianna Fail candidate Cian Browley has pledged that he intends to secure as much funding as possible from Hell and the various Satanic Development Programmes. “I’m confident that there is funding available for local projects including new changing rooms for St. Jude’s. Will we have to pledge allegiance to Satan and all his evil works? Ah, here, I’ve no interest in all that high falutin’ nonsense. All I know is that the young lads of St. Jude’s won’t be getting poison ivy from the bushes around their Careful Nows, and that’s all I’m interested in. Does it bother me that Hitler and Jimmy Saville are in the same parliamentary group as me? Sure, that’s a typical Irish Times question, that is. Typical. I can tell ye this: Hitler voted for the new interpretative centre in Feckerstown which will have all the tourists in the town, and that’s the main thing. No, I don’t remember if I voted for his motion supporting the extermination of Untermenschen. Mind your own feckin’ business!”
Hanrahan announced that due to the radical feminists and homosexuals who have seized control of the party of Michael Collins and Liam “Keep ‘em rollin’ in the aisles” Cosgrave, he has launched his campaign to put himself before the people as an Independent Cumman ns nGaedheal/League of Youth candidate. He announced this, from the basket of a hot air balloon he had borrowed from his brother in law, under a giant rubber balloon (he’s not short a few quid, Hanrahan) in the shape of his face. Although he hadn’t planned on becoming airborne, a gust of wind caught the balloon, lifting it up with the Cllr and his crony in the basket, leading to an string of expletives through the megaphone as the basket was repeatedly lifted and bounced off the main street as the wind dragged it along. The balloon proceeded to break free, and as it slowly deflated it continued down the street, the cllr’s giant facsimile twisting and buckling. Children, animals and senior citizens were sent screaming. A young child holding a puppy with a sore leg was snatched out of harm’s way by Lucinda Creighton who had turned up to watch the proceedings, and I’m pretty sure when she started running towards the child I could hear that de-de-de noise the Six Million Dollar Man used to make.
Anyway, the marauding orb was only stopped when a passing Garda Armed Response Unit skidded to a halt and deflated it with 48 rounds from a Heckler and Koch submachine gun. That’ll be a fun day in GSOC.
Arthur Henchy TD has represented Kildare East since 1981. He has occasionally turned up at Oireachtas committees having actually read the legislation. He also borrowed the odd book off Garrett, and read it too.
There are a lot of Poles moving into the constituency, and I’m having to thread carefully. Brogan, the editor of the County Bugle, is getting chummy with The Gimp, and has started running articles talking about floods of Poles, no jobs for the Irish, etc. I don’t like it one bit. Too no blacks, no dogs, no Irish for my liking.
It’s getting traction, all the same. Was buying tobacco for the pipe in Murphy’s and all I could hear was “Senator Mahaffy, this, Senator Mahaffy that.” Since Murphy got elected to the county council he’s been looking around for an issue, and I think this could be it. Doesn’t stop him taking money of Polish lads when they’re buying sandwiches in his deli for their lunch. Deli, that’s a laugh. Young Maurice asked for a bit of mustard on his ham sandwich, and Mahaffy reacted as if he’d asked for broiled lobster. Have to put my thinking cap on about this one. Went up to see Connie today. Miss her.
Put Murphy in his box today. Young Maurice came running in with a new parcel from the Department of the Environment, and pointed out a salient detail to me. It took me a moment to twig it, but sure enough, I was back down to Murphy later that afternoon.
Says I to him: “ I see you’re getting very excited about the Polish issue, Ernie.”
Says he to me: “ I am, Arthur. Our culture is under threat. Did we fight the tans so that a bunch of Godless communists could overrun the land of the blessed virgin?” The last I’d heard, his grandfather hadn’t as much fought the tans as sold them porter and rasher sandwiches, but that wasn’t the issue. He was sounding like Mahaffy. It was worse than I thought, and so I sprung it on him.
“Ernie, you’re a brave man, a braver man than me. To be putting your principles ahead of your seat on the council, with all those Polish citizens eligible to vote in the next local elections……”
“What was that?” He asked, putting down the lump of ham he was cutting into translucently thin slices for pre-made sandwiches. I thrust the dagger in. “The local elections. All EU citizens can vote in them. All them Poles can vote. Sure, if it were me, I’d be trying to reach out to them, but I’m not the man you are, Ernie.” His brow furrowed, and I bade him a farewell, quietly confident that I won’t be hearing much more on that issue.
Still, the politics of campaigning in a multi-cultural Ireland. Will have to give that some thought. I wonder what the Polish is for “I knew your father well.” Must remember to ask Irka.
You’re never too old to learn, I discovered today. Irka had been listening to young Maurice and myself discuss the problem of Brogan and the anti immigrant line he was taking in his paper. Later that evening, I took the two of them to a fundraiser for St. Mark’s in Hartigan’s pub. When I pointed out Brogan to her, standing in the corner drinking with the two knuckle draggers who put the paper out with him, she headed straight for him, high heels clicking on the timber floor like a Wehrmacht Colonel. When she reached him, she flicked her long blonde hair in that way that makes young Maurice shiver, and had the three scribblers with their jaws hanging open. “ You are Mr. Brogan of the newspaper?” she asked, in an English that was far more basic and uneasy than her normal pronunciation. He nodded, eyes wide. “Since I come from Poland, I read your newspaper. My English not good, I not understand everything, but I wish to thank you on part of my girlfriends and I, for making me, I am sorry, us, so welcome in your country and in your newspaper.” She then gave him a hug that lingered slightly longer than necessary, and a kiss on the cheek that left him in a sweat.
The following issue of the paper carried an editorial attacking those who would stir up racial tension in the county, and praising the hard working New Irish. It even invited Polish newcomers, especially the women, to submit news items to the newspaper. And I thought I was the only political professional in the office?
So, we’re sending young Hayes to Brussels. Can’t see the logic of it myself, to be honest. Both him and The Iron Lucinda were two of the better performers as ministers, and it’s not like the government is awash with talent. He’s a true believer, young Hayes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up taking a liking to the European Parliament. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t end up doing a Cox and leading the EPP if he stays. He’s got the talent for it. The by-election will be fun, especially if my old pal Charlie Tallaght O’Connor runs in Tallaght for the Tallaght Party on a Save Tallaght ticket. Still, you have to wonder about Mayo Man: first Lucinda, now Hayes, it makes you wonder does he regard stubbornness as the defining trait of his administration? Sure, it has its strengths: he delivered on abortion and the Seanad referendum promise, but listening isn’t a sign of weakness. Look at Martin: he had a free vote and the voters didn’t give a toss.
If there’s one more service I can do for my country before the Good Lord calls me home , it’ll be to keep that bastard Mahaffy out of Dail Eireann. I barely scraped into the last seat, beating him by 178 votes on the 14th count, and he immediately challenged it, of course. Tried to get a batch of my votes eliminated on the grounds that “the writing looked foreign.” A week from polling, he was going around with Miss Hallorhan and the other simpletons from the John Charles McQuaid Sub Committee for the Saving of Souls, telling people I was in favour of compulsory abortion. Have to say, in his case, I would have been.
Young Maurice is a bit of a whiz with the computers. He’s got the office humming along, tallies, queries, everything and all in the computer. He’s a bright kid, and his mother has always been good to me and Connie. Of course, I suspect he stays to be around the ever fragrant Irka, the White Rose of Warsaw. Had to laugh when she arrived at the count center, in a skirt that could have passed as a thick belt. Mahaffy’s lot nearly dropped their rosaries. But between the two of them I couldn’t ask for a better office team.
In the clinic this morning, the widow Tyrell from Fisherstown, the one with the funny eye, not with the leg, called in to see me with a problem with her rabbit. Apparently the poor thing wasn’t the best, or at least that was the jist of what I got until she pulled an enormous plastic device from a Dunnes bag, and complained that she couldn’t get it to work. Maurice and I nearly fell off the seat, and were unsure what to do, when Irka walked in with the tea and Kimberleys, saw it, and got into a conversation with the widow. She had the thing working in two minutes, and the widow left thrilled. “ Did ye see the size of that thing?” Maurice asked, when she’d gone. “Bet it just eats batteries. Or do you think it plugs into the mains?”
I kept my mouth shut. If it helps the widow get through the lonely winter nights, mores the better. God be the days when politicians were just expected to stimulate the economy.
Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He’s been known to enjoy the odd book, and regards himself as a Garret man. His diary is published here every week.
A new year, same old nonsense. My “party running mate” (there’s an oxymoron, if there ever was one. Especially the moron bit) Senator Michael “The Gimp” Mahaffy has been putting it about the constituency that I’m pro-abortion. He’s always been one for the Rosary crowd, but since he went off on that junket to America he’s been unbearable. The yanks saw his “senator” title and no doubt got all excited, and now some crowd of gun-toting bible bashers have recruited him to head up their war to bring Jesus back to Europe, starting with Holy Ireland.
Last week he accused the county manager of pursuing a “radical homosexual agenda” because he had the Village People on the council’s call waiting. Funnily enough, I’ve known him since he was in Young Fine Gael, and have never seen him as much as look at a woman. He hangs around with that young one from Youth Attack! who looks like she’s sucking the goodness out of a lemon, but I doubt there’s anything happening there. She strikes me as the type that goes around tippexing the word “sex” out of dictionaries in public libraries.
Abortion’s a desperate issue, especially considering that we’re so reluctant to actually ask the public a straight question. Every referendum seems to ask “Are you against abortion, or are you REALLY against abortion?” Everyone seems to forget that in 1992 we did ask people a straight question: Are you okay with people having abortions, just not here? 65% of them said yes and looked the other way. A very Irish solution.
Is it me or is Seanad Reform becoming the new draining the Shannon? There’s more people going around the place banging on about it. Of course, during the referendum, it was all very entertaining watching fellas who never gave a shite about what they were voting for now getting all high and mighty about checks (as opposed to cheques) and balances and parliamentary scrutiny. I recall one particular character up on his hind legs in the chamber talking about the need for the upper house to be “rigorous” in its surveillance of the government. Funnily enough, I hear he was very rigorous with at least three widowed county councillors during the last Seanad election. And him on the John Charles McQuaid Sub Committee for the Saving of Souls too.
Arthur Henchy TD was first elected for Kildare East in 1981. He has been known to enjoy reading the odd book, and regards himself as a Garret man. He will be publishing his diary entries here every week.
Posted by Jason O on Jun 6, 2013 in Fiction
, Irish Politics
The 1st Irish Free State division wades ashore on Omaha beach, June 6, 1944.
They buried Eamonn De Valera on the 1st October 1943, nearly two weeks after the car crash on the Rock road, Blackrock, which had claimed the life of both the Taoiseach and his Garda driver. Given his iconic status in the political pantheon of the Free State, the Minister for Supplies and de facto successor, Sean Lemass, had delayed the traditional swift burial to allow for a ceremony more befitting “the chief.”
Over a quarter of a million people turned up to pay their respects as the procession made its way from the Pro-Cathedral to Glasnevin, and two days later, the Fianna Fail parliamentary party met and anointed the young 44 year old minister as Taoiseach.
A week after his election as Taoiseach, Lemass was visited by the US ambassador. The visit was perfunctory, the diplomat visiting to pass on the respects of President Roosevelt. As they spoke, the ambassador, who was well briefed as to the differences in outlook between De Valera and his young protégé, decided to take a gamble. By pure coincidence, he had on his person copies of OSS briefing documents outlining allied intelligence on the concentration camps. Lemass read them, asked questions about their veracity, and then opened a discussion with the ambassador about the post-war situation. The world was waiting for the invasion of France, and that, in tandem with the German reversals on the Eastern front, meant that the war was going to end, and Nazi Germany was going to be defeated. On top of that, it was becoming very clear that the United States was going to be the dominant power in the world. Lemass then changed the subject entirely, and spoke about the challenges facing a tiny, newly independent nation like Ireland, and its place in the world.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 13, 2013 in British Politics
Repost for the week that was in it:
Mrs Thatcher, not one for sleeping much to begin with, had nevertheless been awoken with the news. HMS Invincible had been hit by at least three Exocet missiles, and was sinking. Casualties were lighter than expected, but the captain had given the abandon ship order. The prime minister, after ensuring that all possible aid was given to the escaping survivors, addressed the question her assembled military and political staff waited for. Could they still retake the islands? Admiral Woodward was blunt. Air cover was vital, and with Invincible lost, HMS Hermes was now the sole provider of air cover, and the Argentinians knew it too. The entire enemy air force, he said, would be tasked with sinking the Hermes. That was easier said than done, given the range problems the Argentine Air Force had, having to fly from the mainland, but it meant that the closer the Hermes was to the Falklands themselves, to provide air support for ground forces, the greater the risk was that it could be hit.
Woodward also pointed out the effect the sinking of the Invincible would have on the morale of both sides, and that it would play a significant role. He was right. The following morning, despite D Notices being issued to all British newspapers, the Sun and the Mirror both ran with screen grabs from an American TV crew in a chartered plane who had footage of the ship’s last moments before it slipped beneath. The Sun declared “You Argy Bastards!” whilst the Mirror went with the more restrained “Revenge now!” The country swung solidly behind the prime minister, but then, it did not know what she knew. She had a choice. Risk the Hermes in close support, the loss of which would mean the end of the campaign, or risk soldiers lives without air support. Her political advisers were clear. Parliament would not wear the loss of the Hermes, and she would be gone by the end of the day. They advocated a landing without full air support.
The military objected strongly, with the head of the army threatening to resign in a red-faced heated exchange with a political advisor where he refused to put British soldiers into unnecessary danger to save a politician’s blushes. Mrs Thatcher, in a moment of honour that even her most ardent opponents recognised as an act of nobility, assured the general that she would never give such an order. She then instructed her foreign secretary to contact the Americans to act as go-betweens.
US Secretary of State Alexander Haig quickly negotiated a ceasefire, and within three weeks US helicopters were landing in the Falklands to evacuate any Falkland Islanders who wished to be evacuated from the conflict zone. The talks in Washington quickly settled on the concept of Britain conceding shared sovereignty of the islands in return for an Argentine withdrawal. When Mrs Thatcher visited the White House to make it clear to President Reagan that such an option was not acceptable, the president diplomatically informed her that she had no choice. Argentina was the force on the ground and she was negotiating from a position of weakness. She then requested US military assistance to change that fact. When President Reagan refused, she departed, and never spoke to him again for the rest of his life.
With the task force limping back to Portsmouth, the polls, which previous to the invasion had the newly formed centrist Social Democratic Party with over 50%, and the Tories in third place, opened up even wider. The prime minister delayed the general election until May 1984, but the desperate economic news and the humiliation of the Falklands led to her being christened “The Jimmy Carter of British Politics” by Liberal leader David Steel, and the voters seemed to agree, handing a huge majority to the SDP-Liberal Alliance with just under 48% of the vote. Labour suffered losses too, but the real casualties were the Conservative Party, who stumbled back into Parliament with less than 50 seats, Mrs Thatcher losing her own seat in Finchley by 234 votes.
Roy Jenkins, the former Labour Chancellor and President of the European Commission, and now prime minister, moved quickly to take advantage of the momentum of his historic win. Bills on constitutional reform, including changing the voting system, were quickly passed through the Commons, with the House of Lords, despite having only a tiny minority of SDP and Liberal peers, afraid to block a government which such a huge mandate. Jenkins also surprised many by making trades union reform a centrepiece of his government, although looking to Germany for inspiration. The new legislation swept away many of the old restrictive practices whilst putting in place generous profit sharing arrangements for employees, and tax incentives for the companies that signed up to them. The Jenkins government radically changed the approach of the government to industry and manufacturing, investing state money in companies willing to take the long term view, whilst pushing in the EEC for a dismantling of barriers to a European single market.
Jenkins then lobbied for, and succeeded in the appointment of a British President of the European Commission to take a tough approach to this agenda. European history books written years later credited the beginning of the final phase of European integration, a real single market, with the ten year European Commission led by President Thatcher.