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The corporate labour policy of Fine Gael, 1934

  • Eugene Broderick (a1)


Corporatism or vocationalism had many advocates throughout Europe in the 1930s. Corporatists rejected the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism, with its attendant exploitation of workers, and totalitarian communism, with its emphasis on the doctrine of class struggle. They recommended a middle way between two hostile systems and sought to achieve social harmony by means of the establishment of corporations, representative of workers and employers, to regulate the various areas of national economic activity. These corporations were to secure co-operation between capital and labour, thus eliminating social conflict. In Ireland vocationalism had been popularised by the papal encyclical Quadragesimo anno, and it had strong proponents among certain elements in Fine Gael and the Blueshirts while both were under the leadership of General Eoin O’Duffy in 1933 and 1934. The spectacular failure of the Blueshirts and O’Duffy’s incompetence as Fine Gael leader resulted in the corporate-inspired Labour policy of Fine Gael, published in 1934, being ignored by historians. Yet it is worthy of attention, not least because it was the only significant policy formulation by vocationalists within Fine Gael. Furthermore, an examination of the proposals serves to illuminate reasons why corporatism and the Blueshirts were doomed to political failure.



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1 For detailed explanations of corporatism see Winkler, T. J., ‘Corporatism’ in European Journal of Sociology, xvii, 1 (1976), pp 101-3; Schmitter, P. C., Corporatism and public policy in authoritarian Portugal (Beverly Hills, 1975), pp 510 ; Newman, Otto, The challenge of corporatism (London, 1981), pp 351.

2 The report of the Commission on Vocational Organisation (Dublin, 1944) observed that ‘the phrase vocational organisation passed into general usage in this country mainly as a result of the strong recommendation of vocational organisation contained in the Encyclical Quadragesimo anno (1931) of Pope Pius XI’ (para. 5). For a consideration of the impact of Quadragesimo anno on social thinking in Ireland see Whyte, J. H., Church and state in modern Ireland, ¡923-1979 (Dublin, 1980), pp 62119 ; Gaughan, J. A., Alfred O’Rahilly: public figure (Dublin, 1989), pp 279-81. For a socialist appraisal see Swift, J. P., John Swift: an Irish dissident (Dublin, 1991), pp 8595.

3 Eoin O’Duffy became leader of the Army Comrades’ Association (popularly called the Blueshirts) in July 1933. In September of the same year, on the foundation of Fine Gael, he became leader of that party.

4 For a history of the Blueshirts see Manning, Maurice, The Blueshirts (Dublin, 1970). For a brief survey and an assessment of O’Duffy’s leadership qualities see Fisk, Robert, In time of war: Ireland, Ulster and the price of neutrality, 1939–45 (London, 1983), pp 367-70; Fanning, Ronan, Independent Ireland (Dublin, 1983), p. 115 ; Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland, 1600–1972 (London, 1988), pp 549-50; Lee, J. J., Ireland, 1912–1985: politics and society (Cambridge, 1989), pp 178-81; Lyons, F S. L., Ireland since the Famine (London, 1971), pp 527-36; Murphy, John A., Ireland in the twentieth century (Dublin, 1975), pp 7884.

5 There is no mention, let alone discussion, of the policy in the books cited in note 4 above.

6 O’Duffy, Eoin, The labour policy of Fine Gael (Dublin, 1934), p. 8.

7 Ibid., p. 20.

8 Ibid., p. 9.

9 Ibid.

10 Irish Independent, 21 July 1933.

11 O’Duffy, Labour policy, p. 20.

12 The main source of this account is O’Duffy, Labour policy.

13 O’Duffy, Eoin, An outline of the political, social and economic policy of Fine Gael (Dublin, 1934), p. 13.

14 O’Duffy, Labour policy, p. 7.

15 O’Duffy, Outline, p. 14.

16 Ibid., pp 7–8.

17 O’Duffy, Labour policy, p. 10.

18 Ibid., p. 11.

19 Ibid., p. 13.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., p. 14.

22 United Ireland (henceforth U.I.), 25 Aug. 1934.

25 Ibid., 3 Mar. 1934.

24 Ibid., 31 Mar. 1935

25 Ibid., 19 Jan. 1935.

26 The Blueshirt, Apr. 1935.

27 U.I., 31 Mar. 1934.

28 Ibid., 27 Apr. 1935.

29 Ibid., 8 Sept. 1935.

30 Ibid., 9 Mar. 1935.

31 Ibid., 27 Apr. 1935.

32 The Blueshirt, 18 May 1935.

33 U.I., 19 May 1934.

34 The Nation, 22 June 1935. This newspaper became the official organ of the National Corporate Party, which O’Duffy launched in June 1935.

35 U.I., 3 Mar. 1934.

36 Ibid., 24 Mar. 1934.

37 Ibid., 6 Oct. 1934.

38 Hoppen, K. T., Ireland since 1800: conflict and conformity (London, 1989), p. 181.

39 Bew, Paul, Hazelkorn, Ellen and Patterson, Henry, The dynamic of Irish politics (London, 1989), pp 48-9.

40 McMahon, Deirdre, Republicans and imperialists: Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s (London, 1984), p. 107 . The politician was Sir Ralph Glyn, parliamentary private secretary to the prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald.

41 Healy, John, No one shouted Stop (originally published as Death of an Irish town) (Achill, 1988), p. 24.

42 Seanad Éireann deb., xvii, 1165 (22 Aug. 1933).

43 Report of the administrative council of the Labour Party, 1933–4 (reproduced in O’Riordan, Michael, Connolly column (Dublin, 1979), app. 8, pp 207-10).

44 Irish Times, 1 May 1934.

45 Irish Workers’ Voice, 20 Jan. 1934.

46 Ibid., 24 Apr. 1934.

47 Socialist influences were evident in the republican movement during this period. See Bell, J. Bowyer, The secret army: history of the I.R.A., 1916–1979 (Dublin, 1980), pp 99130 ; Coogan, T. P., The I.R.A. (London, 1970), pp 90124 ; Murphy, John A., ‘The new I.R.A., 1925–62’ in Williams, T. D. (ed.), Secret societies in Ireland (Dublin, 1973), pp 150-65.

48 An Phoblacht, 13 Jan. 1934.

49 Ibid., 17 Feb. 1934.

50 Ibid., 4 Aug. 1934.

51 U.I., 3 Mar. 1934.

52 Ibid., 21 Apr. 1934.

53 Ibid., 25 Nov. 1933.

54 Ibid., 3 Feb. 1934.

55 Seanad Eireann deb., xviii, 852 (21 Mar. 1934). Similar sentiments were expressed by O’Duffy when he said: ‘I was asked in court the other day where did I get the idea of the shirt, the salute and the corporate state. I replied Italy.’ (Quoted in The Nation, 22 Jun. 1935)

56 Newman, The challenge of corporatism, p. 6.

57 For a discussion of Cumann na nGaedheal ‘s anti-communism see Keogh, Dermot, ‘The Catholic church and the “red scare”, 1931–32’ in Carroll, J. P. and Murphy, John A. (eds), De Valera and his times (Cork, 1983), pp 134-60. This belief in a communist threat was also a feature of Fine Gael, and dire warnings of Marxist revolution were an important feature of the party’s organ, United Ireland. A vice-president of the party, James Hogan, was a regular contributor on the subject, and his articles formed the basis of a book entitled Could Ireland become communist?, which was published in 1935. Hogan concluded that ‘the fact remains that anyone who examines the question cannot doubt for one instant the reality of a well-organised and growing Communist movement in Ireland’ (p. x).

58 Clerical preoccupation reflected that of Pope Pius XI: see Keogh, ‘The Catholic church and the “red scare”’, p. 134. For an account of a conversation between the pope and Sean T. O’Kelly, vice-president of the Executive Council, on the extent of the communist threat in Ireland, during the latter’s visit to Rome in 1933, see idem, The Vatican, the bishops and Irish politics, 1919–1939 (Cambridge, 1986), pp 202–3. The sometimes extreme reaction of the Catholic faithful in Ireland to clerical anti-communist pronouncements is described in Swift, John Swift, pp 86–7.

59 Dáil Éireann deb., 1, 2496–500 (1 Mar. 1934).

60 Quoted in Nevin, Donai, ‘Radical movements in the thirties’ in Williams, (ed.), Secret societies in Ireland, p. 173.

61 Irish Times, 1 Mar. 1934.

62 Keogh, ‘The Catholic church and the “red scare”’, p. 139.

63 It must be acknowledged that there was an originality in claims that vocational organisation had an Irish pedigree. Blythe claimed this as early as April 1933. He wrote that ‘as the movement for a corporate state grows and takes organised shape, it will be apparent that it [the corporate state] has roots in Irish history’ (United Irishman, 15 Apr. 1933). O’Duffy defended proposals he had for a vocational parliament by claiming that ‘the new system existed in Ireland before the Anglo-Norman conquest’ (Irish Independent, 11 Aug. 1933).

64 U.I., 7 Apr. 1934.

65 Ibid., 31 Mar. 1934.

66 Lee, Ireland, 1912–1985, p. 627.

67 Ibid., p. 638.

68 Report, para. 16.

69 Meenan, James, The Italian corporative system (Cork, 1944), p. ix.

70 For a discussion of Ireland’s democratic tradition see Chubb, Basil, The government and politics of Ireland (2nd ed., London, 1981), pp 57 ; Peillon, Michael, Contemporary Irish society: an introduction (Dublin, 1982), pp 121-33; Farrell, Brian, The founding of Dáil Eireann: parliament and nation building (Dublin, 1971), pp 8084.

71 Mansergh, Nicholas, The Irish Free State: its government and politics (London, 1934), p. 10 . The observation is contained in the foreword by W. G. S. Adams.

72 MacDonagh, O1iver, Ireland: the union and its aftermath (London, 1977), p. 13.

73 Manning, Blue shirts, pp 1–63.

74 See Broderick, Eugene, ‘Irish corporatism 1931–1939’ (unpublished M.A. thesis, University College, Cork, 1991), pp 7285.

75 Manning, Blueshirts, pp 128–63.

76 Broderick, ‘Irish corporatism’, pp 91–4.

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The corporate labour policy of Fine Gael, 1934

  • Eugene Broderick (a1)


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