Emerald Isle in a Sea of Discord
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Sep 1969, p. 15-27
Colley, The Honourable George, Speaker
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The relationship between Canada and Ireland, going back to 1595 when ships passed between Ireland and Newfoundland. Recent and significant economic developments in Ireland. Main features of Ireland's economy when the state was founded, and a brief history following to bring us up to date. Inducements to encourage industry from abroad. Changing from an agricultural nation. Increasing exports. The establishment of the Irish Export Board in 1952 and some encouraging statistics since. Encouraging more trade with Canada: growing, but still at too low a level. Developing tourism in Ireland. Some discussion on the political troubles in Ireland. The economic advantages of the end of Partition in Ireland. The hopes for a re-united Ireland.
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19 Sep 1969
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SEPTEMBER 19, 1969
Emerald Isle in a Sea of Discord
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Ian Macdonald


These are days of universal demonstration apparently born of frustration with the representative flavour of our political and social institutions. Earlier this week, our flight across the landscape of British foreign policy, with the Rt. Hon. Michael Stewart in the pilot's seat, was subject to some turbulence inside and outside the aircraft. Naturally, this was somewhat upsetting to the passengers, not to mention the staff in the control tower, until the journey was concluded safely. I would hope that, in welcoming the Club's first speaker from the Government of Ireland, we shall have a meeting free of interruption if not of dissent. The communications media have exposed the Empire Club to some gentle lampooning in the past two days on the absence of "dissent". In fact, such a defect is far from evident in the program which we have arranged this year and I prefer to reserve judgment on such premature commentary.

Happily, there have been no advance indications that any oranges will be thrown as we take off on our Irish flight today, although I think it is only fair to warn you, Mr. Minister, that, as a civil servant, I have myself been described from time to time as "a mandarin". In the Government of Ontario, a Cabinet Minister is often defined as a man who goes about with a worried look on the face of his Deputy Minister, but I trust this occupational deficiency of the chairman will not conceal the warmth of the welcome which I extend to you today on behalf of the members of this Club.

You come from an island, Sir, which has endured more than its share of strife and suffering and whose history has witnessed the ebb and flow of your national fortunes in pursuit of that quietude which is characteristic of so many parts of your lovely country, and which must have inspired William Butler Yeats in his reverie on "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" to hope:

"And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;"

In achieving freedom and independence, you have yet been denied the goal of national unity. If my recollection of Irish constitutional history is correct, your Constitution, which came into operation on December 29, 1937, declares Ireland to be a sovereign, independent, democratic State with its national territory the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas. In fact, the laws enacted by Parliament apply to the counties of the Irish Free State, excluding the six counties of the Province of Ulster known as "Northern Ireland". Yet, the unstated hope and aspiration behind the Constitution would appear to be the restoration of Irish unity and the end of centuries of internal unrest.

Mr. Colley is a distinguished practitioner in that Parliament. He is also a native of Dublin--the fair city of verse and song and the seat of so much history. His service to his party and to the government has been diverse and varied, from the time he was elected in 1961 as the representative for Dublin North-East in Dail Eireann, the House of Representatives. His ministerial responsibilities have given him a wide sweep and exposure to Ireland's basic conditions, from concern for places, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands, to responsibility for people, as Minister of Education.

Among his extensive travels and activities, two in particular are of special interest, I expect, to the members of this Club. First, Ireland has continued to demonstrate a keen interest in matters of Western European unity and cooperation. In turn, Mr. Colley was leader of the Irish Parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe in 1964. Second, at a time when we in Canada are working steadily at a possible revision of the Constitution, its institutions and the federal-provincial division of powers, we can note with deep interest his Chairmanship of the All-Party Committee examining the possible revision of the Constitution in Ireland.

Beyond these points, perhaps his greatest and most immediate interest in Canada and the interest of many of us in his visit today run a parallel course which is best reflected in his present portfolio as Minister for Industry and Commerce. May I repeat your own words, Sir, in accepting our invitation to speak to us today: "It is indeed a heartening thought that the long-standing historical connections between Ireland and Canada are now being fortified by growing ties of trade and industry." We, here, are concerned to develop and enhance these ties and I have great pleasure, therefore, in introducing you to the members of the Empire Club of Canada and in inviting you to address us on the subject of "Emerald Isle in a Sea of Discord."


Mr. President, Your Excellency, and gentlemen. I know that the Irish have a reputation for wit and eloquence and I am afraid that having heard the very witty and eloquent introduction you are about to be disappointed. I do not profess to be characteristically Irish in that regard. I do, however, want to say to you sincerely that it is a very great pleasure indeed for me as Minister for Industry and Commerce in Ireland to be invited to address the members of the Empire Club on this my first visit to Canada. I am happy also to have the opportunity of reporting to such a distinguished audience here, leaders as you are of the business and professional life of the community, on some of the more significant aspects of Ireland's economic development in recent years.

I have been looking forward to this visit to Canada for a long time. I regret very much that it has not taken place before now. It was planned a couple of times and had to be cancelled, but perhaps I savour it all the more by reason of the delay involved.

I was particularly looking forward to this because of the long and cordial ties between our two countries despite the obvious differences in climate, size and geographical makeup; I had often heard it said that no Irishman ever feels himself among strangers in Canada and I have had ample evidence of the truth of this since my arrival here in Canada last weekend.

These close and friendly relations between our two countries to which I have referred go back a very long time. Indeed, our Irish State papers show that ships were passing between Ireland and Newfoundland as far back as 1595 and there are records of Irish settlements in Canada in the 17th century. You know more than I do, I think, about the subsequent wave of immigration to Canada from Ireland, particularly about the middle of the last century coinciding with the great famine in Ireland. Many of our exiles here in Canada have played an active and distinguished part in Canada's development and have contributed to the great ideals which are still reflected in the political life of your country. Your contemporary role in the United Nations and the selfless part which your country has played in the U.N. peace-keeping missions demonstrate your deep and traditional commitment to these ideals.

As I have said, I am happy to talk to you about some recent and, I think, significant economic developments in Ireland. Fairly recently a leading British financial paper described it as a "minor economic miracle" and to a great extent this is true. There was a time when it could be said, and with a great deal of truth, that when the British economy caught cold, the Irish economy caught pneumonia. In recent years the British economy has been suffering from a prolonged cold but the Irish economy has been forging ahead. The significance of this fact, having regard to the history of our economy in the past, cannot be over-stressed.

However, I would like to tell you a little about the main features of our economy when our state was founded. At that time our dependence on agriculture was almost total. There were few industries of any consequence apart from a number of traditional industries mainly based on agriculture, such as brewing and distilling, bacon-curing, biscuit-manufacturing and the weaving of woollens. At that time our exports were exclusively of agricultural produce: live animals, dairy produce and drink, which you may tend to forget is basically an agricultural product. At that time too our unemployment was high and emigration was high. We tackled this problem in three main ways. Firstly, by the development of industry; secondly, by the development of exports; thirdly by the development of tourism.

Our first real step to industrialization took place in the early 1930's when we built up a pretty high tariff wall in order to support our industries in Ireland. Without those tariff walls they could not have started. Their foreign competitors would have wiped them out. I am glad to say that we have made such progress that we are now embarked on the process of dismantling those tariffs.

However, if we were to depend solely on the development of our own native industry, we might never achieve, or at least have to wait an unacceptable length of time to achieve, our aim which is to ensure as soon as possible a situation in which no Irishman or woman will be compelled by economic circumstances to leave Ireland. If people wish to emigrate we certainly will put no barrier in their way, but we do not wish them to be compelled to emigrate and that has been one of the main motivations of our economic program.

As I say, if we were to depend solely on the development of our own industry, this would not have been acceptable in solving our problems. As a result, for quite some years, we have been embarked on an intensive programme to attract industry from abroad to set up in Ireland. In this programme, we have offered some very valuable incentives from the government, mainly cash grants toward the cost of fixed assets with no strings attached; grants for the training of workers; and perhaps our most spectacular incentive is the fact that we exempt completely from tax for a period of fifteen years the profits derived from the export of manufactured goods from Ireland. We also add on a five-year period of getting used to the idea of paying tax. This particular one is of special interest, I think, to Canadian companies because, by reason of the terms of the Double Taxation Agreement between the Governments of Ireland and Canada, a Canadian firm setting up in Ireland and making profits on which it is not taxed in Ireland may bring back those profits to Canada and still not be taxed in Canada.

I am convinced that the most efficient inducement that we have had to encourage industry to set up from abroad has been the availability of a pool of intelligent and adaptable labour in Ireland. I always have to explain, when I say this, that I do not think Irish people are more intelligent than other people. What I mean is, because of the fact that we have not had industrialization on any great scale until recent years, we have a great many people who are educated to a level at which, in a more highly developed economy, they would take jobs that are not available to them in Ireland. Thus, people will take a level of job in Ireland which would not attract a person with the same kind of education in a similar situation in other countries.

Because our economy has been predominantly agricultural in the past, we have the same problem that has been common in many other countries--that is, an increasing productivity on the land from fewer and fewer people, a greater degree of mechanization, and increasing size of farms. But the relative size of our work force engaged on the land has compounded our problem and we have had many thousands of people coming off the land for whom we have been trying to provide employment in Ireland.

The program which I have outlined has been going on for a number of years and I am glad to say that in the last few years the momentum behind it has been gratifying. In the ten years from 1958 to 1968, about three hundred new industrial enterprises involving foreign participation set up in Ireland, providing about 38,000 new jobs. As I say, the momentum behind this is growing so that for the current year we are reasonably certain that we will be providing eleven thousand new jobs at least, which is the target We have set ourselves in order to provide full employment in Ireland by 1980 and I think from what I see that in the next few years that target is going to be exceeded.

As I mentioned, another area in which we have tackled our problems has been in regard to exports. I think it will be clear to you when I tell you our home market consists of three million people and that the prospect of development of industry on any substantial scale would be nil if we were to confine our activity to the home market. Therefore, exports are vital, not only to our progress but indeed to our survival. Consequently in 1952 we set up the Irish Export Board, and its activities both in assisting the Irish exporters and in assisting foreign buyers from Irish manufacturers are extremely valuable indeed; they have been so effective that I think their activities are clearly reflected in the figures for our exports.

Ten years ago our exports of manufactured goods, apart from the traditional food and drink items, were relatively modest and accounted for only about fourteen per cent of that year's exports. Last year for the first time in our history our manufactured exports accounted for more than half our total exports and the value of that total was over one billion dollars. The range of our manufactured exports is wide and I think surprising to many people who are not familiar with the situation in our country. They include, as you would probably expect, textiles and fashion wear, glass and pottery, but also include things like cranes and forklift trucks, electronic components and scientific instruments, parts for space satellites, blast furnace linings and pharmaceutical and chemical products. At present we export to, I think, one hundred and ten different countries and I like to tell people about one item of our exports which we sell very successfully--television sets to Hong Kong.

As far as trade with Canada is concerned, it had been growing rapidly in recent years, but in my view is at much too low a level. It is also very much in favour of Canada at the moment. I would like to see our trade in better balance at a much higher level and I believe that there is ample scope for us to achieve this and to have a much greater level of trade at both sides. That is one of the reasons indeed that I am here in Canada at the moment--to try to stimulate that trade a little farther.

Canada has always been regarded by us as a very important potential market indeed. The second of our overseas Export Boards was set up in Canada, in Montreal in fact. I am glad to tell you though that our Export Board plans to open a second office here in Toronto in the near future.

I mentioned that the third line of approach we had in tackling our problems was tourism. This is, for us, a very valuable industry which last year brought us in two hundred and thirty-eight million dollars. Last year, incidentally, we had about thirteen thousand visitors from Canada. Those of you who have been to Ireland will probably agree with what I am about to say and those of you who have not ought to go there and find out if I am telling the truth. Ireland is still a relatively unspoiled and from a tourist's viewpoint relatively unexplored country. It is a place, in many areas, of rugged natural beauty and the people have not yet forgotten the art of relaxation. I think that Canadians visiting Ireland will find a very special welcome for themselves. My government has given high priority to the expansion of tourism not only for the widespread financial benefits, but also because it cultivates understanding and goodwill between people.

These facts about Ireland's economic achievements in the sixties and our programme for economic growth for the seventies, meagre as they are, will probably come as a surprise to those who may have envisaged Ireland as a pastoral land inhibited by an inherent economic ennui and preoccupied with ancient enmities.

The spurt of economic and social advance that has marked the last decade in our Republic can be vouched for by a number of Canadian businessmen, industrialists and entrepreneurs who have invested in Ireland and have shared as welcome partners in our growth. We have, during the past five years or so, achieved in our part of Ireland a momentum of growth and spirit of economic renewal which if it is maintained, and it will be, promises great and practical achievements in expansion in the decades ahead.

It is in this context that I propose now to turn to the question that has inevitably been raised throughout my visit to Canada. It is the question reflected in the title you have chosen for my address this afternoon.

I want, first of all, to record my appreciation of the genuine and sincere concern for Ireland and for all of its people so evident in many enquiries I have had from Canadians about the situation in the north of Ireland. Naturally these questions have come from Canadians of varying heritage but they have been characterized by a common sense of regret at the tragic happenings, at the terrible psychological impasses that compel the awesome tensions that prevail in that troubled area.

There is here in Canada a keen and regretful awareness that above and beyond the question of individual allegiance, it is fellow human beings in the north of Ireland, be they Unionists or Nationalists, Catholics or Protestants, who now savour the bitter grapes of ancient wrath.

I argue from the conviction that the sad situation in the north-east corner of my country today is the predictable inevitable consequence of the unhappy expedient resorted to by men of limited vision who almost fifty years ago imposed partition. I use the word "expedient" advisedly for partition was envisaged as a temporary measure and even one of its most formidable protagonists, Lord Craigavon, foresaw reunion as inevitable.

The partition of Ireland was conceived as a device to create an artificial local majority in one corner of Ireland and thereby consolidate the political and economic hegemony of one group. Its ideological justifications were based on the simple but terrifying myth that Catholics and Protestants could not live and prosper together in one island. This myth, which has been assiduously cultivated, was conjured into reality with the tragic consequence that we all see. The irony of the situation is that the very history of the north of Ireland area itself provides the finest examples of the fusion of Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters in communal harmony.

The very Republican ideal which inspired Ireland's struggle for liberty and independence was conceived by Ulster Protestants. Dissenters and Catholics fought side by side for an Irish Republic in the great nationwide uprising of 1798. Some of the most stirring episodes of that campaign took place on Ulster soil and the bravest of the fallen were men with names like Munroe, Orr and McCracken.

This sense of community did not expire with the embers of that struggle. It continued into the 19th century and the story of the early growth of the City of Belfast is graced by instances of inter-denominational harmony rare in Europe at that time. Indeed the first Roman Catholic Church in Belfast was built mainly by the subscriptions of Protestants.

It would be unfair to you, Gentlemen, if I were to dwell too long on the methods and motives used to shatter that idyll: the cold-blooded manner in which the landed ascendancy fostered and promoted a virulent bigotry to preserve their vested interest, and the baleful influence of sectarian ranting and the communal strife perpetrated in the name of religion.

It is surely time to open a new chapter in the story of Ireland. Here in this great Confederation of Canada, Irishmen of contrasting heritage were able to submerge their old antipathies to share in the building of a new nation. They could do this without abandoning the better aspects of their individual traditions. There is a moral for Ireland today in the story of a recent St. Patrick's Day parade in a Canadian city where the local Orange band in appropriate regalia enhanced the musical effort.

We would ask those who are divided from us in the north of Ireland today, especially the young people among them, to re-examine the sterile and entrenched concepts which have led their community to sociological bankruptcy. The reaction of startled uncomprehension among the British public and press to recent events in the north must suggest to perceptive young Unionist men and women that partition has created a political twilight zone. It has left them in a situation where for all the undoubted sincerity of their loyalty, they are not regarded as really British. They are regarded as the residue of an Irish problem.

We want to invite those fellow countrymen of ours now to think the first daring thoughts towards the only ideal that can, ultimately, signal the end of Ulster's tragedy, the ideal of a reunited Ireland. Let me acknowledge that we in the south, preoccupied in the first decade of independence with laying economic foundations, failed to make sufficient effort to understand the complexities of the problems bedevilling the north. In intellectual introspection we regarded with an empty and somewhat bothered sympathy the minority who were victims of the system. We strongly condemned the discriminatory regime without making a real effort to understand the fears of a people frightened by phantoms and spectres conjured up by that regime to sustain itself.

We say to our people in the north--and they are all our people--that we on our part are ready now to repair these omissions: We invite them now to share with us a new adventure in economic, social and moral growth.

This is an invitation to join us in building anew. Such a development would, of necessity, involve a restructuring of society as we know it in Ireland today. The present structures, North and South, are conditioned by the ever present fact of Partition. The new Ireland which would evolve if this straitjacket were removed would be one shaped and enriched by the traditions and values of all Irishmen and all Irishwomen, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. We as Irish people, North or South, have the acumen to fashion a fabric of society that will cherish and respect the seemingly rival traditions.

I do not make light of the challenge, economic, social and constitutional implied in the federal proposal outlined recently by our Prime Minister, Mr. Lynch. All of us in the Government of Ireland share his conviction that these problems are not insurmountable.

I have no doubt that the Government of Britain would like to see an end once and for all to what is called the "Irish Question". There are in their councils men who have the imagination and vision to grasp this moment of historic challenge. I assure them that they will find a ready and generous response from the Irish Government. I have no doubt that ultimately the concept of a re-united Ireland will prevail not only as a matter of historic justice but in the European context as a matter of economic logic. In the final analysis it will prevail because it is based historically on a broad and generous concept of human brotherhood and individual dignity.

Mr. Colley was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Mr. R. L. Armstrong.

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Emerald Isle in a Sea of Discord

The relationship between Canada and Ireland, going back to 1595 when ships passed between Ireland and Newfoundland. Recent and significant economic developments in Ireland. Main features of Ireland's economy when the state was founded, and a brief history following to bring us up to date. Inducements to encourage industry from abroad. Changing from an agricultural nation. Increasing exports. The establishment of the Irish Export Board in 1952 and some encouraging statistics since. Encouraging more trade with Canada: growing, but still at too low a level. Developing tourism in Ireland. Some discussion on the political troubles in Ireland. The economic advantages of the end of Partition in Ireland. The hopes for a re-united Ireland.