Thursday, February 27, 2020

Former Taoiseach Seán Lemass


Waterford Museum of Treasures: Dr. Eugene Broderick’s Lunchtime Talks


IF you want something done, ask a busy man. Because busy people have no time for procrastination or over-egging a problem. “Lemass,” says a grim Dr. Eugene Broderick, “was a man in a hurry. He had things to do. If a problem arose, it had to be confronted and solved.” And twentieth-century Ireland had many problems. A largely peasant-based agrarian economy with massive emigration to England – perfidious Albion – the only solution.

It wasn’t Lemass’s solution and he had little truck with the naval-gazing politicians ranged around. “Lemass is different,” observed Minister Gerry Boland of the man who would spend a lifetime as Minister of Industry and Commerce with a single purpose of providing sustainable jobs that would survive in European competition.


‘Our world-view was changing and the right man had the whistle.’


Seán was a man of few words and lengthy, intimidating pauses. He didn’t do small talk and he barely knew the names of a handful of his civil servants. And he was afraid of nothing; least of all change.

When he became Taoiseach, cabinet meetings became decision making conferences with little time for prevarication. He was not a man to suffer fools gladly; any minister who was not on top of his brief was told so. Bluntly. Fianna Fáil National Executive meetings went from five hours to twenty minutes. Talking shops were never for the man in a hurry. Recent TDs who have lost seats for failing to deal with the housing and health crisis would do well to reflect.

He needed and promoted factories and set up semi-state companies. He started Bord na Móna and set up Beet factories in Carlow, Tuam and Mallow. His favourite semi-state was Aer Lingus. It was everything he wanted a modern Ireland to be: outgoing, adventurous, connected. In 1936 Aer Lingus had one plane. Four years later, it had a modern airport.

He recognised the need for economic expansion based on exports. Even Agriculture was to be export-driven. After a decade of massive emigration and poverty in the fifties, there was economic growth of 4%. Unemployment fell by 33% and emigration fell 40%. Wage rounds were introduced and Lemass recognised that we needed to push for entry to the European tariff-free Common Market. When De Gaulle insisted, prophetically, that “the British were too much trouble” and kept us out along with them, Lemass initiated the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement that would have ended tariffs with Britain by 1975.

Our world-view was changing and the right man had the whistle.

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By Pat McEvoy, Arts Correspondent
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