Markievicz on Kevin O’Higgins and the early Free State (1924)


by Constance Markievicz


On Sunday, November 9, Mr K. O’Higgins, speaking in Cork, issued a challenge to Mr French, the Republican candidate, and to Republicans in general, as follows: “How, under such conditions (credit down to zero), Mr French and his associates were going to fulfil all the promises about housing, pensions and the devil know what?”

I am not prepared to deal with what “the devil” and Mr O’Higgins know; I leave them to their joint secret without any curiosity.  But what we Republicans intend to do for the good of the people of Ireland, and how we intend to do it, is no secret and Mr O’Higgins knows it.

He is one of those despicable persons who sold the Republic for a mess of pottage, for the salary of £1000 per annum and pickings which is attached to his post, and for the advantages that his action gave him, of sharing in the enormous profits made by Britons out of the small and backward peoples whom they hold in subjection and oppress, and whom they exploit through the medium of their joint stock companies and through international trusts.

The actions of the Free State junta since they have taken forcible control of Ireland in the interests of England, and in their own personal interests, have been absolutely anti-National and un-Christian.  Greed and self-interest have prompted them, and have been accompanied by a callous disregard of human life, of truth and of their duties to a dispossessed and suffering people.

The poverty in Ireland has a history that would fill volumes.  It has always been, and is, the deliberate policy of the British Government – economic ruin for the purpose of depopulating and weakening the nation.  A ruined people starve where they cannot emigrate, and our history shows little, but a long, cruel record of famines and emigrations.

For this purpose the land of the clans was “confiscated” and handed over to British settlers or to the traitor Irishmen aptly called “The King’s Irish”.  Both parties did the king’s work well, and saw to it that their Irish tenants starved.

Their industries and fisheries, commerce and trade, were destroyed by the sword or ruined by anti-Irish legislation.  From time to time British and other foreign industrialists were encouraged to settle in various parts of Ireland, more especially in the North, but only allowed to flourish in so far as they fell in with the general economic policy, first of England and later of the British Empire, and did not in any way interfere or compete with the British commercial interests.

The British government have always, unfortunately, been able to find men who were ready to act as the “King’s English”, for England is always ready to pay her tools well, especially if it costs her nothing, and can be done at the expense of the peoples that she finds across her path to wealth and power.

So history is but repeating itself when we find this Junta, who are employed by England to “govern” Ireland, enriching themselves at the expense of the unfortunate people whom they hold in subjection by the guns their masters, the British Cabinet, supply them with.

History of it

Let us glance back briefly at the tragic history of the last three years.

On May 20, 1922, a pact was arrived at between the Republicans and the Free State Party.  The only purpose the Republicans had in signing this pact was to avert civil war.  The people abhorred the idea of civil war and greeted the pact with acclamation.  The Free Staters tricked and lied to the people, and secretly enrolled an army containing both Black and Tans and British demobilised soldiers as well as many a deluded Irishman who believed their words when their mouth-pieces said they “were drafting a Republican Constitution” and that “we shall all be together again soon for the Republic”.  Mark this, all they did was publish the British-made Constitution on the morning of the poll.

As soon as they were prepared – with England’s support, English guns and English credit – they forced civil war on the country.  Let no-one be deluded; the first shot fired on the Republican Army in the Four Courts told the ghastly truth, that a junta of traitors in England’s pay had attacked those who stood true to the Republic that they themselves had helped to bring into existence.

On the heads of those who struck the first blow, who made the attack, lies the guilt, on their shoulders lies the responsibility for all the devastation and ruin that the civil war brought in its train.  Let them answer to Almighty God for this unforgivable national crime.

Torture and murder, terror and lies, were the devils and England’s methods that they used.

What wonder that they won the war, they who had no scruple, who stuck at nothing.

Before even they signed the Treaty they had sold the Republic.  They had agreed to recognise the British Government in Ireland.  They had acknowledged the Partition Provisional Government set up by England for 26 Counties and to become part of it.  Clause 17 of the Treaty makes this British law.  By agreeing to this they accepted British Government and British ideals.  The Republican Government, with its Gaelic and democratic machinery, its ideals and programme was cast to the wind.  From that time they were part of the machinery of the British Empire, they had sold themselves to imperialism, capitalism and graft.

The economic ruin of Ireland was begun.  Salaries out of all proportion to the wealth and size of the country for themselves and their host of needy friends and supporters was their first care.  This, of course, necessitated the reduction of the wages of the workers they employed.  The postmen struck against this, but were beaten, and the game went on.

They send contracts for things that are made in Ireland across to the enemy.  Uniform material and mattresses for their army were both proved by the secretaries of the various trade unions to be coming over from England while Irish workers were starving.


They make no secret of their attitude; their words and attitude during the debate on unemployment on October 30 shows us their selfish and cruel policy.

Mr McGilligan, their Minister for Industry and Commerce, spoke for them.  His only answer to heart-rending accounts of starvation and misery was to try and evade all responsibility for it.

He sneered at Deputy Byrne who spoke of the misery of the people, and told him he “indulged (him)self in the luxury of grief” and went on to state, “those things are quite well-known, but simply to state that they are there, and to tell a tale of a child dying of starvation, and the coroner’s verdict that the child did die of starvation, as if that is a verdict against the Government, is nonsense.”

He was absolutely definite as to the Free State policy when he stated: “It is not the function of this Dail to provide work.”

So we find that today the workers are starving and with little hope of finding work.  That the small farmers and small businesspeople are facing ruin and starvation.  Death or emigration are what this Junta is providing for the plain people of Ireland, while they and their numberless officials revel in luxury and drink, and foreign trusts daily strengthen their grip on the economic life of Ireland.

Most of the men composing this Junta are Catholics.  How can they answer this dictum laid down by Pope Leo XIII?  “Wage earners, who are undoubtedly among the weak and necessitous, should be especially cared for and protected by the Government.”

He also tells us, “Whenever the general interest of any particular class suffers, or is threatened with mischief which can in no other way be met or prevented, the public authority must step in to deal with it.”

The Republican policy has been frankly stated by Eamonn de Valera, President of the Irish Republic,* speaking at Rathfarnham on August 8:


A very definite programme

The following are some of the schemes already adopted by the Republican   Government for this purpose:

1. Support of the existing industries and the establishment of

new ones, “and to secure their being developed on the most

beneficial and progressive and industrial lines.”

2.  Development of mineral resources

3.  Afforestation

4.  Drainage schemes and reclamation of bog lands

5.  Housing

6.  Arranging for loans at a reasonable price for farmers.

Undertaking a general supervision of the production and

distribution of food, and “it shall be the duty of the Republic

to prevent the shipment from Ireland of food and other

necessities until the wants of the Irish people are fully

satisfied and the future provided for.”

We are prepared to procure the money to carry out our programme by the following methods:

1. The salaries decreed and accepted by the Republican

Ministers were £500 per annum. The President’s £600.

Therefore the first economy will be effected when the huge

salaries now extorted from the people will cease.  “President”

Cosgrave £2500 per annum (£48 per week), other Ministers

from £1700 to £1000 per annum.

2. Do away with the office of Governor-General, which costs the

country about £100 per day.

3. Abolish that body known as the Senate and the salaries

attached to it.

4. By abolishing the existing English system of judiciary with

such extravagant jobs as: Chief Justice (Hugh Kennedy)

£4000 a year; two Supreme Court judges at £3000 a year

each; High Court president at £3000; 5 High Court judges at

£2500 each; 8 Circuit Court judges at £1700 each; 33 District

Court judges at £1100 to £1200 each; and re-establish the

Republican justices with salaries in proportion to the work

they do and to the wealth of the country.

5. The establishment of Protection, carefully calculated to

foster the industries of the country.

6. Refuse to pay any share of England’s war debt.

7. Pay an income tax on all incomes exceeding £500 per


8. Tax all monies invested abroad.

9. Tax all foreign investments*

I have answered Mr O’Higgins’ challenge.  I will give him yet another quotation from the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII: “The object of the Government of the state should be, not the advantage of the ruler, but the benefit of those over whom he is placed.”

With the help of God, we republicans will live up to this Christian precept.  The people of Ireland are dear to us.  The freedom we seek to procure for Ireland is not merely a freedom to starve under the Tricolour and a Republican Government.  It is the freedom that Pearse and Connolly died for, where the people would be free to live, to work and to be happy, and above all free from the fear of famine in a Free and Independent Republic.**

Sinn Fein, November 15, 1924

* Presumably this should be investments, rather than advertisements, and is likely a typographical error in the original paper.

** At this time a serious famine was again stalking a number of western counties.


Posted on September 13, 2011, in Constance Markievicz, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Historiography and historical texts, Republicanism post-1900, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Markievicz on Kevin O’Higgins and the early Free State (1924).

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