Irish Examiner review, 24 May 2014. 'This provocative book, which is magnificently researched, depicts many facets of Aiken’s political career ... it is a valuable addition to our understanding'.

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Irish Examiner review, 24 May 2014. 'This provocative book, which is magnificently researched, depicts many facets of Aiken’s political career ... it is a valuable addition to our understanding'.
  Book Review Irish Examiner   24 May 2014: Frank Aiken: Nationalist and Internationalist Edited by Bryce Evans and Stephen Kelly Irish Academic Press, €22.45 in paperback   Reviewed by: Ryle Dwyer Hitherto Frank Aiken was undoubtedly the most significant Irish politician without a biography. While this book is more of a collection of relevant essays by historians on different aspects of Aiken’s life than a conventional biography, it certainly helps to fill a serious void.  His part in the War of Independence and Civil War is still shrouded in some mystery. He engaged in violence and was a central figure behind the Altnaveigh Massacre on June 17, 1922. It was such an acute embarrassment that he refused to discuss it afterwards. If the events in Altnaveigh occurred during either the War of Independence, or Civil War, the massacre might have been better remembered, but the whole thing occurred during the interim  between the two wars in the midst of the Northern Offensive orchestrated by Michael Collins, Liam Lynch and Eoin O’Duffy.   They were trying “to avert a divisive civil war south of the  border by starting a unifying one in the North,” according to Robert Lynch.  Aiken was a reluctant participant. His 4th Northern Division of the IRA was the last to become involved, and it was also the last IRA Division to take sides in the Civil War. He quickly won the reputation as an effective commander by capturing Dundalk  —   the most significant IRA victory of the whole conflict. Following the death of Liam Lynch, Aiken took over as IRA Chief of Staff and ordered the dumping of arms, which fit neatly into Eamon de Valera’s plans.  Consequently a strong bond developed between them.  Aiken became Minister for Defence in the first Fianna Fáil government in 1932. Caricatured as “the iron man with the wooden head,” he had the reputation of a strong Anglophobe, so he was excluded from the team that negotiated the 1938 Anglo-IrishAgreements. But his image suited the strategic interests of Irish policymakers during the Second World War, according to Bryce Evans. When the British government offered to end partition in return for allowing British forces to use Irish bases to protect Atlantic shipping in 1940, Aiken was included in those talks and duly adopted an obstructionist role. He was dismissive when asked if he would give up neutrality in return for union with  Northern Ireland. “Most certainly not,” he replied.   “We want union and sovereignty, not union and slavery.”  De Valera acknowledged that the support of Ulster Unionists was necessary to achieve Irish unity, so the international propaganda campaign that he and Aiken waged against Ulster Unionists after Fianna Fáil lost power in 1948, was clearly counter productive. They were “attacking the very people who se support was required to achieve Irish unity,” according to Stephen Kelly. In fact, he concluded that they “helped to encourage violence” with their aggressive speeches. Dr Kelly also argues that they “forced the hand of the inter  -  party government” into playing the “green card.” Arguably, it may well have been the other way around.   Sir John Maffey, the British representative, accused that government of trying “to steal the long man’s clothes.” Fine Gael, which was founded as the United  Ireland Party, had never been shy about exploiting the partition issue. After becoming Minister for External Affairs in 1957, Aiken reportedly sought advice on the  best way to adopt an independent approach at the United Nations. One of the officials of his department, Conor Cruise O’Brien, suggested taking an independent stand on the annual vote on the representation of China. At the time the UN recognised the nationalist regime on the island of Taiwan as the government of China, even though the Red Chinese controlled continental  China. This was absurd, and Aiken duly called for the issue to be discussed at the General Assembly, much to the resentment of the Americans. Freddie Boland, the Irish representatives at the UN, suggested that Aiken could balance his support of the Red Chinese by criticising their behaviour in Tibet. “It would be an excellent thing, from every point of view,” Boland reportedly told Aiken,   “if he would make an early  public statement condemning Red China’s attack on the autonomy of Tibet.”  As a result of these principled stands Aiken was perceived to be greatly influenced by anti- imperialism, and this was admired by many during “the great wave of decolonisation that was spreading like wildfire throughout Asia and Africa in the 1950s and 1960s .” It was a “Golden Age” for   Ireland at the UN, according to Kate O’Malley, who depicted Aiken “was one of the chief architects” of this policy.  Aiken was actually taking essentially the same line as Dev had adopted at the League of Nations, during the 1930s, but this is overlooked. Ireland arguably played an even greater role at the League, where de Valera served as President of the Council during the Manchurian Crisis of 1932, and President of the Assembly during the Munich Crisis of 1938. Moreover, Seán Lester  —   the last Secretary General of the League of Nations  —   was the first Irish representative at the League. He was the maternal grandfather of the current Chief Justice Susan Denham. Aiken did adopt his own line, however, in championing nuclear non-proliferation. In recognition of his role, the Soviet Union invited him to be the first signatory of the treaty signed in Moscow in July 1968. After Seán Lemass became Taoiseach, Aiken’s freedom was somewhat curtailed, because Lemass was determined to adopt a pro-Western approach. Aiken therefore remained silent on American involvement in the Vietnam War. He even blocked an RTÉ film crew from visiting Vietnam “on the grounds that they would possibly jeopardise the  Irish government’s quest for American investment in Ireland .”    There was, nevertheless, a limit to his willingness to tolerate such political prostitution. He saw Taca as indicative of moral decay within Fianna Fáil, and he was gravely concerned over accusations that senior party figures were using inside information to enrich themselves. In 1973 Aiken quit politics over Fianna Fáil’s ratification of the nomination of Charles J. Haughey as a party candidate. Under pressure from de Valera and other senior party members, he agreed not to disclose publicly his real reasons for retiring, but then Jack Lynch shamelessly lied by announcing that Aiken had retired on health grounds. Aiken never again attended any Fianna Fáil events. This provocative book, which is magnificently researched, depicts many facets of Aiken’s political career that warrant further investigation. As such it is a valuable addition to our understanding.
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