This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo
THE SINN FEIN POLICY
November 1904: Arthur Griffith publishes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland.
A major milestone in the development of modern Irish nationalism, The Resurrection of Hungary laid down the framework of ideas around which the nationalist political party Sinn Fein was formed. But why did Griffith choose Hungary as an example for Ireland?
Griffith sought an alternative to what he saw as an increasingly tame Irish Parliamentary Party, whose stated goal of Irish Home Rule would have produced a government in Dublin with powers comparable to those of a present-day county council. Likewise seeing the classic revolutionary goal of an independent Irish republic as unattainable, Griffith instead sought a way between the two that would bring about a form of national independence while appeasing the sensibilities of conservative unionists.
The solution appeared to be the way Hungary succeeded in redefining its position in the Austrian Empire in the Ausgleich (Settlement) of 1867 that created the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Avoiding the prospect of continued bloodshed, the Ausgleich established Hungarian independence within the empire. Hungary would have its own functioning parliament, and in a sense its own monarch too, though the King of Hungary was also the Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph. As the King of Hungary and Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Franz-Joseph would thereafter preside over a hyphenated empire whose governmental functions would be dubbed with the curious initials K.u.K. for Kaiserlich und Königlich (Imperial and Royal.)
Griffith thought the solution of a single monarch simultaneously occupying the thrones of two otherwise independent countries would be a compromise that would satisfy the majority of Irish nationalists as well as conservative unionists. In many ways it could be represented as merely a return to the de facto independence enjoyed by Irelands Grattans Parliament at the end of the 1700s before it was swept away by the 1801 Act of Union.
To set this in motion Griffith again turned to the Hungarian example, in which the majority of Hungarian delegates to the Imperial parliament in Vienna withdrew in 1861 and began a program of passive resistance, refusing to recognize the hegemony of Austria. The Irish Members of Parliament, Griffith argued, could do much the same, withdrawing as a body from the Westminster Parliament and setting themselves up as a de facto government in Dublin. As a special legal twist the Dublin delegates could make use of the 1898 Local Government Act as the legal basis for taking over the administration of the Irish counties and using that as the foundation for an independent national legislature that the English would eventually be compelled to recognize.
Griffith published his program in a series of 27 articles in his newspaper The United Irishman between January and July 1904, and finally brought them together in booklet form in November 1904. Economic self-reliance was a key part of the road to Irish independence, rooted in the encouragement of local manufactures and the conscious choice of patriotic consumers to avoid imported goods from England and elsewhere.
Griffiths program soon became referred to as the Sinn Fein Policy, though the expression did not originate with Griffith. An Irish-language phrase variously translated as We Ourselves, Ourselves Alone, or more accurately simply Ourselves, Sinn Fein had for some time been used as a byword for Irish self-determination. It had been the title of a political play as far back as 1882, and in 1893 had been chosen as a motto by the Gaelic League.
While the ideas known as the Sinn Fein Policy represented a significant advance beyond the mild Home Rule policy of the Irish Parliamentary Party, they still fell far short of the goal of an independent Irish Republic. Griffiths endorsement of monarchism raised quite a few eyebrows in Irish republican circles, especially to those few who knew that Griffith was a sworn-in member of the underground Irish Republican Brotherhood, the organizational continuation of the Fenian rebels of years before. For the moment, though, republican opposition to Griffith was muted as people paused to see where his ideas would lead.
The Resurrection of Hungary would indeed lead to some significant results. Griffiths stated intention at the time was not to set up a rival organization to the Irish Parliamentary Party but rather to create a political ferment that would eventually goad that party into adopting his ideas of parliamentary abstentionism and economic self-reliance. But within a year, Arthur Griffiths clever piece of political pamphleteering would set into motion events that would become the basis of a political movement that would change the course of Irish history.
For more information on Ireland, see the Irish Nation Page.
The stories featured in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from the over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2005 Celtic Calendar, now available from the Celtic League American Branch.