A Lost Chance to End Partition: Liam Kelly and the Seanad
By Michael K
On November 25, 1954, Liam Kelly gave his maiden speech to the Seanad in support of a proposed motion which would:
"provide that all elected parliamentary representatives of the people of the six occupied counties of Ireland will be given a right of audience in the Dáil or in the Seanad or alternatively requests the Government to submit this question for the decision of the Irish people by means of a plebiscite.”
The Dail claimed to be the government of all Ireland in theory- but in reality it only had representatives from 26 counties. The motion would essentially "complete" the government. It more importantly, in a subtle but significant way, opened the door to a 32 county republic by political means.
There had been lengthy debates in the preceding months regarding the issue, with lengthy arguments by Sean MacBride and even the Toaiseach himself. On the one hand, the Pomeroy Riots and Kelly's imprisonment had created a good deal of sympathy. On the other, many remained strangely and unexplainedly apathetic about the 6 counties or were caught up in unfound fears of letting Northerners in.
Owen Sheehy. Skeffington (son of Francis Sheehy, murdered by the british during Easter Week) started off the debate by explaining that people in the north, in his opinion, were economically better off than those in the south; "in aiming at abolishing Partition," he declared "we want first of all to know what are the conditions in partitioned Ireland. I want to make the point, when we are asking for the removal of the Border, and asking our friends  in the North of Ireland to come down here to give us their views, and giving them audience, that we want to be able to know what is the situation there, what we can offer them, and what sacrifices, if any, we have to ask them to make if, as I take it, the motion is intended as a step towards the abolition of Partition.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator will observe that the motion merely asks that the representatives of the people of the Six Counties of Ireland be given the right of audience here.
Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I realise what it asks, and I am assuming that its purpose is to serve as a step towards the abolition of Partition. ... The aim of the motion is to act as a step towards the abolition of the Border."
The motion was indeed a step towards ending partition. Skeffington's problem was, he explained, after long winded and unclear debating, that partition was not against the will of the people except for parts of two counties or so and true to his father's pacifist legacy he condemned any attempt to overthrow it by force. In addition he reiterated the North was more fair economically to its people than the south was.
After some time of this, Liam Kelly rose to say his piece. In Kelly's speech- the only one he gave to the Seanad- his skills as an orator shine forth, and his analysis, particularly of the repercussions of partition, is as true today as it was then:
A Chathaoirligh, is mian liom cuidiú leis an rún atá os cóir an Tighe, ach sara ndeanaidh mé sin ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh do rud eile. Seard is mian liom a dhéanamh ná mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí Dála agus leis an Seanadóir Proinnsias Ó Domhnaill as mé ainmniú don tSeanaid.
I rise to support the proposal for the admission of the elected representatives of the Six Counties to the Dáil or Seanad. Before enumerating the reasons which, in my view, render the adoption of this proposal so necessary, I wish to put into perspective some general considerations in regard to Partition. Apart from the direct injury which Partition has inflicted on our nation, one of its chief evils has been the internal dissension which it rendered inevitable. Whenever a powerful State determines to disrupt a nation by lending its financial and military support to a minority, it can usually succeed in sowing seeds of internal dissension. This is, in fact, how Partition was  created and how Partition is now maintained by Britain.
In the course of our own lifetime we have had many instances of how this scheme of disruption can be spread by an unscrupulous aggressor. Britain's claim to exercise sovereignty in portion of Ireland, backed as it is by the use of an army of occupation, by money and by political support, upset the very foundation of democratic government. Not only is the ordinary democratic process prevented in the Six Counties but it is also prevented in the rest of the country as well by reason of Britain's interference in our affairs. So long as the Irish people are prevented from determining their own affairs freely by democratic means and so long as a portion of our country remains occupied by Britain, a section of our own people, the most courageous, generous and patriotic section, will seek to assert by any means available to them the sovereignty of the Irish people in our own country.
This is an inescapable truth and a consequence of the situation which has been imposed upon our nation. The same consequence would result, and has frequently resulted, in the case of other nations that have been partitioned or occupied by an aggressor against the will of the people. It is an inescapable result of such a situation. That, indeed, is not a reason why we should hang our heads in shame. We might, indeed, have cause for shame were we to accept silently or without protest the dismemberment of our nation and the negation of justice to our people.
It is particularly essential, in dealing with the abnormal situation which has been imposed upon our country, to maintain a clear perspective of the issues involved on the plea of maintaining constitutional government in this part of the country. It would be easy for a Government to drift into a position where, in fact, it was fighting a section of its own people to defend the existing position. In the face of our present situation, this would mean that the machinery of the State here would, in fact, be used to aid Britain in maintaining Partition.
I feel it necessary to speak bluntly on this issue, as I am afraid that, unfortunately,  on a number of occasions in the past, in the course of the last 30 years, some of our Governments have found themselves trapped into that position. I am quite prepared to acknowledge that these Governments were, themselves, anxious to end Partition and to free Ireland from any bonds of sovereignty to an alien Power. However good their intentions were, they found themselves fighting a section of their own people to maintain the status quo, and I submit that to defend the status quo is to defend Partition. As a result of this, much national energy was dissipated. In addition, oppressive measures were enacted which were, themselves, harsh and destructive of the ordinary concepts of justice and liberty. With the tragedy of our recent history in this regard staring us in the face, is it not essential to avoid a recurrence of such a situation?
Whatever outward appearances and declarations may convey, the heart and sympathy of the Irish people will always be with those seeking to right the wrongs inflicted on the nation and not with the Government that seeks to justify that wrong or to maintain the status quo. It is with such considerations in mind that we, in the part of Ireland from which I come, decided to organise on the basis of the Constitution of this country.
We in Fianna Uladh recognise the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland under which this State operates and we are prepared to work within its framework to extend its operation to the whole of Ireland. Recognising only the Constitution and the sovereignty of the Irish people, we naturally reject the claim of Britain and of any of her institutions to exercise sovereignty in any portion of Ireland. We decline to prostitute our nationality and our consciences by taking the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown as a condition of parliamentary representation.
The people of mid-Tyrone who honoured me by electing me to be their candidate have unequivocally endorsed this and have given me a mandate to take a seat in Oireachtas Éireann and nowhere else. Actuated by generous  and patriotic motives, public representatives in the Twenty-Six Counties elected me to the Seanad. But for this, the people of mid-Tyrone whom I represent would be disfranchised in Oireachtas Eireann. The people of South Armagh have likewise elected Mr. McGleenan but they have been deprived of representation in Oireachtas Éireann because the public representatives of the Twenty-Six Counties were not given an opportunity of choosing him as a member of this House.
I should mention in this regard that Mr. McGleenan has now joined the Executive of Fianna Uladh and to that extent I can claim to speak here also on behalf of the people of South Armagh. It is obviously anomalous that my right to address a House of the Oireachtas on behalf of the people in mid-Tyrone or South Armagh should depend on the goodwill or generosity of the public representatives of the Twenty-Six Counties. I appreciate, of course, and am grateful for this gesture of understanding and goodwill on their part. I claim for the people of mid-Tyrone, South Armagh and of any constituency in any part of Ireland that desires to do so the right to representation in Oireachtas Éireann.
I know that the other parliamentary representatives elected by the Nationalist areas of the Six Counties also desire the right of representation in the Oireachtas. In fact, I am aware that the chairman of the Anti-Partition League which comprises all seven elected members of Parliament of the Nationalist areas, wrote to the Taoiseach recently asking permission from him to address the Oireachtas on this very question. The assertion that only some of the Nationalist representatives demand this right is entirely false. The Constitution lays it down that Oireachtas Éireann is the National Parliament, Article 15, Section 1. If the Dáil and the Seanad constitute the Parliament of the nation, then the elected representatives of the people of Tyrone, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Antrim are entitled to be heard. If they are shut out, then Oireachtas Éireann cannot  claim to be a National Parliament and will find it hard to command the allegiance or even the respect of the Irish people. So long as Oireachtas Éireann of its own act and volition continues to debar representatives from the partitioned areas from being heard, then it is itself maintaining Partition and the status quo. It is, in fact, taking sides with Britain in preventing the extension of the Constitution to the whole of Ireland and is depriving a section of the Irish people from representation.
I have already referred to the inherent danger resulting from Partition whereby an Irish Government may find itself at any time in conflict with the most patriotic section of its own people. If this danger arises in the present situation, it is in no small measure due to the complete lack of policy and positive action on the part of Governments here. The Government claims the right to exercise leadership. It is entitled to claim that right, but it will only secure loyalty if it exercises leadership. The defence of the status quo and the policy of doing nothing does not inspire confidence. It is this lack of confidence and this refusal to face the realities of the situation which has prompted others to take action of a more direct nature.
The adoption of the proposal in the motion put forward by Senator McHugh and Senator O'Donneil will at least be some earnest that Partition is no longer being accepted. The election of representatives from the Six Counties to Oireachtas Éireann would become the focal objective for the nationalist population. It would enable them to secure representation and it would free their representatives from the indignity of having to commit perjury. It would be the first step towards the extension of the Constitution to the whole of Ireland. It would restore the confidence of the people not only in the Six Counties but of the whole of Ireland and in her national institutions.
It is accepted surely that the attainment of unity amongst all sections of the nationalist people of the North would contribute to a solution of Partition. The major bone of contention  amongst Northern Nationalists is the question of attendance at or abstention from Stormont and Westminster. The acceptance of this motion would mean that the question of attendance would not even arise and thus unity might definitely be assured.
The Taoiseach stated that those using and talking about the use of force had declared that Oireachtas Éireann and the Government had no right to carry of the Government of the country. Is not the Taoiseach aware that the attitude of successive Governments in maintaining Oireachtas Éireann as a strictly Twenty-Six County assembly is to some extent the cause and that due directly to that we have the present tragic state of affairs? The Government has repeatedly found itself in a position of conflict with the most courageous and most patriotic section of the people, with a section of the people whose only objective was the reunification of Ireland. Is the Taoiseach not aware that the maintenance of Oireachtas Éireann as a Partition Assembly in the eyes of a section of the people has forced successive Governments to accept the rôle of watchdog, jailer and hangman to the British Empire?
I am not attempting to justify nonrecognition of Oireachtas Éireann but I am pointing out that if this motion was accepted, the initial steps would have been taken in the formation of a 32-County Parliament and that such a 32-County Parliament would command the respect and allegiance of every Irishman. The acceptance of this proposal is in my view absolutely essential in that eventually it would have the twofold effect of securing unity of approach among Northern Nationalists and of the avoidance of conflict within the Twenty-Six Counties.
I believe it to be the clear duty of the political Parties in this Assembly to take off the Whips and allow each member of the House to vote in the manner his conscience tells him is in the interests of his country. I regard this proposal of acceptance of the elected representatives of the Six Counties to the right of audience in  An Dáil or the Seanad as of paramount importance and as the first logical step towards the formation of an all-Ireland Parliament and as the only reasonable alternative at this stage to the continuation of Partition. In a debate on Deputy McQuillan's motion in the Dáil recently the Taoiseach posed the question would the suggestion, in any effective way, help or contribute to the solution of our problem of Partition? He further said that if he were satisfied that this proposal would in any way contribute to the solution of the national problem, it would receive his enthusiastic support. I submit that I have pointed out how the adoption of this motion would in fact contribute to the solution of Partition and I have done that in the hope that it will be accepted by the people here."
The speech was well received and made an impression even on the motion's opponents. Senator Sheridan called it "an inspiration...If we could only get a few members of the calibre of Senator Kelly into the House, nothing but good would come from it."
Kelly's supporters were no less impassioned or eloquent, and spent some time arguing on his behalf. It was generally agreed that most present sympathized in spirit, but many were still deterred by status quo worries, or a simple lack of interest.
Senator O'Donnell, who had put forward the motion in the first place, declared in frustration :
"We want to bring down to this part of the country that spirit which is lacking to-day. There has been talk of mechanics and people ask: “What good can they do if they come down here?” Is this attitude sufficient in an Assembly of an Irish Parliament in 1954? Is that the attitude of mind of a group of Irishmen such as you have to-day; that we should say to our brethren in Northern Ireland, those Nationalists of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Antrim and Down: “You are of no use to us here. We cannot use you. We cannot have you. No, all you can do is to make speeches. Go home”? Is that the reply we are going to give in this House to-day? Are we going to say to the world that we have no use for these men, that we had no use for men from the Belfast, from which came Jemmy Hope, and Tone? Are we going to say that to Senator Kelly?
Let us get down to realities, and to what we are asking in this motion. We are asking you to say to those people: “We recognise you as of our blood, of our kin, of our faith, and of our ideals, and in so far as we can, we will give you all the succour and help in your time of trouble.” We have already had evidence of cynicism in this debate, a cynicism or belittlement, as it were, which is killing that flowering of mind which has been evidenced in Pomeroy and elsewhere."
Despite their best efforts, the motion was defeated; only 12 were sufficiently convinced to vote aye ; 35 voted nil. "Cynicism" had indeed won the day.
While in 1954 John F Kennedy had not yet famously articulated that "Those who make peaceful resolution impossible make violent conflict inevitable," the Irish politicians could have learned well from it. Kelly remained elected into the Seanad until 1957, but he never addressed it again. Kelly the senator was to be replaced by Kelly the Volunteer and by the same time exactly a year later, in the early hours of November 26th, he was leading a column of Saor Uladh men in the ill fated attack on Rosslea Barracks.