THE ghost of mass murderer Oliver Cromwell floated over Leinster House last week, having been raised from his unquiet grave by a Fine Gael mini-minister Michael D’Arcy. The macabre event occurred when the politico compared Cromwell (‘God’s executioner’) to well-known ‘funnyman’ and British Conservative leader, Boris Johnson.
Curiously, in response, Deputy D’Arcy received a metaphorical punch up the throat from his Blueshirt comrades (Europe Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, Business Minister Heather Humphreys and his boss Vlad the Impaler). So, we wondered why?
The background is this: Deputy D’Arcy was concerned at the ‘anti-democracy’ implications of Johnson’s recent decision to suspend the House of Commons. In fact he was so disquieted that he described the British Prime Minister as having made ‘the most anti-democratic decision since Cromwell established a Protectorate government in the 1600s.’
Now, that kinda had the Plain People of Ireland scratching their heads. The 1600s! The Protectorate Government? Wha’ dat?
To which we admit that, as readers only of The Sun and, of course, The Southern Star, we also are not up to scratch on English politics – a difficult situation to be in when one bears in mind that, if it takes a lifetime to understand Irish politics, then a millennium is required for the British version. In fact, the only thing most people seem to know about Cromwell is that he was a very bad man who hung priests from church steeples.
Fortunately, Deputy D’Arcy explained it in a tweet: ‘Cromwell dismissed his parliament when they disagreed with him …That was a military dictatorship’ – the implication being that Boris Johnson had done something similar by suspending the House of Commons.
So we googled ‘Cromwell’ for more info. And, yes, indeed, in 1653 Cromwell compulsorily laid off the entire English parliament – gave them the bum’s rush, fecked ’em out on the street – and installed himself as ‘Lord Protector’: the Big Cheese and head of a new regime that he called the Cromwellian Protectorate.
He then efficiently used his New Model Army to seek out and eliminate the opposition and, in that sense, Cromwell can be classified as a sort of modern military dictator; and D’Arcy’s analysis was to the point.
Of course there are alternative interpretations and some historians argue that Cromwell’s ‘protectorate government’ came into being because a madman was needed to keep the Army in check, and what better loony to do the job than its founder, Oliver Cromwell himself.
The attentive student must also bear in mind – hey, wake up, you, at the back of the hall, there, yes you, ya eegit – that in modern terms, ‘a military dictatorship is a regime that recognises no constitutional restraints, has contempt for the rule of law, governs by force, and exerts substantial or complete control over political authority.’
An absolute monster
But while Cromwell created what might be called a military dictatorship, it was not of the type we’re acquainted with; for instance that of Spain’s Francisco Franco or Germany’s Adolf Hitler.
And the point also can be made that Deputy D’Arcy’s analysis was (perhaps) dramatically inflated. Yet, within the context of Johnson’s fondness for the sensational, who can say with certainty that he won’t be tempted to establish something on the lines of Cromwell’s Protectorate? A ‘Committee of National Restoration,’ for instance, with himself as head of a junta tasked with saving the ‘nation’ from evil Labour politicians?
Cromwell, after all, primarily saw himself as a ‘reluctant dictator’ which, as Ireland knows to its cost, did not deter him from embarking on a genocidal campaign, ethnically cleansing Catholics, destroying towns, hanging clerics, land-grabbing and donating stolen Irish property to pals, Scottish and English settlers, creditors and soldiers.
Cromwell was a monster, a fact borne out by his enslavement of over 50,000 Irish men, women and children who were transported to Bermuda and Barbados as ‘indentured servants.’ Indeed, it is impossible to discuss Cromwell without experiencing a sense of visceral revulsion. He was our Hitler!
Curse of Cromwell
His bloodthirsty military campaigns in Ireland and his hatred of Catholicism created an image of a bigot whose cruelty survives in folk memory. In some parts of the country, the worst hex that can be put on a person is ‘the curse of Cromwell on you’!
So upset was former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to see a portrait of Cromwell in a room in the British Foreign Office that he demanded its removal before agreeing to meet British officials. Consequently when Michael D’Arcy linked Cromwell to Britain’s eccentric Prime Minister, whose Brexit antics could yet wreak havoc on this country, we knew instinctively what the mini-minister was getting at. And he was right to alert us.
Yet, for his trouble, he was the recipient of a metaphorical wallop from fellow Blueshirts, one of whom was the Junior Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee.
An ‘Ambassador of the Annual Taste of Meath Festival’ and popular in the ‘Slane Strictly Come Dancing competition,’ Ms McEntee informed Deputy D’Arcy that his comments ‘did not reflect Government Policy.’
Wow! Government Policy! One wonders what it says about Cromwell and Boris? Because in Irish government circles ‘verboten’ seems to be a key word whenever Boris Johnson’s name is mentioned, such is the nervousness that it engenders.
And what, we ask, is ‘government policy’ with regards to Johnson? Does the government have a strategy – even a special bizarre strategy – for dealing with him or were the minister and mini-ministers kinda playing jokes? For whose eyes is the policy intended?
Under what is it catalogued? How to deal with Boris? Traditional Toadying? How to impress British MPs? Paddy-Whackery? Fun and Games to amuse upper class members of the House of Commons? (Ah, come on, Ms McEntee, give us a dekko!)
But, sad to say, the Fine Gael government is adamant. There will be no leaks of ‘Government policy’ with regard to Boris. In fact, Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys, grimly announced ‘we’re not going to comment on internal British politics.’
Minister for Communications, Richard Bruton, also got in on the act, grandly pontificating on the need to give British ministers ‘time and space to make decisions.’ How nice of him! Was that too part of Government policy?
Certainly, their observations tickled the fancy of every cynical sod in Éire (Bruton already has style in the ‘government policy’ area, of course. He recently endorsed the candidacy for re-election of Maria Bailey, the TD who tried to sue a hotel after she fell off a swing).
In other words, government policy as defined by Humphreys, McEntee and Bruton is simple to understand: Irish politicos must never laugh (or sneer) at the inanity of their British counterparts, particularly if they’re Conservative toffs!