Address at the First Annual Convention of the National Council of Sinn Féin
Address at the First Annual Convention of the National Council of Sinn FÉin
28 November 1905
Almost every Irish nationalist leader of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries advocated protectionist tariffs as one major instrument in the development of Irishindustry. In his speech before the first annual conference of the National Council of Sinn Féin in November 1905, Arthur Griffith declared himself a follower of the German economist Friedrich List, whose writings supported this viewpoint. The protectionist policies of independent Ireland after 1921, however, were of limited success and were eventually replaced beginning in the 1960s by free trade.
. . . I am in economics largely a follower of the man who thwarted England's dream of the commercial conquest of the world, and who made the mighty confederation before which England has fallen commercially and is falling politically—Germany. His name is a famous one in the outside world, his works are the text books of economic science in other countries—in Ireland his name is unknown and his works unheard of—I refer to Frederick List, the real founder of the German Zollverein—. . . .
Brushing aside the fallacies of Adam Smith and his tribe, List points out that between the Individual and humanity stands, and must continue to stand, a great fact—the nation. The nation, with its special language and literature, with its peculiar origin and history, with its special manners and customs, laws and institutions, with the claims of all these for existence, independence, perfection, and continuance for the future, with its separate territory, a society which, united by a thousand ties of minds and interests, combines itself into one independent whole, which recognises the law of right for and within itself, and in its united character is still opposed to other societies of a similar kind in their national liberty, and consequently can, only under the existing conditions of the world, maintain self-existence and independence by its own power and resources. As the individual chiefly obtains, by means of the nation and in the nation, mental culture, power of production, security, and prosperity, so is the civilisation of the human race only conceivable and possible by means of the civilisation and development of individual nations. But as there are amongst men infinite differences in condition and circumstances, so there are in nations—some are strong, some are weak, some are highly civilised, some are half civilised, but in all exists as in the unit the impulse of self-preservation and the desire for improvement. It is the task of national politics to ensure existence and continuance to the nation to make the weak strong, the half civilised more civilised. It is the task of national economics to accomplish the economical development of the nation and fit it for admission into the universal society of the future. . . .
We in Ireland have been taught by our British lords lieutenant, our British educational boards, and our Barrington lecturers that our destiny is to be the fruitful mother of flocks and herds—that it is not necessary for us to pay attention to our manufacturing arm since our agricultural arm is all sufficient. The fallacy is apparent to the man who thinks—but is a fallacy which has passed for truth in Ireland. With List I reply: A nation cannot promote and further its civilisation, its prosperity, and its social progress equally as well by exchanging agricultural products for manufactured goods as by establishing a manufacturing power of its own. A merely agricultural nation can never develop to any extent a home or foreign commerce, with inland means of transport, and its foreign navigation, increase its population in due proportion to their well-being or make notable progress in its moral, intellectual, social, and political development; it will never acquire important political power or be placed in a position to influence less advanced nations and to form colonies of its own. A mere agricultural state is infinitely less powerful than an agricultural-manufacturing state. An agricultural nation is a man with one arm who makes use of an arm belonging to another person, but cannot, of course, be sure of having it always available. An agricultural-manufacturing nation is a man who has both arms of his own at his own disposal. . . . We must offer our producers protection where protection is necessary; and let it be clearly understood what protection is. Protection does not mean the exclusion of foreign competition; it means the enabling of the native manufacturer to meet foreign competition on an equal footing. It does not mean that we shall pay a higher profit to any Irish manufacturer, but that we shall not stand by and see him crushed by mere weight of foreign capital. If an Irish manufacturer cannot produce an article as cheaply as an English[man] or other foreigner, solely because his foreign competitor has had larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish nation to accord protection to the Irish manufacturer. If, on the other hand, an Irish manufacturer can produce as cheaply, but charges an enhanced price, such a man deserves no support—he is in plain words a swindler. It is the duty of our public bodies in whose hands the expenditure of £4,000,000 annually is placed to pay where necessary an enhanced price for Irish manufactured articles, when the manufacturers show them they cannot produce them at the lesser price—this is protection. . . . With the development of [Ireland's] . . . manufacturing arm will proceed the rise of a national middle class in Ireland and a trained national democracy and—I here again quote List against the charlatans who profess to see in a nation's language and tradition things of no economic value—"in every nation will the authority of national language and national literature, the civilising arts and the perfection of municipal institutions keep pace with the development of the manufacturing arm." How are we to accord protection to and procure the development of our manufacturing arm? First, by ourselves individually; secondly, through our county [councils], urban and district councils, and poor law guardians: thirdly, by taking over control of those inefficient bodies known as harbour commissioners; fourthly, by stimulating our manufacturers and our people to industrial enterprise; and fifthly, by inviting to aid in our development, on commercial lines, Irish-American capital. In the first case every individual knows his duty, whether he practises it or not—it is, unless where fraud is attempted, to pay if necessary an enhanced price for Irish goods and to use whenever possible none but Irish goods. As to our public elective bodies which annually control the expenditure of our local taxation, their duty is the same. . . .
We propose the formation of a Council of Three Hundred composed of members of the General Council of County Councils and representatives of the urban councils, rural councils, poor law boards, and harbour boards of the country to sit in Dublin and form a de facto Irish parliament. Associated and sitting and voting with this body, which might assemble in Dublin in the spring and in the autumn, could be the persons elected for Irish constituencies, who decline to confer on the affairs of Ireland with foreigners in a foreign city. On its assembly in Dublin this national assembly should appoint committees to especially consider and report to the general assembly on all subjects appertaining to the country. On the reports of these committees the council should deliberate and formulate workable schemes which, once formulated, it would be the duty of all county councils, rural councils, urban councils, poor law boards, and other bodies to give legal effect to so far as their powers permit, and where their legal powers fall short, to give it the moral force of law by inducing and instructing those whom they represent to honour and obey the recommendations of the Council of Three Hundred individually and collectively.
United Irishman, 9 December 1905.