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Wednesday 17 January 2018

Lemass branded Stalinist in new book

John Spain Books Editor

A NEW book has turned on its head the traditional perception of Sean Lemass as a reformer who was the father of modern Ireland.

The highly critical new biography by a prominent historian paints the former Taoiseach as an authoritarian figure with Stalinist tendencies. It says that he was a leader who believed in work camps and depicts him as a politician who was impatient with democracy and the views of 'ordinary people'.

The book, by UCD historian Dr Bryce Evans, explores his dismissive attitude towards women and his conservative approach to social issues, and reveals how his cabinet colleagues came to resent his 'dictatorial' exercise of power.

'Sean Lemass: Democratic Dictator' is a strikingly more critical take on his life and career than the admiring biographies published to date which, by and large, present Lemass as the man who modernised the country.

But Dr Evans raises key questions about Lemass's industrial policy before the economic expansion in the late 1950s. Far from being an advocate of the free market, he argues, Lemass had socialist tendencies and the main driver of the change was the senior civil servant TK Whitaker.

The book also explores Lemass's superior attitude towards the 'plain people of Ireland'. It was his idea to withhold dole payments to force the urban unemployed into labour camps set up in remote bogs to increase turf production during the war.

His ideas also included plans in the 1930s to 'proletarianise' Gaeltacht dwellers by forcing them into special camps where they would learn modern industrial trades.

The book uses previously unseen archival material to scrutinise its subject. What emerges is what Dr Evans claims is the real Sean Lemass -- an authoritarian, cunning, and workaholic patriot and a shrewd political tactician whose impatience lay not just with the old Ireland, but with democracy itself.

Irish Independent

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