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Seán MacBride

Seán MacBride


Seán MacBride was an Irish government minister,
a prominent international politician and a former Chief of Staff of the IRA. Rising from a domestic Irish political career,
he founded or participated in many international organisations of the 20th century, including
the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974,
the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975–1976 and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service in 1980. Early years
MacBride was born in Paris in 1904, the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne. His first language was French. He remained in Paris until his father’s execution
after the Easter Rising of 1916, when he was sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey,
County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, aged 15, he joined the Irish Volunteers
and took part in the Irish War of Independence. He opposed the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and
was imprisoned by the Irish Free State during the Civil War. On his release in 1924, MacBride studied law
at University College Dublin and resumed his IRA activities. He worked briefly for Éamon de Valera as
his personal secretary, travelling with him to Rome to meet various dignitaries. In January 1925, on his twenty-first birthday,
MacBride married Catalina “Kid” Bulfin, a woman four years his senior who shared his
political views. Bulfin was the daughter of the nationalist
publisher and travel-writer William Bulfin. Before returning to Dublin in 1927, where
he became the IRA’s Director of Intelligence, MacBride worked as a journalist in Paris and
London. Soon after his return, he was arrested and
charged with the murder of politician Kevin O’Higgins, who had been assassinated near
his home in Booterstown, County Dublin. MacBride was able to prove, however, that
he was on his way back to Ireland at the time, as he was able to call Unionist turned Cumann
na nGaedheal politician Bryan Cooper, whom he had met on the boat home, as a witness. He was then charged with being a subversive
and interned in Mountjoy Prison. Towards the end of the 1920s, after many supporters
had left to join Fianna Fáil, some members of the IRA started pushing for a more left-wing
agenda. After the IRA Army Council voted down the
idea, MacBride launched a new movement, Saor Éire, in 1931. Although it was a non-military organisation,
Saor Éire was declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan and nine other bodies. MacBride, meanwhile, became the security services’
number-one target. In 1936, the IRA’s chief of staff Moss Twomey
was sent to prison for three years. He was replaced by MacBride. At the time, the movement was in a state of
disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. Tom Barry was appointed chief of staff to
head up a military operation against the British, an action with which MacBride did not agree. In 1937, MacBride was called to the bar. He then resigned from the IRA when the Constitution
of Ireland was enacted later that year. As a barrister, MacBride frequently defended
IRA political prisoners, but was unsuccessful in stopping the execution in 1944 of Charlie
Kerins, convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death
of Seán McCaughey, MacBride embarrassed the authorities by forcing them to admit that
the conditions in Portlaoise Prison were inhumane. Clann na Poblachta In 1946, MacBride founded the republican/socialist
party Clann na Poblachta. He hoped it would replace Fianna Fáil as
Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he won a seat in Dáil Éireann
at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. On the same day, Patrick Kinane also won the
Tipperary by-election for Clann na Poblachta. However, at the 1948 general election Clann
na Poblachta won only ten seats. The party joined with Fine Gael, Labour Party,
National Labour Party, Clann na Talmhan and independents to form the First Inter-Party
Government with Fine Gael TD John A. Costello as Taoiseach. Richard Mulcahy was the leader of Fine Gael,
but MacBride and many other Irish Republicans had never forgiven Mulcahy for his role in
carrying out 77 executions under the government of the Irish Free State in the 1920s during
the Irish Civil War. To gain the support of Clann na Poblachta,
Mulcahy stepped aside in favour of Costello. Two Clann na Poblachta TDs joined the cabinet;
MacBride became Minister for External Affairs while Noël Browne became Minister for Health. MacBride was Minister of External Affairs
when the Council of Europe was drafting the European Convention on Human Rights. He served as President of the Committee of
Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force
in securing the acceptance of this convention, which was finally signed in Rome on 4 November
1950. In 1950, he was president of the Council of
Foreign Ministers of the Council of Europe, and he was vice-president of the Organisation
for European Economic Co-operation in 1948–51. He was responsible for Ireland not joining
the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. He was instrumental in the implementation
of the Repeal of the External Relations Act and the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland
in 1949. On Easter Monday, 18 April 1949, the state
left the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1951, MacBride controversially ordered
Noël Browne to resign as a minister over the Mother and Child Scheme after it was attacked
by the Irish Catholic hierarchy and the Irish medical establishment. Whatever the merits of the scheme, or of Dr.
Browne, MacBride concluded in a Cabinet memorandum: “Even if, as Catholics, we were prepared to
take the responsibility of disregarding [the Hierarchy’s] views, which I do not think we
can do, it would be politically impossible to do so . . . We are dealing with the considered
views of the leaders of the Catholic Church to which the vast majority of our people belong;
these views cannot be ignored.” Also in 1951, Clann na Poblachta was reduced
to two seats after the general election. MacBride kept his seat and was re-elected
again in 1954. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during
the Border Campaign, he contested both the 1957 and 1961 general elections but failed
to be elected both times. He then retired from politics and continued
practising as a barrister. He expressed an interest in running as an
independent candidate for the 1983 Irish presidential election, but he did not receive sufficient
backing and ultimately did not contest. International politics MacBride was a founding member of Amnesty
International and served as its International chairman. He was Secretary-General of the International
Commission of Jurists from 1963 to 1971. Following this, he was also elected Chair
and later President of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. He was Vice-President of the Organisation
for European Economic Co-operation and President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council
of Europe. He drafted the constitution of the Organisation
of African Unity; and also the first constitution of Ghana which lasted for nine years until
the coup of 1966. Some of MacBride’s appointments to the United
Nations System included: Assistant Secretary-General
President of the General Assembly High Commissioner for Refugees
High Commissioner for Human Rights High Commissioner for Namibia
President of UNESCO’s International Commission for the Study of Communications Problems,
which produced the controversial 1980 MacBride report. Human rights
Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, MacBride worked tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He took an Irish case to the European Court
of Human Rights after hundreds of suspected IRA members were interned without trial in
the Republic of Ireland in 1958. He was among a group of lawyers who founded
JUSTICE—the UK-based human rights and law reform organisation—initially to monitor
the show trials after the 1956 Budapest uprising, but which later became the UK section of the
International Commission of Jurists. He was active in a number of international
organisations concerned with human rights, among them the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal
Fund. In 1973, he was elected by the General Assembly
to the post of High Commissioner for Namibia, with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General. The actions of his father John MacBride in
leading the Irish Transvaal Brigade for the Boers against the British Army, in the Boer
War, gave Seán MacBride a unique access to South Africa’s apartheid government. In 1977, he was appointed president of the
International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, set up by UNESCO. In 1980 he was appointed Chairman of UNESCO. MacBride’s work was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice”. He later received the Lenin Peace Prize and
the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service. During the 1980s, he initiated the Appeal
by Lawyers against Nuclear War which was jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau
and the International Progress Organization. In close co-operation with Francis Boyle and
Hans Köchler of the International Progress Organization he lobbied the General Assembly
for a resolution demanding an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on
the legality of nuclear arms. The Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the
Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons was eventually handed down by the ICJ in 1996. In 1982, MacBride was chairman of the International
Commission to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its
invasion of the Lebanon. The other members were Richard Falk, Kader
Asmal, Brian Bercusson, Géraud de la Pradelle, and Stefan Wild. The commission’s report, which concluded that
“the government of Israel has committed acts of aggression contrary to international law”,
was published in 1983 under the title Israel in Lebanon. He proposed a plan in 1984, known as the MacBride
Principles, which he argued would eliminate discrimination against Roman Catholics by
employers in Northern Ireland and received widespread support for it in the United States
and from Sinn Féin. However the MacBride Principles were criticised
by the Irish and British Governments and most Northern Ireland parties, including the nationalist
Social Democratic and Labour Party, as unworkable and counterproductive. He was also a keen pan-Celticist. In his later years, MacBride lived in his
mother’s home, Roebuck House, that served as a meeting place for many years for Irish
nationalists, as well as in the Parisian arrondissement where he grew up with his mother, and enjoyed
strolling along boyhood paths. He maintained a soft-spoken, unassuming demeanor
despite his fame. While strolling through the Centre Pompidou
Museum in 1979, and happening upon an exhibit for Amnesty International, he whispered to
a colleague “Amnesty, you know, was one of my children.” Seán MacBride died in Dublin on 15 January
1988, eleven days before his 84th birthday. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, among
Irish patriots, in a simple grave with his mother and wife who died in 1976. Career summary
1946–1965 Leader of Clann na Poblachta 1947–1958 Member of Dáil Éireann
1948–1951 Minister for External Affairs of Ireland in Inter-Party Government
1948–1951 Vice-President of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation
1950 President, Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe
1954 Offered but declined, Ministerial office in Irish Government
1963–1971 Secretary-General, International Commission of Jurists
1966 Consultant to the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace
1961–1975 chairman Amnesty International Executive
1968–1974 Chairman of the Executive International Peace Bureau
1975–1985 President of the Executive International Peace Bureau
1968–1974 chairman Special Committee of International NGOs on Human Rights
1973 vice-chairman, Congress of World Peace Forces
1973 Vice-President, World Federation of United Nations Associations
1973–1977 Elected by the General Assembly of the United Nations to the post of United
Nations Commissioner for Namibia with rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United
Nations 1977–1980 chairman, Commission on International
Communication for UNESCO 1982 Chairman of the International Commission
to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of the Lebanon
Further reading Keane, Elizabeth. An Irish Statesman and Revolutionary: The
Nationalist and Internationalist Politics of Seán MacBride. Tauris.  References

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