Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Centenary of 1916 has real relevance for the Ireland of today

Speaking at Republican Sinn Féin’s seminar to launch its build-up to the Centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016 entitled Who Fears To Speak of Easter Week which took place at the Ireland Institute’s Pearse House on Pearse St on Saturday April 21 the President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton said:

“The build-up to Centenary of the 1916 Rising is rapidly developing into a battle over not only how we view our past but also the vision we have for our future. The purpose of today’s seminar is to begin the countdown to 2016 and in doing so set out the relevance of 1916 for the Ireland of today. The other speakers will cover aspects of the Rising such as the idea of the ‘prophetic shock minority’sparking the flames of revolution, and the 1916 Proclamation and its place in the Irish Republican tradition. Ruairí Og Ó Brádaigh is the editor of SAOIRSE. He is someone who has given much of his adult life in Republican activism and journalism. Ruán O’Donnell has brought to the study of Irish Revolutionary history great scholarship and attention to detail as evidenced in his numerous published works notably his masterful biography of Robert Emmet and most recently the first of his three volume study of Irish Republican prisoners in English jails from 1968 to 1998. On the basis of the first volume we eagerly await the next two!

“Speaking in UCD on May 20 2010 the then head of the 26-County administration Brian Cowen accused Irish Republicans of seeking to ‘hijack’ the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It is an accusation that has been oft repeated by other members of the 26-County political class, but it is an accusation that does not stand up. Republicans cannot hijack something they have never abandoned. Irish Republicans will commemorate the centenary of 1916 as well as the anniversaries of the other landmark events in Irish Revolutionary history, just as we have in the past.

“Each year Irish Republicans both in Ireland and abroad have commemorated 1916 without fail. The 26-County state on the other hand has alternated between ignoring the anniversary and banning any commemoration of it. 1916 commemorations throughout the 26 Counties were banned by the Dublin administration in 1937. In 1966 Republicans were baton charged in Dublin by the 26-County police. In 1976 Republicans were prosecuted – including Fiona Plunkett sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett - and some jailed for their participation in a banned commemoration at the GPO. Each year Republicans face the prospect of prosecution for the distribution of Easter Lilys. Despite this repression and repeated attempts at airbrushing the very spirit of 1916 from the collective memory a poll taken on the 75thanniversary of the Rising in 1991 showed 65% of people believed it should be commemorated.

“For forty years the 26-County administration ignored the anniversary of 1916 but since 2006 it has opportunistically seized on it in order to sell the big lie that history has come to an end and British rule in Ireland is now accepted.

“This is the crux of the issue, 1916 is not merely an historical event which can be taken down from the shelf every few years and dusted off like some neglected family heirloom, admired and then conveniently shelved again for another generation or two. It is an event which still speaks to the Ireland of the 21st Century. It is this fact which most unsettles the chattering classes in Leinster House and elsewhere. The speech by Stormont First Minster Peter Robinson marking the centenary of the signing of ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ in 1912 in the 26-County Department of Foreign Affairs on March 30 is the first step in a campaign to dilute and sanitise the Centenary of the 1916 Rising. The political establishments in Stormont, Leinster House and Westminster have signalled their intention to suppress any meaningful commemoration of the 1916 Rising by burying it in a celebration of the imperialist carnage of the First World War.

“The choice of the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ to begin the ‘decade of commemoration’ the two partition states is in many ways quite apt as it symbolises the fundamental difference in the vision for Ireland held by Irish Republicans as opposed to the forces of represented in the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’. The ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ is written in the narrow, sectarian and patriarchal language of empire, while the 1916 Proclamation addresses itself to ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’ in the inclusive language of democracy, progress and human freedom. A kind of state sponsored amnesia is employed in an attempt to erase the more uncomfortable aspects of our history. Those very aspects of 1916 that serve as a reminder of how far short the political establishment and the state over which they preside falls short of the ideals set out in the 1916 Proclamation. There is nothing new in this, writing about the 26-Couunty state’s attitude to the Golden Jubilee of the rising in 1966 Declan Kiberd observed that 1966 represented: ‘A last, over-the-top purgation of a debt to the past.’ The former curator of Irish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland Dr Sighle Bhreathnach-Lynch writing in History Ireland in its Spring 1997 edition said: ‘By concentrating solely on glorifying the past it could be quietly forgotten that the aims of those who had sacrificed their lives in the Rising had not yet been properly achieved. Leaders like Pearse and Connolly were promoted only for their military exploits. Their radical ideas on education and justice, as yet unattained, were not mentioned. This kind of simplistic approach, largely fostered by politicians and propagandists, did not encourage much critical exchange of ideas and as a result a mood of disenchantment quickly set in.’ The role of historians such as Ruán O’Donnell will be vital in the coming years in the battle to ensure a new generation is not robbed of their history or collective memory as a nation.

“Over the next four years the centenaries of the founding of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan will be marked. Next year we will remember with pride the heroic 1913 Lockout. Therein is a message to the trade union leadership of today – another stark reminder of how far removed they are from the founding ideals of the trade union movement at precisely the moment when a vibrant and radical trade union movement is most required. Other anniversaries including the landing of the arms off the Asgard in 1914 and Pearse’s oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa act as milestones on the road to the centenary of the Rising. The years after 2016 will bring the centenaries of the historic 1918 General Election – the last occasion in which the Irish people acted as a unit in a single vote on the question of Ireland’s right to national independence. The Tan War, the British Government of Ireland Act which partitioned Ireland, the Treaty of Surrender and the subsequent Civil War or Counter-Revolution all will be reminders of where we have come from and how far we have still to travel.

“Irish Republicans unapologetically declare that 1916 will remain unfinished business while Ireland’s historic right to nationhood continues to be denied by either the old imperialism of British occupation or the new imperialism of the EU and IMF. This is the unpalatable truth that the establishment most fear in the message of 1916 and it is what gives 1916 its continued relevance for a new risen generation. 1916 remains unfinished business while Britain holds any part of Ireland.

The message of 1916 could not be clearer; ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’. Starting today let us embark on a commemorative journey that rekindles the fires of revolution; political, social and economic, ideals and ideas which inspired the revolutionary generation of 1913-23. Let us proclaim to all that we still believe in the ‘The right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.’