Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2016 – A time for Renewal

There are countless dates in Ireland’s long struggle for freedom that deserve commemoration and celebration but none resonate more deeply in the Irish psyche than the Easter Rising of 1916.

One reason for this is the astonishing bravery of the women and men who participated in it and the astonishing steadfastness and resolve of the leaders who faced death with great courage and were executed following it. Another is the Proclamation of the Republic and of the great principles of sovereignty, of freedom and equality, and of civil and religious liberty that it sets out in clear and impassioned language.

However, none of this would have occurred but for the coming together of Irish separatists, republicans, socialists, nationalists, suffragettes, and Irish language activists who coalesced in a great revolutionary effort to liberate Ireland and establish a democratic and egalitarian republic on this island.

It was a transformative moment in Irish history.  

It is these principles and ideals that have inspired and motivated subsequent generations of Irish republicans. And it is these which successive Irish governments sought to erase from the story of Easter 1916. The commemorative Programme unveiled by the Irish government last November was widely criticised as short term, shambolic and superficial. Public anger at its promotional video – Ireland Inspires 2016 – was so stinging that it was withdrawn. The video failed to mention the Rising or the Proclamation or the executed leaders. It did however include images of David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth, Bono, and Bob Geldof.

The new programme launched at the end of last month is a much better effort but it still contains gaps. The government approach has been to strip away any politics and context to the rising. To reduce it to a tragedy in which death and injury was inflicted equally on all sides, and so all sides must be equally remembered.

This is a shallow and wholly self-serving approach to our history. Devoid of context or politics the Rising is portrayed by some as a moment in history that should be kept in a little glass case and studied; or in the view of those in the Redmondite wing of Fine Gael an unnecessary moment of madness. 

Without a doubt war is brutal. It visits death and injury on all sides. Terrible things are done. We have seen that in our own time during three decades of war. The grief of a mother and father, brother and sister, or son and daughter is not diminished by the circumstance of that loss. The grief experienced by the family of an RUC officer, British soldier, IRA Volunteer or civilian is no different in these times from that of those who died in the GPO or  the streets of Dublin and elsewhere in 1916. All have the right to be respected and remembered.

However it is wrong for the state commemoration of 1916 to be reduced to solely to an act of remembrance for a collection of individuals.

While each is a story of individual courage and loss, those involved in the Rising were more than a collection of individuals.  They shared an abhorrence of colonialism and imperialism and believed that Ireland’s future must be in the hands of those of us who live on this island. Their view of the world in which they lived was shaped by their experience of the British Empire and the world war.

Those who took part in the Rising gave their lives and liberty, to deliver the republic enshrined in the proclamation. A republic built on the principles of equality and sovereignty, of human rights and civil liberties, and of unity and nationhood.  Principles that remain a challenge to successive governments in this state.

It is these principles that the Irish government has a problem with. For Fine Gael and Labour it is easier to deal with the notion of individual loss and sacrifice, than to promote the ideas of the proclamation.

So the government does not address the inequality, division and lack of sovereignty, that drove a generation of republicans onto the streets of Dublin. Heaven forbid that the north is mentioned or that the continued failure that is partition is debated.

The memory and ownership of 1916 does not belong exclusively to Sinn Féin or any other party or to the government. Nor can it be limited to the 26 counties. The south is not the nation. Nor should the commemoration of the rising be limited to a lecture, an exhibition or a parade. It belongs to all the people that share this island and the Irish nation spread across the globe.

While the commemoration must be an opportunity for remembrance, it is also be an opportunity for national renewal, for building a new republic. When it has come and gone there should be more left behind that a memory of a good day out.

That is why Sinn Féin developed a programme of events to mark 1916. We are seeking to encourage communities to engage with their heritage and to rise to the challenge of delivering a republic for citizens.

The most fitting tribute to the loss of this and past generations including republicans, British and civilians is to deliver the republic promised on the steps of the GPO. A 32 county republic in which citizens have equality and rights and the sovereignty of the nation is protected.  

This generation has the opportunity and ability to deliver such a republic without the sacrifice of previous generations. The democratic and egalitarian principles contained in the Proclamation are as urgently required in the Ireland of 2015, as they were 99 years ago.

Austerity – whether imposed by a British Tory government or a Fine Gael/Labour government - are anathema to the ideals of the Proclamation.

The year ahead is a time for renewal and planning, a year for promoting the republican ideals of democracy and equality. It is a time for focussing on delivering a genuine republic for the people of this island. This includes securing, in the time ahead, a referendum on Irish Unity so that each and every one of us, working together, can build a new, dynamic country.

Ireland today needs another Rising – a peaceful rising to take control of the ideals of the Proclamation and to put them into practice.

100 years ago in 1915 James Connolly wrote in the foreword to his pamphlet ‘The Reconquest of Ireland’; “The conquest of Ireland had meant the social and political servitude of the Irish masses, and therefore the re-conquest of Ireland must mean the social as well as the political independence from servitude of every man, woman and child in Ireland.”

Our goal must be the reconquest of Ireland by all the people of this island.


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