Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Can we not just cancel the 1916 commemorations?

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Before all the various factions lay claim to the legacy of the rebels, would it be possible to cancel the centenary celebrations which have been planned to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising?

After all, if the men and women who fought for Irish freedom 99 years ago saw what was to become of their country, would they really have bothered?

The insurrection barely lasted a week and already it looks as though there is going to be an unedifying scramble to claim the legacy of the rebellion next year.

The uncomfortable truth is that many Dublin people spat at and abused the rebels when they took over some key locations in the capital in April 1916.

With World War One in full swing, they accused the rebels of treason. Independence, or freedom, was far from their minds.

Barely 1,200 people took part in the uprising and yet we are going to have the sight of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour all lining up to lay claim to the rebels’ legacy next year.

Would James Connolly really have sacrificed his own life if he was told that the Irish Labour Party would go on to cut payments to some of the most marginalised people in society, lone parents, 99 years on?

Connolly fought for a socialist republic which seems a long way off the Ireland of 2015, in which it's totally acceptable to get people to work for €50 a week on top of their dole.

How would he have felt about a country which marginalises its most vulnerable while paying obscene pensions to the politicians who wrecked the place just a few short years ago?

Would he have been comfortable with how Labour has imposed such harsh austerity policies on ordinary, working class people (for ‘crimes’ which were not of their own making) over the past four years?

Would he and Padraig Pearse have wondered who the real “fools” were if they were told that hundreds of thousands of ordinary people had to ‘bail out’ a tiny elite of bankers, politicians, and developers after they brought this new free state to the verge of bankruptcy?

Would they have been impressed by the way in which the “sleveens” in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have managed to exchange power in virtually every election since the foundation of the State?

What would they have thought of the “jobs for the boys” mentality in which one group of corrupt politicians seemed to just take over from another over the intervening years?

Was removing the Brits all about elevating the importance of the parish pump for decades?

Is that what they sacrificed their lives for? So that the people with the right “connections” got the plum jobs while hundreds of thousands of ordinary Irish people experienced forced emigration in the 1950s, 1980s, and again in the wake of the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’?

The Easter Rising was planned by just seven men. If they were alive today would they be on the streets with the Irish Water protesters rather than attending glitzy ceremonies with the new elite who have taken over since the departure of the British Empire?

In proclaiming an Irish Republic, did they really envisage that thousands upon thousands would continue to move to Britain, the USA, or Australia in search of work long after independence?

Remembering the rebels of 1916

The grim truth is that the people of Ireland only began to support the doomed rising after 16 of the rebel leaders had been executed, leading to a surge in support for Sinn Fein.

The true legacy of the people of the time is evident in the Dublin city centre businessmen who claim the Irish Water protests are hitting their pockets, just as their counterparts in 1916 had nothing but contempt for the rebels.

Protest is well and good ... but not if it affects those who "fumble in the greasy till", as W.B. Yeats put it so eloquently in 'September 1913'.

Lest we forget, there was no widespread public support for the rising until the leaders were sentenced to death by the British authorities.

The Irish people have a proud history and Ireland is seen as a beacon of light by many countries who have struggled against colonialism.

But there is a danger that the spectre of our new rulers claiming the legacy of the men and women of 1916 will descend into an unedifying farce next year.

We got rid of the British Empire from part of the island, yes, but we can never claim that all of the nation’s children have been cherished equally in the interim.

We sent one of our heroes over to London to negotiate a treaty and he ended up getting shot in the back during an appalling civil war.

We have let our native language all but die. We have a housing crisis, 130,000 children living in poverty, and old people lying on trolleys in our public hospitals. We are ‘neutral’ and yet we allow US war machines to fly through Shannon every week of the year. Nobody knows how many prisoners have been illegally renditioned through Shannon, because nobody has checked.

In throes to the Roman Catholic Church, our ‘leaders’ turned a blind eye to institutionalised child abuse and the imprisonment of innocent women and children for decades. We were left with the terrible legacy of the Tuam Babies and the Magdalene Laundries.

We still 'export' inconvenient social problems, such as rape victims who become pregnant. Entire villages in the West have become depopulated since the rebels fought for our freedom.

Irish people could not get a divorce until the 1990s and homosexuality was illegal until 1992. The progressive nation envisaged by the men and women of 1916 was far removed from the harsh reality of life on an island which exported its brightest and its best because there was little room for dissenters.

But, hell, Irish people love a party. So let’s get out there and celebrate . . . just don’t ask too many probing questions as to how this new, free Ireland has lived up to the vision or dreams of the men and women of 1916.

For the truth can be too uncomfortable to face at times.