Tuesday 17 January 2017

Higgins: 'Britain needs to examine its history'

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins takes a moment to pay his respects during the Wreath laying ceremony for the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising at the GPO on Dublin's O Connell St. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
President Michael D Higgins takes a moment to pay his respects during the Wreath laying ceremony for the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising at the GPO on Dublin's O Connell St. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Volunteers engage in an exchange of gunfire with the RIC during an ambush during yesterday's recreation of the Battle of Ashbourne in 1916 Photo: Gerry Mooney

President Michael D Higgins believes that Britain needs to re-examine "imperial triumphalism" in the same way that Irish people have assessed republicanism over recent years.

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In a keynote speech, Mr Higgins said there had been much discussion of violence by Irish nationalists at the turn of the last century.

But he noted the "supremacist and militarist imperialism" of Britain over the same time had not been reviewed with "the same fault-finding edge".

"In the context of 1916, this imperial triumphalism can be traced, for example, in the language of the (British Army) recruitment campaigns of the time, which evoked mythology, masculinity and religion, and glorified the Irish blood as having 'reddened the earth of every continent'," he said.

"But this is for another day."

However, his comments jarred with another speech made by former Taoiseach John Burton in Dublin yesterday. He claimed that the commemorations had failed to challenge "myths" about Easter 1916.

He said the armed rebellion must be subjected to "severe and honest reappraisal".

"If we fail to do that, we are passing on to the next generation, through 'indoctrination by commemoration', a dangerous misunderstanding of history," he said.

Mr Higgins made his remarks at a talk entitled 'Remembering 1916' at the Mansion House.

The President said there "has been a great deal of critical reassessment of aspects of the Rising and, in particular, of the myths of redemptive violence that were at the heart, not just of Irish nationalism, but also of imperial nationalism".

He added: "My view is that the latter has not, perhaps, been revisited with the same fault-finding edge as the former.

"Indeed, while the long shadow cast by what has been called 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland has led to a scrutiny of the Irish republican tradition of 'physical violence', a similar review of supremacist and militarist imperialism remains to be fully achieved."

Mr Higgins described the leaders of the 1916 rebellion, most of whom were executed by Britain, as "advanced thinkers, selfless women and men, who took all the risks to ensure that the children of Ireland would, in the future, live in freedom and access their fair share of Ireland's prosperity".

But he added that their vision was not realised in the founding years of the new Irish State.

Mr Higgins said Irish people had a duty to retrieve the idealism at the heart of the Easter Rising.

"Let us revive the best of the promise of 1916, so that those coming generations might experience freedom in the full sense of the term - freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and insecurity, and freedom from fear."

However, speaking at an 'Reflecting the Rising' event at Iveagh House yesterday, Mr Bruton said the Proclamation was "a recipe for endless conflict" that offered "no room for compromise".

He said that it was "on the strength" of its words "that people continue to be killed", including prison officer Adrian Ismay in recent weeks.

"Those who declaim the Proclamation, as many have been doing at pageants in recent weeks, should think about what its words mean and about what they led to," he said.

The former Fine Gael politician, who did not attend Sunday's commemoration ceremony outside the GPO, argued that the leaders of the Rising were "politically irresponsible and showed no understanding of Irish history".

Mr Bruton said that if a 32-county Republic is ever a reality it will not be as a result of the methods used in 1916.

"The focus on the 1916 Rebellion, and particularly on its uncompromisingly worded Proclamation, as representing the core values of our State, is a worry at a time when there is already such a level of disdain for politicians, and for the compromises that are a necessary part of democratic politics," he added.

Irish Independent

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