Thursday 20 October 2016

Niamh Horan: Remember 1916, when we had guts and self-esteem?

The heroes of Easter Week would baulk at the lack of patriotism and courage shown by Ireland's leaders today, writes Niamh Horan

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Captain Kate Hanrahan with the Proclamation outside the GPO during the commemoration to mark the 99th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Photo: Mark Condren
Captain Kate Hanrahan with the Proclamation outside the GPO during the commemoration to mark the 99th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Photo: Mark Condren

You'd have to wonder what the executed leaders of the Rising would make of it all.

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Thomas J Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Padraig Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.

Men willing to die for their country; for liberty, sovereignty and economic freedom.

They wrote the Proclamation swiftly, under life-threatening conditions in Liberty Hall on the night before the Rising.

"We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible," they proclaimed, before taking up arms.

Mac Diarmada was in poor health. His hip was bad. He walked in pain and with the aid of a stick, travelling the country, as the Irish Republican Brotherhood's principal organiser.

On the day of the Rising, Clarke went into the GPO to fight alongside his comrades, even though he was almost 60 and suffering from a bullet wound to his elbow.

Read more: 'I was given a revolver and told to use it if required'

Across the city, on Mount Street Bridge, where a handful held off the Crown forces, a 28-year-old carpenter turned lieutenant, Michael Malone, sent his youthful troops home in order to save their lives.

The lack of weaponry juxtaposed with the sheer bravery displayed on the day has oft been commended by historians.

Fast forward 100 years and Ireland has "changed utterly", as W B Yeats predicted.

But in ways they could never envisage.

Our risk from foreign adversaries has changed from the very real threat of the enemy at the gates to intimidations of a different kind in the financial sector.

Today's leaders never had to take up arms to protect their people. And yet the stark language of warfare has been conjured up at every turn.

Unlike the rebels who fanned out across the city on Easter Monday in April 1916 facing artillery from all sides, today's governments have only had to deal with the metaphorical "loaded gun" while Trichet and the ECB threatened financial Armageddon to let a "bomb go off" in the Irish economy unless Finance Minster Michael Noonan met their demands.

And yet the sheer lack of courage to go toe-to-toe against these foreign threats would leave you wondering where Kenny and his comrades would cower if they found themselves in a plume of smoke 100 years ago as the British closed in.

Over the past two governments, leaders have kowtowed again and again to foreign interests.

Read more: Events for all with an interest in this island

The bank guarantee, a willingness to honour bondholders debts and the submissiveness shown when the US government blocked an attempt by the previous Irish government to burn €20bn worth of bondholders has been staggering.

The last person to oversee the country in such a crisis was Charlie Haughey. For all his flaws, it is hard to imagine him ever allowing the Irish taxpayer to be screwed by Europe like that. He may have been crooked but he was smart. And he would never have rolled over like a pair of schoolteachers.

Our politicians skinned the country for the interest of global financial institutions, saddling the nation with €9,000 debt for every man, woman and child.

And when there was "blood on the streets", as Steve Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone said when offering his views on buying up Europe's distressed assets to an audience at Goldman Sachs in New York in 2010, they let foreign vultures swoop in.

Afterwards, Schwarzman's company bought €2bn of Irish loans and property, including the Burlington hotel, a 25pc stake in Eircom, offices and a €1.8bn par value of loans linked to developer Michael O'Flynn, bought from Nama at a discount for around €1.1bn.

The state agency - which was given unprecedented powers in a bid to get credit going - sold loans secured by prized assets to foreigners, like Claridges and Battersea Power Station, while the Irish could only stand and watch.

What a turnaround when our forefathers had always fought to protect our land from foreign interests and keep the welfare of the Irish people at it's heart.

But hey, this year the Government has been busy handing out free flags and copies of the Proclamation and the nation is expected to get in the spirit.

No doubt Kenny will give a tall speech too at Dublin's GPO this Easter, waxing lyrical about the true meaning of patriotism. The same man who sat in front of the Irish flag to deliver his State of the Nation address four years ago upon taking up office.

He told the country: "I want to be the Taoiseach who retrieves Ireland's economic sovereignty" and even evoked the spirit of the "founding fathers of our nation".

So you'd have to wonder what they would make of our leaders 100 years on.

My guess is, come Easter, you can forget resurrections, the only movement up on Arbour Hill will be some real patriots turning in their graves.

Sunday Independent

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