Don't make a politically correct version of the Proclamation
Published 10/04/2015 | 02:30
The 'Road to the Rising' is going to be a long one, I'm afraid. It will be tortuous and full of politically correct pieties. It already is.
As to the Easter Rising itself, I tend to agree with John Bruton. I'm not convinced it was necessary. Home Rule was on offer. In time, that would have evolved into full independence. We might have avoided a civil war. We certainly would have avoided a war of independence. Violent republicanism would not have been re-energised by the Easter Rising with disastrous consequences down the decades.
But we are where we are. America might as well debate whether its war of independence was necessary or whether it should have followed the example of Canada, which won independence peacefully.
The fact is that the Easter Rising is as much a part of our national story as the War of Independence is a part of the American story.
The question now is how should we mark its looming centenary? Last week, Enda Kenny seemed to indicate that we should draft a new Proclamation of Independence. He then pulled back and said instead that his remarks related to a school project called 'Proclamation for a New Generation', a brain-scheme of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin which will, no doubt, be crammed with the abovementioned PC pieties.
Try for a moment to imagine any American politician of any note suggesting that American schools ought to come up with their own, more modern version of the Declaration of Independence. It would probably be the end of his career.
This is despite there being a line in the Declaration referring to the "merciless Indian Savages" which sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.
At worst in America, attention is simply drawn to the fact that the Declaration was signed by 'rich, white Christian men'. The Declaration itself is not called into question by any figure of note.
Our own Proclamation of Independence, like the American one, starts out with a clear and unembarrassed mention of God.
Presumably that would be dropped from any new Proclamation for starters. We don't all believe in God anymore and therefore, by some mysterious process, the default position when we don't all agree that God exists is not to mention Him at all, even though that default position is, in fact, an implicit atheism that banishes God to the purely private domain.
And by the way, while we don't all believe in God anymore, the vast majority of us still do, even if we perceive him in different ways. Some of the Founding Fathers of America, let it be remembered, weren't Christians at all in the proper sense. They were Deists, they believed God was an impersonal being who created the universe and then left us to our own devices.
From here on, our Proclamation basically leaves God to one side apart from invoking His protection right at the end, while the Americans in their Declaration basically say that all our rights flow from God, something that is exactly right because if they don't flow from God, then they flow from the State and that makes the State very powerful indeed.
Paragraph two of our Proclamation sets out who is behind the Easter Rising, while paragraph three declares our right to be a free and independent people.
Paragraph three begins, "We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland". In the minds of certain individuals this could easily be taken to mean that the people own everything in Ireland and therefore everything of importance should be nationalised. That actually means the State owns everything.
What it really means is that the Irish own Ireland, the British don't own Ireland.
Paragraph four is where things get really interesting. It tells us that "the Irish Republic is entitled to…the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman". All of them? Really? Including unionists?
But it reassures the unionists (and the rest of us) that the Republic "guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past".
That bit about "cherishing all the children of the nation equally" was used during the children's rights referendum of 2012 as if it was a literal reference to children.
In fact, it meant the "children" of the various religious and political traditions on the island.
Unionists were never going to buy any of this in a million years. To them, 'Home Rule was Rome Rule' and even if it wasn't, they didn't want to live in a republic and they didn't want to sunder the union with Britain. It was as plain and simple as that and still is.
The new and updated versions of our Proclamation, or the various reinterpretations of the existing one, almost all attempt to paint it in much more left-wing and secular colours. (The only exception that I'm aware of is '2016: A New Proclamation for a New Generation' by Gerard O'Neill).
Huge emphasis is placed on equality as though this is the only value that matters. Every other value, such as a freedom of religion say, or freedom of association, or freedom of speech, must pay second fiddle to equality. If any of these freedoms seem to harm 'equality' they must give way.
But note that the Proclamation doesn't refer to equality of outcome. It refers to "equality of opportunity", a different thing entirely, and it mentions religious and civil liberty before it mentions equality of any kind.
The biggest problem with the original Proclamation is with its presumption to speak for everyone on the island when clearly it didn't.
However, its vision of our rights is much more defensible. It doesn't reduce our rights simply to 'equality', every other right coming second. That would be the real betrayal of the Proclamation.
Reducing our rights in this way is, of course, the aim of those who want to rewrite the Proclamation. They want to remake it in their own politically correct image.
Instead, we should leave it as it is, just as the Americans have left their Declaration of Independence as it is.