Why are we still listening to the 1916 Secret Seven?
You treat the 1916 Proclamation as Holy Writ at your peril, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30
Gerry Adams has promulgated his latest encyclical, "2016 - A time for Renewal", in which he examines the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. "Austerity - whether imposed by a British Tory government or a Fine Gael/Labour government - are [sic] anathema to the ideals of the Proclamation".
As Ronan McGreevy pointed out last week in the Irish Times, "citing the Proclamation has become the last refuge of the scoundrel". Citing members of Imelda (Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion), who chained themselves to the GPO recently to draw attention to their claim the signatories would have been in favour of legalised abortion, he pointed out that pro-lifers could equally argue that the promise to "cherish all the children of the nation equally" extends to unborn children.
Now before the usual idiots repeat that it means the Proclamation was against cuts in child benefit, may I wearily once again say that the promise to "cherish all the children of the nation equally" was a doomed suggestion that the majority should look after Protestant unionists, the island's minority ethnic group.
But I'll give Adams this: Patrick Pearse would indeed have been anti-austerity. Unfortunately, being well on his way to the bankruptcy he'd only staved off by getting dig-outs from his friends, maybe he's not the best poster-boy. And I fear that the bony finger of Tom Clarke, who had two thriving tobacco shops and was a model of economic prudence, might be pointing Adams to the bit about "the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good".
May I enquire why anyone should pay any attention whatsoever to what the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic thought about anything?
These seven men were elected by no one. The text speaks bizarrely of how Ireland (the only woman named), having "organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army", is ready to strike.
But it doesn't mention that the Secret Seven were a cabal within a cabal within a cabal, the seven-man Military Council of the 11-man Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which ignored the IRB constitution and through lies, deception and betrayal of colleagues and friends, had infiltrated the 2,000 or so Irish Volunteers, as they had infiltrated and subverted cultural and sporting institutions.
In his "Renewal" document, Adams claims it was "inequality, division and lack of sovereignty that drove a generation of republicans on to the streets of Dublin". Er, there were only about 1,700 of them involved, most of whom were on the streets of Dublin for manoeuvres, not a revolution. And the Secret Seven couldn't even agree amongst themselves what kind of Ireland they wanted other than one that was Brit-free.
To name but three, Connolly wanted a Marxist state, Joe Plunkett wanted a monarchy headed by a German prince and Pearse wanted a kind of prelapsarian Celtic paradise in which 20-30m would live off agriculture and "gracious and useful rural industries" and "make such music as has not been heard since Greece spoke the morning song of the free people". Ah, Greece! Adams is keen on Greece too, for Syriza are brothers in arms in resisting German-imposed austerity. Now what would the signatories think about that? Weren't the Germans the Proclamation's "gallant allies in Europe" who at the time were trying to kill the 200,000 or so Irishmen who were united in their fight against Germany.
Many of them might have been Home Rulers, but they didn't like their enemy. They'd have known, for instance, that at the beginning of the war, in Belgium, German troops retreating from Liege had taken their rage out on the villagers of Soumagne, killing the men in front of their families and using survivors as human shields in battle. Wasn't it the tiniest bit risky to invite them into Ireland with an army.
The handy thing about the high-sounding guff that Patrick Pearse left us is that it can be used by anyone. The Proclamation was vague and imprecise so that the Secret Seven didn't have to resolve even their own differences. In stark contrast to the anti-Home Rule Ulster Covenant of 1912 - which was signed up to by almost half a million of a Protestant population of 891,000 men, women and children - it was profoundly anti-democratic: just seven men called themselves "The Irish Republic" which they said "is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman".
No wonder Gerry Adams is so keen on it, what with being a believer in unelected cabals killing for Ireland. Maybe his next encyclical on the subject might address the Proclamation's prayer that no one serving their cause should "dishonour it" by inhumanity? Jean McConville anyone?