Friday 30 September 2016

The Rising tide has yet to lift all boats

Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30

Michael Collins. Photo: Getty
Michael Collins. Photo: Getty

Having poked around in the ashes of 1916 for a century the nation is still awaiting a phoenix.

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Over the past year the historians and the academics have been engaged in a tussle over the telescope of history which has merely resulted in many perceptions being inverted, rendering views either upside down or backwards.

However, commenting on the Rising in its immediate aftermath, Michael Collins said: "That valiant effort and martyrdoms that followed 1916 finally awoke the sleeping spirit of Ireland."

Looking at our country today, it is pertinent to ask just how vital or vibrant is that spirit? Certainly in terms of leadership and direction, it has been caught napping.

What would the signatories of the Proclamation - those who died so that we could manage our own affairs and be an independent Republic - make of the fact that on the 100th anniversary of their deaths, and one month after an election, we have no government?

Were they to return they might wonder had they entered a new Lilliput where a Big-Endians versus Little-Endians squabble about water charges is the great issue of the hour.

In the crucible of history the enmities and mistrust between loyalist and nationalist in the North were able to be dissolved sufficiently for them to work together for the greater good. Party interests, as opposed to the national one, have constrained political progress down here and we are left in a limbo.

Many have argued that it is naïve, bordering on simplistic to believe that the leaders of 1916 sought to lay down a flawless template to guarantee sweetness and light for future generations. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that they were men and women of courage and conviction who put their country first to the point of dying for their beliefs.

Thankfully today it is recognised - as so compellingly argued by John Hume - that it is far preferable to live for your country than to die for it.

Nevertheless, we have come to a troubling fork in our progress as a nation when after several centuries of agrarian strife we cannot provide shelter, let alone housing, for our poorest. We have people sleeping in wooden boxes in Dublin's streets. A century ago, commenting on the inequality of the times, James Connolly said: "Just as it is true that a stream cannot rise above its source, so it is true that a national literature cannot rise above the moral level of the social conditions of the people from whom it derives its inspiration."

The moral level of our social conditions has remained shamefully static. Before we get lost in a misty-eyed philosophical debate about a national identity, there are more practical pressing issues that require our immediate attention.

The country has emerged from the greatest economic crisis in its history thanks to the readiness of its people to bear the most onerous debt burden ever inflicted on a sovereign state. The people, not the politicians, accepted unprecedented taxes, charges and income cuts, putting the interests of the country first. It was an example that our politicians might have learned from, especially as many of them were on the bridge when the economy was holed beneath the waterline.

Terence MacSwiney's immortal phrase that: "It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most," was never intended to be seen as a contest between inept leaders and those they purport to serve. The country has made enormous strides. We are a peaceful and decent democracy. But the journey begun by the leaders of 1916 has a ways to go before all of our children can consider themselves cherished equally. The Rising tide has yet to lift all boats.

Irish Independent

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