Sunday 25 September 2016

We need to take 1916 plans out of the hands of the establishment

Trevor Hogan

Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30

Members of the public gather at GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street for the 99th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising (Niall Carson/PA Wire)
Members of the public gather at GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street for the 99th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

March 27, 2016. It is Easter Sunday morning, and crowds are gathering in Dublin.

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Yet, today is different to every other Rising commemoration. Instead of people standing back and observing the Army, navy and gardaí parade in full regalia, this year the military and the political elites have stood to the side. They are behind the barriers, applauding the crowds as they pass, the soldiers forming a protective ring for the people. A dramatic role-reversal and the symbolic elimination of hierarchy, at least for one day.

The river of people winds its way down the quays to O'Connell Street, towards the GPO - a visual representation of the Proclamation's call for the allegiance of "every Irishman and Irishwoman..."

Unfortunately, as it stands, such a scenario is merely fantasy. On the basis of the Government's recently-launched commemoration programme, Easter Sunday 2016 will be a re-run of every other Easter Sunday, ground-hog day on a massive scale.

Undoubtedly, some credit is due to the Government for rowing back on the shambolic PR vision in their initial November launch, embodied by the 90-second video that failed to even mention the Rising itself. Praise is also warranted for recognising that the presence of members of British royalty would detract from what has to be a profound internal reflection.

Yet, the lack of imagination around the defining event on Easter Sunday is what is most striking about the Government's proposals. This was the pivotal date, upon which the Rising depended, the day that the public will most associate with the rebellion. Easter Sunday 1916 was the occasion on which the dramatic decision was made, on behalf of every citizen, to go ahead with the Rising - despite Eoin MacNeill's last-minute countermanding order.

The centrepiece of the Government's proposals is another military spectacle, with seating reserved for the chosen few in front of the GPO. Despite Government claims that they want "everyone to get involved", the citizens' role is clearly relegated. Perched up high, the President and Taoiseach "and all invited guests" observe the parade from "the reviewing stands". The public will "view the parade" and, in case they miss a second, the organisers will kindly erect large screens for "maximum visibility". In the minds of the authorities, the concept of involvement does not stretch beyond lifting your head to the nearest TV and clapping in wonder.

Why be slaves to this traditional parade formula, where the people are on the periphery? Instead of a high-ranking Army officer, could we not have a non-uniformed citizen read aloud the Proclamation? This would be a more authentic reflection of what's embodied by the document.

Unfortunately, this Government is not the first that has been unwilling to fully engage with the potential of 1916. Since the foundation of the State, there has been a clear reluctance to officially mark the occasion. It was not until the 1930s that a commemorative statue of Cú Chulainn was unveiled, over 20 years after the piece was first sculpted. This is why we need to take the focus for commemoration out of the control of the establishment.

The Proclamation stands alone. No focus group was needed to help formulate the vision where the people have unquestioned ownership of all the country's resources.

On the surface, the Government's proposal to get schoolchildren to draft a 'new proclamation' may appear admirable. But consider it in the context of Junior Cycle reform, which sees History downgraded and dropped as a compulsory subject in the year following 2016.

For decades, the Irish State refused to fully engage with 1916. It is not too late for the people to change this, take ownership and demand a truly meaningful, empowering commemoration of Easter Sunday.

Trevor Horgan teaches history

Irish Independent

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