Monday 19 March 2018

Perfect storm as rainclouds, Brexit and Trump buffet 1916 commemorations

In 1916, the dark clouds gathering overhead culminated in the Rising - fast forward 100 years and it is the as-yet unknowable perils of Brexit and Donald Trump's presidency that are buffeting our island nation.

And even the world of academia pronounces itself flummoxed as to the possible consequences of this perfect storm.

After the State commemorations, the cultural stand out pieces, the concerts and festivals, it was time to sit down and level-headedly discuss the first 100 years of the birth of the Irish nation - for better or worse.

Centenary Talks, a landmark conference that forms one of the final events of the 1916 official State Commemorations continuing today at NUI Galway, has brought together academics from every third-level institution in the country. It endeavours to take a sharper look at the idealistic ambition that saw the foundation of the State to expose the realities within.

Ireland 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty comprised a three-day programme discussing everything from emigration and radicalism to mothers.

A Fringe Festival saw animated discussions about the women of 1916, the dark secrets of the Rising and other interesting topics.

But always in the background of discussions reared the twin overarching fears of Mr Trump and Brexit - the greatest challenges confronting us as we embark upon the next 100 years.

And, regrettably, here there were no answers that could be put forward from the expert panels - only questions.

The event was launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and attended yesterday by Minister for Arts and Culture Heather Humphreys.

In the wake of criticism following the slashing of funding for the arts in the recent Budget, Ms Humphreys said: "Funding arts and creativity should rather be seen as a vital component of building an open, fairer society."

She revealed that work is well underway on a Legacy Project for Ireland 2016 - a five-year initiative, from 2017 to 2022, which will place arts, culture and creativity at the centre of public policy.

The project will be announced shortly, she said.

John Concannon, director of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, told the Irish Independent that the conference was a crucial part of the State events.

A non-academic panel today with the new RTÉ director general Dee Forbes will seek to ask where now for Ireland?

As for Ireland of the last 100 years, it was neither as dark nor as rosy as we may have thought it was.

Professor of Economics Kevin O'Rourke from All Souls College at Oxford University reminded the audience that "meitheal and Magdalene Laundries were to be found everywhere, if you cared to look" at this period and therefore Ireland was not particularly unique.

In a panel discussion on Economy, Society and the Well-being of Citizens, we learned that Ireland did indeed do moderately better economically once the shackles of empire had been cast off, Kevin O'Rourke demonstrated.

But he also pointed out the continuing trend of 'stop go' economic policies resulting in a boom-bust cycle and the dangers of an over-reliance on the British economy.

He said a hard Brexit would be an "unfriendly" act, while Northern Ireland would be even worse off than the Republic - since they export 40pc of their produce, mainly food and agriculture, to us.

Afterwards, Brian Kennaway, a retired Presbyterian pastor from the North expressed fear that Brexit could lead to a break up of the union he holds dear.

His stance as an avowed unionist expands to cover the greater union with Europe, he explained - and he was very much against the referendum he said was rushed through without thought for the consequences.

He mused on the possibility of a union between Northern Ireland and Scotland alone and, as for British PM Theresa May, Mr Kennaway said: "I don't think she knows what she's at."

Retired GP Liam O Briain attending the conference with wife Niamh O Dóchartaigh, declared the events to be "brilliant", explaining that it was important to have an academic discussion to interpret the events across a broad spectrum.

"It shows us that once again, we have to think afresh," he said.

Irish Independent

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