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Gay Ireland's struggle for Pearse's republican concept of equality

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'Liberals can be as illiberal in the stances they adopt as fundamentalists and ‘homophobe’ is not a word to toss about without concrete proof. I don’t believe that those who seek to deny marriage rights to gays are homophobic.'

'Liberals can be as illiberal in the stances they adopt as fundamentalists and ‘homophobe’ is not a word to toss about without concrete proof. I don’t believe that those who seek to deny marriage rights to gays are homophobic.'

'Liberals can be as illiberal in the stances they adopt as fundamentalists and ‘homophobe’ is not a word to toss about without concrete proof. I don’t believe that those who seek to deny marriage rights to gays are homophobic.'

It's probably reasonable to expect that one of the features of the run-in to the centenary of the 1916 Rising will be a national debate on the entire concept of 'republicanism' as it applies to the island of Ireland 100 years on. Such a discussion would indeed be timely, in light of recent events.

Among the assertions contained in the Proclamation document declaring Ireland a republic and read by Padraig Pearse from the steps of the General Post Office on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, were specific guarantees of "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens" and a declaration of "its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally".

Those assertions, representing as they do the very essence of republicanism, had their genesis in the French Revolution of 1789 with its driving principles of "liberte, egalite, et fraternite' (freedom, equality, and brotherhood).

First promulgated in Ireland by Theobald Wolfe Tone in 1798 and further asserted by Robert Emmet in 1803 and others since, they remain to this day the foundation stones of the modern French state.

In Ireland, however, it's not unreasonable to state that, for the vast majority, the word 'republicanism' has had different resonances.

Down through history, it could be easily explained in two simple words – 'Brits out'; facile, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

The espousal of this particular interpretation, however, overlooks the fact that for Pearse, Emmet, Tone and their respective associates and supporters, the withdrawal of the British from Ireland was simply a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

The British presence on our island was correctly perceived to be the biggest obstacle to the achievement of a fair and equitable society and its removal was seen as an essential element for the establishment of a true republic.

In this context, and over a period of more than two centuries, the change of focus which evolved is quite understandable, but the new dispensation arising from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 facilitates, and indeed demands, a rebalancing of priorities.

Pearse's chosen mode of communication, verbally from the steps of the GPO, was of its time, however dramatic its context. In recent days, a relatively mundane tweet, a chosen mode of communication for our current time, caught the eye.

Its author Ann Marie Part describes herself as "a suburban Irish mammy" and "health professional" and will, almost certainly, never achieve Pearse's historical relevance. Her content, of 140 characters or less as required by Twitter, will never be quoted as often as the 1916 Proclamation but, magnificent in its simplicity, is worthy of quotation in full:

"I have twin teen sons. 1 gay 1 straight. I love and respect them equally & expect soc(iety) and the State to do so too."

Ironically, a mother's love was something of which Pearse himself wrote poetically: "Lord, thou art hard on mothers:

We suffer in their coming and their going;

And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary

Of the long sorrow – and yet I have my joy:

My sons were faithful, and they fought."

Despite the remove of a full century, it's not difficult to envisage an empathy between the Pearse and Part brothers, and between their respective mothers too – equality and an appreciation of the unique maternal influence are shared fundamentals.

A more formal, and traditional, mode of communication was utilised by TDs Jerry Buttimer and John Lyons last week when they each made powerful speeches from the backbenches.

The eloquence of their contributions was enhanced not only by the deeply personal nature of the content but by the searing honesty with which it was delivered.

Speaking as citizens, democrats and public representatives, their respect for the rights of others to express contrary opinions was self-evident, as was their stated willingness to engage with them in debate.

That they feel it necessary to suggest such a debate take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and equality provided a stark reminder however that, regardless of how far we may have travelled on the road to equality and the other republican ideals, some considerable distance still lies ahead of us.

They, and others with public profiles, in issuing their own personal 'proclamations' of their sexuality, have made an invaluable contribution to the national discussion on the issue of rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender among us and in doing so have advanced their cause considerably.

That they have found it necessary to do so is a reminder that, as with Pearse, equality is a goal for which a struggle will always be necessary.

Irish Independent