Wednesday 26 June 2019

It is the people, not the faltering politicians, who guard the Proclamation

John Redmond, who earned the posthumous mantle of a pacifist from some, while the rebels are derided as savages Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John Redmond, who earned the posthumous mantle of a pacifist from some, while the rebels are derided as savages Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The best way to commemorate the 1916 Rising is not through military parades or flag waving but by remembering that we, the Irish people, are the custodians of the Proclamation and the egalitarian ideals that inspired it.

In the latest in a long line of embarrassing statements, Atheist Ireland said yesterday it had declined an invitation to the Easter Rising commemorations because the rebellion was nothing more than "an undemocratic group killing innocent people".

In reality, the rebels were proponents of a radical democracy - in which every man and woman was deserving of a vote, not just a small cohort of landowning men - who had been spurred into action after plans for limited Home Rule were indefinitely suspended.

While Atheist Ireland and others have derided the rebel leaders as vainglorious and bloodthirsty, there was no constitutional pathway to Irish self-determination that did not involve militarism.

In return for the promise of Home Rule, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, acted as a propagandist for World War I, urging nationalistic Irish men to support the British war effort.

An army recruitment advert at the time featured Redmond's face and the caption: "Your first duty is to take your part in ending the war. Join an Irish regiment today."

The rebel leaders rejected the cold calculus of this transaction and, in any event, didn't believe the British would stick to their end of the bargain. Instead, they believed an armed insurrection was the only way to restore the "right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland".

Despite the fact that the divergent paths to Irish freedom, espoused by both Redmond and the rebels, involved blood sacrifice, Redmond has somehow earned the posthumous mantle of a pacifist from some, while the rebels are derided as savages.

It is possible to argue about whether the Rising should have gone ahead when it did, or at all, but efforts to recast the rebellion as an undemocratic revolt by a bunch of rabble-rousing zealots should be challenged.

The signatories of the Proclamation were radicals fighting for a genuine Republic that would guarantee "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens" - heretical concepts to those whose grip on power was determined solely by heredity.

Given the leaders were all summarily executed, they can hardly be held responsible for the fact that the Free State, when it emerged from civil war six years later, was a conservative and insular theocracy and remained that way for decades.

One hundred years later, as we reflect on the Rising, we should be asking where are the radicals in Irish politics who are pledging to subvert the status quo and deliver the promise of the Proclamation?

Despite the pomp and grandeur which accompanied the 1916 commemorations, it is doubtful that the leaders, if they were to survey Irish society 100 years after their rebellion, would feel their objectives had been realised.

Having just wrested our sovereignty back from the troika, after the welfare of Irish citizens was sacrificed for that of its banks, the country is facing huge challenges that the political system seems incapable of tackling.

A record homeless crisis that gets worse with every passing day; the near doubling of child poverty in the era of austerity; a two-tier health system in which the size of a patient's bank balance determines their treatment plan; the erosion of workers' rights with the explosion of low-paid, insecure employment; a legal system which excludes the poor from its protections; the denial of reproductive autonomy to women; thousands of asylum seekers confined to a grotesque system of direct provision and the continuation of greedy, grasping crony politics that mutates what were once public goods into cheap party favours bestowed on acolytes.

The lesson of the Rising is that when politics fails, it is up to the people themselves to organise and to agitate and to make their voices heard over the loud din of complacent handwringing that emanates from the cloistered surroundings that the ruling classes inhabit.

More than one month after the election, and the creation of the 32nd Irish parliament, politicians have proven incapable of governing, preferring instead to engage in petty wrangling and squabbling even as projects that were supposed to alleviate the suffering of the most marginalised in our communities falter and sunder.

The latest travesty is the admittance by Dublin City Council that a mere 22 modular homes, originally supposed to be constructed by December, won't now be ready until the end of May - the fourth postponement of the puny project in as many months.

Meanwhile, as the council struggles to provide just 22 modular homes, 767 families and nearly 1,600 children languish in emergency accommodation in Dublin with little hope of ever being housed.

If politics as we have always understood it - citizens turning out every five years to vote for a representative parliament - is no longer capable of handling these crises, then it is time for politics to change.

It is time for a more active citizenship, evidenced in the water charges protests that swept across the country, in which the people came out en masse to demand that politicians deliver on their promises.

There are those who criticise the water charges movement, but it achieved a slashing of prices and the deferment of any increases while the formation of any new government may yet be contingent on their suspension or eradication.

This was only achieved because the people said enough and marched in their thousands. The political establishment, faced with such an unprecedented revolt, capitulated. If this can be achieved for water charges, then there is no reason to think that other policies, pursued by political elites, are immutable or incapable of being changed in response to massive public pressure. It is the people, not our politicians, who are the guardians of the Proclamation and the ideals enshrined within it. The people hold the power.

Irish Independent

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