Saturday 16 February 2019

All this 1916 hoopla plays into Sinn Fein's hands

The relentless cult of the Easter Rising is a political own goal by Fine Gael

Captain Sean Coffey from Defence HQ reads the procamation during a Commemoration marking the 98th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising at the GPO on O' Connell Street, Dublin
Captain Sean Coffey from Defence HQ reads the procamation during a Commemoration marking the 98th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising at the GPO on O' Connell Street, Dublin

Thomas Molloy

Almost 50 years ago, the State celebrated the Easter Rising with a dreary parade of military vehicles trundling down O'Connell Street and solemn speeches that sang the praises of the long dormant Official IRA. Two years later, the North was in flames and the Provisional IRA was back in business.

It's simplistic to suggest the 1966 celebrations were the only reason for the emergence of the Troubles. Unionist bigotry and stupidity certainly played a large role but it is naive to suggest that government decisions to glorify violence don't affect the zeitgeist.

As the centenary of the Rising approaches, the Coalition is making the same mistake.

Terrified that Sinn Fein would benefit from the Rising's centenary, Fine Gael and Labour have hijacked 1916 themselves. That may have seemed smart two years ago but it has backfired by conferring legitimacy on the party that organised 1916 first time round.

The poll in last week's Sunday Independent showing that Sinn Fein is now the most popular party in the State shows just how badly those plans have gone awry. Again it would be simplistic to attribute Sinn Fein's success to the 1916 commemorations but it is impossible not to believe the two are entwined.

The problem for Fine Gael is that the party's efforts to "own" 1916 make little sense.

At a political level, it is almost amusing that the Blue Shirts can somehow associate themselves with Pearse, Connolly and the others. Fine Gael has never been a natural home for violent revolutionaries. To try now to associate itself with the curious mix of religious fervour and left-wing nationalist ideals that fuelled the Rising is about as convincing as Tom Cruise's Irish accent in Far and Way.

Fine Gael as wannabe freedom fighters strikes an implausible note that does nothing to stop Sinn Fein from claiming credit for Rising.

While the optics are unconvincing, there is also the question of whether a State should take sides in great historical debates that still polarise the population.

Efforts by the government in Paris to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989 met with a sullen response in many parts of France and especially the Vendee, where the Counter Revolution had been brutally quashed.

The 1916 Rising was an interesting event in Irish history but it is a big leap to argue that it had any long-term influence on the course of our history beyond copper-fastening partition and the role of the gun in Irish politics while ensuring many Protestants would leave the island forever.

There are many Irish people north and south of the Border who regard 1916 as a disaster for varying reasons and remain suspicious about almost everything that men like Padraig Pearse stood for.

To have the Government push a sanitised version of history down their throats makes them gag and feel like strangers in their own country while sanctioning violence in the minds of others.

There are still ways of commemorating 1916 that make sense: both Trinity and UCD are creating magnificent websites that will allow everybody to explore the Rising on their own terms for instance.

The Rising is worth talking about but the Government's efforts to sanction an uncomplicated and sanitised version of events is dishonest and primitive. It also happens to play into the hands of just one organisation: Sinn Fein.

Sunday Independent

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