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Sunday 15 April 2006

VILLAINS or villains?

There was no moral justification for the calamitous 1916 Easter Rising. In an advanced democracy, with Home Rule already on the statute book, a clique (the Military Council) within a clique (the Supreme Council) within a clique (the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which had infiltrated the Irish Volunteers) took it upon themselves to organise murdering, maiming and destruction in the name of Irish freedom.

Not only did the actions of this revolutionary clique lead to the deaths of at least 450 people (more than 242 civilians and only 76 rebels), injuries to 2,600 and grief to tens of thousands, but they created a precedent for violence that put a United Ireland beyond reach and still breaks Irish hearts today.

Padraig Pearse, who wrote of having 'the strength and peace of mind of those who never compromise', provided subsequent generations of anti-democratic republicans with his imprimatur for carnage in the name of patriotism.

During Easter Week, when more than 500 Irishmen were killed by the IRB's 'gallant allies in Europe' in a gas attack in Flanders, Irish police and soldiers were murdered by fellow-Irishmen at home: it was the first of our twentieth-century civil wars.

During the First World War, over 30,000 Irishmen would be killed fighting in the British Army and would be airbrushed out of Irish history until the Nineties.

The second civil war began in January 1919 when two men, Sean Tracey and Dan Breen, followed in the bloody footsteps of the murderers of 1916 by killing two policemen at Soloheadbeg because they wanted to. Although Sinn Fein had no mandate for renewed violence, the IRA terror spread: the largely Catholic RIC bore the brunt of the casualties between January 1919 and July 1921 (around 1,400, of whom only 550 were IRA).

In the June 1922 election, the country backed the treaty, but - rattling the bones of the dead of 1916 as they spat on democracy - the Republicans ('Irregulars') initiated a third civil war that would set new standards for viciousness, set brother against brother and leave a legacy of bitterness for generations. During the second and third civil wars, a violent sectarian campaign against Protestants resulted in 50,000 being driven out of the 26 counties.

Despite all that bloodshed, we remained a democracy thanks, firstly, to the solid groundwork laid down by constitutionalists like Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond and, secondly, to the ex-Irregular, Eamon de Valera, who prevented another civil war by interning and imprisoning militant republicans during the Second World War, hanging six and allowing three to die on hunger strike. Internment would also see off the IRA border campaign of 1956-62.

In 1969 began the fourth and even more sectarian civil war, during which more than 3,700 were killed, of whom again the vast majority were Irish. Republicans again got off lightly, losing only 400, although they killed almost 2,200: the IRA accounted for almost 650 civilian deaths.

The republicans' visceral hatred of Ulster Protestants was summed up by Martin Ferris, who said a propos the agonising deaths of 12 people at the Irish Collie Club dinner-dance at the La Mons Hotel in 1978: "I don't know what all the squealing was about. They were only Orangies anyway."

In trying to continue the war the Provisional IRA have now grudgingly brought to an end, the diehards of the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA rightly see themselves as in true apostolic succession to the men of 1916. Necrophilia rules OK.

Bertie Ahern genuinely wants peace, but his hero is Padraig Pearse (whose photograph is behind his desk) and he told RTE that the men of 1916 were his inspiration and that he respects everything they did. Thus he sends out hopelessly contradictory messages to violent men who believe in the literal truth of Pearse's promise that "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace".

The first three civil wars left us with hundreds of thousands of refugees in two confessional and mutually hostile states disfigured by poverty, bigotry, isolationism and philistinism. The fourth copper-fastened partition and exacerbated and institutionalised sectarianism.

From the murder of the unarmed Constable O'Brien by Sean Connolly outside Dublin Castle around midday on Easter Monday 1916, to that of Denis Donaldson, blasted to death in Donegal last Tuesday week to the delight of thousands of republicans, great evil has been done in the name of Irish freedom.

We should be ashamed of our President, our Taoiseach and every other person who praises the people of 1916 who took the first steps on this bloodthirsty, ruthless, terrorist trail.

The proclamation signed by Eamon Ceannt, Tom Clarke, James Connolly, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, James Plunkett and Padraig Pearse was full of high-flown rhetoric and lofty aspirations, but while the good these seven men did is interred with their bones, the evil that they did lives after them.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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