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5 October 2015

Sectarian statues will provoke only bigotry and hatred

Jeremy Corbyn

In the same week, we have heard that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, wants a plaque to Constance Markievicz in Islington North, and that the SNP's Kenny MacAskill, the former Scottish Justice Secretary, backs the erection of a memorial in Edinburgh to James Connolly.

Corbyn is easier to understand. He's always been of the deepest green on Ireland, even if he's profoundly ignorant.

When he made his announcement to the Labour women's conference, he was making feminist gestures, owing to having had a lot of criticism over his failure to appoint any women to senior Cabinet jobs.

"Our important footnote in history is that the first woman elected to Parliament came from Islington North (his constituency)," he explained.

Markievicz had been in Holloway jail in December 1918 when she stood as a Dublin Sinn Fein candidate.

"I have been discussing this with women colleagues on Islington council, and when we rebuild our library next to the prison, we are going to have a plaque, a memorial, up so that all the generations can understand the contribution that Connie Markievicz and so many others made," Corbyn said.

I should think Markievicz would be peeved at his familiarity. Being rather grand, she liked to be called Madame, or Countess, by the populace, even though she knew even before she married him that her Polish husband Casimir's claim to be a count was bogus.

An adventurous, flamboyant, romantic attention-seeker, this daughter of a prosperous Anglo-Irish family sought out and dedicated herself to radical causes, trained boys to drill and march and shoot, and in the 1916 Rising almost certainly murdered an unarmed policeman and crowed about it.

A senior figure in the tiny Irish Citizen Army, the armed militia of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, she was the most intimate friend of its leader, James Connolly, a Marxist from Edinburgh and an internationalist whose Scots socialist comrades were shocked that he ended up in a parochial, nationalist rebellion.

"You died for your country, my hero-love," Markievicz wrote in his honour.

I don't know how much thinking McAskill did prior to tabling a motion in the Scots parliament calling for Connolly's official recognition. "More should be done to record where he was born and initially grew up," he said.

"A statue should be considered. There has obviously been some reluctance, but next year is the centenary of the Easter Rising. Connolly is a man of huge significance - born in the capital - who believed in making the world better."

Connolly, and indeed Markievicz, undoubtedly wanted to make the world better. Unfortunately, as so many ideologues do, they made it worse.

What is particularly odd about McAskill's contribution is that he is the man who brought in the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

As a lawyer who has represented fans charged under it, put it: "It really beggars belief that the man who introduced laws that would have someone arrested for singing about James Connolly wants to see a statue built in his honour."

I've no problem with informative plaques marking the association of a place with a significant person. But Corbyn (below), the Sinn Fein supporter, and the James Connolly Society, who have been seeking crowdfunding for a statue, have republican agendas, which they will wish to reflect in the choice of words on plaques and plinths.

The Irish government is desperate to make the centenary commemorations of 1916 as inclusive as possible, while Sinn Fein and even more hardline groups are intent on inflaming nationalist opinion and upsetting unionists.

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain - a Scotsman who was once on the staff of An Phoblacht/Republican News and is a long-time anti-Rangers warrior skilful in the dark art of winding up the Prods - is one of those who uses the Easter Rising as a weapon.

In a blog in which he hailed it as utterly justified, he sneered at what he calls "the fleg tribe". "Like the poor whites in the Deep South", he wrote, "they will need help to embrace the new reality... of equality and mutual respect."

It is people like him, who can't see a crack without seeking to prise it open, who will be the beneficiaries of the ignorance and eejitry of Corbyn and McAskill.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards