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2 November 2015

Easter Rising rebels were idealists, but Sinn Fein are foul opportunists

Gerry Adams' party is cynically using 1916 to legitimise the Troubles

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams

I don't believe there was a moral justification for the Easter Rising (as nationalists tend to call it) or the 1916 rebellion (as unionists prefer), but I accept that most nationalists think otherwise and there's no likelihood that they'll be otherwise convinced any time soon.

It is inevitable that the Irish government is commemorating key events in the foundation of the state, and I think they are making a genuine attempt to do so in a way that does not insult unionists.

When I was growing up in Ireland, the only violent deaths during that period that seemed to matter were the executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising.

When in 1966 the Republic celebrated the 50th anniversary, quite apart from the shameful ignoring of the appalling casualties of the First World War, and the triumphalist attitude to the killing of police and soldiers during the insurrection, there was no acknowledgement of the civilian casualties.

We have come a long way since then, with, for instance, joint commemorations with the British of the war dead.

I'd like to think unionists would give the Irish government credit for its emphasis on commemorating rather than celebrating and on acknowledging all those who died.

The Sinn Fein leadership is running competitive celebratory events and Gerry Adams is taking every opportunity he gets to denounce the Irish government. "At every stage they have sought to sanitise and de-politicise the events of Easter Week," he says.

I should think he'll be apoplectic when he sees the exhibition that is to be held in the spring in the General Post Office.

Not only will it be commemorating all the dead, but it will be running filmed interviews with a wide range of historians who include people like Kevin Myers and me who are regarded as heretics by republican dinosaurs like the Sinn Fein leadership because we challenge the simple-minded narrative they cling to.

What is sickening is how they are cynically using the 1916 rebels to legitimise the terrible things the IRA did in the Troubles.

Hence the constant reiteration that the Hunger Strikers must be put on a par with the executed rebels. Last week, it was the turn of one of the executed, Con Colbert, to be exploited for Sinn Fein electoral purposes.

Colbert was a pious young zealot who spent every moment of his spare time drilling and training boys to fight for Ireland.

In St Enda's, the school run by Patrick Pearse, without Pearse's knowledge Colbert recruited pupils into the secret oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood and taught them how to make explosives.

Last week, Adams unveiled a memorial plaque to Colbert in the Limerick village where he was born in what seems to have been an event organised mainly by Sinn Fein and members of the Colbert family.

He made a selective and dull speech about Colbert's brief career, culminating in an explanation of how only Sinn Fein could achieve the united Ireland and real republic for which he had died.

Councillor Seamus Browne, a Sinn Fein candidate in the general election, had his moment in the spotlight too, telling the audience that Sinn Fein is firmly wedded to the politics espoused in the proclamation and the ideals that inspired Con Colbert.

"That means ending the marginalisation of rural Ireland, tackling the housing crisis, and protecting our vital public services. However, realising that vision means making very different choices to ones made by government over the past four-and-a-half years," he added.

In other words, Con Colbert and the Irish proclamation were anti-austerity and would have wanted Gerry Adams as Taoiseach.

Whatever my reservations about those who plunged Ireland into revolution, many of them were selfless idealists and they had high standards of behaviour to which on the whole they lived up during Easter Week.

Towards the end of the proclamation, having put the cause of the Irish Republic under God's protection, it went on: "we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine."

What a pity that the IRA leadership didn't read that bit.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards