Sinn Fein trapped in a time warp
Government plans to commemorate 1916 are inclusive. Sinn Fein plans a retro hate-fest, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
As we rev up for the Battle of the 1916 Commemoration, those who want Ireland released from its ideological straitjacket can be happy that our country has come a long way since 1966. Then it obediently celebrated the violence that had brought us such horrors as civil war and partition and was about to unleash three decades of bloodshed upon Northern Ireland.
Then there was no open challenge to the received view that we must slavishly continue to follow - or at least pretend to follow - the example and instructions of seven dead revolutionaries who had represented almost no one but themselves. The victims of the Easter Rising recognised then were the executed 16: hundreds of soldiers, police, bystanders and women and children from the Dublin slums were overlooked - being merely collateral damage of a kind we've always been good at forgetting.
We have songs about the dead leaders of the United Irishmen, but where were the laments for the 30,000 or so caught up in the counter-productive rebellion of 1798, who died often excruciating deaths by gun, pike and fire? Not in the ballad that made Tom Clarke cry ('And 'twas early one morning when the sun was still low,/They murdered our hero brave General Munro'). Not in any of those about Sean Mac Diarmada's hero ("Bold Robert Emmet, the darling of Ireland,/Bold Robert Emmet will die with a smile"). Nor in Patrick Pearse's graveside eulogy to O'Donovan Rossa, the alcoholic patron saint of dynamitards ("splendid and holy causes are served by men who are themselves splendid and holy"), who planned the indiscriminate bombing of English civilians to turn the population against the Irish in their midst.
Most of us are more cosmopolitan now, more open-minded about other political points of view and welcome honest debate about our past. It's a sign of how far we've come that last week The Herald editorial could suggest - without it being a big deal - that maybe "we should pause and consider if celebrating violence is a good thing, even if it was the genesis of the State?"
Ex-Taoiseach John Bruton can say publicly without being shrieked down that the Rising was wrong, wrecked a great constitutional tradition and poisoned the island with violence.
It's encouraging that Heather Humphreys, the minister in charge of the commemoration, can say we value and embrace our differences, that as a Protestant Ulsterwoman - albeit a republican - she understands the need "to respect the differing traditions on this island" and that "we must widen our perspectives". How can decent people not cheer that the Government urges us to honour all those who were killed: "All lives are equal in value and 2016 must be a year in which the narratives of everyone on the island of Ireland are included and heard"?
Sadly, we still have among us republican fanatics who never read or listen to a new idea lest it make them think. In his Rossa peroration, Patrick Pearse exulted that "the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us our Fenian dead." When I look at the Sinn Fein leadership, as it regurgitates the same tired old myths, I remember the whisper from a senior Irish diplomat after a speech of whingeing drivel from a Sinn Fein conference delegate: "The dead, the dead, the dead, they have left us our Fenian fools."
Sure enough, Sinn Fein is now offering us a retro commemoration, straight out of the bad old days. Its video of treats in store of course focuses on the seven signatories of the Proclamation. (I'm glad they've now got round to spelling Thomas MacDonagh's name correctly.) Pearse is to the fore: someone in a green uniform will be delivering a midday reading of the Proclamation on O'Connell Street "every day for 33 weeks"!
If the thought of 231 days of that doesn't get you excited, how about the Revolution 1916 exhibition, which has a "nationalist narrative" and will feature "the GPO door handle"? I can hardly contain myself.
In case you're wondering what's meant by "nationalist narrative", here's a clue. Gerry Adams wants us to be inclusive, but in a Provo way. That means that we must honour the legacy of 1916 by acknowledging that the true heirs of the signatories were the Provos and pay tribute to their martyrs: to show gender balance, he's offering us the bloodthirsty Maire Drumm as well as Bobby Sands.
Sinn Fein won't be highlighting such words of Pearse as "We have the strength and peace of mind of those who never compromise." They dismiss as dissidents those who still walk the Pearsean talk.
The unpalatable truth is that anyone who endorses all republican violence up to 1998 hands on the baton to the dissidents. That's one reason why most Irish citizens will have a bit of a rethink in 2016.