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18 January 2016

Arlene Foster respects democracy, unlike the leaders of 1916

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

I'm all for generous gestures to neighbours, but it's preposterous to think Arlene Foster should in any way honour the 1916 Irish rising/rebellion/revolution/insurrection, or whatever you like to call it.

For all that Enda Kenny claims to be "disappointed that she has said she would not attend the centenary commemorations," he knows very well why she couldn't do it even if she wanted to.

But he's got an election coming up in the next couple of months, and Sinn Fein are milking 1916 for all its worth by accusing their electoral opponents of an absence of patriotism and pride in Ireland's history, so he had to register a mild protest.

Mrs Foster gave her reason straightforwardly: "Easter 1916 was a very violent attack on the state… an attack against democracy at that time."

Anyone who knew her, she added, knew: "I believe in democracy and… the democratic will, and therefore I just do not believe that it would be right for me to go and commemorate such an occasion."

Naturally, Sinn Fein, who rewrite history at every opportunity and are hard at work on 1916, got to work on this straight away.

Declan Kearney, Sinn Fein's national chairman, explained that the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, was "the epitome of democracy". Just a reminder, Mr Kearney, Ireland was a democracy in 1916. It had 103 seats in Westminster, county councils, city councils, a secret ballot, free speech, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a public service open to all. Yet seven men took it upon themselves to start an armed rebellion.

None of them had ever stood for parliament, though James Connolly twice tried and failed to be elected to Dublin City Council as a Marxist revolutionary.

I'm shortly publishing a book about them, and a very interesting collection of people they were, but they had no more right to start a revolution than any seven blokes down the pub.

They constituted the seven-strong Military Council of the 11-man Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which, though a secret, illegal revolutionary organisation, had a constitution declaring that it would never start a revolution without public support.

In other words, they were a clique within a clique, which was why they didn't even tell their colleagues on the Supreme Council - to which in theory, they reported - what they were up to. Their leader and inspiration, former Fenian Tom Clarke, without whom the revolution would never have happened, utterly despised democracy.

I have reservations about the Ulster Covenant, but there's no getting away from the fact that it was signed by almost half a million people, and no one killed anyone.

The Proclamation, which demanded the allegiance of the Irish people, was signed by seven.

Just to give you one small example of how Sinn Fein rewrites history, I learn from Republican News that around the time that Mr Kearney was discussing the "democratic" proclamation, his colleague Martin Ferris TD, who spent 10 years in jail for gunrunning, was speaking "at the beach at Banna Strand in County Kerry, where Roger Casement came ashore on Good Friday 1916 with the aim of landing arms to support the planned Easter Rising".

Through Casement, the conspirators had sought German help at a time when tens of thousands of their own countrymen were fighting in the trenches.

But by that weekend, Casement was so disillusioned with the Germans, as well as the inadequate help they were providing, that he had travelled from Berlin in a submarine to Ireland to try to prevent the rebellion.

Although a lot of people in the Republic are feeling rather ambivalent about 1916, the Catholic, nationalist tribe from which I come is very sensitive to perceived slights, and while they've nothing against Arlene, there's a faint feeling that they've been snubbed.

So it's good she offered to go to the Republic to attend a conference to discuss Easter 1916. Honest unionists and nationalists can only gain from that kind of debate.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards