A Proclamation Too Far

The news that Kathleen O’Meara, a former Labour Party Senator, intends to seek her party’s nomination for the Irish Presidential election in October is not particularly remarkable in itself. After all, provided she can muster enough support to secure the nomination, it will be for the electorate to decide whether or not she is presidential material. What is remarkable is her declared desire to fashion a new proclamation to be issued on the centenary of the existing Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 24th April 1916.

O’Meara wants, she says, “…to build a project, a national engagement, a conversation which would take place in every community in Ireland, asking those questions and hearing from the people themselves about who they want us, Ireland, to be.” Admitting that the first proclamation was ambitious and inspiring she concedes that the country has not lived up to it. And so, her solution appears to be to come up with a better proclamation herself – after having a conversation, of course, with the rest of us.

Her ambition does not rest with coming up with a better proclamation. “Amidst the wreckage we are now in, is an opportunity to start again, to preserve the best of what we have created and build a new vision to take this nation forward. The theme of the next presidency, under my leadership, would be building the nation. This is why I am seeking this nomination,” she said. Well now! O’Meara is going to build the nation too, presumably by having a conversation with the rest of us.

Well, if Kathleen O’Meara wants to have a conversation she might start by explaining to us the failure of the Labour Party since 1918 to live up to the reasonable expectations of its founder, James Connolly, that it would be a socialist party and therefore, by his rational definition, a republican party. She might explain why the Labour Party failed to effectively challenge the brutal counter-revolution that began in earnest with the creation of the Free State, and why the Labour Party surrendered its constituency to de Valera’s Fianna Fail, once that party was founded.

O’Meara might enlighten us about the 45 years from 1932 (the year Fianna Fail assumed power) when the Labour Party was led first by William Norton and then Brendan Corish, both of them members of the secretive Catholic masonic order, the Knights of Columbanus. No surprise then that Corish, Labour Party leader from 1960-1977 stated that “I am an Irishman second; I am a Catholic first.…If the Hierarchy gives me any direction with regard to Catholic social teaching or Catholic moral teaching, I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of…the Church to which I belong.”

Another part of the conversation might deal with the Labour Party’s subservience to the two right-wing parties, Fine Gael (most often) and Fianna Fail (once), in always ditching the core values of any proper ‘labour’ party so as to achieve a temporary sojourn in coalition governments in which it played second fiddle to the larger conservative party, and dutifully acquiesced in the implementation of policies that  ran counter to socialist, or even social democratic, principles – time after time.

And it would be most interesting if Kathleen O’Meara explained why the Labour Party turned its back on the republic laid out in the 1916 Proclamation, even though that template for the republic is patently a socialist one, written, without doubt, by the founder of the Labour Party, James Connolly. She might then go on to explain why her proclamation is going to be a better one for the mass of citizens than the very instrument that gave them, and her, the right to be citizens and not subjects – the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. In doing that she will have to explain which line, which word of paragraph four of the Proclamation she has a problem with and would discard. And if she does not have a problem with it, then why is she proposing to write a new one, rather than taking the existing one out on the road with her to promote it, especially since most Irish citizens have some emotional attachment to the 1916 Proclamation, even if they haven’t read it or don’t fully understand its meaning, and many others, knowing what it means and promises, have a rational attachment to it?

A charitable view of Kathleen O’Meara’s dual-ambition to write a new proclamation and build the nation is that it is the product of a rushed decision to seek the nomination and an urgent need to have a ‘message’ or theme to sell to those who will select the Labour Party candidate. The uncharitable might suggest arrogance on her part, but since that might be unfair, let’s be charitable. It is likely, given the evidence of the Labour Party’s record in glossing over the party’s connection to James Connolly so as not to upset its middle-class membership and constituency, and its consistent failure to champion his beautiful vision of the ideal republic, that O’Meara knows only too well that the Irish Republic of the proclamation is too hard a thing a sell to the party, particularly given the party’s unfortunate history of unnecessary compromise with the right-wing anti-republican parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Given the list of other possible candidates for the presidential election it is hard to see anything better than an insincere genuflection in the direction of the 1916 Proclamation coming from any of them – with the possible exception of Michael D Higgins, so long hamstrung by his membership of a less than ideal party for promoting his personal and political values, and David Norris. The rest of them would rather bury the ideas of the Proclamation in a quick-lime grave and compel the mass of Irish citizens to continue on the road to perdition while their own political class maintains and strengthens the political hegemony that denies the possibility of constructing a real republic.

What is certain is that there is plenty more guff coming down the line during the presidential campaign. So swallow hard, gird your loins, let the waffle commence. We already know who will be the losers –  the people, and therefore the Republic, again.

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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