Monthly Archives: January 2016

RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ – slandering heroes while creating dross

‘Rebellion’ episode 4.

Well, it doesn’t get much lower than this.

Patrick Pearse, so as to ensure his own execution, is portrayed in this dreadful travesty of the 1916 Revolution as a man willing to guarantee the execution of his fellow signatories to the Proclamation to achieve that end.

The writer and executive producer of this farcical production, Colin Teevan, deserves to be the subject of public opprobrium and ostracism. This was the final indicator in a series of indicators of his intention to portray Pearse in the worst light possible – as a self-centred and evidently insane psychopath. He laid the groundwork for that in each of the scenes in which Pearse appeared from the first episode to tonight’s.

The truth is that Pearse was a complex man, but an honourable one. He was not driven by ego, but by a desire to enhance the lives of others – his considerable work in the area of education at great financial cost to himself bears that out. But the makers of this series have worked by the dictum of never letting the truth get in the way of a lucrative and politically slanted story.

Although Teevan bears much of the responsibility for what is in the first place the writer’s creation, there are others who also bear responsibility. A television series such as this involves an initial proposal, commissioning process, a set of script editors and researchers / historical advisers, producers and a production team, and a director and his team.

Jane Gogan, RTE’s Head of Drama, should be made to carry the can on behalf of the State broadcaster – but that won’t happen. She may well be promoted, RTE being RTE.

The producers Zodiak Media Ireland and Touchstone – in association with Element Pictures – all had oversight of this series, and of the script-writing process. That Element Pictures, with all of their experience – including working with Ken Loach on Jimmy’s Hall – should have put their name to this is a very black mark against their judgement, at least as far as I am concerned.

Somebody made the decision to employ a director from Finland, a man who could not be expected to either know or have much interest in the details of the revolution, including the characters of its principal players. And so his culpability is less than those who chose him for the job. But even so, his direction of this series has been markedly poor – creatively and technically.

Bad enough that it is a mess. It is like watching a car crash in slow motion when we might see that if the driver took corrective action the crash might be avoided. But no. Jane Gogan saw the series before it was cleared to be aired, and so did dozens of others, from high-ranking RTE personnel to producers and distributors. None of them cried ‘Halt!’.

Jane Gogan tried to insert a get-out-of-jail clause in the RTE press release announcing the production. She said – “Rebellion will tell personal stories which are intertwined with the political events of the time. However, it is a drama, not a history lesson, and our story is told from the perspectives of a group of fictional characters who live through the political events of 1916. Men, women and children from Belfast, Dublin and London – people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this extraordinary period.”

That won’t wash. ‘Rebellion’ is a drama that is played out around an event that occurred and which is heavily documented – the before, the during, and the after. It is designed to be RTE’s flagship production to mark the centenary of the event that occurred and it brings that history into play – although warping it in the process, and it brings key characters into play – although warping their input and their very characters in the process.

This is indeed a drama, but one which is based on the foundational narrative of independent Ireland, the key narrative in modern Irish history, and so Jane Gogan is being entirely disingenuous by trying to use that get-out-of-jail clause. It is not Love/Hate or Glenroe. It should not be wholly fiction, although it has turned out to be.

There were a number of decisions which were quite obviously consciously made. One was to adopt the revisionist take on 1916 which in its more extreme versions has been largely discredited. Another was to traduce the characters of real people. Yet another was to swamp the story of 1916 in the centenary year in a drama largely about the comings and goings of of establishment families and characters.

Those are political decisions and they were made by people who are embedded in the political class.

It is dreadful so far, and it is going to get even worse.

Mark my words again.

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RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

There are occasions in life when time that can never be retrieved is expended on something that is worthless. So far, three valuable hours of my life has been wasted on what RTE describes as a ‘commemorative drama’ to herald the beginning of the Centenary year of the 1916 revolution. Wasted, other than in terms of understanding the propaganda value to the political class even of badly constructed ‘historical’ costume drama – although describing ‘Rebellion’ as coherent drama is stretching it.

I quibbled after the first episode about the use of the term ‘Rebellion’ instead of the more accurate term ‘Revolution’, but it finally dawned on me with Episode 3 that what the writer, director and producers really mean is that this is about rebelliousness within the featured families, to which the 1916 Revolution is just a backdrop.

It would be a useful exercise after the series comes to an end to put a stopwatch to good use to work out the proportion of the five hours of screen-time that is devoted to an exceedingly poor and skewed telling of the story of the 1916 Revolution, and what proportion was used to tell the confusing, intertwined, and fairly inconsequential stories of domestic disagreement. There is of course a market for the latter, and for its setting in a sort of ‘upstairs-downstairs’ genre, but this series, more soap than serious drama, should not be its vehicle.

The 1916 Revolution – what was it really about, who made up the rank-and-file – essential to the creation of a revolution, what scale of operation was in play, what impediments to success existed? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

The leaders – who were they, what were they like, what did they believe in, was there a plan, had they some endgame, some vision? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

Where is Tom Clarke, or Seán MacDiarmada, or Joe Plunkett, three iconic signatories of the Proclamation, all present in the GPO – but not so far in this sorry series? No clue as to their characters, and precious little of James Connolly’s – relegated to a bit part, or of Patrick Pearse’s – other than his addiction to prayer, his deference to the clergy, his obsession with blood sacrifice, and a capacity for rhetorical exaggeration – as RTE would have us believe.

Where is the evidence of strong public support particularly in the impoverished inner city tenements, without which the revolution could not have lasted almost a week? We know it was there, we who have bothered to acquaint ourselves with the true narrative. Instead, that hoary old myth of widespread public disaffection with the revolution is hammered home at every opportunity.

Episode 3 begins with some bearded chap being put up against a wall and shot by firing squad. Who was he? We are none the wiser by the end of Episode 3. Why might it be important to know that he was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a journalist, an advanced-feminist, a pacifist who had played no part in the revolution itself? Because, perhaps, that it is true, and that he was murdered on the command of a crazed, out-of-control British army officer – an essential detail of the 1916 narrative – but not as the masses are supposed to know it since it would upset the entirely revisionist slant of this television disaster, a revisionism that is deliberately applied. And so it goes on.

Against fleeting scenes of chaos, created as we are led to believe by violent anti-democratic nutcases hell-bent on creating a Catholic state, we are encouraged to note the stabilising influence and the manners and the etiquette of both the Irish ‘Castle Catholics’ and their British masters in Dublin Castle. Fast-forward by 100 years and we see the same spurious choice being presented to the people by the political class – ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’, white or black, good or bad. No need to tease out what each side really stood for back then, or what each side stands for now.

There are those who ask ‘what matter – it is only TV drama?’. Propaganda is at its most effective when it is inserted subtly into the thought-processes of its target audience, and repeated through various forms from news and current affairs, commentary, and yes, entertainment. That works, as Joseph Goebbels knew all too well.

RTE claims an audience of 600,000 for its first episode of ‘Rebellion’. A large proportion of these will vote in the upcoming general election in which the main choice will be between, the political class tells us, stability or chaos. And that audience is also entering into the centenary year of the 1916 revolution with its competing interpretations, one of which champions the Redmondite parliamentarian Home Rule option over the other – the right of a people to self-determination and self-government, to be established through revolution where no other viable option was available. Presenting a partisan and therefore skewed version of the 1916 revolution primes at least a part of that audience to adopt a negative view of the legitimacy of that revolution and of its leaders, and that represents a highly political intervention in the popular history of 1916 on the part of the State broadcaster, RTE. It is not, presented in that way, just TV drama.

‘Rebellion’ looks like a cheap production, but cost as much as Ken Loach spent making The Wind That Shakes The Barley – an excellent production for the big screen, which grossed three times its production costs at the international box-office. Why wasn’t Loach asked to make this series? It is not as if he lacks experience. But then, he could be relied on to create a credible narrative around the main story of revolution and to consign the less consequential sub-plots to their rightful places. That would not suit the political class, including its RTE functionaries.

The 1916 revolution is an intriguing, exciting and rich human story, as rich in dramatic potential – characters, incidents and plot-lines – as was the highly successful and accurate 1913 Lockout TV drama ‘Strumpet City’, produced by RTE in 1980. ‘Rebellion’ on the other hand is dross. Some people, their names figuring prominently on the credits of each episode, opted for dross, and each received a considerable reward tor taking that option.

The foundational narrative of modern Ireland – in which the 1916 Revolution is the inciting incident – deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. That is entirely absent in this spurious version.

There are times when we remark that ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The series writer did, with input from others.

And there are times when we remark that ‘it couldn’t get any worse’. Oh yes it can, and it will.

Of that I am certain.


Moore Street and the new battle for the Republic

Imagine, it is 1976, early January in the Bi-Centenary year of the American revolution. The Governor of Massachusetts picks up the telephone and barks an order, “Send them in”. Out on Boston’s Freedom Trail, tourists watch in amazement as two giant bulldozers, engines roaring, move in and begin leveling Paul Revere’s house.

Imagine, it is 31st October 1990, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Britain. At Westminster, the Minister of Defence stands at the Dispatch Box and announces to parliament that all surviving Battle of Britain Spitfire fighter planes have been decommissioned and sold for scrap. He looks around the hall and mutters something about ‘reconciliation’.

Imagine, it is January 5th 2016, the Centenary year of the 1916 Revolution in Dublin. Three trucks and a crew of builder’s labourers arrive outside the 1916 National Monument in Moore Street. The labourers unload scaffolding and shuttering and start into the job of demolishing an adjoining building and smashing the interiors of the four houses of the National Monument – on government’s instruction.

The first two works of the imagination could simply not happen. They would have been unthinkable. The third work of the imagination actually did happen until citizens  stepped in and occupied the buildings.

The naked contempt shown by the Fine Gael-Labour government for our revolution, for the revolutionaries, for the Republic, for our history, and for the people, is almost beyond comprehension.

But not quite.

The truth is that those two parties, and the other in the counter-revolutionary triumvirate – Fianna Fáil – have shown the same contempt for each of these things since 1922. At no stage did any government made up of any of these parties, individually or collectively, put one stone upon another in the process of building the structure of a true republic. On the contrary, each of those parties determinedly pursued a policy of destroying the concept of the republic, instead pursuing the goal of creating a class-ridden society that is the very antithesis of a republic, ruled by a political class hell-bent on power and wealth for the few at the expence of the many, and imbued with corruption throughout.

For Fine Gael, from its early incarnation as Cumann n nGaedheal and through its fascist Blueshirt phase, there has always resided a deep hatred of the values of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 and of its republican defenders. It has always been the party of big business, bankers, professionals and ranchers whose kleptocracy would be impossible in a true republic.

For Labour, there has increasingly been, since the 1918 elections, an abandonment of the principles set down by its principle founder, James Connolly, and its surrender to the ‘inevitability’ of permanent Right-wing control. Instead of attending to its duty as the representative party for workers and the poor, the Labour Party has diligently pursued its own upward social mobility to the point where it now represents the interests of the middle class, professionals and the wealthy, from whom it draws its parliamentary party members.

For Fianna Fáil, its expressed attachment to 1916 and the War of Independence and the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War is hollow and without merit, and its claim to be The Republican Party is entirely spurious. Its founder, Eamon de Valera, was never a republican but a Catholic nationalist. The party facilitated the establishment of an entrenched theocratic plutocracy instead of a republic. Alternating with Fine Gael it oversaw brutal mistreatment of women, children, men, the poor and those perceived by them as social ‘deviants’.

The 1916 GPO Battlefield Site, of which the Moore Street National Monument is but a part, has existed at the mercy of these three parties – and from that quarter there is no mercy. It includes the laneways and remaining ancillary buildings abutting the full terrace of buildings on the south side of the street. It is the area to which the GPO garrison escaped from the fire-ravaged and collapsing GPO.

In every one of those buildings that made up the terrace, members of the GPO garrison were present, and the final council of war by five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic took place in No 16 where the decision to surrender so as to save civilian lives and the lives of the rank-and-file revolutionaries was made. This was to be the last time these leaders would be together and from where they would be taken to be court-martialed and executed.

According to the National Museum of Ireland the GPO Battlefield Site is ‘the most important historic site in modern Irish history’. The Imperial War Museum in London describes it as ‘beyond price’, so important do their experts see it. And People Before Profit Dublin City Councillor John Lyons got it right when he described it as the “last remaining urban battlefield site in Europe, if not the world”.

Imagine having that heritage asset in the heart of a modern city, and deciding to destroy it so as to build yet another surplus shopping centre in a city already over-supplied with shopping centres! The tourism potential alone would would make the site’s preservation an imperative, but of far more value is its availability to present and future generations of those who live here as a solid manifestation of the 1916 revolution from which sprang our freedom – albeit a freedom usurped by the three counter-revolutionary parties ever since. But we can change that and reclaim our destiny as those 1916 visionaries saw it – a Republic of equals founded on Enlightenment principles of freedom, equality and solidarity.

Intent on thwarting that, the government, three days after a now quite evident entirely insincere flag-raising ceremony at Dublin Castle to initiate the 1916-2016 Centenary, sent in the demolition crew to begin the process of obliterating the Battlefield site with the exception of the four buildings, Numbers 14-17 Moore Street which form the National Monument, but which would be so altered in the proposed ‘restoration’ as to be virtually meaningless. While raising the flag of the Republic, the Fine Gael prime minister Enda Kenny already knew of his next step, to pull down the most important environmental fabric of the Republic.

What a deception! What a cynical two-fingers to the notion of commemorating the seminal moment in modern Irish history!

But Ireland’s Alamo had its defenders, and they sprang into action. The 1916 Relatives had initiated High Court proceedings against the government, due to be heard a week later. In the meantime the buildings were occupied by a band of citizens, some republican, some socialist, and some community activists. They held the fort, supported by increasing numbers of people out on the street. The court sat, and put a stay on any works injurious to the buildings.

Our Alamo was saved, for the moment.

Court hearings will reconvene on February 2nd, by which time we will be in General Election mode. The behaviour of this government with respect to the Battlefield Site must be made an issue, and with it the general incompetence around the Centenary commemorations and the quite apparent disrespect shown to the 1916 revolutionaries by both Fine Gael and Labour. Those parties fear and hate 1916 and the threat it poses through the expressed values in the Proclamation to their vile neoliberal ideology.

100 years later, it is time for us to put the Republic back in place, and back to work for the good of all – a Republic owned by the people and resolved ‘to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts’.

That is the best act of commemoration we could mount, one that those courageous and generous revolutionaries would appreciate.

It may be very late coming, but it will be well worth it.

The Irish Republic, and nothing less!

 


The deliberate disaster that is RTE’s ‘Rebellion’

The flagship TV programme offered by State broadcaster RTE to mark the centenary of the 1916 revolution is a five-part series, ‘Rebellion’. Better that RTE had decided to do nothing. Here are my reactions to the first two episodes, formed immediately after each episode was broadcast.

January 3rd – Episode 1

Yes, I am a quibbler, but only when I think something is important enough to warrant quibbling about. A significant series by the State broadcaster about the seminal event of modern Irish history in its centenary is important enough since for many Irish people it may provide the main information they have, in a country which teaches modern Irish history so poorly (not by accident!).

First – The title of the series. Words are very important since they carry meaning. 1916 was not about a simple ‘rebellion’ – a refusal of obedience or order – but was about much more; a profound change in government, constitution and social order which should be described as ‘revolution’. Using terms such as ‘rebellion’, ‘rising’ or ‘insurrection’ downplays the event, which is why the British used those terms, and later, the counter-revolutionaries who took power. The series should be called ‘Revolution’, but maybe that is a bridge too far for the reactionaries in RTE.

Second – whoever cast Camille O’Sullivan as Constance Markeivicz was surely taking the piss. Leaving aside her talent as an actress, casting her in that part is like casting Oliver Hardy as Stan Laurel. Appearances do matter, particularly in an historical costume drama. Markievicz’s physical appearance bears no resemblance whatever to O’Sullivan’s.

Third – whoever wrote Markievicz’s introductory scene, and the lines and actions she was given, was taking the double-piss. Markievicz was anything but unhinged, but that is what various revisionists – Eoghan Harris, Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Ann Matthews and others would have us believe. That scene traduced the character of Markievicz and is simply unbelievable to anyone who has researched Markievicz, which is what the scriptwriter should have done.

Apart from that, for the most part the set-up, which is what the first episode of a drama series is, was reasonably good. Of course there is another quibble – Dublin in 1916 had the worst slums in Europe, and why the director didn’t make sure to show it as a filthy tip in those slum areas, with emaciated adults and children, is beyond me. Given the social conditions the poor find themselves living in today it is not as if it would be difficult to find both emaciated adults and children as a backdrop. Why is that important? Because it gives context to the revolution in terms of extreme social conditions. It gives the revolution meaning and legitimacy.

Last quibble. I know costume drama series are expensive to make, but this is RTE’s big contribution to the centenary year in terms of drama. I understand that there have to be ad-breaks, and I can live with that. But why the hell does a series about such an important part of our history have to be commercialised to the extent that it is sponsored by Kia, to promote their Sportage model? It seems unnecessarily crass to me. It should be sponsored by us, through the licence we pay, and the excessive taxes that the poorer among us pay which bolster the wealth of the political class.

But then I am a quibbler.

When it is important to be.

January 10th – Episode 2

More than a quibble this week about RTE’s revisionist offering for the 1916 Centenary.

Did the writer, Colin Teevan, set out to write ahistorical shite, or was it accidental ignorance? Virtually nothing in this second episode bears any resemblance to the facts of the opening day of the revolution, nor do the characterisations of key individuals such as Pearse, Connolly or Kathleen Lynn have any grounding in known and indisputable fact.

Connolly is virtually mute, a mere spectator, despite the fact that he commanded the revolutionary forces in Dublin and was never in his life a passive bystander.

Pearse was a Catholic, but here he is portrayed as an altar-muncher, hurling himself to his knees at any opportunity. Nowhere is there a hint of his intellect, of his advanced ideas on education which was what his school was about. Instead it is a training ground for young ‘rebels’, with a bomb factory in the basement. Pearse was anything but one-dimensional, but that is how he is portrayed.

Lynn, a medical doctor, was the one who attended Sean Connolly, the Commandant of the City Hall Garrison, on the roof of City Hall when he was shot within a couple of minutes of the buildings occupation by the Citizen Army. He died virtually instantly. He certainly didn’t have any conversations before doing so.

The revolution was, according to Teevan, a Catholic enterprise, complete with the Archbishop’s representative in the GPO doling out absolutions and leading rosaries. Let’s lump Kathleen Lynn in there, and Constance Markievicz, both Protestants – and they were not by a long shot the only Protestant revolutionaries. Let’s forget about the explicitly anti-sectarian ideal contained in the Proclamation, or the guarantee of religious liberty.

Teevan has a Volunteer and a Cumann na mBan woman roaming the streets shooting at looters. That is a lie, plain and simple.

There has been no attempt so far to explain the motivations behind the revolution apart from the need to break the link with the coloniser. Without those motivations being referred to the revolution is just an amateurish enterprise inspired by nationalistic grievance. A brief conversation between Connolly and Tom Clarke (absent) or Sean MacDiarmada (absent), or even Pearse, who is at least present if only as a caricature, would in a couple of minutes of dramatic screen-time inform the audience as to why those with the most to lose – workers and their families and the lower middle class – would be prepared to wager their lives for a revolution, for what was at stake.

The Dublin Castle man fucks a young Irish woman and makes her pregnant, and she loves him – what a crass metaphor to use for the relationship between the British administration in the Castle and the colonised nation.

Does any of this matter? Did the works of the various revisionist historians, most of them politically motivated, matter? Of course, since skewing the narrative to fit a political imperative as the political class sees it creates an ahistorical account, the story of what didn’t happen, or of the motivations that weren’t present, or of the character defects that weren’t there. Portray the revolutionaries as blood-lust Catholics engaged in a crazy enterprise, and that is all the public need to know. Portray the Castle Catholics as refined Downton Abbey types, show the children of the tenements as chubby-faced shoe-wearing healthy kids, and who in their right mind would want a revolution?

Move on to next item on the agenda, in this great little country in which to do business.

This is dreadful stuff, which will be watched by several hundred thousand citizens, many of whom, due to our poxy education system with history relegated to the margins, know so little about the true story as to be easily influenced into believing this shite.

So, I am past quibbling. I am now in the business of ousting this rotten political class which manipulates public opinion in order to maintain power.

And have no doubt about it – this series from RTE is not about representing 1916 fairly, it is about manipulating public opinion.

Eoghan Harris lives on in RTE.


Take It Down from the Mast

There is, to my mind, something very obscene about the State organising a flag-hoisting ceremony at Dublin Castle, supposedly to mark the beginning of the 1916 Centenary year, while the same State routinely thrashes the public services and the public works that so many citizens depend on – often for their lives.

This charade is nothing but a necessary PR exercise mounted on the instructions of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour, which have been forced by the weight of public opinion to appear to be engaged with honouring the seminal moment in modern Irish history – the revolution of 1916.

How could two avowedly counter-revolutionary parties, with another counter-revolutionary party, Fianna Fáil, waiting in the wings, credibly honour those whose vision of a real republic has been deliberately thrashed by those same parties?

It is impossible. More than that, it is a disgusting display of contempt by self-serving hypocrites for the ideals and the idealism of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary period, and contempt for the people those ideals were supposed to serve – the citizens of Ireland and those who have come to live among us and are part of us.

Those three parties, representative of a political class slaked with lust for power and wealth, have ensured that a third of our people endure dreadful conditions of need and insecurity and unhappiness – from visible poverty including homelessness and literal starvation of children, to unemployment, emigration, chronic illness both mental and physical, early death caused by rampant suicide and undiagnosed or untreated illness, and the list of dreadful conditions goes on and on. But no tangible evidence of concern from the political class.

Today, we see thousands of our people wading through rivers to reach their water-logged homes in an attempt to rescue something of value to themselves. They will continue to wade, through false promises made in the coming election. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

Meanwhile, those three parties have ensured that the pockets of the wealthy – the political class – are stuffed with our hard-got money. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

As a 1916 relative I am seemingly entitled, in a way that other citizens are not, to be present at State ceremonies to do with 1916.

I reject that spurious entitlement. I refuse to participate in these charades. I refuse to give cover to those who hate the very idea of the Republic while attempting to secure public approval for their vile project of continuing to administer a grossly unequal and unjust State while pretending to draw on history for their existence.

As a 1916 relative I disown the spurious ‘Republic’ of Ireland. I am a citizen of the Irish Republic – I have been since my first conscious political thought as a child and will be to my last breath.

Today I am filled with disgust.

Tomorrow I will be filled with hope.

Revolution begins in the imagination.

Now we have to imagine.

Imagine the Irish Republic.

Then work now to put it in place.

For the happiness and prosperity of all our people.


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