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!