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Martin McGuinness & dispelling sectarianism

On my way back to Dublin with a parcel of other 13-year-olds from a three-month stay in the Gweedore Gaeltacht in 1961, I paid my first visit to Derry to switch from bus to train.

Even for a boy who was well used to seeing the Dublin tenements, Derry was like something out of the distant past. No sign of development or modernisation but all the signs of poverty. I particularly remember a street of single-storey cottages of the sort featured in old photos of 19th century evictions, maybe mud-walled. Hovels. Ragged children, and ragged mothers. Another country.

My parents had told me about that other country. During the war, freshly married and with no ready employment in Dublin, my father had got work with Thompson & Nutt’s motor works in Garvagh in Derry, reconditioning truck bodies at a time when no new trucks were available because of the war effort.

Son of a 1916 Volunteer, and a committed republican, he worked with a mainly Protestant work-force without any problems at all. When he was the subject of a serious external death-threat, it was his Protestant workmates who sent out the message that not a hair on his head was to be touched, and that was the end of the matter.

He stayed in touch with Thompson, Nutt and his workmates for decades after, and he and my mother made regular trips north of the border from then on.

So, they made sure their children knew from an early age what the set-up in the Protestant State for a Protestant people was, and the conditions I saw in Derry in 1961 confirmed that there was no place at the table for Catholic nationalists.

The six-counties didn’t have to be a sectarian state. That was a choice, and it wasn’t made just by six-county unionists, it was a choice made in Westminster, and sustained by Westminster. And it was a choice made in Dublin and sustained through studied neglect by Dublin. Better a hegemonic conservative Catholic 26-county state than a 32-county state in which Protestants would have to be accommodated.

When the civil rights marchers were assaulted by the RUC and Loyalists at Burntollet Bridge in 1969, no surprise. When Sammy Devenney died as a result of a gratuitous beating from the RUC in Derry, no surprise. When Bombay Street in Belfast was burned to the ground in the same year by a Loyalist mob with RUC support and we had a refugee family living with us in a normal three-bedroomed house in Dublin, no surprise. When Harold Wilson sent in the British Army and it turned on the nationalist community, no surprise. When that army slaughtered civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry, no surprise. When internment of nationalists, and torture, were carried out, no surprise. When the RUC, British Army and Loyalists colluded in the murders of nationalists, no surprise. When the Orange Order repeatedly paraded their bigotry on the Garvaghy Road and Drumcree Church year after year, without state sanction, no surprise.

When Martin McGuinness and others stood up to that repression having, of necessity, armed themselves to defend their people, no surprise.

And there is no surprise either in the brutality that ensued. That is war, wherever it occurs, and civilians always bear the brunt of it. The real crime is that it lasted for decades. That was the politics of failure. Or, more exactly, it was the politics of imperialist obduracy. Westminster was going to beat Irish nationalists back come hell or high water. Hell came and went, and high water too, but the republican movement was still standing its ground, still undefeated but without the possibility of fighting the sort of decisive battle that would drive the obdurate imperialists from Ireland. And even if that had been possible, full-blown civil war would have ensued, and the imperialists would have stoked that. They have form on this island in doing that.

Stalemate is not a solution. Achieving your ultimate ambition is a solution. For republicans, that ambition is the establishment of a true 32-county republic.

Every year republicans go to Bodenstown, to the grave of Wolfe Tone, one of the principal architects of Irish republicanism. They don’t go as a single body of republicans, but in separate groups because they have fallen out with one another. Internecine disputes become more important than realising the republican ambition.

Wolfe Tone, and the other Protestant men who founded the republican movement in Ireland, left a fundamental tenet of republicanism for us to follow. The constitution of the Society of United Irishmen stated in its first article its intent as “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”.

There is no other way to create a true republic encompassing all of this island than by following that tenet. No republican could over-ride the will of unionists by imposing a republic on them without their assent. No republican could even contemplate expelling the unionist population from the land so as to create a republic. If they did either of those things it would be self-defeating. It would not be a republic. It is therefore necessary to persuade unionists that they have nothing to fear from the sort of republic that their Protestant ancestors laid out in Belfast in 1791, but that they have much to gain from it.

That is the project that Martin McGuinness and the rest of the willing republican leadership and rank-and-file set out on over two decades ago. Others had and have a right to a different opinion and a right to resile from that decision. Many of us have had to swallow very hard when symbolic gestures were made by republicans that went against the grain, other than as part of an overall strategy of moving towards a ‘brotherhood of affection’, or to put it the other way a ’parity of esteem’.

As Sinn Féin engaged with the political process, the party was rightly criticised for not being sufficiently ‘of the left’. Republicanism is intrinsically of the left. James Connolly stated that to be republican was to be socialist and to be socialist was to be republican, that the two are the same in terms of the social, economic and political outcomes that they should produce if they are true to their doctrines.

But political progress depends on public support, and the fact is that on either side of the border the population is conservative in outlook and cautious in the face of change, the result of a century and more of exposure to right-wing, anti-republican, anti-socialist propaganda from church, state and press. Many of the social and economic problems that people on both sides of the border endure would be solved by the left, but still the left struggles for support.

One reason for that is the presence of often bitter internecine disputes across the left, between socialists and republicans but also within socialism and republicanism. The right unites to hold power, the left fractures all over the place to avoid power. Another crucial reason is the absence of any form of progressive national media, not just now but since the imposition of partition and the creation of two sectarian states. Solving the latter is probably far easier than solving the former.

Has progress been made north of the border over the past two decades? Have attitudes changed? Has sectarianism diminished? Have the two sides moved towards better accommodating one another? Has Brexit made a difference to the question of the border? Could Scottish independence play a part in moving the border question on? Would the English ditch the six-counties to concentrate on their own post-Brexit situation? Has the 26-county political class been forced to engage with the border question in a realistic way for the first time since 1922? Is it within the left’s capability, republican and socialist, to make significant political advances over the next five or ten years on either side of the ridiculous border? Is it more possible than it was twenty years ago to imagine that republican vision that Tone and the other Protestant republicans had, coming into being?

For me, the answer to each of these questions is yes.

Are we significantly closer to “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”?

Yes.

His detractors will not acknowledge Martin McGuinness’s contribution to that progress, but I do.

That snapshot I saw of a filthy sectarian six-county state in 1961, and the filthy sectarian 26-county state that I was going home to, are memories.

It is a very different country.

And I am grateful for that.

Work done, Martin McGuinness. Rest in peace.

Work to do, for the rest of us.

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Buck US-EU trends – let’s shift Ireland leftwards

Driving home on Thursday, crossing that ridiculous border that divides this small island into two failed states, with my sterling in one pocket and my euros in another (another ridiculous division), it flashed into my mind that I had been in a concentration camp for 48 hours, but not the sort that we associate with that term.

I was very fortunate to have been included in a political school sponsored by Unite the Union with full participation by those other great and enlightened Right2Water unions, Mandate and the CWU, and superbly organised and delivered by Trademark Belfast.

Crammed into 48 hours was a series of presentations by specialists, mainly academics, on fundamentally important issues arising from neoliberalism that confront the people of this small island and the wider world. These were: Free Trade and Globalisation; the Future of Work; Sustainable Economies; Media, Hegemony and Ideology; A Broken Economy; Debt or Democracy – Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice; Commercialistation of the Public Sphere.

Each presentation was followed by full participation by the inmates of the concentration camp in teasing out these issues and possible solutions. That is where concentration was required, and no escaping it since we were voluntary prisoners on a small island in Lough Erne.

‘We’ included leaders and officials of those Right2Change trade unions, Independent for Change TDs and councillors, community activists, Trademark facilitators, academics, and, until they had to dash back to Dublin to deal with the aftermath of that perverse judicial decision on Apollo House, Brendan Ogle, Dean Scurry, Terry McMahon and Glenn Hansard of Home Sweet Home.

We had presentations and discussion, but of equal importance was the out-of-school democratic engagement/discussion by all on ‘where we are, where do we want to get to, and how do we get there?’. We know where we are – in the shit created by the political class, and where we want to get to – a republic of equals founded on fundamental rights and based on justice and equality and solidarity and ownership and control by the people. But how to get there?

The consensus was that the means to that end lies in encouraging and facilitating the bottom-up people’s movement that was brought into being by the Right2Water campaign and enhanced by the public response to the Home Sweet Home initiative with further progress likely to emerge from public campaigns on other serious issues that beset the people (other than the 20% political class).

What means could be used to make the necessary progress towards that end? Like James Connolly and Jim Larkin before them, the leaders of Unite, Mandate and the CWU, Jimmy Kelly, John Douglas and Steve Fizpatrick understand that the solution lies in the first place in political education and secondly in the provision of information to counteract a propagandist right-wing media hegemony that exists without real challenge by progressives. That understanding of the proper role of trade unions, which goes beyond the central task of representing workers and into the area of creating political change from rule by an ‘elite’ to rule by the people for the benefit of all, separates these and a few other trade unions from other less visionary and less progressive trade unions.

Neither Connolly nor Larkin were prepared to concede the media landscape to the right-wing capitalist class, and so they published their own left-wing newspapers. There is now serious intent to explore the creation of a new online newspaper with a progressive ethos and proper journalism to fill the vacuum of ideas and information necessary to create a genuine fourth estate. More on that later, hopefully of a positive nature!

In terms of political education, there was agreement by all on the necessity to continue the excellent work done during the Right2Water/Right2Change campaign by Trademark and the unions in providing very easily understood presentations to local groups across the island, so that anyone who attends one of these will be able to understand and gain a perspective on the forces at play in the world and on this island, and how we might defeat them and their nefarious ideology.

Over the past two years I have got the sense that the tide is turning, that more and more people are ready to embrace the chance of themselves forging real political change from which will flow economic and social change. I have waited a lifetime, like many others, for that to happen. It could just be that moment in our history when the crack that lets the light in widens. Remember the Berlin Wall moment in which, in a matter of days, a seemingly impregnable structure was torn down? These moments come, but they have to be fuelled and then seized upon.

That is what this 48-hour session seems to me to have been about. Let’s find ways to help people to change their lives for the better, and let’s do it by coalescing with each other and in doing that, as Rory Hearne wrote yesterday, “by keeping that common heart beating we will find a way forward”.

Much of the western world is turning sharply to the right. We have no need to go there since we have been stuck in that cul-de-sac since the foundation of the corporatist state in 1922. Our opportunity is to turn left and to correct the ills created by malign governments representing only political class-capitalist interests.

So let’s keep that common heart beating strongly, and don’t be diverted by fools or knaves who pretend to be on our side while trying to tear us down.

¡Adelante! Forward! Ar Aghaidh Linn!


The Time is Ripe to Create the Republic

“You never know if the time is ripe until you try. If you succeed the time is ripe, if not, then it was not ripe.” James Connolly, 1915.

That observation is as true today as it was in 1915. But while Connolly was prepared, one year later, to put it to the test, there is no evidence that we are prepared to do so despite finding ourselves in the most propitious moment in the past 94 years to re-establish the progressive, enlightened, Irish Republic, for the benefit of all.

Instead, we blather about the Republic but effectively do nothing to put it in place, we stare misty-eyed at the past but are myopic when looking to the future, we squabble with each other about whose method is best or interpretation more pure, we wring our hands at the degradation of our people as if we are helpless, we stand and observe as the no-mandate parties take power once again, we give out about the same-old-politics and then give in.

We have to stop doing that. The republic is there for the making, but only if we have the courage of our convictions, only if we imagine the republic as it must be today – a 21st century republic, only if we believe in it, only if we are prepared to work for it, only if we develop a strategy to win it, only if we forge the alliances with other believers that are necessary to make it a reality, and only if we explain to the people how that republic would enhance their lives in very real ways.

The cards we have been dealt favour such a project. But have we the courage and the commitment to play that winning hand?

Thanks to the centenary of the 1916 Revolution, and despite the best efforts of the political class to play that down, the people are more engaged with the notion of a republic than at any time since the 50th anniversary in 1966. The Proclamation took centre stage. In every part of the state, national school students went home one day and engaged their parents and grandparents with questions and observations about the Proclamation. In other words, the republic was smuggled into homes by children, and families talked around the table about it, and what it could mean.

In stark contrast to the ideals of the Proclamation, and the sacrifices a previous generation were prepared to make to establish the republic, the people have been presented with all of the signs of an utterly failed state in which crisis follows crisis and scandal follows scandal, in which incompetence is rewarded and jobbery and corruption excused, in which obfuscation and the cover-up are the norm, in which private interests trump the public good, in which (Catholic) church and state are still inseparable, in which grotesque inequality is evident at every turn, and in which the norms of a true democracy are routinely thrashed.

But this is a republic, they tell us. Yes, in the same way as a dodgy car salesman turns a clapped-out Nissan Micra into a Mercedes by sticking a Mercedes badge on it. This is not a republic.

All over this country good people, decent people, caring people, work alone or in groups on issues of real public concern. They labour under the illusion that engagement with the regime can bring about meaningful change. They assemble in protest outside parliament, imagining that some notice will be taken – but are viewed from behind the windows of Leinster House as just noisy gnats. Some make it into Leinster House and emerge satisfied that some politician or other has leaned towards them to say “I’ll do what I can for you’ – with all of the sincerity of a snake-oil salesman. The system is not designed to resolve issues of pressing concern to citizens who are not part of the political class. We know this to be true.

In a properly constituted progressive republic things will be very different. The republic is owned by the people and not by any ideological sect. The republic is founded on immutable principles of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity. Think about each of those words in their wider meaning, the private as well as the public – the personal as well as the national, and it becomes obvious that the republic cannot exist if it doesn’t strive at all times, under the direction of the people through genuine democratic engagement, to vindicate those principles.

Women must be well aware that under the current regime – the latest manifestation of a continuous conservative regime stretching back to the foundation of the state – there is no possibility of achieving real equality with men or true personal autonomy in mind, spirit and body. In a republic, drawing on the promise of the Proclamation and based on those three republican foundational principles, women’s equality with men and their personal autonomy, their liberty, will be a given – otherwise the republic cannot exist.

The same is true of those sections of society that suffer economic disadvantage and impoverishment, including deprivation in housing, health, nutrition, education, employment and opportunity. Their status will remain the same under the current regime, driven as it is by corporatism – rampant capitalism – a false ideology that demands that a precious resource is thrown on the scrap-heap as if that makes any economic sense, to say nothing of the ethical/moral dimension of such oppression. The republic will work assiduously to correct that gross imbalance and injustice, otherwise the republic cannot exist.

The same applies across a whole range of social, economic, justice and human rights issues. The current regime working as always in the interest of a powerful minority will not resolve, for instance, the issue of Travellers’ rights, or of the rights of those in Direct Provision, or the rights of those suffering mental ill-health, or of those forced into emigration, or a host of other big and small issues, which in a republic will have to be resolved – otherwise the republic based on those three principles cannot exist.

The same applies in the area of foreign policy, international relations and our place in the world. While the majority of our people express support for neutrality and non-engagement in wars, the state is busy dismantling a too-vague expression of neutrality and moving towards NATO involvement while simultaneously facilitating US wars in the Middle-East. An ethical republic would present itself internationally as peace keepers and facilitators of conflict resolution. It would also present itself as committed to resolving international issues around the environment, sustainability, resources, justice and freedom from oppression.

If we want to correct the failures of this state then the progressive enlightened republic, with a constitution fit for a republic and supported by the people, is the only viable option. The Proclamation and its further development in the Democratic Programme passed by the Dáil in January 1919 provide us with an initial template to follow. A modern constitution worth examining is the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The preparation of an initial draft constitution of the Irish Republic is well within the scope of civil society groups and individuals to achieve in the coming year.

Can we win democratic support for the creation of the progressive republic? I firmly believe we can, if that is what we want to – and intend to – achieve.

The recent general election showed that politics is in a state of flux, that the people have thrown off the habits of the past in sufficient numbers to fracture the hegemony enjoyed since 1922 by the two conservative-capitalist parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, supported when necessary by the Labour Party. Support for those two parties is now below 50%, while there is now a solid core of left/republican parties, groups and individuals in parliament.

The Right2Change initiative was an important element in provoking that shift among sections of the electorate, and will be in the run-up to the next election. Its one failing – and this is not a criticism – was in not being able, not least because of time-constraints but also because of disunity among its community pillar, to find and support a community R2C candidate in every constituency. That strategy of having a non-party citizen-candidate is important in the context of an antipathy among sections of society to Sinn Féin and other parties of the Left, exacerbated and exploited by a hostile media on behalf of the political class of which senior media operatives are an important part and are beneficiaries in maintaining the status quo.

We will have an election in the near future. It may be in six months, or eighteen months, or at a stretch two years. If we get to work now we can be in a position to fight for a seat in every constituency for a non-party candidate who is committed to the idea of creating that progressive enlightened republic. Ten extra seats for the progressive republic would tip the balance in its favour. To achieve that we will need a body of Citizens for the Republic as soon as possible in every constituency, explaining the basis of the republic and the benefits for the great mass of people of its reinstatement, encouraging people to talk around the table about the republic with family and friends and to engage with others to spread the good message about the republic and the great boon it would bring to our lives.

All elements of civil society – NGOs, organisations, voluntary groups and individuals – have a key part to play in spreading that message. The republic is the only place that we get to realise our ambitions, that we resolve issues, that we create a true democracy – the republic owned by the people. We are capable of realising James Connolly’s ambition for the republic, that it would act as a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world.

First imagine the republic, understand it, believe in it, then go to work for it. Tap into the goodwill that exists for it thanks to this centenary year. Mine the myriad failures of the state to correct serious problems affecting so many in society across a range of issues and so often involving personal catastrophes. Forge the republic!

I began with Connolly’s quote. Let me end with a quote from a very different individual, W B Yeats – but in essence the same message!

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

 


Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration united all at the GPO

We measure ourselves by special birthdays, 13, 18, 21, 30 and so on. We attend annual commemorations and they blend into one another, that is until the special ones – the magic numbers – come around.

When I was seventeen I stood at the corner of the GPO and Henry Street. It was the day of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 revolution. Two stands flanked the portico of the GPO, each full of the surviving 1916 revolutionaries, by now old men and old women.

1966 GPO commemoration

Just up above me I could see Ernie Nunan who had been a 17 year-old London Volunteer, and a member of the GPO Garrison. I was with his son Jim, my best mate at school. My Volunteer grandfather wasn’t in the stand. He had died in 1940 rescuing a young woman from the sea at the Shelly Banks, and I felt I was representing him.

1966 commemoration Henry St corner

1966 commemoration Henry St corner

I remember thinking of the significance of the 50th anniversary, and wondering if I would make it to the centenary, and wanting to. 100 is one of those magic numbers.

I made it. On April 24th 2016, Republic Day, the magic number rolled around.

If the actual anniversary of the revolution in 2010 had been marked by a proper commemoration organised by someone else I would have happily stood at the corner of the GPO and Henry Street again in 2016. But nothing was organised and that is how the Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day was started – to cover that outrageous omission. Each year since, a group of citizens has marked that date with a proper commemoration under the Republic Day banner.

But the centenary commemoration had to be different, in scale and content. In spite of impediments thrown up by others we held firm, refusing to be squeezed out, not because of hubris or ego, but because we offered what others didn’t, a neutral space capable of being occupied by all as equal citizens, provided they were prepared to set their politics or differences aside for a short time so as to concentrate on the real purpose of a commemoration, that is to remember and honour those from another time who are worthy of being commemorated.

Nobody should feel inhibited about attending a 1916 commemoration because of their politics or religion or skin-colour, or because of factional differences with others. That would fly in the face of the principles on which a republic is founded – Liberty, Equality and Solidarity – and because the republic is the property of the people – all of the people. And so neutral space is necessary, particularly if we are also commemorating the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, given political and/or factional differences that exist.

I know that that worked. Looking out at the assembly I could see citizens I know of different political persuasions or belonging to different factions. All were entitled to be there, to play their part in the commemoration and to be at peace with the moment and the collective of which they were part. The extensive feedback on the day and especially since the commemoration have unanimously endorsed the sense that something special was experienced by all, that any differences had been put to one side, and that all present were unified, standing shoulder to shoulder as equals, paying tribute to the men and women of 1916.

In 50 years time, some of the children and teenagers who were present on Republic Day 2016 will again assemble at the GPO for the 150th anniversary of the 1916 revolution. The torch has been passed to them.

 

Our street

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who contributed on stage; Adrian Dunbar, Ruan O’Donnell, Marie Mulholland, Lorcán O’Coileáin, Rita Fagan, Fergus Russell, Proinsias O Rathaille, Danny Healy and Mary Stokes – and to the Colour Party of Paul Callery, James Langton, Pól De Pléimeann, Dáithí O’Cuinn, Brendan Hickey and Pauline Mc Caul. Shane Stokes provided a lot of support, including the live-streaming of the commemoration for the benefit of those who could not be with us, and photographing it on my behalf. Thank you to all. Comrades!

But it is the citizens who participate who really make a commemoration valid and true, and so thank you to all who attended. As I said in my closing remarks, I think we managed to create a mini Irish Republic at the GPO for at least 45 minutes on Republic Day, although I think that mood continued for the rest of the day. As Adrian Dunbar said later, perhaps we opened a gap into a space that people can occupy where differences aren’t a roadblock to progress. That is what being a citizen of a true republic should be like.

Let’s now work to create the full-scale Irish Republic without delay, for the benefit of all.

We can do that. First imagine, then believe, then act. We’ll use ideas and words and listening and persuasion instead of bullets.

That way we can arrive at the Irish Republic. What a beautiful destination that will be.

Video of live-stream of the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration

Adrian Dunbar - Compere

Adrian Dunbar – Compere

Ruan O'Donnell

Ruan O’Donnell

Marie Mulholland

Marie Mulholland

Lorcan Collins

Lorcan Collins

Fergus Russell 'The Foggy Dew'

Fergus Russell ‘The Foggy Dew’

Rita Fagan reads the Proclamation

Rita Fagan reads the Proclamation

Proinsias O Rathaille

Proinsias O Rathaille

Colour Party Paul Callery

Colour Party Paul Callery

Colour Party 2

Colour Party 2

Colour Party 1

Colour Party 1

Danny Healy The Last Post & Reveille

Danny Healy The Last Post & Reveille

Mary Stokes, singer Amhrán na bhFiann

Mary Stokes, singer Amhrán na bhFiann

Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes closing words

Tom Stokes closing words

It's A Wrap

It’s A Wrap

 

 


Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration on Republic Day 2016

On the 100th anniversary of the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commencement of the 1916 Revolution on April 24th 1916, there will be a Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration at the GPO in Dublin from 11.15 to 12 Noon – to the day and the hour of that seminal moment in modern Irish history.

Organised by the Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day, and free of political party or political group influence, the commemoration is designed to facilitate citizens and those who have chosen to be among us to unite for the purpose of paying tribute to the men and women of 1916 who imagined a far better future for us in a true republic of equals, and who were prepared to offer their lives to achieve that.

A commemoration is about remembering people and/or events from another time. In this case it is about looking back to 1916 and to the revolutionary act that began the road to independence, and to those who had the courage and generosity to take a stand in support of the Irish Republic even though that meant confronting the most powerful empire in the world at that time.

A commemoration of 1916, such as this, cannot be about us, or the time we live in, or failures to live up to the vision contained in the Proclamation by any and all governments since 1922. Its focus, for the 45 minute duration of the commemoration, must be solely on 1916.

Given that a proper commemoration must have a period of reflection, a short programme hosted by Adrian Dunbar will include three speakers: historian and biographer of Patrick Pearse, Ruan O’Donnell, will speak on the origins of Irish republicanism among Belfast Protestants in the 1790s and the republican continuum up to 1916; women’s rights activist and biographer of Dr Kathleen Lynn, Marie Mulholland, will speak on the women of 1916; 1916 historian and biographer of James Connolly, Lorcan Collins, will speak on the revolutionaries of 1916, particularly the rank-and-file, and on the contribution of the people of the inner-city tenements to the revolution.

Singer Fergus Russell will provide a bridge between the reflective part of the commemoration and the formal part with his rendition of an iconic song about the revolution.

The formal elements necessary to a proper commemoration of 1916 include: the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by political, community and women’s rights activist Rita Fagan; the laying of a wreath on behalf of the people by Proinsias O Rathaille, grandson of The O’Rahilly; the raising of the flags of the Irish Republic, the Starry Plough, Cumann na mBan, na Fianna, and the Tricolour by Volunteer and Citizen Army reenactors led by Paul Callery; The Last Post and Reveille played by trumpeter Danny Healy; and the singing of the National Anthem, led by singer Mary Stokes, which will bring the commemoration to a close.

A great deal of care has been taken to ensure that the centenary commemoration will adhere to the three principles of commemoration – recognition, reflection and respect. It is expected that all present will want to  honour the men and women of 1916, putting all present day differences to one side for the short duration of the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration at the GPO which should act as common ground as we pay tribute to, and focus on, that golden generation who gave so much for us at great cost to them.

The organisers of the commemoration are just facilitators. The act of commemorating is performed by all who are in attendance. It is they who, after this once-ever experience since there is only one centenary of 1916 on the day and to the hour, should be able to disperse knowing that they have been part of a memorable experience and that they have played their full part in collectively paying proper tribute to the men and women of 1916.

Then, let us be inspired to put that beautiful model of the true republic contained in the Proclamation back in place.

That would be the enduring tribute to the men and women of 1916.

 

 


State 1916 Commemoration: insulting the living and the dead

The hugely successful 19th century Irish theatrical impresario Dion Boucicault once said, “What the audience wants is spectacle, and by God I will give them that”.

That same thinking seems to have formed the basis of the state’s supposed commemoration of the 1916 Revolution.

“Let them have spectacle” is the new “Let them eat cake”. By God, spectacle is what they got, those who could see the giant screens, excluded as they were from the theatre that was O’Connell Street and the GPO. The barriers preventing them from being close to the action might well have borne signs stating “No riff-raff”, since that was what was intended.

O’Connell Street and the GPO were to be the exclusive preserve of the Irish political class, the self-styled ‘elite’ – politicians, both former and current; judges and lawyers; senior state functionaries; corporate kings and bankers; other wealthy individuals; and of course the propaganda wing of state, the media. In an attempt to attach some credibility to proceedings, relatives of 1916 revolutionaries were allowed to apply as supplicants for tickets from some committee or other, or not – a position some of us chose to adopt.

In my case it is because it stretches credibility beyond its limits to have dictating the nature of the state commemoration a prime minister (‘acting’ since the recent election) who has attempted since coming to office in 2011 to submerge the commemoration of the seminal event in modern Irish history, the 1916 Revolution which led to independence and self-government, in a sea of other often minor-by-comparison commemorations, a decade of them no less. Imagine, the state’s launch video for the 1916-2016 commemoration did not have a single image of a 1916 leader but featured a singer (Bono) and a queen (English)!

But the acting prime minister’s party, Fine Gael, has previous form. It is the 1930s iteration of the counter-revolutionary party Cumann na nGaedheal, whose central mission was to obliterate, via the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and a brutal civil war, the Irish Republic fought for in 1916 and sustained up to 1921. It morphed into Fine Gael in 1933 when the remnants of Cumann na nGaedheal joined forces with the fascist Blueshirts. Fine Gael has never moved from that counter-revolutionary corporatist-fascist ideology. During its kleptocratic five-year term since 2011 it forced the most swingeing austerity, often on the most economically vulnerable in society, while transferring huge amounts of wealth to the already wealthy.

In stark contrast, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic promised universal suffrage, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to all citizens, to pursue prosperity and happiness for all, in a resolutely anti-sectarian, sovereign republic, owned by the people. Those ideas and ideals are anathema to Fine Gael values, and to those of its equally right-wing alternative, Fianna Fáil, as history shows.

And so to the commemoration (even if we can only see it on a screen).

In the first place, this ‘centenary commemoration’ was a month early. Instead of holding it on the actual anniversary, 24th April, the government chose to stick with tradition and hold it on Easter Sunday, thus tying it to a Christian religious feast. The revolution actually began on Easter Monday, not Sunday, 1916, but hey, let’s not be pedantic about that. Its association with Easter down through the years has been a handy way of associating the Catholic church with the revolution that that church opposed tooth and nail.

Being monarchic in its structures and practices, the Catholic church has always been antagonistic to Enlightenment secular republicanism and to the concept of the egalitarian and democratic republic.

That is why the counter-revolution played into the church’s hands, allowing for the creation of a state that combined Catholic theocracy with plutocracy and oligarchy, the so-called Free State. By creating a false official history, propagated in Catholic schools, the republican basis of the 1916 Revolution was extinguished in favour of one that presented it as having been a Catholic nationalist rising, not a progressive revolution.

That must have made it easy for the one clergyman called on to read the prayer during yesterday’s event. The Irish Defence Forces’ Head Chaplain is, of course, a Catholic priest. He delivered a heavily politicised prayer which very inappropriately at an event marking 1916 slyly referenced the Troubles. We can take that to mean the recent Troubles. Besides that, it was as if all present in O’Connell Street and beyond the barriers in Riff-Raff Street were Catholics, rather than people of all religions and none.

But worse than that, the absence of even an ecumenical prayer instead lumped all of the dead revolutionaries in together, as if Protestants, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc., had not formed part of the revolutionary forces along with Catholics, which of course they did. What of it that the inspiration for 1916 came directly from the United Irishmen of the 1790s, all initially of the Protestant faith, or that the 1914 gunrunning into Howth and Kilcoole was almost entirely a Protestant enterprise from start to finish? A Catholic prayer will be good enough for them, and they should count themselves lucky.

What does that say, in this centenary year, to the Protestants of Ireland, north of the border as well as south of it? We know that the Irish Republic of 1916 was proclaimed as a 32-county Republic belonging to all of the people. And we know that if the border is to be obliterated that we must negotiate with northern Protestants, not all of whom are unionists, as well as northern Catholics, not all of whom are republicans or Irish nationalists. But this state refuses to honour Protestant patriots of 1916 in an appropriate way – by acknowledging their existence or their immense contribution. That reveals the ingrained partitionist mindset that delights in a Catholic state on one side of the border and a Protestant state on the other. But this is the 21st century, time moves on, attitudes change, what seems fixed in stone shifts. That, though, doesn’t apply to Fine Gael, and only to a slight degree with Fianna Fáil.

The Proclamation was read. Yes, it was uncensored. Those passages which address issues that have real relevance to the plight of so many of our people today – sovereignty, equal rights and opportunities, happiness, prosperity, control of national resources – were read in full, without the slightest evidence of even a solitary embarrassed blush among the serried ranks of the political class. Perhaps they have inbuilt auditory filters, or perhaps sociopathy is part of their make-up.

Of course the acting prime minister couldn’t resist one more stab in the back for the revolutionaries of 1916. Rather than allow the customary wreath to be laid at the GPO in their honour he had to continue with one of Fine Gael’s much-contested methods of diminishing the men and women of 1916, something that smacks by now of extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In directing the president, Michael D Higgins, to lay the wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland, the acting prime minister added ‘for all of the dead of 1916’, thus including the British forces who were sent to suppress the revolution by all means including murder of civilians and the levelling of the heart of one of the great cities of Europe using artillery.

By that action, the acting prime minister destroyed the notion that this was a commemoration directed at the men and women of 1916, and rendered it into nothing more than a very expensive fraud, a sham, a charade. No other prime minister in the history of independent Ireland has plumbed those depths, has offered such a gratuitous insult to the men and women of 1916 or to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who had assembled in Dublin to honour those men and women. The acting prime minister should be driven from office for that one act.

As for the defence forces, they were great. Most of us admire the role they usually play in the world as peace-keepers, less so the drift in the direction of active involvement with NATO and with US invasions of people with whom we Irish have no argument but have much empathy for their suffering. The same applies to the units from various first-responders too. No criticism is intended of any of them.

No, this is about the failings of the political class, and the failure of the government led by Fine Gael to demonstrate any respect for the revolutionaries or the cause of independence and a proper, modern, enlightened republic that they put their lives on the line to achieve for our benefit and not theirs.

And this is about the insults the government and the political class including the media offered in the run-up to and on what purported to be a 1916 centenary commemoration, to both the living and the dead.

What the audience didn’t need was the sight of the political class making a spectacle of itself. But perhaps we did need to see that, in its ugly naked elitism.

Couldn’t happen in a true republic. So let’s create one. That is the best honour we could pay those men and women of 1916. And it is the best thing we could do for ourselves and the generations still to come.

 


Moore Street reprieved, but let’s revisit the Carlton site

The relatives of 1916 leaders and supporters won a significant battle on March 18th in the High Court to save Moore Street and the 1916 GPO Battlefield Site when Judge Max Barrett ruled that the National Monument covered far more of the Moore Street terrace and the adjoining lanes and buildings than the four buildings designated as such by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.

That was a great victory, but it needs to be consolidated. The path is open for the Minister to appeal that judgement to the Supreme Court. Given that a very rational and fine judgement on the Lissadell right-of-way case by High Court Judge Bryan McMahon was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice Susan Denham who had a previous professional relationship with Lissadell owner Constance Cassidy but failed to recuse herself, it would be a mistake to place too much faith in that court particularly when it comes to property rights versus the public good.

And so, the campaign to save Moore Street and the Battlefield Site will need to continue. But it also needs to be expanded to imagine a very different use for the entire Carlton site on which the developer wants to put yet another shopping mall, as if we didn’t already have a surplus of those, and as if that was the most appropriate use of such an important site.

The Carlton site has stood derelict since 1999, a 17-year blot on the capitol’s premier street which has no doubt led to the degradation of most of the northern end of both sides of that street. It includes the Art Deco fascade of the Carlton Cinema. Fifteen years ago the idea was mooted that the Abbey Theatre should be relocated to the Carlton Cinema but was rejected. That proposal needs to be revisited. What better way to revitalise that part of O’Connell Street than to have the Abbey with a newly built theatre and that existing Art Deco street frontage. There is space enough to accommodate a new Peacock Theatre and all of the facilities that the National Theatre should have.

But there is more space on the entire site to accommodate other imaginative uses, ones that would tie in with a properly preserved and rehabilitated 1916 Revolution Quarter on Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield site which would no doubt draw large numbers of both tourists and those who live here, and that would also fit with the relocated National Theatre.

Why not a national dance centre encompassing not only traditional dance but also contemporary forms and even classical ballet which has never been properly encouraged here? Why not a national music centre, again not limited solely to traditional forms but including explorations into its effect on music in places the Irish emigrated to, and into fusions within world music? Why not  a Gaelic language centre that might also explore the effect of that native language on the English we speak and write today, Hiberno-English, a unique form of English that writers have used to produce so much work of literary merit over the past century? Why not a poets’ corner, a space for poets to meet and commune with one another, and to perform or read for the public?

Once we stop thinking of that site as a commercial site but one which would be used for the public good – for education, inquiry, leisure and pleasure, and exploration of national heritage and culture – then the possibilities are many.

If we were to really open our imaginations, and to think of Ireland’s place in the world today and into the future, then other possible uses for some of that site’s space open up to us.

Given our history of involvement with Enlightenment republicanism since the eighteenth century, why not a global centre for the study and promotion of the democratic republic as the ideal model of governance? That would tie into the GPO and the Battlefield Site. But then we would have to construct such a republic for ourselves first. We could do that if we had the will. We certainly have the template and will this year commemorate those who passed it on to us. It is up to us.

One more idea, and it too stems from a failure on our part, in this case our supposed neutrality. But it also stems from recent history and the negotiations to find some way to end conflict on this island and to find an accommodation between two communities, unionist and nationalist, and two States, Irish and British, whatever the imperfections in that project that some may point to.

We have never properly defined our neutrality, and that has allowed recent governments to facilitate the US through their use of Shannon Airport in waging wars on peoples with whom we Irish have no argument. But we do have a reputation around the world, particularly among non-aligned nations – most of them former colonies as we are, a reputation built not only on our defence force’s record as peace-keepers in many conflict zones and on our usually principled record at the UN but also our perceived position as anti-imperialist and opposed to colonialism.

We need to properly define our neutrality in the place that matters – a new constitution fit for a republic. We need to enhance that by committing to the pursuit of peaceful resolution of conflict, also in the constitution. Having done that, we might then set up a centre for that purpose, and locate it on that important site in O’Connell Street. Apart from the good that we could do in building peace, and we certainly have people with experience in conflict resolution and facilitation available, we would establish our own position as refusing co-option into war but being in active in the pursuit of peace, our best guarantee of sustainable national independence in a conflict-ridden world in which those services are badly needed.

Others may have different ideas of the uses that the Carlton site could be used for, but the important consideration is the turning of a commercial site into a civic site on our main thoroughfare and putting that civic space to work for the public good.

Re-imagining the Carlton site in this way, and presenting the arguments for so doing, and campaigning in favour of that approach, would provide the campaign to save Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield Site with an important defensive mechanism – that it is not just the historic quarter that should be saved for the public good, but the entire site for the same reason. The entire project needs to be revisited not just by planning authorities but by government, and possibly by the EU.

That could buy much-needed time in the event that the High Court decision is overturned or materially altered in a way that would compromise Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield Site.

But given the importance of developing the Carlton site in the best way for the city and for the people, we should consider that approach anyway, and let commercial development take place elsewhere.

 

 


Call for fixed-term government must be resisted

Following the change in the parliamentary landscape as a result of the general election results various suggestions have been thrown about by bewildered members of the political class – political parties, journalists, commentators, academics and so on – who seem unable to understand why their template for parliamentary stability and the preservation of their status-quo was not followed by the electorate.

Rather than face up to the shift in public opinion away from government by one monolithic party or the other, it is the system that is at fault, they say. Something has broken in the system and in order to get back to the old stability it is necessary to tinker with the system. That is in part where this talk of ‘reform’ comes from, although there are other good reasons to talk about reform of a parliamentary system that is anything but democratic, and in too many ways is dysfunctional.

The most worrying suggestion so far is that we need to move to a fixed-term election system – that governments should be able look to a full five year term other than in extraordinary circumstances such as, perhaps, a successful no-confidence motion although these have been exceedingly rare in the history of this State.

Any talk of fixed-term government must be scotched.

If this is a republic, and the evidence including the absence of a constitutional definition of Ireland as a republic does not support that claim, then power ultimately rests with the citizens. But the political class immediately tempers that with the claim that it is a representative democracy and that once the citizens have done their electoral duty and selected a set of TDs for each constituency power no longer resides with the citizens but with their representatives, the elected TDs. In other words, other than in the minute pressure that individual citizens may apply to a particular TD or set of TDs, the citizens are redundant to the exercise of power between elections.

That doesn’t sit well with Cicero’s assertion over two thousand years ago that the republic is owned by the people. Nether does it sit well with the assertion in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the centenary of which we commemorate this year, which states “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible”.

One of the authors of the Proclamation was Patrick Pearse. In one of his most important political writings, The Sovereign People, written in 1916, Pearse had this to say “And I come back again to this: that the people are the nation; the whole people, all its men and women; and that laws made or acts done by anybody purporting to represent the people but not really authorised by the people, either expressly or impliedly, to represent them and to act for them do not bind the people; are a usurpation, an impertinence, a nullity”.

That is the nub of the argument against fixed-term government. It should go without saying, based on our experience, that most pre-election manifestos contain as much fiction as fact, and perhaps more of the former than of the latter. And we know from experience that much of what is included in policies legislated on by any government during its term emanate from sources outside government, including, as we also know, from EU institutions and from corporate lobbyists, and others. There is no shortage of evidence of this during the terms in office of the past two administrations, one Fianna Fáil led, the other Fine Gael led.

In a republic, if it is indeed a republic, the people must have the power to force a government from office when that government offends against the democratic wishes of a majority of citizens. Whether the people choose to exercise that power, and how, are separate issues, but that threat must exist in a democratic republic. It is the most solid bulwark against tyrannical rule. The notion of fixed-term government weakens that bulwark.

Far from trying to consolidate power in the hands of the political class, we should, if we really want to live in a republic, find ways to assert our position as the ‘sovereign’. We should have available to us the power to recall TDs who transgress against their mandate, and we should also have the power to bring down government when that is necessary, perhaps through petition or plebiscite, or through mass mobilisation of citizens. It can be done.

Democracy is that important. We should never hand it over to the political class for safe-keeping. Their interests are not our interests. We should have learned that by now.

We must resist the notion of fixed-term government. The Left must take the lead in that battle for more democratic control, not less.

 


Left must refuse to let political class off the hook

It seems that the electoral system is the problem, now.

Feverishly flailing around to identify a culprit for its own abject failures over decades past to allow a genuine democracy to flourish, instead manipulating public opinion to keep two rotten parties in power, the political class is pointing its accusatory fingers in every wrong direction so as to shift the blame for that failure onto the Left, and onto the citizens.

PR is a problem, some of them say. Independents are the problem, others say – and that we need to adopt some European model or other that requires independents to register with a political party! I kid you not.

Some other clown started talking about the need for a d’Hondt system, without bothering his arse to discuss that with the one TD who has more knowledge of that system than the entire southern political class combined, the great untouchable beast, Gerry Adams.

Others have adopted the ridiculous position of shifting the onus onto the opposition, and more precisely onto the Left, as if Sinn Féin and the AAA-PBP are the ones who must suspend principle and mandate, and not the fraudsters of the Right, for whom priniciple and mandate have never mattered once power is at stake.

Never mind that Sinn Féin and AAA-PBP have been the target of sustained assault by the propaganda arm of the political class, the media, in whose interest it is that the status quo is maintained intact, and to whom ethics and other journalistic requirements such as fairness and balance are simply a nuisance and an irritant to be avoided in pursuit of their own selfish and anti-democratic ends.

Never mind the insults and the injuries, the lies and dodgy half-truths relentlessly pursued to skew debate in favour of the Right – with the ultimate victim not being simply the parties of the Left but the people themselves, the citizens, the voters.

Whatever the people say is right when it suits and wrong when it doesn’t. And when it’s wrong, then let’s set up a situation where the people must vote again until they learn to get it right – as the political class sees it. Lisbon, anyone? Maastricht, anyone?

The Left is being unreasonable, these political class clowns and fraudsters say. But that is what they have consistently portrayed the Left as being, unreasonable and therefore unworthy of power. But now they want the Left to exercise power – on behalf of the political class and so as to put back in control the parties of the Right, the very parties who bear responsibility for this current mess, and all previous messes.

Short answer to the political class, and particularly the parties of the Right and their propaganda arm, the media – “Shove off”.

Shove off, go back into your bunkers, switch on your brains, think about what you have done and what you have constructed and the trust you have deliberately destroyed to maintain a rotten crooked system.

Now you go figure. And when you have learned the meaning of that word and that concept ‘Democracy’, and the other concepts that come with it – the Fourth Estate, dignity and respect, fairness and balance, and truth, then come back and speak to the Left, not as a temporary fix to the problem that is entirely of your own making, but as a valid force in Irish democracy (if only we had such a thing).

And let the Left hold firm, and let the Left not indulge in in-fighting, because at this moment of real power to engineer change by forcing realism on the political class, sowing division will be simply unforgivable.

Hold your council, button your lips, talk between yourselves, stay calm, let the Right stew. There is no rush.

This process is part of the revolution.

 


General Election result positive for Left

Reasons to be cheerful, one, two, three.

One. It was always an impossible ask to replace an entrenched two-and-a half Right-wing party regime with a progressive government in one fell swoop, but the creation of a Right2Change movement to draw allies together and directed towards a bedrock of principled rights-based policies has demonstrably worked even in the face of an antagonistic hegemonic political class propaganda machine.

Two. We now have concrete evidence that the electorate is on the move and that a sufficient proportion of voters are open to persuasion, if only the means of effective persuasion are there. That means that the valiant efforts of Right2Change to open up new lines of communication that bypass mainstream media both in public meetings and via social media, and in the distribution of a progressive newspaper packed with exciting and accessible ideas on the ground and online, have been validated. We need now to imagine the potential effect on the electorate if that magnificent effort is sustained and enhanced.

Three. It may be that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will at last be forced to coalesce, leaving the ground open for a progressive opposition for the first time ever. The clearing out of the reactionary detritus within a discredited Labour Party will likely force that party to return to the Left under a new leader as part of a progressive opposition. The potential for a radically different opposition to anything that has gone before to offer a coherent progressive alternative for government, is there to be exploited. That would mean that at the next election the capacity of a corrupt propagandist media to rubbish progressive ideas would be greatly diminished, particularly if the Right2Change movement vigorously challenges and exposes the anti-democratic nature of State and corporate media.

If the progressive Left maintains discipline and resolve, acts intelligently and in a principled way, keeps a strong presence on the streets and in communities, holds onto those policy principles as the basis of a just and equal society, then I have no doubt that we can put in place a progressive government at the next election.

What an achievement that would be!

But fundamental to success will be the continuation and enhancement of the involvement of the progressive unions via Right2Change.

I would urge all Right2Change activists to make that a priority, and to rally around the movement.

That is the best guarantee that our dream of a progressive government and the creation of the true republic will come to pass.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.


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