Tag Archives: Irish political class

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.

 

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The Captains and the Kings

And so, back to normal. Well, almost. No sooner does the Head-of-State of one warmongering, exploitative, imperialist nation leave than another arrives.

The English queen is no doubt a nice woman, something she has in common with the vast majority of women in the world, including those of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Like many of them she is a wife,  a mother, a grandmother. Unlike them, she demands, and receives, extraordinary deference. Unlike them she is surrounded by a wall of steel to ensure her safety, she will never go hungry or live in a hovel, or watch her children die from starvation or treatable medical conditions. Unlike them, when a helicopter flies overhead it is to protect her, not to rain missiles down on her. If being nice was enough the world would be a happier place.

The English queen is no doubt an intelligent woman, something she has in common, again, with the vast majority of women in the world. Like them, she must know that it is wrong to kill, to steal, to cause disharmony, to wage war, to impoverish people to enrich yourself, to preside over the theft of land, resources and even nations, to initiate genocide or to stay silent when others practice it, to facilitate the oppression of people and their effective enslavement. The vast majority of women in the world do not consider doing any of these things. As the British Head-of-State, as an intelligent woman, the English queen knowingly involves herself through her armed forces and her public and private agencies in these crimes, constantly.

The English queen no doubt sees herself as a moral person. She is after all head of the Church of England by right of birth. The vast majority of women in the world would view a claim of that sort as blasphemous, being for the most part moral people themselves whether they belong to an organised religion or not. Having a moral framework set down by her own church, and being very well informed about her government’s policies, there can be no excuse for allowing or promoting all of the above. As a christian, the English queen must be aware of the Sermon on the Mount and what it means. Nowhere in there does it say ‘Blessed are the arms dealers, the oppressors, the warmongers’.

And what of her visit to Ireland, and the things she did and the things she said?

The Irish political class oohed and aahed at her laying of the wreath and her bowing of the head in the Garden of Remembrance. Maybe she meant it, and that would be good – showing respect for the actions of brave men and women is a good thing. But political class amnesia when it comes to ritual and protocol is a handy thing. The English queen is well-practiced at laying wreaths and bowing her head – it is what she does, and does very well.

The Irish political class was completely disarmed at the banquet the uninvited citizens paid for in Dublin Castle by her use of a few words of Irish as she began her speech, as if it was unique or original.  ‘Wow’, the First Mary said, followed by another ‘wow’. We were, fortunately, spared the ‘OMG!’. Get a grip. The English queen is well-used to doing this. It is, like laying wreaths and bowing the head, what ‘one’ does. And the Irish political class grasped at straws in their collective search for something, anything, that could be interpreted as an apology for the disgusting treatment of many generations of Irish people over many centuries by the armies and agencies of English kings and queens – and the straws weren’t worth grasping. Worse than that, the English queen sought to implicate the Irish people in those crimes, as if conflict with the English was ever something aggressively and gratuitously and by desire entered into by the Irish, rather than a necessary reaction in self-defence and in pursuit of national independence and freedom from oppression and exploitation by the English monarchs and the English political class.

The event at the war memorial at Islandbridge was another attempt (facilitated of course by the Irish political class) to implicate the Irish in the twin crimes of the First and Second World Wars. It is reasonable to suggest that very many of the Irish who took part in the 1914-18 version did so for economic reasons – ‘join up or your family starve’. Many others swallowed the spurious ‘Defence of Small Nations’ guff and did what they thought was right. There is an appropriate way to commemorate the sacrifice of ordinary men and women on the altar of capitalist expansionism, and feeding the British nation-building Poppy Day exercise is not the appropriate way.

And so, after four days of  near deification by the  Irish political class and their hangers-on, the English queen has ascended into the heavens boosted by four Rolls Royce engines, the sort favoured by the manufacturers of the tanks, warplanes and warships manufactured in England and peddled to brutal tyrants around the world. Saint Elizabeth she is not.

Hot on her heels comes one of the great disappointments of the political world, the man who promised much by way of change and changed nothing for the good, Barack Obama. The wars go on, the sin against the indigenous Palestinian people intensifies, the torturers remain in business, the Military-Industrial complex gets richer and fatter and more greedy, more people starve as Wall Street manipulates markets and commodities for profit. Old worn-out tyrants may go – not because the US wants them to – but new tyrants line up to take their place.

The Irish political class cannot wait for Air Force One to arrive. Thrilled with their success with the English queen’s journeys through over-policed empty city streets to venues where only the chosen few were deemed fit to be seen, the prospect of yet more vulgar self-aggrandisement is almost too much to bear. This time, the plebs will be allowed to take part in the adulation at the same open-air venue that that other warmonger, Bill Clinton, appeared at. Just like Clinton, Obama will scatter fine rhetoric to the four winds, meaningless rhetoric since we can be certain that what is promised will not be delivered.

But he is Irish, he is O’Bama, he is one of us. No he is not. He may have some DNA that connects him to this island, but that is all. He does not share the values that most people on this island most probably share – of non-interference in the affairs of other nations, of peace-keeping rather than war-making, of a sense of fair play and justice, of genuine compassion at the suffering of less fortunate people in the world, of a sense of solidarity with oppressed people in other places. We are not always good at looking after our own shop, we have many faults, we are far from perfect, but we do have a value system that at its core is decent, despite the worst efforts of the Irish political class to sign us up to the corrupt ‘elites’ of this world.

So, come Tuesday, it will be back to normal. Or perhaps it won’t be. Perhaps the Genie is out of the bottle. Perhaps we will remember how we were ‘locked down’ while others feasted at our expence. Perhaps we will remember how dissenting voices were ridiculed and silenced by a powerful hegemonic media – part of the political class and willingly serving its interests. Perhaps we will think about how the State views its citizens, at least most of them, as too suspect and dangerous to be allowed the freedom of their own streets. Perhaps, as another funding crisis hits the health service, or education, we will imagine how that €30 million spent on entertaining two human beings from outside and the political class parasites from inside might have been used.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Whatever the outcome, normal is going to feel, well, normal. Can’t wait.


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