Tag Archives: republicanism

Revolution and counter-revolution in Ireland

We are pretty poor in Ireland at properly describing the state we are in, both physically and psychologically.  We live in a political state that we describe as a ‘republic’ even though it patently fails to meet the test for a republic and is, instead, something else, but we won’t name it for what it really is. And we live in a state of being, a psychological condition strangely common across disparate groups that each claim to draw inspiration from widely differing sources, whether christian or non-christian religious faiths, various right-wing or left-wing political faiths, those of no religious or political affiliation and so on. Despite those different influences, so deeply important to many individuals, we act – or fail to act – as if we are all of the same mind.

First to the political state we are in, the so-called ‘republic’.  A reasonable person might imagine that our definition of ‘the republic’ should derive from the foundational document of the independent Irish State, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Paragraph four of the Proclamation lays out very clearly the relationship between the republic and its citizens and the rights and freedoms that the citizens would enjoy.

‘The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation, and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’

The document is revolutionary in its proposal to bring about profound change to the existing order under British rule. It fueled the War of Independence, and its terms were ratified by the people through the elections of 1918, and in the Declaration of Independence issued by the first Dáil in 1919. It is the template for our Irish Republic. But something went wrong. Instead of being our guiding light, the Proclamation was hung, face to the wall, in the darkest corner the state could find.

The Civil War which followed ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 which was forced through by the British under threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ has had a hugely distortive effect on Irish political life ever since. The victors in that Civil War, the pro-Treaty Free State government, was made up of businessmen, professionals and middle-class conservatives. The anti-Treaty side contained the bulk of those radicals and socialists who had survived the Revolution in 1916, and who had prosecuted the War of Independence against the British to establish the Irish Republic. Most of the women who had taken an active part in the 1916 revolution and the War of Independence were on the anti-Treaty side.

Seventy-seven captured anti-Treaty ‘Irregulars’ were executed by the Free State government in 1922-23, some on the flimsiest of charges, and some by summary execution without trial. Republican heroes including Erskine Childers, Liam Lynch, Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows (acknowledged as a socialist intellectual of the same calibre as James Connolly) were executed by Free State firing squads both as a reprisal for acts done by others over whom they had no control, being in prison, and as a way of permanently removing an oppositional cadre of high-quality and deeply committed leaders. The mindset of those government ministers who set this brutal and unlawful campaign of terror in place would later reveal itself as proto-fascist with the amalgamation of their party Cumann na nGaedhael with the fascist Army Comrades Association, better known as the Blueshirts, to form the Fine Gael party that leads the current government.

A principal icon of that party, William T Cosgrave, who was the first prime minister of the Free State, encapsulated that mindset in this quote from a letter he wrote to Austin Stack in 1921 – “People reared in workhouses, as you are aware, are no great acquisition to the community and they have no ideas whatsoever of civic responsibilities. As a rule their highest aim is to live at the expense of the ratepayers. Consequently, it would be a decided gain if they all took it into their heads to emigrate.” That contempt for the poor and marginalised, victims of class politics and consequent economic and cultural deprivation, is still evident in Fine Gael attitudes to this day. It represents the polar opposite of the Republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Many of those on the anti-Treaty side who survived the Civil War were driven into exile, or forced underground, such was the atmosphere generated by the Civil War. As Carol Coulter, writing in 1990, put it: ‘The many other elements which were undoubtedly present in Irish nationalism – not just at the level of ideology, but expressed in living people – ranging from socialism and feminism to religious scepticism and various forms of mysticism, were defeated and their adherents marginalised or forced to keep their dissident views to themselves.’

Eamon de Valera, who was the political leader of the anti-Treaty forces, and who created the Fianna Fail party in 1926 ostensibly as ‘The Republican Party’, would consistently show himself from then on, as he had in 1916, to be nothing more than a catholic nationalist and certainly not a republican. He had been the only 1916 commandant to escape execution, and the only one to have refused to have women as part of  the garrison he led (at Boland’s Mills). That decision he later regretted solely on the grounds that some of his men had to cook! In his political life over many years as Taoiseach and later president, de Valera demonstrated no desire whatever to elevate the Proclamation from obscurity by creating the very Irish Republic that he had sworn in 1916 to put into place.

Having ‘won’ the Civil War, the Free State government set about dismantling the revolution and creating what can only be described as the counter-revolution – the very danger that James Connolly had warned against on many occasions leading up to the 1916 revolution.

The perpetuation of the highly-centralised state administrative system closed off access to power from the broad mass of ordinary people. The professional classes, property owners, capitalist industrialists and bankers still had that access, and the influence that went with it. So too had the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.

As a result of partition, and the consequent separation from the largely-Protestant North East, the Catholic Church held a powerful position in the Free State and began to assert its moral authority more explicitly. Within eight years, what can be described as Catholic legislation had found its way onto the statute books, with discriminatory laws on illegitimacy, divorce, contraception and censorship.

The Film Censorship Act (1923) was passed very shortly after the transfer of power to the Free State government. At this stage the Irish economy was in tatters. The nation had just endured a deeply divisive civil war. Child mortality rates were frighteningly high by European standards. Large numbers of people existed in the most squalid conditions both in the cities and rural areas. And yet the censorship of film was deemed important enough to be placed high on the list of legislation.

‘The highly authoritarian, anti-intellectual strain of Irish Catholic morality was incorporated in the Censorship of Films Act (1923) and the Censorship of Publications Act (1929). These acts were rigorously enforced up to the 1960s by a Censorship Board which was vigilantly supervised by Catholic lay organisations such as the Knights of Columbanus’.   (Tom Inglis: ‘Moral Monopoly’)

The censorship of books and magazines was undertaken on the grounds of ‘public decency’ or ‘obscenity’, but played a major role in suppressing the availability of information to women on matters that apply particularly to them, such as contraception and abortion. Frank O’Connor summed up the situation in 1962 in a debate in Trinity College Dublin: ‘What really counts is the attitude of mind, the determination to get at sex by hook or by crook. Sex is bad, books encourage sex, babies deter it, so keep the books out and give them lots of babies, and we shall have the nearest thing the puritan can hope for to a world without beauty and romance’.

While radicals, dissidents, the poor and the consumers of literature and the arts lost heavily because of the dominant counter-revolutionary ideology of the Free State, there can be no doubt that it was women who bore the brunt of a patriarchal assault on their civil liberties and their sense of self-worth. As soon as the Treaty had been ratified the war on women began. The Catholic Church had created a process of social control and social engineering in the nineteenth century based around the mother as the link to the individual, and one of the principal ways in which the Church exercised control over the mother was by exercising control over their sex.

‘In Ireland, it was the knowledge and control that priests and nuns had over sex which helped maintain their power and control over women. Women especially were made to feel ashamed of their bodies. They were interrogated about their sexual feelings, desires and activities in the confessional. Outside the confessional there was a deafening silence. Sex became the most abhorrent sin.’ ( Tom Inglis ‘Moral Monopoly’)

But the State was now playing its part through the legislative process. Women were increasingly excluded from the public sphere, and were by law precluded from exercising artificial means of control over their own reproductive organs. Single women who made the ‘mistake’ of becoming pregnant were vilified or exiled. Many ended up in the now infamous Magdalene Laundries run by the religious orders, along with many other girls and young women who were considered by the clergy, police or their families to be ‘at risk’. Very many of these unfortunates spent their entire adult lives in these awful places.

In the same way that ‘at risk’ girls, or ‘fallen’ women, could  likely end up in the Magdalene Laundries or similar institutions, children who were ‘deviant’ through an involvement in petty crime, poor school attendance, or lack of parents – in other words, orphans – were certain to find themselves in the euphemistically titled ‘Industrial Schools’ run by the Christian Brothers, or an equivalent institution for girls. The State washed its hands of responsibility for these, the most vulnerable in society.

The consequences of that policy are now  coming to light in proven cases of physical, psychological and sexual abuse on a horrifying scale. These children were not cherished equally to the children of the middle class and the bourgeoisie, but those who abused them, and those who facilitated the abusers in the Catholic Church, the Irish civil service and police, the medical and legal professions and politicians have, by and large, remained untouched by the law.

The 1937 Constitution was another retrograde step foisted on women. Women were now mentioned only as ‘mothers’ and their assigned space was to be the home. The constitution envisaged that women would not, through economic necessity, neglect their primary duties to their husband and their children by working outside the home. Of course many families could not rely on the father’s capacity to provide a living wage, so that for many in Ireland this was just another pious platitude.

‘The position of women in the Irish constitution is value laden. I think it really comes from the central position that the Catholic Church occupies in the Irish Free State and the perception of women in catholic cultural and political life, and this very often happens in a country that has undergone a revolution followed by a civil war, that the strong currents regulating the life of the country go towards a desire for conservative behaviour and conservative images of women’. (Historian Margaret McCurtain).

Women had played a major part in the republican and trade union movements. They had been actively involved in the Land League, Gaelic League, Celtic Revival, the Howth Gun-Running, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War. They had been amongst the most committed to the cause of Irish freedom, and had been formally included in the Proclamation. But in the new Ireland, they were to be mothers, menial workers or minders.

In the significant areas of health and education the degree of control which the Church had achieved in the nineteenth century under British rule was  augmented under the Free State regime. Control of health through hospitals and clinics with a strictly catholic ethos, is another way, outside the confessional, of exercising control over the body.

When the then Minister for Health, Dr. Noel Browne, attempted to bring in the Mother and Child scheme in 1951, which was to do with nothing more than the provision of health care for pregnant women and post-natal care for mothers and children, the response from the Hierarchy took the form of a letter to the Taoiseach – ‘To claim such powers for the public authority, without qualification, is entirely and directly contrary to Catholic teaching on the rights of the family, the rights of the church in education, the rights of the medical profession and of voluntary institutions’

The Minister was forced to resign, and the Mother and Child scheme fell.

In the area of education, the State likewise abrogated its responsibilities to the Church. The Church was, just as it had been under British rule, delighted to – indeed insistent that it should – fill that vacuum. Under Catholic Church control, equality of educational opportunities was not to apply to all of the children of the Nation, just all of the children of the bourgeoisie.

‘It suited this class down to the ground to entrust the education of the youth, and the formulation of social policy, to the Catholic Church. The outlook which it put forward in the 1930s with its corporate view of society, sought to deny class divisions, to preach satisfaction with the economic status quo, and to keep women and youth subordinated to husbands and fathers.’ (Carol Coulter)

Irish education is based on the notion of conformity, and conformity is a vital element in a hegemonic system. According to UCD historian David Fitzpatrick, Catholic nationalism was promoted by the Christian Brothers through ‘the most systematic exploitation of history’ and that their Irish History Reader of 1905 claimed that ‘a nation’s school books wield a great power’, and further: ‘Teachers should reinforce the text-book’s message by dwelling “with pride, and in glowing words on Ireland’s glorious past, her great men and their great deeds”, until pupils were persuaded “that Ireland looks to them, when grown to a man’s estate, to act the part of true men in furthering the sacred cause of nationhood’.

Fitzpatrick further points out that while the writings of Protestants such as John Mitchel and Thomas Davis were popular at the time, the Christian Brothers publication ‘Our Boys” entreated that pupils who were establishing libraries in Christian Brothers’ schools should ‘..be sure, though, that everything you get is recommended by a good Catholic Irishman’.

One important agent of influence in the state was outside direct and overt control by the Catholic church. But since the church directly influenced almost all of those who owned or worked in the media it could rest assured that its views would fall on friendly ears and be delivered through TV, radio and the printed press to the mass of Irish people. Since the vast majority of Irish politicians and state employees such as civil servants and the army and police were loyal, and sometimes fanatical, members of that church, it was in the interest of the state and its employees that those Catholic Church views on almost all important social issues were reported, and reported favourably. After all, maintaining the status quo was in all of their interests – although not in the interest of the mass of people.

Writer and cultural philosopher Desmond Fennell summed it up well in 1993: ‘When an ideological sect has a monopoly of the national media, it tends inevitably, without need of conscious decision, to prevent or minimise public discussion of those ideas it does not want discussed.’ Thus, in the interest of maintaining the status quo, discussion of republican, socialist, feminist, secular and other dissenting views – in other words, progressive ideas – was to be curtailed, or better still prevented, lest those ideas lead to a change in the social order.

The media audience was thus culturally conditioned into belonging to a community, the values of which did not evolve organically over time and through informed and free consent, but were a consequence of inputs under the control of the political class, i.e. the bourgeoisie which combined willingly with the Catholic hierarchy, to create, to use Fennell’s term, an ideological sect.

It is only in the past 20 years or so that the ruling ideological sect has begun to be challenged, and mainly through the work of a small number of ethical journalists, the persistence of a few leftist political groups and individuals, and the work of a few members of the legal profession. Their targets have been, in the main, the political and civil institutions of the state, and the Catholic church.

As far back as 1994, Fintan O’Toole wrote that: ‘In Ireland, virtually every branch of the political system has had its inadequacies exposed. Neither the systems of thought nor the systems of government can simply be patched and mended. They need to be reimagined, redrawn and reconstructed.’

In recent years there has been a steady trickle of information emerging about the relationship between the political and the commercial worlds, triggering a series of interesting but essentially ineffective public inquiries. Ineffective, since prison does not seem to be an option for patently corrupt politicians or businessmen or professional facilitators of corrupt practices.

Neither do the jail gates swing open to receive ecclesiastical prisoners – the bishops and other high-ranking priests and members of the institutional Catholic church – those who destroyed or hid evidence of the most egregious abuse of children, who deliberately lied about crimes they knew to have been perpetrated. In this non-republic there is one set of laws, rigorously applied, for the poor and marginalised and vulnerable, and there is a very different set of rules for the professional class, the Catholic hierarchy and its collaborators, politicians, and the business community.

And so to the Irish State, and what it really is. It is patently obvious that it cannot be described, from its foundation to the present day, as a republic. A republic is the property of its citizens, according to Cicero, and post-Enlightenment republics generally aspire to that idea.

The Irish State has been owned from 1922 to the present day by Desmond Fennell’s ‘ideological sect’, or to put it another way, the priests and the political class of which they form part.

The best description of the Irish State is that it was first a counter-revolutionary theocratic state controlled in its essence by an ultra-conservative religious sect, and that it has, with the diminution in power of the Irish Catholic Church over the past 30 years, become a counter-revolutionary plutarchy – a combination of plutocracy (government by a wealthy class) and oligarchy (government by a dominant class or clique) – a plutarchy determined at all costs to stifle the beautiful vision of the Proclamation.

And what of the people of Ireland, or at least of the 26-county Irish State, and their seeming inability, in general, to act politically and socially in different ways depending on their particular ‘faiths’ whether religious or political, to rationally debate different ideas, to come to different conclusions, make different choices, act with some evidence of individual autonomy and reason?

How is it that a majority of people in this state consistently act against their own economic or social interests in electing a set of political parties to govern, knowing from experience that the inevitable outcome will be the pampering of the wealthy at the expense of the lower middle and working classes and the poor, and the formulation of social policy so as to achieve as little progressive movement as necessary, thus securing the existing social order?

How is  it that in the face of outrageous and generally un-prosecuted crimes committed against women and children, and the corruption of political institutions by politicians, professionals and business interests, the people give out and then, inevitably, give in?

How is it that the mass of ordinary people, workers and their families, with all of the evidence around them of a contempt for the contribution they make to the companies they work for, and to the State itself, give in to a campaign of vilification of the trade union movement – the very institution that gave them the 40 hour working week, annual leave, legal and regulatory protections, a seat at the negotiating table, a minimum wage, extra pay for unsocial hours and redundancy compensation?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding that classic ‘civil war to counter-revolution’ scenario described earlier by Margaret McCurtain, and adding to it the deliberate creation off a hegemonic state by creating a ‘spiral of silence’ in which all dissident views are regarded as deviant and dangerous and contrary to ‘public good’ and even the ‘natural order’.

The evidence is all there in full view. It is time for us to understand it and to react rationally in our own interest and in the interest of the common good. It is time for us to start naming things for what they really were and are.  It is time for us to stop using ambiguity in language as it applies to public life and to the nation, to stop talking from behind our hands, to stand up and speak out, to stop giving out and then giving in. It is time for us to tear back the Proclamation from the dead hands of that ugly ‘ideological sect’ and to put it into action for the benefit of all citizens – to re-create the Republic.

It is time for us to grow up.

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‘Republican’ – a much abused word

Media reports of a range of violent attacks – the shooting of three men in a Blanchardstown public park, recent bomb attacks in Derry and Belfast, a double murder in County Armagh, the conviction of a drug dealer in Ballymena – all have one thing in common, the use of the term ‘dissident republican’. This attribution by the media quite literally comes out of the ‘blue’ – out of police press releases and statements north and south of the border. It makes for a neat package, everything nicely parceled up. No further explanation is required as to who these ‘dissident republicans’ are, what their possible motivation for each separate act is, whether the individual perpetrators share common political objectives, or whether any of the perpetrators is actually a ‘republican’ or even understands what the word means. The public, informed by the media, can take note of the explanation, park the story, and move on with neatly primed prejudices reinforced.

There is nothing new in this. Over the past 40 years the term ‘republican’ has been abused by police, media and politicians. Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are the linked bodies most often referred to as ‘republican’ both by members of those organisations and others. While it is undoubtedly true that many members of both organisations were and are genuine republicans in the Tone/Connolly tradition, it is also patently true that many members were motivated by Catholic nationalist sentiment, a not insignificant factor in the splits that occurred during and after the Peace Process.

The differences between nationalism and republicanism have been the subject of two recent blog posts on this site. There is no reason other than convenience and prejudice for the failure of the media in general to separate these two distinct ideologies in the public mind over the past 40 years, and that failure persists in the current use of the blanket-term ‘dissident republican’.

There is no evidence at all that those who carried out these recent crimes have a republican bone in their bodies. On the contrary, those ‘dissident republican’ organisations – the ‘Real’ IRA and the ‘Continuity’ IRA – demonstrate nothing more than a desire to prolong the ‘armed struggle’ against the British enemy that is well on the road to practical disengagement from the six counties. This is a stupid and futile gesture by narrow-minded men and women who refuse to understand what Irish republicanism is really about, explicit in the intent of the United Irishmen of “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion” and reinforced by that incisive line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic …oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past”.

That the shooting of three men in a public park in Dublin, allegedly for ‘anti-social activities’ could be labeled as an act by ‘republican dissidents’ demonstrates at best laziness on the part of journalists and editors and at worst a further attempt to attach a pejorative meaning to the word ‘republican’ that it does not deserve. Whether or not those who ordered the shootings, or those who carried them out, want to gratify themselves by describing themselves as ‘republicans’, that does not make them republicans. They are not. They are criminals.

But there is no evidence offered, and a police briefing to journalists is not evidence, that so-called ‘republican dissidents’ were indeed involved in these shootings, which brings the spotlight to bear on the media. It is important that citizens who understand and commit themselves to republicanism are vigilant and vocal in opposition to the easy abuse of the term ‘republican’ through laziness, ignorance or to promote ideological prejudice on the part of the media for its own ends and to suit the political class which is essentially anti-republican.

Those of us who have taken the trouble to understand what Irish republicanism is and what it signifies need to reclaim the concept, not just from so-called ‘republican dissidents’ (and from the utterly discredited Fianna Fail party), but also from those disseminators of information and misinformation, those moulders of public opinion – the Irish media – abusers of language and of ideas.

 



Republicanism Versus Nationalism(s) 1

In Ireland, and abroad, Irish  republicanism and Irish nationalism are often taken to be interchangeable terms, and both are frequently assumed to be the preserve of catholic Ireland. These assumptions are incorrect, and are damaging to the prospects of reunifying the island of Ireland through reconciling the people of Ireland with one another across religious and political divides.

Irish nationalism is motivated by by a love of Irish culture, history, language but not necessarily, historically, by a demand for national independence from English/British domination. Those who pushed for Home Rule described themselves as nationalists, and were content to seek autonomy but not a break with rule from Westminster and the British monarch as Head of State. Even Patrick Pearse, who pushed for Home Rule before he came around to republicanism, was in favour of independence from Britain but with the German Kaiser’s son as constitutional monarch of Ireland. Arthur Griffith, a committed nationalist, proposed that Ireland be independent from Britain but that it would share the British monarch.

Irish republicanism, from its first incarnation in Ireland in the 1790s through to today, is based on the demand that all of Ireland should be an independent republic. That republican ideal comes straight from the European Enlightenment and particularly from the French Revolution and its ideals of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.

What republicans share with nationalists is a love for Irish culture, history and language. Where they differ is in their ideal of a unified Irish republic, and in terms of the right-left political divide. Republicans by the nature of their ideology tend to be left-wing, whereas nationalists tend to be conservative ranging from the political centre to the right – and sometimes to the extremes of the right.

Republicans are, by the nature of their ideology, often avowedly secularist and certainly anti-sectarian. Nationalism, while containing a cohort of Protestants at various stages, tends to be widespread among Catholics, and indeed the Irish Catholic Church has associated itself strongly with nationalism while reviling republicanism at all stages since the 1790s. That outright rejection of republicanism is one that the Church shares with Unionism, which itself is mainly Protestant and is an expression of a different nationalism – a far more extreme British nationalism than most English, Welsh or Scottish nationalists would express, or even understand.

While the Catholic Church’s rejection of republicanism is in a way understandable – the Church is after all monarchical itself, the rejection of republicanism by Northern Protestants, who tend to be non-conformists (Dissenters) – Presbyterians and Methodists, is paradoxical. After all, the American Revolution, fueled in the main by non-conformists, did not set up an alternative monarchy, but a republic. And when republicanism was introduced into Ireland in the 1790s it was by Northern Dissenters and conformist Protestants initially, later joined by Protestants and Dissenters and Catholics from the South. The myth that it was introduced by returning Catholic seminarians from their studies in French colleges who had been influenced by the French Revolution is largely just that, a myth, carefully constructed to place the Catholic Church at the heart of the 1798 rising and to displace the unifying ideal of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter of the United Irishmen. The myth was founded on a lie.

The truth is that Unionists, in the main non-conformists – Presbyterians, Methodists, etc., should be, because of the values of their faith and belief-system, more naturally republican than monarchist. Nationalists on the other hand should be, due to the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church with the Pope as monarch and a strong code of obedience to authority, more naturally monarchist, although since independence they are not, in the political sense.

If it seems confusing, it is not. Many of the myths are lies, the paradoxes can be explained. There’s a clue in the words of Wolfe Tone, a Protestant, one of the principal leaders of the United Irishmen:

“To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connexion (sic) with England, the never-failing source of our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country – these were my objects.  To unite the whole  people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter – these were my means.”

There it is – “England, the never-failing source of our political evils…”. More on this another day.


Listen To The Dead

Graveyards are usually associated with sadness and loss, and Glasnevin Cemetery is no exception to this. But there is one part of Glasnevin that has the power to evoke very different emotions – the Republican Plot.

It would be difficult for any person who knows that part of the history of Ireland from around 1900 to 1922 not to be moved, not to feel a sense of awe, not to be inspired by reading the headstones and markers in one small area near the main entrance. There, gathered together side by side are revolutionaries who were not afraid to dream a beautiful vision of the future for the people of Ireland, and not afraid to take on the might of the most powerful empire in the world to achieve that vision.

Countess Markievicz grave, Republican Plot, Glasnevin

Consider these names: Countess Markievicz, Maud Gonne MacBride, Cathal Brugha, Thomas Ashe, Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Erskine Childers, Roger Casement, Peadar Kearney, Dick McKee, Elisabeth O’Farrell, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Helena Molony, Kevin Barry, Harry Boland, James Larkin. There too lie James Connolly’s wife Lillie and three of their children, Nora, Ina and Roddy. And there are more.

Imagine the Dublin of that time with these people moving about the place and developing avant-garde transformational  ideas – feminism and equality, citizenship, secularism, trade unionism, socialism, republicanism and the very nature of the republic-to-be. Imagine what it must have been like to be party to their conversations and their meetings as they debated their ideas with one another and found common ground and brought more people on board, and as they started the process of moving to full-scale revolution.

Think of the number of women who were centrally involved in all of that, of the relatively young age that many of the revolutionaries were, of the number who had families depending on them, of the fact that the revolutionaries included heterosexuals, gays and lesbians among them, that they encompassed various religious persuasions and none, and were spread across the social classes from the lowest to the highest. They would fight, be prepared to die, to be free and equal citizens of the Irish Republic. All sane, rational people. Generous people.

A few miles away at Arbour Hill cemetery lie the executed leaders of the revolution. Seven of them signed their own death warrants by putting their names to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the others through their actions in  the revolution. Their mass-grave is rarely visited. Most citizens know little of Arbour Hill or what it stands for. There is no eternal flame there, no army guard of honour, no line of school buses waiting for their young occupants to come out of the cemetery with an understanding of the sacrifice – and the prize.

1916 Leaders' Grave Arbour Hill

And what if the occupants of those graves in Arbour Hill and in Glasnevin could speak to the people of Ireland today? Would they speak of their despair at the mess we have allowed the political class to make of the country while we stood watching? Would they regret their sacrifice? Would they admonish us? No!

They would tell us that we have it in us, just as they did, to transform the future for ourselves and for generations to come. And if we asked them for a plan, a ‘road-map’, they would turn, in unison, and point to the limestone wall at the grave in Arbour Hill on which is carved the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is all there. The ways and the means to achieve it lie in ourselves. It is time to do it. Let’s get to work.

Proclamation Arbour Hill


Election Mania: the mud of political intrigue

Sometimes, up out of the mud that is political intrigue, comes a recollection that illuminates how flawed democracy can be when it is constructed on a foundation of ignorance, or prejudice or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

In the mid 1990s, Eamon Gilmore responded to an observation that he was from the area of East Galway where Liam Mellows had led a successful campaign during the 1916 revolution, by saying that Mellows was ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’. That response was made outside RTE’s Television Centre after a ‘Questions & Answers’ programme, to me.

Eamon Gilmore is, of course, entitled to have an opinion about Mellows. In that, he may indeed have known more about Mellows 80 years later than did James Connolly in 1915. Did Connolly describe Mellows as ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’? He did not. Connolly said to his family that Mellows, then 20 years of age, was ‘the finest republican of them all’. So highly did Connolly think of Mellows, in common with the other members of the IRB Military Council, that when Mellows was placed under house arrest in England, Connolly sent his own daughter Nora to rescue Mellows and get him back in disguise to Ireland, so that he could command the forces in Galway.

There is a sad irony in the negotiations between Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, a party that has its political roots in the Free State’s first government. During the Civil War that ensued between that government and the republican anti-Treaty forces, Liam Mellows was captured along with Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett at the Four Courts, and held in Mountjoy Jail from June 1922. Six months later, on the 8th of December, the four genuinely heroic patriots of 1916 and the War of Independence were summarily shot – in brutal circumstances – in Mountjoy Jail by order of Fine Gael’s political ancestors, without trial. This is usually explained as an act of reprisal for the shooting of Sean Hales, a pro-Treaty member of parliament with which killing, as prisoners in the State’s custody, the four had no connection. But these extra-judicial murders were more probably a counter-revolutionary act, the clearing out of revered and therefore politically dangerous foes, and an act of State terrorism.

Eamon Gilmore claims to be a socialist, or at least a social democrat. What did James Connolly, the principal founding father of the Irish Labour Party say about socialism? He said that to be a socialist was to be a republican, and to be a republican was to be a socialist. How do Eamon Gilmore, and the rest of the old guard of the Labour Party, as they enter into negotiations with the right-wing Thatcherite Fine Gael Party, measure up to Connolly’s statement?

Neither Eamon Gilmore nor Enda Kenny bear any responsibility of the murders of Liam, Joe, Dick and Rory, or for the other awful acts of atrocity carried out by that first government. But they each have a responsibility, as political leaders, to know and understand the history of the State, of the Nation and of its people. More than that, they each have a responsibility to have their own distinct and identifiable political value system, and to transmit that value system, their personal political principles, to the citizens in a clear and honest way. There is no place in democratic political leadership for gross dishonesty, for playing the ‘cute hoor’, for ignorance, or prejudice, or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

Did the voters not make that clear?



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