25 February 2006

Whether we like it or not we live with it

Nenagh Guardian

O’Donoghue’s View

Our good president, Mary McAleese, has been making a few waves in recent times. And judging by the reaction of various media commentators and letter writers, it would seem that she has stirred up quite a few hornets’ nests. But then, the same woman was never averse to expressing her opinion when she felt it necessary, and like everyone else with an opinion she won’t please all the people all the time.

I for one couldn’t agree with the views she expressed recently in Saudi Arabia when she said that the Irish people “abhorred” the publication of the Danish cartoons lampooning the prophet Mohammed. She said this as if she was speaking for us all, but I think she got it wrong - totally. Very few Irish, with the exception of some native Muslims, some politically correct types and the overly sensitive, would have felt abhorrence at the cartoons. Most of us have seen this kind of thing many times before, and whether we like it or not we live with it and then it goes away and is deservedly forgotten. Anyway, it is obvious she tailored her speech to suit her audience and she wouldn’t be the first to do that.

A few weeks before, towards the end of January, Mrs McAleese made another speech which was much more relevant to the people of Ireland and much more important in terms of how we see ourselves as a nation and where we came from. On this occasion she was in UCC addressing a conference entitled The Long Revolution - the 1916 Rising in context. Given that this year is the 90th anniversary of the Rising and the fact that the Government are reinstating an Easter parade in commemoration of the event, and the fact that the historical conflict appears to be reaching its endgame, it is entirely appropriate that our president should take up the issue.

This speech has provoked quite a lot of reaction, which I will come back to, but for its direct engagement with the men and women involved and the ideals they aspired to, it was an address of the highest significance for all living on this island. I have read the text of the speech but for those who haven’t I will quote a few excerpts.

“We who are of this strong, independent and high-achieving Ireland would do well to ponder the extent to which today’s freedoms, values, ambitions and success rest on that perilous and militarily doomed undertaking of nine decades ago.........”

President McAleese places particular emphasis on the Proclamation and in particular the following section: “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 all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.....“. The rights of women were enshrined in this document as being no different to the rights of men. These included the right to vote at a time when the British Government were battering the suffragettes off the streets.

Near the end of her speech Mrs McAleese brought the relevance of the Proclamation right up to the present day. “In the hearts of those who took part in the Rising, in what was then an undivided Ireland, was an unshakeable belief that whatever our personal, political or religious perspectives, there was huge potential for an Ireland in which loyalist, republican, unionist, nationalist, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, agnostic, pulled together to build a shared future , owned by one and all.“

Now it seems to me that the sentiments expressed here, whether those from the Proclamation or from the president herself, are entirely admirable and worth aspiring to. Unfortunately not everyone agrees. Since the speech was made, the opinion and letters pages of the newspapers have been crammed with all sorts of views of the speech itself and the events which it recalled. Many contributions have been very supportive of Mrs McAleese but a significant number have taken her to task.

She has been accused of glorifying violence, of being old fashioned, of giving succour to the Provos, of being immature. All of this, of course, is nonsense and it makes me wonder about some of the people we have living on this island. Why do some of us agonise over, and ultimately disown, those men and women who sacrificed life and liberty to give us what freedoms and nationhood we have today, at least in the twenty six counties? Sometimes I think there are some in this country who would prefer if the British were still here lording it over us.

And what about the political parties? Fianna Fáil, having abandoned our dead patriots back in the seventies are now attempting to wrap the green flag around themselves again. Fine Gael think they are the rightful heirs to the legacy of the Rising, but were quite content to go along with the others in discarding our acknowledgement of this strike for freedom. And get this, Labour now want us to include the British soldiers killed during the Rising in any commemoration. Yeah, I’m sure the defenders of Stalingrad, when remembering their heroic stand, will commemorate the masses of German troops who slaughtered tens of thousands of their fellow citizens.

As President McAleese said: “There is a tendency for powerful and pitiless elites to dismiss with damning labels those who oppose them.” This is as true now as it was in 1916. But while these elites and their lackeys in the media rant and rave, a few more words from our president on the brave souls of that Easter long ago: “Their deaths rise far above the clamour - their voices insistent still.”

Tom O’Donoghue

‘It makes me wonder about some of the people we have living on this island’

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