16 April 2006

The Invisible Republic gets its day out

Sunday Business Post

By Tom McGurk
16 April 2006

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe intensity of the recent debate about the state’s decision to restore the traditional military parade and celebration of the 1916 Rising has been fascinating.

The objections have varied from criticism that the parade is a military one to outright objections to having any parade at all. The debate has, if anything, revealed a deep fissure that has existed in the southern state since independence. (Click photo to view detail of the >>Crazyfenian mural pic, which you can send as an e-card)

Of course, at the heart of the debate is 1916 itself and the way official Ireland has always had problems dealing with it. Ever since the ink dried on the Treaty, the legacy of the ‘Invisible Republic’ has cut across the Irish political establishment.

The first Dail, which was mostly composed of IRA members elected in the first general election after the Rising, adopted the Republic proclaimed in 1916 and swore allegiance to it.

Although they had a large majority in that election, a considerable number of people remained loyal to the old Home Rule nationalism.

Alongside them was another significant group, again made up of a not inconsiderable number of people, for whom the old British colonial connection had provided their bread and butter.

There were the families who had a long history of service with the British military - by far the largest non-English-born group in the 19th century British army was Irish - and in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) and the civil service.

Then there was the petit bourgeoisie of the old garrison towns and the large farmers who had benefited from the land reforms and for whom the British link and the British market were of considerable importance.

After the Treaty, they found themselves in an unlikely alliance with those members of the original IRA who followed Michael Collins and accepted dominion status and the Free State under the king.

In fact, a considerable number of those who joined the Free State army and defeated the republican side in the Civil War were ex-British soldiers who had originally fought in World War I in the Irish regiments.

This factor in itself added to the savagery of that conflict.

Following the Civil War, the Invisible Republic - declared in 1916, sworn allegiance to in the first Dail and abandoned by the Treaty - continued to haunt Irish politics.

All sides laid claim to it, its associations and its mythical power, which was greater than any of them. But it came with many dangerous skeletons in its cupboard - the reliance on unmandated, armed insurrection, the notion that the army of the republic was the de facto government and, above all, the unmistakable and unambiguous ambitions of its Proclamation.

The Free Staters felt the Invisible Republic problem worst of all. They quickly began to consolidate the mystique of Michael Collins as an essential part of their militant heritage. He was their model of a ‘respectable’ gunman.

After the IRA split and the republican faction partly re-emerged as de Valera’s Fianna Fail governments, 1916 could be safely disinterred and brought centrestage.

But again, it had its problems, given the way in which most of Ulster and the northern nationalists had been abandoned by the very process that had given the southern state its independence.

Three times in the following decades, the skeletons of 1916 came out again in the form of armed unmandated action against partition.

The first two occasions were driven in the south by the relics of the old anti-Treaty IRA; the last one, the most recent Provisional IRA campaign, was based mostly in the North and led primarily by Northerners.

It was not surprising that the southern state was forced yet again to return 1916 to the cupboard.

During this period, some of the old allegiances, which had been buried since the Treaty period, also began to re-emerge.

Historical revisionism surged as contemporary historians rushed to keep up with the political correctness. Even Redmondism re-emerged: a sort of nostalgic ghost of a colonial past that apparently wasn’t that bad after all.

Other ghosts re-emerged as the memory of the thousands of Irish people who had fought in the British imperial armies was resurrected and we were scolded for our callous disregard for them. Poppy Day began to awaken debates not heard since the 1920s.

In many ways, the 1998 Belfast Agreement came just in time.

With it, Irish nationalism and Irish republicanism seem to have finally buried the hatchet that has been brandished since the end of the 19th century. Nationalist political power in the North was exchanged for the doctrine of consent.

Part of all this involved changing de Valera’s old Articles 2 and 3 with which he had hoped to bring all of the old IRA into constitutional politics. Ironically, their abandonment now became part of bringing a new generation of the IRA into constitutional politics.

And so, once again, it has been deemed safe to let the ghosts of 1916 loose in time for the 90th anniversary.

Not surprisingly, goaded by 1916’s recent re-emergence, the revisionists and the neo-Redmondites were quickly filling The Irish Times letter pages with their traditional dire warnings.

They are their grandfather’s grandchildren.

How refreshing that those old Fenian subversives will be given day release.

Ninety years on, Clarke and Pearse’s Invisible Republic will be unwrapped, but under optimum official state conditions.

Everybody will be expected to wear their new suits and keep a straight face.

That apparently goes too for the citizens of the ‘Invisible Republic’ who live in the North - so be warned.

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