12 April 2006

Parties have differing views on celebration

Daily Ireland

Some on the left see the acceptance of Rising commemoration as reaction to rise of Sinn Féin

by Mick Hall

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThis weekend Ireland will witness one of the biggest official commemorations of any historic event since the inception of the Irish state.
On Sunday, the Irish government, opposition parties, state forces, church officials and civil leaders will march from Dublin Castle to the General Post Office (GPO) to remember those who died in the 1916 Easter Rising.
The Aer Corps will fly over head. The Irish army will accompany the parade in Scorpion tanks, Ranger Wing vehicles and armoured personnel carriers. Gardaí will march in military formation. The navy may send a warship up the River Liffey.
At noon the tricolour will be lowered on the roof of the GPO. An army officer will read the Proclamation. President Mary McAleese will lay a wreath, followed by a minute’s silence. The flag will then be raised again and the commemoration will reach its emotional apex with a rendition of the national anthem.
This week Fianna Fáil members voiced great enthusiasm for the military event.
Kildare North Fianna Fáil candidate, Áine Brady, encouraged the people of Kildare to travel to Dublin and show support for the 200 army personnel in Kildare who will take part.
“Kildare is at the centre of the Irish Defence Forces and has taken a lead role in training our forces preparing for peace-keeping missions across the globe.
“It is only fitting that our soldiers should be given a pivotal role in the events to mark the 90th anniversary of the Rising,” she said.
She added this weekend was a time to reflect “on what it means to be a republican and the role of the 8,500 men and women of the Defence Forces today”.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has emphasised the “continuous thread” in Irish history since 1916. The 1916 Proclamation, he said, accounted for one of four cornerstones of an “independent Ireland in the twentieth century”.
The other three, he claimed, were the 1937 Constitution, the 1972 ratification of the Treaty of Rome and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking last Sunday at the opening of the official 1916 exhibition at Dublin’s National Museum, he said of the 1916 leaders: “Because of their struggle and commitment, we are living today through one of the most exciting times in Ireland’s destiny.
“The country we inhabit is an island of unprecedented peace, prosperity and opportunity.
He added: “The freedom to plan, decide and implement the policies that are transforming our country today cannot be taken for granted. Just as nobody should seek to own Irish history, nobody should seek to disown it either. Our history is a shared legacy and a continuous thread.”
The Progressive Democrats have also thrown its weight behind the commemorative event. Michael McDowell, famously remembered for claiming his party was the modern day incarnation of Irish republican struggle last year, will be at the head of Sunday’s march.
Fine Gael, traditionally hostile to any mention of the Rising, has also welcomed Sunday’s events. “The party is supportive, of course,” Billy Timmans, the party’s 1916 commemoration committee co-ordinator, told Daily Ireland.
“But we would have we’d liked the commemoration to be broadened out and more inclusive. We’d like more debate on the significance of 1916 taking place this year.”
Other politicians are just as supportive, but are more critical.
“Although I welcome that fact that we are now celebrating our independence, it is a unfortunate that 1916 had been ignored for years, “ said former Green Party Dublin MEP, Patricia McKenna.
She told Daily Ireland: “For years we were the only nation in Europe ashamed of our independence. I can’t understand why there is so much enthusiasm for it now. Why is it now acceptable?”
Mrs McKenna said she found the militaristic trappings of this weekend’s commemoration “offensive”.
She said the event itself was “total hypocrisy”.
“The glorification of militarism at Sunday’s events flies in the face of an attempt to promote peace in a global environment torn apart of war and strife, particularly now evident in Iraq.
“We also have situation where the government is ceding hard-fought national powers to the European Union.
“Irish soldiers are going to form part of the EU Rapid Reaction Force. The government is aligning us with neo-colonial powers in Europe while celebrating the Rising against colonialism in Ireland. It is total hypocrisy,” she said.
She added: “If the current support for 1916 among the big parties is motivated by a desire to stave off a perceived electoral threat from Sinn Féin, then Sunday’s event is a mere political stunt and an insult to those who died in 1916.”
Anthony Coughlan, a senior lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and secretary of the anti-EU group, National Platform, shared many of her concerns.
“Is the right of the Irish people ‘to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies’ compatible with having two thirds of the laws we must obey enacted by the EU in Brussels? It clearly is not,” he said.
“As a member of the eurozone, Dublin has no control of either the rate of interest or its currency exchange rate, which are classical economic tools of all independent government’s that seek to advance their people’s welfare.
Former Labour Party TD and Sligo councillor Declan Bree told Daily Ireland the present Irish state and its shortcomings demonstrated that the principles of those who participated in 1916 had been “deliberately forgotten”.
“We are told that we have attained the republic of 1916, the 26-county state with all its shortcomings.
“The democratic purposes of the rising and the principles of the revolutionary leaders have been deliberately forgotten to accommodate this view,” he said.
“It is clear that the conservative parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the PDs – are using the anniversary of the Rising to further their own narrow political objectives. To hear them talk of honouring the ideals of 1916, and ‘cherishing all the children of the national equally’ smacks of hypocrisy. Even within the Labour Party, the party founded by James Connolly, there are a minority of people who pay lip service to the values and principles of those who went out in 1916 to proclaim an independent Irish republic.
“However, it must be said that the great majority of Labour activists are proud of and recognise the important role the Labour movement played in the struggle for national independence.”
Sinn Fein’s Dublin South Central TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said it was important to hold a separate commemoration. In reference to the contrast of those who died in the Rising and the military state forces taking part in the official commemoration, told Daily Ireland: “The main difference between these two groups of armed forces are stark. The people of in 1916 risked life and limb, motivated by an unbending political idealism.
“There were no financial benefits in doing so. They set about the task of changing society totally, as opposed to defending the interests of those in power.”
Sinn Feín will be holding its own march and commemoration on Saturday to be addressed by party president, Gerry Adams.
It remains unclear whether unionist representatives from the North will be attending on Sunday, although members of the Ulster Unionist Party have been invited.
One thing is certain, however. Although support for the idealism of the 1916 leaders has cut across a broad spectrum of political organisations like never before, interpretations of the Rising and reasons for supporting it remain as varied as ever.

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