It was, of course, right and proper that the Easter Rising should be commemorated. Unfortunately completely the wrong people were in charge of the commemorations.
The simple fact is that Pearse and Connolly and all the other Volunteers were rebels and revolutionaries. They were rising not only against the British Empire, the most powerful empire in the world at the time, but also in defiance of all the Irish political establishment of the day – the likes of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party.
In contrast Enda Kenny and Joan Burton personify the contemporary Irish establishment. All their attitudes, values and instincts are hostile to those who resist and protest. Just look at Burton’s response to the people of Jobstown who sat down round her car.
And look also at their attitude to the world’s top imperial power today i.e. the United States. Not only do they fawn over the likes of Obama and Trump but they directly assist Americas numerous imperialist wars and interventions by allowing the US military to use Shannon.
The immediate consequence of this was that the actual State Commemoration on Easter Sunday was elitist, exclusionary and very dull. First of all the ordinary public, apart from invited relatives, weren’t allowed to be there – only big wigs.
Second, the whole of Dublin City Centre was subject to an unnecessary lock down far more effective at paralysing the City than the much derided Luas drivers’ strike.
Third, not a single rebellious or dissenting voice was allowed to be heard in the whole thing, apart from a few coded hints from Michael D.
Fourth, the Parade, was an entirely military affair. The truth is the Irish Defence Forces of today bear as much relation to the Volunteers and Citizen Army of 1916 as Putin’s Russian Army with its tanks and nuclear missiles does to the Red Guards who stormed the Winter Palace in 1917 or the French Army that occupied Algeria or invaded Mali did to the citizens who stormed the Bastille in 1789.
This points to a deeper issue. The emphasis on Irish Defence Forces was there to assert continuity between the Irish State of today – not just the individual politicians but the State structure as a whole – and the rebellion of 1916. This claim of continuity is a fraud.
The Irish State of today derives not from the 1916 Rising or from the revolutionary War of Independence with its general strikes, its mass boycotts of the British police stations and its numerous factory occupations and workers’ “soviets” – all of which together with the 100,000 strong IRA drove Britain out of the South.
It derives from the counter-revolution which followed with the victory of the pro-Treaty forces in the Civil War.
When Michael Collins launched an attack on anti-Treaty forces in the Four Courts he did so with heavy artillery supplied by the British and with the explicit backing of the British Government. Winston Churchill, an arch imperialist, sent a telegram congratulating Collins on his successful capture of the Four Courts saying he had kept ‘the title deeds of Ireland safe’.
The present State structure, including the court system, the Gardai and the undemocratic local administration was mainly established by Cumann na nGaedhal Minister of Justice, Kevin O’Higgins in conjunction with later fascist Blue-Shirt, Eoin O’Duffy. From the start it was an apparatus designed to protect the interests of the rich against the working people.
At the same time O’Higgins and co established the absolute domination of the Catholic hierarchy in the political, social and cultural life of the country.
This also brought with it the deeply conservative repression of women’s rights, the restriction of women to the home and the horrors of the Magdalen Laundries and such like. Again in complete contrast to the heroic women of 1916 who fought as equals alongside the men – with the particular support of James Connolly.
Enda Kenny and his colleagues are the direct heirs to this conservative counterrevolution.
This is why it has been important there have been grassroots citizen’s initiatives to reclaim the real legacy of the Easter Rising from those who falsely claim it. Realising the vision of the Proclamation of an Ireland that really ‘cherishes all the children of the nation equally’ remains unfinished business and will require a new revolt.
The themes in this article are explored much more fully in Kieran Allen’s recently published book, 1916: Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition, Pluto Press.