JOHN BRUTON: Gerry Adams must accept the lost chance of Home Rule

Former taoiseach John Bruton says his recent comments did not denigrate the men of 1916; they merely questioned the wisdom of the leaders.

MAKING judgments about historical decisions is not denigrating anyone.

Gerry Adams accuses me of 'denigrating' the Volunteers who fought in Dublin in 1916. Not so. I respect their sincerity and their bravery, and I have said so.

I just question the wisdom of their leaders. Gerry Adams may say he regards the First World War as an avoidable mistake, as I do, but saying that would not mean that either of us would be “denigrating” those who died in the Great War.

Unless we can make that sort of distinction, we can have no debate on history. I feel it was a mistake in 1916 to stage an uprising, when Home Rule was already granted, and to do so in alliance with Germany, Austria, and Turkey and against the UK, France, and neutral Belgium which had been occupied by Germany.

The consequent sacrifices on all sides that flowed from the Rising made a settlement, which was always going to have to involve compromise, harder. Eventually, thousands of lives were lost in the 1919-21 war, and in the Civil War that followed. These were avoidable deaths, I believe.

There will be extensive commemoration of the centenary of the Rising in 2016. That is being planned. In fact, the Army already commemorates it every year.

As far as I am aware, no comparable commemoration is planned for the centenary of the signing of Home Rule into law, on September 18, 1914, the centenary of which is next month. This was achieved by entirely peaceful means, without the loss of a single life.

If we commemorate 1916, and fail to commemorate next month’s centenary of Home Rule, we will have unbalanced commemoration.

Apart from falsely accusing me of “denigrating” the sacrifice of those who rebelled in 1916, Mr Adams brings up partition. True, Redmond’s Home Rule only left open the option of a United Ireland. It did not achieve it.

But violent methods, whether in 1919, in 1922, or by the IRA in the 1950s, and in the 1969-98 period, did not achieve it either!. Mr Adams says the legislative independence under Home Rule was limited. True, but once there was a parliament in Dublin, that could have been a stepping stone to greater independence, as the Treaty of 1921 was, but without the lost lives.

Mr Adams himself has now turned to parliamentary methods, the methods of John Redmond, and has achieved more success with them than he did with the 1916-inspired physical force methods that he previously espoused.

As it is today, Ireland in 1914 was a divided society, with a majority (mainly of one religious tradition) favouring a large measure of independence, and a strong minority (mainly of another religious tradition) opposing this, and favouring integration in the UK.

Violence, as Mr Adams has far too slowly learned, is not a productive way of resolving conflicts of allegiance like this, in a profoundly divided society, as the 32 counties of Ireland still are.

Commemorations should be an opportunity to learn from history, not merely to celebrate one protagonist or another. To sum up, if we are to learn from these commemorations, it would be unbalanced and unhistorical to commemorate 1916, without an equal commemoration, next month, of the centenary of passage of Home Rule.

That would send out that the message that patient parliamentary work is to be downgraded in favour of celebrating killing and dying. And there are only a few weeks left for the State to prepare a commemoration.

The publication by An Post on a postage stamp of a distorted cartoon of John Redmond on a recruiting poster is not a commemoration of Home Rule, nor is it fair representation of the life’s work of this Irish patriot.

This stamp is, if anything, is a commemoration of the Great War, which is an entirely different matter from the difficult and long drawn-out parliamentary achievement of Home Rule.

Under Home Rule, any excluded parts of Ulster would have been under direct rule from Westminster. There would have been no Stormont.

And continuing southern Irish representation in the House of Commons would have ensured there would have been none of the discrimination that Northern nationalists suffered from 1921 to 1966. If the Government does organise a commemoration of Home Rule on September 18, I hope Mr Adams attends.

After all, one of his predecessors as an MP for West Belfast, Joe Devlin, had a lot to do with bringing it about.

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM GERRY ADAMS

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