In a detailed speech at Dublin’s Mansion House as part of the RTÉ Reflecting the Rising events, the head of state said the remembrances mean today’s Irish people must examine “why and how has the flame of equality and social justice been quenched” and to encourage a “greater duty” to achieve what was first set out.
Speaking to a packed audience, the President said what was outlined in the ideals of the 1916 proclamation and the subsequent 1919 Dáil have not been fully achieved.
Mr Higgins acknowledged that it is unwise to examine historical events from today’s standards and noted that many societal problems have their roots long before the foundation of the State.
However, he said, now is the time to open a genuine discussion about what “true Irish republic” means, and how it must respect and protect all sections of society — issues the President said have, at times, been ignored over the past century.
“Today I would like to offer to our collective reflection a brief, but, I hope, constructive, appraisal of Irish nationalism from the point of view of the egalitarian tradition which manifested itself before and during the Easter rising, but which was progressively and, I shall argue, consciously, repressed over the subsequent decades,” said Mr Higgins.
“What is the nature of our nationalist movement, and where is its egalitarian element? Why and how has the flame of equality and social justice been quenched? What republicanism are we talking about in Ireland?
“Can these centenary commemorations be an occasion to redefine what constitutes a real republic, a polity of meaningful and celebratory co-existence, reaching back to the generous aspirations of the men and women who preceded us — to the ‘unfulfilled future of our past’ — and reaching forward to the generations who will succeed us.”
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He noted what he said was, at times, a deliberate attempt by some of Ireland’s most senior political figures during the first decades of the state to extinguish the Bolshevik-labelled social reforms of the rebellion, including full equality for women. Mr Higgins said that, despite the intentions of 1916, by the 1930s Ireland had fallen into “bigotry, censorship, and subjugation of the State and its institutions to hierarchical and patriarchal values”.
He said the fetishising of land and private property” and “a restrictive religiosity” defined the Ireland of that time, and that a true evaluation of what happened 100 years ago must fully consider what ideals were originally put forward.
“The early years of our State did not represent any idyll of liberty and freedom — but a study of the revolutionary moment does present to us a moment of idealism and hope, the promise of what our nation might yet become,” said the President. “The passage of one hundred years allows us to see the past afresh, free from some of the narrow, partisan interpretations that might have restricted our view in earlier periods.
“We have a duty to honour and respect that past, and retrieve the idealism which was at its heart.
“But we have a greater duty to imagine and to forge a future illuminated by the unfulfilled promises of our past — freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and insecurity, and freedom from fear.”