It is an emotive issue and many Irish people understandably have an ambivalent attitude to Royal attendance.
We have endured a long colonial relationship. We suffered Oliver Cromwell, the Penal Laws, plantation and dispossession, the 1798 slaughters, the Great Famine and the exodus of our people. We experienced centuries of racism and condescension. When we sought our freedom, elements of the British media depicted us as pigs and monkeys, unfit for self-government.
The extent to which our national psyche has been affected by colonialism experience has yet to be examined. The history we were taught as children, about battles and rebellions, was of endless, demoralising defeats. I grew up seeing the British as the enemy. I knew far more of Tom Barry’s exploits than of the generations of Irish people who lived their lives as best they could, struggling for survival, many of them opting for British Army service as a route out of poverty.
I was unaware until recently that a grand-uncle of mine was killed on the first day of the Somme and that his name was carved on the monument on the South Mall in Cork City. He was just one of hundreds of thousands of ‘disappeared’ in our complex national story. Changing circumstances on these islands have led to changed attitudes to the story of the ‘disappeared’.
In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to visit our country without claim to being our head of state. She bowed to our patriot dead, acknowledging the legitimacy of their strike for self-determination. In the former seat of British power in Ireland for seven centuries (Dublin Castle), she spoke in our native language. She came with an attitude that did honour to us and credit to her own state. Her overtures for a deepening of the relationship between our two states intensified during President Michael D Higgins’ hugely accomplished return visit.
I am in favour of the attendance of members of the British Royal family at the 1916 commemorations. We do not need their attendance — we do not need anyone’s. It is our moment. Padraig Pearse read those inspiring words outside the GPO: “we are a risen people, you may inflict more but we will endure”. And we have endured, though we are still some way short of the aspirations set out in the Proclamation. The event is about us, but we are at a stage in all the relationships in these islands, not least with ourselves, that we can share it, even with the most culpable. It is essential to our own dignity that visitors are there as guests and not as the focus.
My hope is that our tax exiles, who so often are treated as if they were royalty, are not granted prominent positions, as they were in 2011. We have no hope of cherishing all the children of the nation equally when our wealthiest avoid paying their just and appropriate contribution, and when they are lauded by those charged with governing a State for which our founding fathers and mothers were willing to die.