Pearse the rebel was once a democrat who had been betrayed

ROBIN BURY of the Reform Movement states (Irish Examiner November 8) that “1916 was not mandated.”

This statement is rendered meaningless by isolating it from the political and constitutional context in which the Easter Rising took place.

It conceals the crucial fact that Patrick Pearse and most of his colleagues were committed to the democratic process in the years immediately prior to the 1916.

A few facts may help not only to substantiate this point but also to illustrate the transformation of the Irish political scene in the years before 1916.

Firstly, in regard to Pearse himself, Ruth Dudley Edwards has described him in his youth as a “harmless cultural nationalist,” while the constitutional character of the wider nationalist movement has been recognised in the recent research of Senia Peseta (‘Before the Revolution,’ Cork, 1999).

Is Mr Bury disputing the findings of these authors?

Secondly, on March 31, 1912, Pearse and MacNeill spoke with John Redmond. Later, after Asquith had introduced a Home Rule Bill in April 1912, both Pearse and MacNeill helped to fund the Irish Volunteers in November 1913 with the aim of securing the passing of the bill, which still recognised the King of England.

It is true that in 1912 Pearse had ended his speech in favour of Home Rule with the words, “if we are again betrayed there shall be red war throughout Ireland.”

But surely Mr Bury cannot complain at Pearse’s call for war, if the British government betrayed the democratic voice of the Irish people and the vote of the House of Commons?

Thirdly, while Irish nationalists were prepared to accept a limited Home Rule Bill, the Ulster unionists signed a solemn league and covenant on September 28, 1912, which pledged its signatories to use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule parliament in Ireland”.

These means extended to the use of force. In January 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed to resist Home Rule; in September 1913 an Ulster Provisional Government was established in Belfast; and in April 1914, thousands of rifles, brought in from Germany, were landed at Larne to make the threat of force a reality.

Does Mr Bury consider these actions to be democratic?

Fourthly, these preparations for armed resistance to Home Rule were not only encouraged by Sir Edward Carson but also approved of by FE Smith and other leading members of the Unionists Party in Great Britain.

Carson declared on June 20, 1914 that “the day I like best in the whole controversy is the day on which I am compelled, if I am compelled to tell my men, you must mobilise and you must defend yourselves.”

FE Smith asserted on June 15, 1914 that “the constitutional methods of resistance were exhausted when the House of Lords had voted against the bill. Nothing was then left but the unconstitutional resistance of men who in the last resort were prepared to take up arms against the bill”.

Does Mr Bury consider these statements of Carson and Smith to be democratic?

Fiftly, the Unionist Party was determined to oppose Home Rule even after the ending of war.

Speaking after the outbreak of the war, Carson declared, in September 1914, that “when the war is over we will call our Provisional Government together and we will repeal the Home Rule Act so far as it concerns us in ten minutes. All our Ulster Volunteers are going to kick out anybody who tries to put it into force in Ulster.” Bonar Law, head of the Unionist Party in England, speaking at the same time, pledged his support for this action, asserting that “we shall support you to the last in any steps which Sir Edward Carson and your leaders think it necessary for you to take in defence of your rights”.

In the light of these statements and in view of the fact that the Unionist Party, including Law and Carson, became members of a British Coalition Government in May 1915, how can Mr Bury seriously suggest that Home Rule would have been granted after the war?

In this overall context, the Easter Rising, while not mandated by the normal voting process, became a mandatory obligation on all democrats; it was apparent not only that the British government had abandoned the principles of democracy, but also that there was a fundamental difference between Irish national sovereignty and the presence of an imperial power in Ireland.

Dr Brian P Murphy OSB

Glenstal Abbey


Co Limerick

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