THEY were under siege, holed up in the GPO. Outside, the massed ranks railed against them. The constant barrage echoed though the building like the drumbeat of victory.
They kept going, under the guidance of the schoolteacher who saw himself as leader of the Republic. Yet, despite their heroism in meeting history head on, they did not enjoy the approval or confidence of the nation.
They had no authority to set out a vision for the future. But they were fortified by their own righteousness. Still, the barrage continued.
Boom, boom, boom: “no way, we won’t pay, no way, we won’t pay”.
So it went, on the site of the founding of the Republic, last Wednesday. As the leaders of the main political parties gathered to plan a remembrance for 1916, water-charge protesters laid siege to the building. Inside, Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke of how the Rising would be commemorated. Or, more precisely, how 1916 would be remembered. Apparently, the Taoiseach, in launching the commemoration plans, made no mention of the signatories of the Proclamation.
Ireland Inspires 2016, a video launched on the same night, failed to mention the executed leaders, or the Rising. It looked as if it was a leftover from promotional material for The Gathering. Instead of the lyrical Padraig Pearse and the Mandela-like figure of Tom Clarke, the video was peopled by Bono, Bob Geldof, Ian Paisley, David Cameron and the Queen of England. How far we’ve come. How little we’ve travelled.
Of course, 1916 has huge significance for the people organising the commemoration, because it will likely be held in the year of the next general election. Perhaps Mr Kenny was more concerned with portraying ‘the best small country to do business in’ rather than remembering how it all began.
What would they have made of it all, those men and women who took the country by the scruff of the neck and shook it into action? Would they approve of the ‘settlers’ who came in the wake of their pioneering action? Would they relate to the leaders who gathered at the sacred site last Wednesday?
Contained therein were the top bods of all the parties that claim purchase on the ideals and visions of the Rebels. Mr Kenny’s party sees itself as having a direct line to James Connolly’s aide de camp in the GPO, Michael Collins.
The Big Fella might have had great difficulty in relating to the party of austerity. He did a fair job as the first minister for finance of the new Republic, but his vision was not confined to pounds, shillings, and pence.
By contrast, those who claim to carry his flame have been guided by little but balancing the books since they came to power in the ‘democratic revolution’ of 2011.
Fine Gael deserve credit for righting the listing ship of State. The economy appears to be on full steam ahead. But the price has been brutal for many sections of society.
Collins would have had difficulty relating tothe Government’s modus operandi in ordering the public finances, not to mention in sorting out the gambling debts of international financiers. He would have had little time for the political ineptitude that has informed the Government’s stewardship since the Troika left.
Then there is Fianna Fail, whose founder, Eamon de Valera, was frog-marched from Boland’s Mill by the British through the ruins of the city. De Valera divided opinion in the new Ireland. Nobody, however, could claim that he would have approved of the feather-bedding that informed the worst instincts of his party prior to the great fall of 2011.
Sure, he pulled a fast one in setting up the Irish Press and in taking ownership of it with monies intended for altruistic purposes. But his motive was political rather than material.
While Dev believed that he only had to look into his own heart to know what the Irish people wanted, Fianna Fail, in its dying years of superiority, was guided by the impulse to simply give the people what they wanted, and putting the bill on the never, never.
Connolly’s Labour Party is not looking forward to 2016. As of now, the mother of all beatings awaits them at the polling booths. And why so? The representatives of labour are perceived as having betrayed labour by loading the price of austerity on those who can least bear it. There may, as the party leaders claim, have been no other way, but the risen people are in no mood for that kind of defence (neither, one imagines, would Connolly have bought that line).
The only outfit facing into 2016 without trepidation is Sinn Féin, the party that has retained the name of those associated with the Rising. They claim that, like their forbears, they are with the people, and against the forces marshalled beyond these shores. Where Eamonn Ceantt and Thomas McDonagh stood up to the crown, so Gerry and Mary Lou are taking on the bondholders.
Like the Shinners of 1916, they see themselves as outside the establishment, intent on forging an Ireland that genuinely cherishes all its children.
Any deeper examination would dispute that waffle. Just last week, the Sinn Fein representatives on Dublin City Council agreed a budget for the first time. They are now the largest party on the local authority, and have lost no time in moving inside the tent.
It will be interesting to see whether the residents of the capital notice a shift in how their city is administered. Will everything now be fairer, more democratic, more efficient, less tilted towards the powerful in society? Don’t hold your breadth.
And what of the leader of the party that claims closest proximity to the men of 1916? Mr Adams is steeped in controversy right now, but look, for a minute, across the Altantic, where, a few weeks ago, he trod in DeValera’s footsteps, looking to raise money for the revolution.
Addressing a group of American business people — who tend to be to the right of Fine Gael on economics — he set out his socialist vision. And then he threw in a joke about the bad press he was getting, invoking the ghost of Mick Collins, who held the editor of the Irish Independent at gunpoint because the paper was anti-Sinn Féin. Except, Collins’s motivation was to acquire better press for the forces that saw themselves as shaping a new Ireland. Adams’s beef with the press was its persistence in highlighting his alleged duplicity in covering up the sexual abuse and rape of Mairia Cahill.
Nice try, Gerry, but, really, even the prosperous Yanks pining for Romantic Ireland aren’t dumb enough to buy that. So it goes with the men of 2016. Would they measure up to the mark of those who shot their way to a new Republic? A far more pressing question is do we get the politics we deserve?
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