SHAUN CONNOLLY: This State was handed to them on a silver platter

WHAT did they die for? That is the lament for the sacrifice of the 1916 rebels, since corporate greed and government incompetence pushed the State they brought into bloody being to the brink of financial meltdown.

If James Connolly had been back at the GPO, last Wednesday night, for the launch of the centenary commendations of the Easter Rising, he would have died of shame.

Not because of the ill-considered, hastily assembled, deeply underwhelming celebration plans being unveiled, but because the voices of Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, and Joan Burton, the leader of the Labour Party that Connolly helped found, were often drowned-out by the thunderous sounds of the anti-water charge demonstrators banging against the windows on the outside.

As platters, groaning with the weight of sumptuous-looking canapes, swirled around the room — my, my, how catering at the GPO has improved since the siege of 1916 — the ‘them and us’ atmosphere was inescapable, as speeches were at times overwhelmed by the noise of the crowds outside chanting: “You Can Stick Your Water Meters, Stick Your Water Meters, Stick Your Water Meters Up Your Arse!”

It seemed as if the window panes might have crashed in at any moment. When the sound of breaking glass was heard during the speeches, heads turned, but it was just one of ‘the great and good’ at the launch dropping their fine wine on the floor. The launch was like some swanky hangover from ‘the bubble’, and look who was there but Mr Boom and Bust himself — Bertie Ahern.

Two and a half years after the Mahon corruption probe branded Ahern a liar — it did not believe his evidence about those curious dollar and sterling lodgements sloshing around the 20 bank accounts he operated while finance minister in the early 1990s — he has never explained himself, nor where the cash came from.

Mr Ahern owes answers to the country he used to lead.

The former taoiseach has carefully avoided scrutiny regarding the damning tribunal findings, and only emerges at events where he thinks he’ll be safe from questioning.

As Mr Ahern indulged in soft-focus musings to assembled journalists about the commemorations, we saw our chance, and this is the exchange in full.

Irish Examiner: “On history, Mr Ahern, the Mahon Tribunal found your testimony to be unbelievable — they called you a liar, effectively...”

Ahern: “You enjoy your night, ha, ha, ha...

Irish Examiner: “You’ve never answered any questions on that, or responded...”

Ahern: “I’ll sure not to you, ha, ha, ha...”

And, with that, he scurried off into the throng, but not before a mild dig in the chest and a flash of hatred in his eyes.

A little weary that I only got a dig-in, and not one of Mr Ahern’s infamous dig-outs, I finally gave way to temptation and had one of the expensive-looking vol-au-vents going around, but when I went for a second one I was sternly told: “You can’t have any more, they’re for the Taoiseach.”

The message was clear: Media — know your place.

And, fittingly, at this point, Gerry Adams walked into the GPO.

The anti-water-charge chanting was becoming overwhelming again and, as Mr Adams turned to look at the windows, smiling, he winked at me.

Given that the Sinn Féin leader has been ‘joking’ all week about the good old days when IRA figures like Michael Collins could smash up the printing presses of newspapers they did not like, and hold guns to the heads of journalists with whom they did not agree, I was slightly unsettled by this sudden show of over-familiarity.

Mr Adams says he made the unfortunate, and historically inaccurate, reference to the infamous press-smashing incident (Collins wasn’t there) to show that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael also have their roots in violence.

But this is to distort history, as the Sinn Féin/IRA of that time was a broad-based independence movement, overwhelmingly supported by the people. In contrast, the provisionals only ever achieved a minority of the Catholic vote in one corner of Ireland, when Mr Adams’ party had its notorious ballot box/armalite strategy in operation. There is no moral equivalence between the War of Independence and the provisional IRA atrocities of the Troubles.

Some of the loudest booing from outside the launch could be heard during the self-congratulatory speech of Arts Minister Heather Humphreys. Hapless Heather last troubled the nation’s consciousness with her slapstick routine during Cronygate. That she has been promoted well beyond her ability level was shown again with the slap-dash uprising celebrations.

Indeed, one of the biggest groups representing relatives of the 1916 fighters boycotted the launch event. The group had this withering assessment of the minister, after meeting her: “From what we witnessed, Minister Humphreys appears to have no clue as to what is going on.”

Ouch! But not far off what many of Ms Humphreys’ Fine Gael colleagues say about her accident-prone performances.

But, then, how far can we really take this relative participation thing, 100 years on?

By some assessments, 150,000 people could now claim such a connection.

And I speak as one of them, as my grandfather took part in the rising in deepest Connemara.

But, when attending school in England, at the height of the Provisional IRA terror campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s, it was never a good idea to reveal things like: “Yeah, my granddad had to go to a rebel hospital in Mayo, because, see, he was making this bomb and accidentally blew himself up...”

You soon learned such stories were best kept within the family circle.

If only 2016 would bring a warts-and-all assessment of where we came from, as a nation, and where we are heading now, instead of the Disney-on-the-cheap cartoonesque nostalgia the Government seems to have planned, if Wednesday’s smug-fest is anything to go by.

Poked at by Bertie, winked at by Gerry, and vol-au-vent-blocked by Enda — it was quite the night.

The spirit of 1916 has been well and truly lost by the modern-day political heirs of the glorious dead, but I don’t begrudge Mr Kenny his swanky snackettes — clearly, he thinks the canapes at the GPO were to die for.

I don’t begrudge Mr Kenny his swanky snackettes.


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