Remembering 1916: Celebrations are already too divisive

It seems that the events to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising might yet be as divisive, as loosely organised and as controversial as the event they are supposed to honour. Once again the almost mandatory split — or splits — has worked its way to the top of the national agenda.

The Government has been accused of being secretive and almost inactive on the issue, accusations that seem to have had some validity though the publication of the 2016 Centenary programme at the GPO in Dublin earlier this week brings some shape to proposals around the celebration. However, the promotional video launched at that event has already been severely criticised as it ignores central figures and seminal events of 1916— including the leaders’ executions.

Descendants of those directly involved in 1916 have expressed dissatisfaction at how they are being treated. Some of them suggested they are being marginalised though it’s not altogether clear why this group of people might expect particular attention in what is after all a national event.

Some people have expressed some discomfort, others strong opposition, to the invitation extended to a member of the British royal family to take part. This position is not hard to understand though it hardly points to the kind of confidence that might be expected from a Republic celebrating the centenary of one of its founding moments.

And then there’s Sinn Féin. It has been suggested that the party, unable to secure centre-stage billing in the main event, might organise its own tribute to the men and women of 1916. This would probably carry a far stronger whiff of cordite, than anything planned by the Government. It is also unlikely that a member of Queen Elizabeth’s family might be asked to attend — or attend if asked. Sinn Féin might imagine their political ambitions best be served by standing apart from the official melee, especially as they could control the stage management and timing of any dissident celebration.

These difficulties and conflicting ambitions exist only because it would almost be impossible to mark these events in a non-political, non-partisan way; that level of detachment might have to wait until the bicentenary at least. Every political party sees the centenary as a prism through which it can express its centrality in our Republic, its unquestionable role in its formation and leadership. One party cannot step back from the flag waving and cheers even if it wanted to lest one of its opponents steal the limelight reap the benefits.

These celebrations are being planned when politics, politicians and our political process may not he held in the highest regard. Because of this many people might wish to mark 1916 without endorsing any of today’s parties. They might wish to celebrate the Rising in an apolitical way. The template for this kind of dignified, emotional, neutral and powerful remembrance already exists — the hugely successful and moving installation of 888,246 poppies remembering the dead of the First World War at the Tower of London. A green version of thatwonderfully articulate expression of respect and thanks in, say, Stephen’s Green in Dublin would allow those who wish to honour 1916 in a private, apolitical way to do so.


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