Remembering Easter 1916: Was the sacrifice justified?

THE Government will today publish the long-awaited details of how it proposes to officially mark the 1916 Easter Rising.

It will be a considerable but unexpected achievement if this programme realises the near impossible and satisfies the kaleidoscope of opinion so eager to pronounce on the event and how it might be marked.

It is almost inevitable that some people will be dissatisfied. How might it be otherwise?

After all each of us, individually or through our community, looks back on that seminal event through a particular prism, one probably shaped — still today if we are honest — by the divisions that made 1916 all but inevitable.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have announced alternative events to safeguard their particular interpretation — and to secure their precious shaft of limelight.

The descendants of those who took part in 1916 plan events too. This diversity is welcome but it does seem a pity that a century after such an important event, the event some might argue, in this Republic’s history that so many battalions should take the field to fly their particular, incompatible banners.

A kind of independence may have been achieved but real let-us-serve-the-Republic unity remains as elusive as ever.

The Government’s advisory group on centenary commemorations recognised these tensions: “Commemoration should not ignore differences and divisions ... while ensuring, as far as possible, that commemoration does not reignite old tensions.”

This seems a noble ambition, one referred to again by that body when it coined a phrase that could serve well as a guiding principle for the decade of centenaries “to broaden sympathies, without having to abandon loyalties”.

There is, too, the knobbly question that dogs our politics: Is it right that a parliamentary democracy dedicated to upholding the rule of law and the non-violent settlement of disputes should honour an armed insurrection by a self- appointed minority who did not have a ballot-box mandate?

Did 1916 give a legitimacy to terrorists who wreaked carnage on this island in the 1970s, 1980s and onwards? Does it still fuel the dangerous fantasies of “dissident” republicans?

It would be tragic, though, if the programme announced today was primarily a celebration of militarism and violence, so encapsulated in the anti-life idea of a “blood sacrifice”.

Hopefully the schedule will offer opportunities to evaluate how well we have used the potential released in the decade after 1916.

We might also consider how we have realised — or not — the ambitions of 1916.

Have we built a fair society? Do we put too much emphasis on economic rather than social or justice issues? Are we truly tolerant and Republican in the highest meaning of that word?

Is our absolute failure to rejuvenate the Irish language a metaphor for so many lost opportunities?

It seems that no matter what is announced today the anniversary is an opportunity for some reflection and soul searching about the Ireland of today, not the Ireland of a century ago.

It is probably a tragedy of sorts, though,that any such review would not be driven or informed by the fervour and idealism that inspired the men and women of 1916.

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