1916 Rising had ‘no legitimacy whatsoever’ - ex-attorney general

Rising leaders ‘a self-absorbed group of brave idealists who had never represented anybody’

 Former attorney general Paul Gallagher has said the Easter  1916 Rising should not be celebrated. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Former attorney general Paul Gallagher has said the Easter 1916 Rising should not be celebrated. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The 1916 Rising “cannot be justified by what happened in retrospect”, former Fianna Fáil attorney general Paul Gallagher has said, arguing the leaders of the rebellion “had no legitimacy whatsoever”.

Mr Gallagher, who served in governments led by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, said the Easter Rising should not be celebrated.

The Rising’s leaders were “a self-absorbed group of brave idealists who had never represented anybody”, except for James Connolly, who had served briefly on Dublin’s city council.

“We should accommodate [the Rising] - but we certainly should not celebrate it. Celebration loses focus and it fails to distinguish between good aspects and bad aspects,” Mr Gallagher told The Irish Times.

He was elaborating on comments he made at a recent debate on the Rising at Castleknock College.

Capacity for violence

“I don’t want, as an Irishman, to be distinguished by a capacity for violence,” he said, questioning the democratic credentials of the 1916 leaders.

“They decided what people like you and me wanted and should do, and the cost didn’t matter. It was Providence that so many more weren’t killed.”

Stressing that their actions could not be justified in retrospect, he asked: “How could they have assumed that people who in 1916 didn’t want this done in their name would in 1918 and 1919 decide they wanted a different Ireland? They couldn’t assume that and they had no entitlement to assume it.”

In any country, “making all due allowances for the period of history in which this was… you cannot assert and claim a power to dictate the lives of other people in the way which these people did”, he said.

People “can always find an excuse for violence”, he said.

In the Troubles of recent decades in Northern Ireland, “all of these thugs and murderers claimed they were doing this in a cause that deserved to be revered, in a cause that they said justified anything, in a cause they said was going to improve the lives of all the people who undoubtedly were being discriminated against”.

It was the case that “for over 70 years following 1916 we were a country that did not realise our potential. We were obsessed with the past, we were obsessed with who did what in 1916. It itself was used to discriminate between people,” said Mr Gallagher.

“I regret greatly the lost years and I believe that Ireland between 1920 and 1980, perhaps even 1990, was a wasteland for so many people.

“People were confused, they didn’t feel there was any prospect of Ireland bettering itself in any real way; that we were stuck in some sort of time warp. That, I’m afraid, is the legacy of 1916, at least in part.”