Anniversaries of revolutionary period will be fraught, says Martin

Commemorations should not be used for political point-scoring, FF leader suggests

Micheál Martin: “The period where separation from Britain occurs and the Irish State is established doesn’t belong to any one party or any one tradition.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Micheál Martin: “The period where separation from Britain occurs and the Irish State is established doesn’t belong to any one party or any one tradition.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The commemoration of the War of Independence and Civil War will be difficult, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin said looking at the revolutionary period from 1919 to 1923 should remain true to the evidence-based approached commemorating the events of Easter 1916.

He said no one should underestimate the challenges that were posed by the centenary commemorations of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme last year but Ireland was now a much more mature nation that recognised the diversity of its history.

“I think we must allow historians to come forward and tell the diverse range of stories that have to be told, and it is a diverse range of stories. There’s no one simple comprehensive narrative of what went on during the revolutionary period – there are many versions, many different elements to it,” he said.

He said it was very important that they were not used to “vindicate any particular political narrative of today and accept what we commemorate does not belong to any one political party or grouping or political tradition.”

He was speaking after attending a screening at the West Cork History Festival of An Tost Fada, a documentary about the experience of Protestants in west Cork in 1922.

The right mindset

Mr Martin said what will be critical over the next six years is the mindset with which commemorations are approached.

“It’s our mindset going into the commemorations which is key. It must be one of openness and acceptance that there will be different points of view and people should be able to accommodate that without feeling they have to contradict every historian or politician who utters a view on it.

“The period where separation from Britain occurs and the Irish State is established doesn’t belong to any one party or any one tradition, and we should not use it and exploit the commemoration period for the purpose of modern political day advancement and that’s a worry I would have.”

Mr Martin, who has written about the revolutionary period in Cork in his book, Freedom to Choose: Cork and Party Politics in Ireland 1918-1932, said the commemoration of the establishment of the State would need a dedicated focus but said he was confident of its success.

Asked about the difficulties of marking events in the Civil War, including atrocities such as Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Bahaghs in Co Kerry, Mr Martin said that President Michael D Higgins struck the right note at Béal na Bláth last year when he said all such events needed to be confronted honestly.

“We have to do a lot of thinking around the Civil War but we should all avoid the need of having to justify what one side did or the other side,” he said, adding that people need to view events in the context of the time but yet not shirk from acknowledging the horror of some incidents.