1916 centenary should not be played by anyone for party political advantage

Opinion: The Rising was a complex event, best understood in the context of the bloodletting of the Great War

Éamon de Valera under arrest in Richmond Barracks, Dublin after the 1916 Rising. Fifty years later his role in that event was used to assist his re-election as president.

Éamon de Valera under arrest in Richmond Barracks, Dublin after the 1916 Rising. Fifty years later his role in that event was used to assist his re-election as president.

Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 00:01

The powerful television documentary about the disappeared has obviously proved embarrassing for Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams but it should also prompt wider reflection across the political spectrum about the reality of political violence in Ireland over the past century and how it should be commemorated.

The horrifying thing about the story told by the documentary was not so much that it shone a light on the viciousness and cruelty of the Provisional IRA but the fact that so many members of the Catholic/ nationalist community on both sides of the Border were prepared to justify it or at least look the other way.

The programme revealed how normal standards of human decency can be swept aside when a society is put under unbearable strain by political violence that facilitates the behaviour of psychopaths.

One of the ironies of the programme was that the most damning testimony against Adams came from former comrades, addicted to the cult of violence, who opposed the belated moves by the republican leadership to bring the IRA campaign to an end.

While Seamus Mallon hit the nail on the head with his famous remark that the Belfast Agreement of 1998 was “Sunningdale for slow learners” it is still a case of better late than never. There was no justification for the Provisional IRA campaign, particularly after the Sunningdale agreement of 1973, but the fact that Adams and McGuinness finally brought it to an end is something to be welcomed rather than deplored.

Propaganda campaign
One of the many positive things arising from the documentary about the disappeared is that it might put a dent in the ongoing propaganda campaign by republicans to convince people the IRA campaign was a legitimate response to the injustice that undoubtedly existed in Northern Ireland.

That campaign has been quite successful and has helped to facilitate Sinn Féin’s emergence as the dominant nationalist party in the North and a growing political force in the Republic. The sordid reality of the IRA campaign as revealed in the programme might make people think twice about accepting the republican propaganda version of “the war”.

It should also prompt all of the political parties in the Republic and society in general to be wary of accepting a simplistic account of the events of 100 years ago as the centenary of 1916 gets ever closer.

The Irish and British governments have made a genuine effort to inaugurate an inclusive decade of commemoration that respects the historical experience of all the people on the island of Ireland from the Home Rule Bill of 1912 to the creation of an independent Irish state in 1922.

However, there is no doubt that all of the momentous events of the decade, from Home Rule to the meeting of the first Dáil in 1919 and the establishment of the State in 1922, will inevitably be overshadowed by the commemoration of 1916. Violence and carnage inevitably fascinate subsequent generations more than the laborious nuts and bolts of nation-building.

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