John Bruton’s argument about Home Rule and 1916 deserves serious consideration

Opinion: His government ran a prudent economic policy that provided the basis for sustainable prosperity

‘John Bruton’s core point is that if commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations then the remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage that achieved Home Rule may have greater relevance to today’s generation of democrats than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.’ Photograph:  David Sleator/The Irish Times

‘John Bruton’s core point is that if commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations then the remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage that achieved Home Rule may have greater relevance to today’s generation of democrats than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.’ Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 00:01

Irish politicians are routinely criticised for focusing on parish pump issues and ignoring the big national and international questions of the day, but the treatment meted out those who challenge conventional wisdom hardly encourages serious debate.

The latest example is the flood of criticism, some of it downright nasty, directed at former taoiseach John Bruton for daring publicly to question how the violent legacy of 1916 is remembered and for raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of welfare systems that are taken for granted in the developed world.

Bruton has never made any secret of his admiration for the Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond, who managed through unremitting political activity and shrewd parliamentary tactics to get the Home Rule Bill on to the statute book 100 years ago. Redmond’s achievement paved the way for Irish independence, even if that came about in a different way than he envisaged, when the first World War and then the 1916 Rising changed the context utterly.

Bruton’s thesis is that full independence could have been achieved without the resort to violence and all the death and destruction that followed from the Rising right down to the present day. It is an arguable point. We will never know.

Faster track

The fact is that the 1916 Rising did take place and, for better or worse, it jolted the national movement on to a more violent and faster track to independence.

However, Bruton has raised a point worth serious consideration. That is whether the use of violence actually helped to resolve the problems of a divided society or made them worse.

He questioned whether Ulster unionists were right to threaten violence to resist home rule and whether the men and women of 1916 were right to use violence to try and achieve their goal .

In the event, the resort to violence did not get either side what it wanted and Ireland was partitioned amid bitterness and recrimination that have poisoned the island’s politics down to the present day.

Bruton’s core point is that if commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons from the work of past generations, then the remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage that achieved home rule may have greater relevance to today’s generation of democrats than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.

That is certainly a point worth considering, particularly as dissident republicans plot violence and mayhem in the name of the 32-county republic envisaged by the 1916 leaders, despite the overwhelming endorsement of the Belfast Agreement and its core principle of consent by the majority of people on this island. The rest of Europe learned a much harsher lesson on the futility of violence through two world wars. The EU emerged as a result of the widespread desire to ensure leaders of the great powers would never again plunge their countries into total war.

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