That GPO moment ... and Sinn Féin’s role in it


‘In view of their centenary pretensions to the lord mayoralty of Dublin , perhaps Sinn Féin needs reminding it played no part at all in the 1916 Rising?” Prof John A Murphy’s typically pithy letter to this paper last week made a telling and uncomfortable point. Although it would later be known widely as “the Sinn Féin Rebellion”, Arthur Griffith and Sinn Féin sat out the Rising, as indeed did many of those who have subsequently sworn to have been present in the GPO. We live with a broad-brush, polished-up view of history – “after all he’d surely have been there if he’d known about it”. Of course.

But let’s not allow a minor historical problem get in the way of a magnificent branding opportunity. Sinn Féin will hold the mayoralty of Dublin City for the 1916 commemorations and, no doubt, will milk the occasion for every slight opportunity to try to monopolise the mantle of true heirs of 1916. There will be a right to sit prominently overlooking the march-past, to shake hands with whichever royal is sent over, countless openings of exhibitions, book launches, seminars to chair, community events to cut tapes at ...

For which privilege, Sinn Féin, returned with 16 seats as the largest party in the now-63 seat Dublin City Council, gave the impression it was prepared to pay almost any price. It was certainly the non-negotiable bottom line – not water rates, not household charges, housing, or roads – for any coalition deal. Yet one wonders how often the unfinished business of the national revolution, that fourth green field, came up on the doorsteps in the recent elections. Or indeed was even raised by a party which does so much to tell it is not a single issue party.

It was inevitable, sooner or later as the date approached, that an unseemly scramble for ownership of 1916 would begin. Sinn Féin has stolen first base, and a home run is within grasp – all it has to do is ensure its place in government in the spring of 1916. And that looks increasingly like a real prospect.