2016 election will pitch Kenny against Pearse

‘Instead of idealism, Fine Gael offers constitutional vandalism’

You have to hand it to Enda: at least he has courage. I have in mind “courage” in the Sir Humphrey sense – as on the occasion when minister Hacker announces his determination to go through with some “principled” proposal of his, in the face of the warnings of his executive advisers.

Having listened patiently, Sir Humphrey declares: “Very courageous, minister”. The word “courageous” triggers a note of panic in Jim Hacker’s response: “Wha-wha-what do you mean ‘courageous?”

In announcing that the coalition will run its full term, and that the next general election will therefore take place in March 2016, the Taoiseach reveals himself to be possessed of a similar “courage”.

Kenny mistaken
Until this week, we did not know how, as a nation, we might at this rather late stage hope to hit upon a way of adequately commemorating the revolution which begat our admittedly nominal freedom. Other nations remember their epic moments as a matter of course, but for us 2016 presents a host of impossible dilemmas which freeze us in our tracks.

We might well have wondered if anyone would have the imagination to take us beyond the idea of a line of politicians standing on the steps of the GPO, gazing at soldiers marching past. Until Tuesday last, the merest intrusion of the question provoked consternation and dismay, causing the issue to be avoided by anyone with the remotest means or power of delivering even the most modest proposal to save national face.

But then, imagining himself to be announcing that the Government would run its full term, the Taoiseach confirmed the form of the commemoration: an election which will pit the political class of 2016 against the heroes of a century ago.

Mr Kenny is sorely mistaken if he imagines that, in a contest in the spring of 2016, the test of his stewardship will be a comparison with Brian Cowen. If he thinks that an election debate occurring in March 2016 can be restricted to the technocratic questions proposed by economists in the present, the Taoiseach is deluded.

If he goes through with his undertaking to go to the country in the sacred days of 2016, he and his accomplices will find themselves competing not against Michéal Martin, Ming Flanagan and Gerry Adams, but against P H Pearse, James Connolly and Joseph Mary Plunkett.

The manifesto against which they must compete will comprise neither the earnest supplications of Fianna Fáil nor the politically correct pieties of the reinvented Provisionals, but will instead invoke the austere and stern declarations of the Proclamation: “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies”.

The test to be applied will not be, as Mr Kenny and his compadres appear to believe, whether Ireland has “emerged from the bailout” and “returned to the markets”. Instead, the election will place every candidate in an implicit comparison with the deeds and ideals of the past.

The adversary to be reckoned with will not be Joe Higgins ranting about austerity, but Thomas Davis, sternly intoning the inspiration which sent Pearse out to his certain death: "This country of ours is no sand bank, thrown up by some recent caprice of earth. It is an ancient land, honoured in its archives of civilisation, traceable into antiquity by its piety, its valour, and its sufferings. Every great European race has sent its stream to the river of Irish mind. Long wars, vast organisations, subtle codes, beacon crimes, leading virtues, and self-mighty men were here. If we live influenced by wind and sun and tree, and not by the passions and deeds of the past, we are a thriftless and a hopeless people".

Till-minders and crawthumpers

Perhaps what we most urgently require to recall about 1916 is not the heroism but rather the fatal loss of vision which it finally amounted to. In getting themselves shot, Pearse and the others denied posterity the quality of intelligence which their continuing presence would have brought to the independence project.

In the aftermath of their absence, Ireland was left to the tender mercies of till-minders and crawthumpers, and the consequences can still be heard on the radio any morning, as politicians and self-describing “experts” seek to define the existential difference between €2.8 billion and €3.1 billion.

The same consequences can be observed in the Fine Gael poster urging a Yes vote in the referendum to abolish the Seanad. Instead of idealism, Fine Gael offers constitutional vandalism and promises “fewer politicians” as an answer to national degradation.

Far from nation-building, the self-styled inheritors of the mantle of Michael Collins propose to dismantle the institutions for which the blood of past generations flowed in rivers. Instead of leadership, they seek to appease the mob by offering the depletion of their own numbers without benefit of firing squad.

And since they put it like that, it might seem churlish of us – when the opportunity next arises – to refuse the offer.