That the Easter Rising should have been unnecessary is true, but that the Easter Rising was the only way that the Irish people would achieve independence is sadly also true. The reason for this is that the British had no intention then or in the foreseeable future of granting Ireland full independence.
John Bruton this week touts the Home Rule Bill’s passing as if this would have granted Ireland some form of Dominion status. The actual facts are that the Home Rule Bill would have given Ireland the type of status Wales now enjoys and much less than Scotland has already achieved 100 years on.
Home Rule would have left all of the central powers of any state under Westminster control , including foreign affairs and the right to have our own army.
The entrenched resistance of the British establishment to democracy, self-determination and the rights of small nations to determine their own destiny became evident after the end of the first World War, which we are told was fought for that very same right.
Its reaction to the general election of 1918 in Ireland, when the majority of elected representatives elected by the people democratically set up their own parliament, Dáil Éireann, was to immediately outlaw the Dáil.
That 1916 was fought to establish the right of this country to choose its own form of democratic government, without outside control, is clear from the proclamation of 1916, where it refers to the “establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women”.
It is clear from this that the leaders of 1916 saw the Rising as a once-off event leading to an independent, free and democratic Ireland, where there would be no further need or justification for violence or war in Ireland.
It is also important to see the Rising in the context of its time, where war was widespread throughout Europe and further afield and where many Irish people were confronted, as they saw it, with fighting for Ireland at home or on the slaughter fields of continental Europe.
Bruton refers to the “successful non-violent parliamentary Home Rule path” as opposed to the “path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB and the Citizen Army in Easter week of 1916”.
The price of following the limited Home Rule option was that Irish people would have been obliged to fight every subsequent imperial war on Britain’s behalf. That John Redmond believed this is clear from his Woodenbridge call to the Volunteers to enlist and the involvement of his family members and supporters in the first World War.
That many more Irish people died in this imperial war than died in 1916 and the War of Independence combined is a matter of fact. That recruitment for the British army dried up in Ireland after the Rising is also a fact, thus saving many lives. If it had not been for the success of the Rising in awakening the Irish people, it is likely that Britain would have succeeded in imposing conscription in 1918, causing many more unnecessary deaths of Irish people
Full independence has allowed Ireland in the intervening years to engage in international affairs and to lend its efforts internationally to peace keeping under the UN banner. It has kept us out of power wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, to name but a few. Furthermore the countless lives saved during the second World War by Irish independence should not be overlooked.
Politicians often use historical events for current purposes. For that reason I believe it is important for all Irish people to understand the ideals and motives of the 1916 Rising and its leaders so we will continue to preserve the sovereign independence of this State in its dealings with other nations. Most importantly we must guard jealously against anything that would engage us in the geopolitical conflicts of the big powers in circumstances where such engagement is outside our control. Ireland’s role should be as a beacon of peace and reconciliation in the world.
That other politicians have a different view is becoming more obvious every day. Their view is of a United States of Europe with its own foreign affairs department and defence forces, of which the Irish Army would be a brigade, strutting the world stage and “protecting” its own interests.
We have seen this happen incrementally over the last number of years. I wonder do those such as John Bruton really think that this is the best destiny for this nation.
Éamon Ó Cuív is a Fianna Fáil TD