Bruton opens up differences with Kenny on 1916

Use of violence in Rising did not meet a criterion for just war, says former taoiseach

Former Fine Gael leader John Bruton: “The 1916 leaders explicitly took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

John Bruton last night repeated his strong reservations about the commemoration of the 1916 Rising, opening up clear differences with the Taoiseach and current leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny.

The Taoiseach last week insisted that Fine Gael had its roots in the Rising, which “had been the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland”.

The use of violence in the 1916 Rising did not meet a criterion for just war and raised other moral questions, Mr Bruton argued in a lecture on John Redmond last night to the Wexford Historical Society.

“Many of the 1916 leaders were familiar with Catholic teaching on what constitutes a just war. One of the criteria is that war should be a ‘last resort’,” he said.


“Given that home rule was already passed, would have come into effect, and would have been a platform for further moves to greater independence, the use of violence in 1916 was not a genuine last resort,” he said.

In defending Redmond’s support for the first World War, Mr Bruton said that by forcibly occupying the GPO, “the 1916 leaders explicitly took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches.

‘Gallant allies’

“In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their ‘gallant allies in Europe’. These allies were the German empire, the Ottoman empire and the Austrian empire. Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish republicans went to war, included the French republic and


, whose territories had been invaded and occupied by


, ” he said.

"The 1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany, Turkey and Austria and said so in their own proclamation. Gerry Adams who recently attacked [John] Redmond at a meeting of the Irish Neutrality League should remember this," said Mr Bruton.

“There is a moral issue here. Irish people today take the taking of life seriously. We have abolished the death penalty. 1916, and the subsequent campaigns of violence it inspired, involved taking thousands of lives.”

Referring to 256 Irish civilians killed during the Rising, as well as 52 Irish members of the British army, 14 RIC members and three members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, he said: "These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a parliament, which had already granted home rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MPs.

“Did these men ‘die for Ireland’?” he asked. “Consider also the dead of the war of 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the Civil War of 1922 to 1923, for these deaths flowed, in large measure, from the initial decision to use force in 1916.”

Defining act

At the launch of a biography of WT Cosgrave in Dublin last week, Mr Kenny said he was always proud to be a 1916 man. He saw the Rising as the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland.

"Many of those who were leading figures in the parties he [Cosgrave] led, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael – Richard Mulcahy, Ernest Blythe, Desmond Fitzgerald, Fionán Lynch and others – were also 1916 men and it was the unshakeable conviction of Cosgrave and the other founders of Cumann na nGaedhael that their party was a 1916 party and that it drew its inspiration from the memory of 1916."

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times