Diarmaid Ferriter: Kenny should stop playing party politics over Republic Day

Government is running scared of making such a bold move at precisely the time when a bold move would be appropriate and popular

Italian Airforce planes mark Republic Day in Rome. There is a strong case to be made for such a public holiday here. Getty

Italian Airforce planes mark Republic Day in Rome. There is a strong case to be made for such a public holiday here. Getty

 

Ryan Tubridy is not happy with our governors. On his RTÉ Radio 1 show last week, Tubridy criticised the Cabinet’s rejection of a proposal from the Oireachtas all-party consultation group on commemorations that a Republic Day, in the form of a national holiday be declared to mark the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

“Well, boo to them!” was Tubridy’s response to the Cabinet. The proposal, he said, was “appropriate and welcome”.

He is right. But it is party politics, rather than appropriateness or political ecumenism, that underpins the Government decision, as, in tandem, Sinn Féin revived its Public Holidays (Lá na Poblachta) Bill, first proposed by TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh in 2013.

This week Ó Snodaigh rounded on the Coalition for running scared of the proposal, or what he called “this Government’s erratic approach to anything republican or to the 1916 Rising commemoration”.

He also observed: “Many other countries have a national day, which is a celebration of nationhood and the sacrifices of those who struggled to bring it about.”

It was on that basis that the all-party group agreed to the Republic Day idea.

The political mudslinging is, of course, par for the commemorative course, calling to mind the reaction of Fine Gael in 1935 to Fianna Fáil’s attempt to monopolise the legacy of the Rising: “It is always unseemly, if not indecent, when political parties engage in a figurative scramble for the bones of the patriot dead.”

Leaving party politics aside. There is a strong case to be made for such a public holiday, if not annually, at least on the occasion of the centenary. The proposal, after all, had the backing of a group representing all political parties; in rejecting it, the Cabinet allows Sinn Féin to make the noises that should be a multiparty chorus.

Defining act

At a recent round table discussion in Dublin on the Rising and its legacy, a number of historians discussed the delicacies and reluctances associated with commemoration. An American visitor expressed astonishment that an Irish Independence Day does not exist.

It was pointed out that if the United States was in fact the Divided States, American Independence Day might be a much more difficult and divisive business than it is.

How to mark Irish “independence” has always been bedevilled by disagreement over what dates, if any, to make a fuss of. Any assignment of an independence day would inevitably be attacked by those who feel it entirely inappropriate in a partitioned Ireland: just whose dead are being honoured, and to what extent does an event presented as representing one group’s freedom represent another’s subjugation?

As well, there are a number of key dates that could be debated as most fitting to “independence”: the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on April 24th, 1916; the Irish Declaration of Independence on January 21st, 1919; the official coming into existence of the Irish Free State on December 6th, 1922; or the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act on December 21st, 1948.

Formal marking

The Government, however, is running scared of making such a bold move at precisely the time when a bold move would be appropriate and popular. In its desire to play politics, and notwithstanding the unveiling of many welcome plans, it seems it prefers to leave its commemoration cake half-baked when it comes to asserting ownership and making decisions that would take this issue out of the cauldron of party politics and into public ownership.

Perhaps the answer is for the public itself to take ownership and make a gesture to build on Tubridy’s “boo to them” sentiment.

How about a mass “green flu day” on Monday, April 25th, 2016, when the workers of the Republic make themselves unavailable for work to mark the centenary of the declaration of the Irish Republic? It will be a day late, but so was the actual Rising.

In the absence of a State lead, surely such defiance would allow the people to mark the commemoration as they see fit. Those with no interest, or those suffering from commemoration fatigue, could just stay in bed.

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