State must end practice of commemorating 1916 Rising

Rite&Reason: Blasphemy of 1916 leaders hijacking the execution of Christ left unquestioned

April 23rd, 2019: Members of Republican Sinn Féin have assembled in Dublin city centre to commemorate the Easter rising. The group, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, started at the Garden of Remembrance and made their way to the GPO. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

It took the murder of Lyra McKee in Derry on April 18th to expose the moral bankruptcy, even blasphemy where Christians are concerned, that lies at the heart of State commemorations of the 1916 Rising in particular.

Two days later on Saturday, April 20th, members of Saoradh, associated with the New IRA believed responsible for her murder, took part in a paramilitary-style march on Dublin’s O’Connell Street to commemorate the Rising.

On Easter Monday, two days after that, members of Republican Sinn Féin which has links to the Continuity IRA, marched from the Garden of Remembrance to the GPO where the 1916 Proclamation was read aloud. Some were also wearing paramilitary-style uniforms.

Earlier that day about 100 members of the 32 County Sovereignty movement, with links to the Real IRA, did much the same.

The 1916 Rising was a criminal act perpetrated by a self-selected few

In the midst of this maelstrom of remembrance we had the State commemoration on Easter Sunday marking the 103rd anniversary of the Rising at the GPO, including members of the Defence Forces.

In the context, it was unclear who might lay greatest claim to being the Judean People’s Front and who the People’s Front of Judea.

This competition for “ownership” of the Rising and legitimacy derived therefrom was made even more explicit in a tweet from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over Easter saying “the actions by Saoradh in Dublin this weekend are beneath contempt”.

Saoradh march

Minister for Health Simon Harris described the Saoradh march as “repulsive, distasteful and sickening” and tweeted how he was “with the only Irish @defenceforces at the GPO today...”

’The sensitive way in which the Government has handled the centenary has been notable.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The official Easter commemorative parade proceeds down O'Connell Street, past the GPO. File photograph: Alan Betson

It would all be hilariously farcical if it was not so serious. What is at its core is a competition as to who has the greater right to celebrate violence over politics; the gun over democracy. The State at least should know better.

The 1916 Rising was a criminal act perpetrated by a self-selected few who took up arms against a British state from which Ireland was then disengaging by parliamentary means. It was a method supported by the vast majority of Irish people.

The Irish people were not consulted by Pearse and Co before they took over the GPO by force. They took it upon themselves to use violent means, as chosen since by would-be successors, whether they be the IRA (official, provisional, real, new, 32 county sovereignty) the INLA or, whatever you’re having yourself.

And because this State continues to confer legitimacy on the Rising through its own commemorations, it creates a context that allows self-styled others do so with equal moral authority. In truth all such groups and their derivatives have as much authority as had Pearse and Co, which is none.

Legitimising 1916

The State must stop legitimising 1916 retrospectively. We should return to the practices of the past during the Northern Ireland Troubles when, from the early 1970s until 2006, the official military parade commemorating 1916 was abandoned.

The 60th anniversary of the Rising in 1976 was barely noted while a republican parade in Dublin then was banned under the Offences Against the State Act. Similarly, the 75th anniversary in 1991 was low-key.

Things had changed by the 90th anniversary in 2006, post the 1998 Belfast Agreement, when commemoration resumed as peace came dropping slow. Or so it seemed. Lyra McKee’s murder, and much else besides, illustrates all too vividly the very precarious state of what passes for peace on this island.

This exploitation of religion is underscored by the State itself every year when it stages its commemoration of 1916 on the moveable feast that is Easter Sunday

But further it is a continuing surprise where the churches are concerned that no theologian has ever addressed the explicit sin of blasphemy involved in those 1916 leaders consciously hijacking the execution of Christ for their own political purposes by setting themselves up as similar martyrs at Easter whose blood would “save” their people.

Battlefield: Henry Street in Dublin in 1916
Where it all began: Henry Street in Dublin in 1916 after the Rising, with the devastated GPO at centre, adjacent to Nelson's Pillar, which was located where the Spire now stands.

It does seem remarkable that this conscious exploitation of religion, and in particular the most significant Christian feast, for profane secular purposes has never been addressed by theologians of any denomination in Ireland, at least in recent times.

This exploitation of religion is also underscored by the State itself every year when it stages its commemoration of 1916 on the moveable feast that is Easter Sunday rather than on April 24th, the date of Easter Monday 1916 when the Rising began.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent

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