This is not the first time we have been tested at Easter


Have we forgotten the hard earned lessons of our history? That of character and perseverance? asks ELAINE BYRNE.

‘TIS ALWAYS the darkest the hour before day!” wrote Samuel Lover, the renowned balladeer and novelist born on Grafton Street just before Easter 1797.

For the almost half million unemployed and those with the real fear of becoming that statistic, this is not a day for poetry. Words of verse are no consolidation for overwhelmed mortgage holders, young professionals apprehensive of the future and those who now queue in their hundreds for food parcels. Fear has that amplifying power to smother the memory of hope and deaden the spirit.

But this is not the first time that Ireland has been tested at Easter. Just after noon on Easter Monday 1916, Patrick Pearse stood on the steps of the GPO with the Proclamation in hand and completed his act of audacity with these words: “In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline . . . prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.”

In full circle, the Good Friday agreement represented a historic opportunity for new beginnings on the island of Ireland. This recognition of a new mindset accepted that old problems needed to be looked at in new ways.

The Irish Easter has always signified a time for change and renewal. The message of Holy Week serves to remind us that in the darkest places of hopelessness, hope still prevails. Doubt and despair give way to the resurrection of opportunity and possibility.

But only if we believe.

So today, emergency budget day, we will get lost in a yawning sea of economic language anxiously waiting for interpretation by George Lee and others. Exchequer returns, income levies and taxation rates. Interim moves, upper limits and spending programmes. Water-cooler words that sound eccentric together. Structural deficit, fiscal consolidation and the now obligatory “deterioration in our public finance position”.

No room for poetry there.

The temptation today is not to have faith in the future because we have become accustomed to articulating our expectations within the definition of financial boundaries.

“But no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: ‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further’,” Charles Stewart Parnell once said. “We must, each one of us, resolve in our own hearts that we shall, at all times, do everything which within us lies to obtain for Ireland the fullest measure of her rights. In this way, we shall avoid difficulties and contentions amongst each other. In this way, we shall not give up anything which the future may put in favour of our country. . . we must struggle for it with the proud consciousness.”

Parnellite patriotism that still reverberates in the reminiscences of history.

The recent ardfheiseanna leader’s speeches by Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore looked to John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama for inspiration. Why do we no longer have the confidence in ourselves to articulate the values, principles, morals and ideals of a nation through the voices of our own past and present? Have we forgotten the hard earned lessons of our history? That of character and perseverance?

Today has to be more than just economic parameters and fiscal orthodoxies. We must speak of the courage to embrace humility accompanied by the sincerity and honesty to acknowledge failure. The self-confidence to quietly accept the need for critical self reflection without the conceit qualification of drawing lines in the sand.

Irish history has presented us with political Easters filled with the death and resurrection of ideals. For the first time since Independence, we have the opportunity to implement the essential reform of one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. Never before has so much been on the table. For this generation, this is our greatest possibility to effect profound change. No longer is political revolution born from violence.

These are exciting times. We have the potential fundamentally to transform old politics, old parties and old policies, born in the 20th century to that fit for purpose for the 21st century. Underlying system adjustments which will address the consequences of moral bankruptcy in banking, politics and the professions.

The news yesterday that all 20 Ministers of State are to resign to be replaced by just 15 in two weeks’ time is a step in this direction but must be complemented with wider Dáil reform. But let’s march on and break the cycle of the deep-seated party legacies of the Civil War and its resulting catch-all parties, as well as the dynamics of the PR-STV electoral system and the crippling localism of Irish politics.

Brendan Kennelly’s 1991 poetry bestseller, The Little Book of Judas, celebrated Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus. Ireland needs a contemporary Judas. Citizens prepared to betray and expose what is wrong as it is being wronged.

In a many dark hour

I’ve been thinkin about this

That Jesus Christ

Was betrayed by a kiss

But I can’t think for you

You’ll have to decide

Whether Judas Iscariot

Had God on his side.

So goes With God On Our Side, the third track of Bob Dylan’s 1964 album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.