'Politics is ultimately more powerful than violence' - Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood at Stormont. Picture Hugh Russell.
Colum Eastwood

This weekend I will travel to Dublin to take full part in the state commemoration of the 1916 Rising. As the months have passed and the commemoration has drawn closer, there has been a torrent of talk about the events of 100 years ago.

Much of this talk has focused on the need for respect and sensitivity. Whilst that is important, it also has its limits. There is always the danger that all we end up doing is using a plethora of pleasant adjectives rather than dealing with the deep and difficult issues.

One of those difficult issues was brought up this week by the Alliance leader David Ford who declined to accept an invitation to join us at the weekend’s commemorations. Mr Ford said he could not attend a commemoration which would mark “the efforts of those who engaged in violence".

If nationalism is honest with itself, we look back on the events of that Easter week with a mixture of pride and ambiguity. There’s no point in stating otherwise. We look back with pride at a moment which began the movement toward independence. However we also look back and know the awfulness of the violence that was used in 1916, in the Tan War and in the tragedy of the Civil War that followed.

History rarely deals in absolutes and the births of nations are rarely straightforward affairs. The truth is that violence has been used at the birth of many nations but has equally been used to repress the rights of nations. In those times 100 years ago, both British and Irish hands were firmly gripped by the gun. To believe otherwise is to enforce a hierarchy of violence.

Therefore if David Ford is consistent in his logic, he will be turning down a good few more invitations than this Sunday’s. It is only fair to point out, most of those invitations will be coming from London, not Dublin.

The Alliance leader also claims he couldn’t attend an event from which dissident republicanism draws inspiration. My problem with David Ford’s position is that it freely hands that heritage to the dissidents. As one of the leaders of constitutional nationalism I’m not prepared to do the same.

If anything this commemoration should be used as a response to the nihilism of the dissidents. This commemoration of 1916 is a reminder of how far this country has come. It should be a landmark of the huge strides we’ve all taken in reconciling an 800 year old conflict in which every death has diminished both England and Ireland.

It has never been violence but ultimately politics which actually builds the foundations of the future. It is politics which is ultimately the more powerful weapon.

That was the case in the 1918 election which democratically moved the Irish question beyond Home Rule and it was equally the case in the 1998 referendum which mapped the island’s future and gave the Irish people’s final verdict on 30 years of violence which had so wrongfully been used in their name.

It is that referendum and mandate for politics which continues to hold the sovereign authority of the Irish people.

This weekend, I invite all parties who claim inheritance and inspiration from the 1916 Rising to join with me in stating that violence will never, ever again be used as a political tactic to unite this island. The path to unity should only ever have been, and can now only ever be, peaceful.

This would be a powerful statement of the values and principles of today’s Ireland. It would be a powerful proclamation 100 years on from the Rising.

Otherwise all we are doing is talking, adding adjectives. This commemoration deserves better.

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