Proclamation sits uncomfortably in modern Ireland

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916 
Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916 

HOORAY, it is 2016, which means that it is time for an outbreak of patriotism. So wrap the green flag around yourself and give us a few verses of A Nation Once Again.

(Oh no, that one runs counter to the Good Friday Agreement. Sing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling instead. You may think it inappropriate, but following a protest march in Newry in the late 1960s, the crowd was led in a rendition of that very song outside the RUC station. I think it was at that point the British realised they had won.)

Yes, this is the long-awaited centenary of the 1916 Rising. With two elections in the next five months, most political parties will be competing to prove which of them would have been in Dublin's GPO long before Pearse and Connolly had risen from their beds.

But there is a problem with 1916. It would have been a great Rising if it had not been for the Proclamation.

(Apart from 1798 and 1916, Irish rebellions were never hindered by rational thought. Military bravery was always more important than political brains.)

The Proclamation's aspirations do not sit comfortably with modern Ireland's political values.

Every mainstream party opposes most (and in some cases all) of its content.

While some forthcoming commemorative events may have artistic or cultural merit, it looks like the attempts to reconcile the contrasting values of 1916 and 2016 may produce the political equivalent of Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

The Proclamation's first two paragraphs, for example, advocate armed rebellion.

So when an Irish army officer reads the Proclamation at the official government ceremony, he/she will presumably skip that bit.

(Welcome to Ireland, where even the army condemns violence.)

All mainstream parties will have to skip the next bit too, because it advocates communism.

It declares the right of the Irish people to the ownership of Ireland, which can only be guaranteed through a communist system of state ownership of all property.

(Yes, the Proclamation also invokes God's intervention, but that just means the rebels advocated Irish communism.)

You might argue that the signatories merely supported a more equitable distribution of wealth, but in the absence of statistical appendices, we must take the Proclamation at face value.

Either way, the Rising failed. A recent survey shows that 20 per cent of the south's population owns almost three quarters of its net wealth. Half the population share about 5 per cent of the wealth.

Against that background, you can judge for yourself what the 1916 leaders would have made of every Dáil party supporting the bank bail-out and handing economic control to Berlin.

Meanwhile Nama's disposal of national assets, north and south, opposes the Proclamation's aspirations.

GAA pundit, Colum O'Rourke, has been a lone voice in highlighting how Nama refused to sell a 35 acre site to the Dublin GAA Board to develop sporting facilities - even though it appears to have offered more than the €6.5 million asking price.

A vast number of other properties could have been developed for sporting, community or co-operative purposes, just as the Land Commission did in 1935 when it established the Ráth Cairn Gaeltacht in Meath.

Instead most of Nama's properties went to foreign hedge funds and its northern activities are still shrouded in secrecy.

(Never mind the boring details of real life, you say, let us get on with the celebrations.)

Sadly, there is little to celebrate. The proclamation states that the National Government shall represent the whole people of Ireland, but nationalist support for Stormont defies this aspiration.

The unfettered control of Irish destinies rests in Brussels and the European Union now claims the allegiance of every Irish man and Irishwoman. European legislation governs Irish religious and civil liberty.

Of course, it is perfectly reasonable to disagree with all or any part of the Proclamation. Many still see the Rising as a mistake.

However, it would appear opportunistic (or worse) to celebrate the Rising while defying or denying its social, economic and political aspirations.

But, as someone should have said, patriotism is the last refuge of political parties seeking election.

So let us beat the drum for Ireland, because if we do not buy into the Disneyesque interpretation of 1916, there will be a problem with most commemorations.

Skipping the inappropriate bits in the Proclamation would mean that reading it would not take long: "Irishmen and Irishwomen....er, that's it."

It would, of course, make the ceremonies more honest, but in the face of two elections, honesty is the last thing we can expect, as we peer into the foggy dew of Irish political history.