1916: Attempting to square an orthodox circle March 28, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Here’s the voice of the orthodoxy from the Irish Times. Yes, it is Stephen Collins, valiantly continuing his efforts to suggest that independence was a more likely outcome of a world without 1916. Now, 1916 is far from beyond critique and criticism, but there is something very strange about his argument which is near indistinguishable from that of John Bruton:
Taken in isolation, the Rising can indeed be interpreted as an endorsement of violent and anti-democratic action. What is so little understood in the popular version of Irish history is that with the passage of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912, Ireland was going to have its own parliament one way or another.
But that only holds true if the meaning of words parliament and Ireland are altered to fit the broader thesis. Ireland as a whole wouldn’t have any such parliament, partition was clearly on the cards in advance of 1916. Moreover the parliament envisaged was one of a stunted autonomy, not of what most of us would consider ‘independence’.
But as noted yesterday so much of what we hear in relation to 1916 from the orthodoxy betrays a terrible fear that somehow 1916 could sway the Irish people in relation to the North. That Northern Ireland’s history both before and after the conflict of the 1960s onwards was subject to dynamics all its own seems to largely escape those making the case. This isn’t to say that 1916 was of no influence, but matters more immediate would, I think, have a larger prominence and importance in terms of shaping the nature of the conflict there.
Yet time and again – Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Guardian this weekend and a raft of other commentators in other outlets – the case is made that somehow the ‘Troubles’ were a direct result of 1916 and that its very invocation could unleash a sort of atavistic (as they would regard it) approach? This reductionism, this simplification of history, serves multiple purposes but above all, as I noted before, it is a remarkably patronising view of the people of this island. It is also self-evidently incorrect, the southern state was never at risk of falling, its institutions remained perhaps remarkably solid given partition and the divisions of the civil war and after. What to make of it? A sort of nightmare that the bourgeois told/tell themselves in order to experience a frisson of fear whatever the reality, a diversion from the very real culpability of this state in not engaging with the reality of partition and where that left hundreds of thousands, something else entirely, all or none of these?
Whatever, it genuinely remains one of the most embedded tropes of Irish politics, and one that deserves careful deconstruction.
But Collins particular approach is summed up well in the following:
For all the violence of 1916 and later years, the independence movement did not discard the democratic tradition of Irish nationalism. The fact that an independent Ireland is one of the oldest continuous parliamentary democracies in the world is a tribute to the roots planted by Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond.
There may be an element of truth in that, but there’s a larger truth that it was wrested in the teeth of fearsome opposition, military, political and economic from Britain.
That’s not the only simplification either. For example:
Another important feature of Irish life distorted by the cliché of the rebels versus oppressors version of the Rising is the relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom. After painful decades of hostility and suspicion between the two countries, stemming from the Rising and its aftermath, relations have improved dramatically in recent decades.
The two governments were brought together in response to the IRA terror campaign and co-operated closely in the painstakingly slow process that ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement.
Does that come close to engaging with the reality of that process or indeed the manner in which governments before Labour engaged or not with those dynamics? Hardly.
And then there’s this:
By contrast, it is hard to believe that leaders of the 1916 Rising would be quite as happy with how things turned out. Modern Ireland is hardly the Gaelic-speaking, devoutly Catholic, anti-materialist nation dreamed of by Padraig Pearse. Neither is it the dictatorship of the proletariat envisaged by James Connolly.