The consequences of 1916? April 7, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
I think Patsy McGarry has it very wrong in this piece in the IT this week – even if I have some sympathy for his immediate complaint. He laments that when some question the Rising – its legitimacy, its course, its outcomes, they are met with a response which…
…find it impossible to accept that it is love of Ireland which provokes some to lament the Easter Rising and the violent legacy it bequeathed the people of this island and its neighbour for much of the 20th century.
Even today as centenary commemorations continue, 1916 and its consequences divide.
Indeed he notes that he himself was ‘asked whether I was British’ during a discussion on 1916.
Of course that level of discussion is absurd – and resort to what are presumably intended as insults are both risible and counterproductive. Worse again it is – as all such insults are – designed to shut down conversation. So in that respect McGarry has my sympathy.
But that said there’s a broader problem McGarry doesn’t address – indeed, for the most part compounds in his column. That is that McGarry has yet to present a good reasoned sustained defence of what are for the most part simple assertions on his part that the Rising was all that he complains about in the quote above… ie. ‘violent legacy…etc’.
For example almost immediately after that quote above he writes:
Such consequences are the reason our two major political parties in the Republic cannot abide the thought of being in government together.
Thanks to 1916 and its legacy the centre in Irish politics today refuses to hold.
The consequences of 1916 copper-fastened a partition that led to two minorities on this island being abandoned to the not-so-tender mercies of their local majority.
But that’s a remarkably simplistic understanding of both the division between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the reasons for it and the connection – somewhat tenuous in that respect – between them or Sinn Féin and the events of the War of Independence and the Civil War as it split and 1916. Simply put it ignores the fact that the Rising itself wasn’t an alien irruption into the Irish body politic but a response to broader dynamics that long pre-existed it and furthermore that not everything that followed on from it can be laid at its feet in terms of responsibility. It’s as pointless and ahistorical as arguing that John Maxwell is to blame for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael not talking this week at Government buildings – if we’re down to that level of blame we’re not really blaming anyone because we can, frankly, blame everyone.
And there’s further assertions that are simply unsustained:
The plight of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and of the Protestant minority in the Republic was ignored through decades of active discrimination.
Had matters stayed on a political course in Ireland during the first World War period, it is doubtful whether such bitter divisions would have grown so great.
To counterpose the two situations North and South is also entirely simplistic, to argue that 1916 was the genesis of discrimination equally reductive.
It’s this reductionism, this simplification which is so baffling.
McGarry argues that:
In September 1914, politics delivered Home Rule in principle to Ireland.
But it was, to use Michael Collins’s description of the 1921 Treaty, “a stepping stone”.
There was one crucial difference. It was achieved without unleashing the ghouls of violence which have haunted us since 1916.
But the most obvious problem is that violence haunted us prior to 1916. This island was not a democracy in the sense that McGarry or most would understand the term, it was ruled by the imposition of force, force which was applied as and when it was necessary. Watching Michael Portillo’s actually quite good programme on 1916 one got a real sense of how the military had a remarkably free hand, how civilian authority, such as it was, was separated from events by hundreds of miles and a sea. Granted it was at a time of war, but this wasn’t unusual or unique. It was merely an accentuation of the then status quo.
McGarry does mention this, in a roundabout way, but then essentially offers us a rhetorical shrug:
Yes, there were two major militias on the island then, the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers.
But who knows how they might have related after the war? We can’t know.
And yet he is certain that his analysis of all else, and his understanding of what actually happened is correct?
In fairness towards the end of the piece he tries to come to some engagement with those pre-existing issues, albeit in relation to the First World War noting the slaughter at Gallipoli, and noting other events too:
Why did at least 3,411 young Irish men die at Gallipoli in 1915 invading Turkey, a country with which we never had a quarrel?
After all, didn’t Khaleefah Abdul-Majid I, sultan of the Ottoman empire, offer £10,000 to ease our suffering during the Famine.
Queen Victoria requested he reduce that to £1,000, as she just gave £2,000.
He agreed, reluctantly, but secretly sent five ships loaded with food to Drogheda despite an attempted blockade by the British navy.
The problem is that he appears unaware of how those realities might shape responses and reactions in the decades and years leading up to 1916 (indeed that raises the issue of the realities that shaped responses and reactions in the decades and years leading up to the more recent conflict in the Northern Ireland). Responses that were violent, indeed, but were self-evidently the legacy of violence.
Part of the problem I have will all this is that if his stance is that of pacifism that is understandable, though perhaps limited as a position in the context of the broader churn of events. But his continuing inability to place 1916 not as a novel event but as one which fits into a historical continuum means that the overall picture he presents seem partial and inconsistent.