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The 1916 Commemorations – who benefits politically? May 16, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Here’s a question. A lot was made in various circles in the years leading up to this year about the utility of the 1916 Commemorations for whoever was in government at the time. Great theories were constructed about how Sinn Féin wanted to be in government north and south of the border simultaneously when they took place. But it wasn’t restricted to them. By contrast a similar or parallel theory was abroad that were Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in power it would cement their ‘ownership’ of the state.

Implicit in all this was that the Commemorations would confer some positive political outcome or effect for whoever was able to shape them. And there’s still echoes of this – for example in the most recent edition of Prospect magazine Ruth Dudley Edwards contrasts state and Sinn Féin exhibitions on the year (though noticeably remains coy about her own views on the issue. A casual appraisal of the article might suggest she was generally supportive of the actual events of 1916).

Indeed she explicitly references the supposed power of the Commemorations as follows:

At their most optimistic Sinn Féin had hoped that by 2016 they would be in government north and south, with Martin McGuinness as President and Adams as Taoiseach on the stand reviewing the troops. It hasn’t happened, and the 1916 commemoration will not increase Sinn Féin’s popularity. The Irish are too sophisticated these days to accept inherited myths uncritically. They’re curious about what happened in 1916 and are now aware that good Irishmen were killed in British uniforms: one bestselling book has been about the 40 children killed during the Rising.

I think she distorts SF’s contribution to some degree, but more importantly she doesn’t examine another aspect. If it is true that the commemorations haven’t increased SF’s popularity, well, much the same can be said for both Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour. For them there has been no commemoration dividend either. We’re lacking in polls at the moment but few would argue that the state commemorations played to partisan politics in the way she seems to suggest it played against SF.

But, that being the case was the idea of a commemoration dividend overdone from the off? The great fear from the Dudley Edwards and Harris contingent was of an atavistic lurch towards conflict (or nationalism and republicanism), as they saw it. Yet – as noted here before – that was always a most distant possibility and it speaks more of their sense of Irish citizens as an unformed and uncritical mob unable to restrain themselves or exercise any ability to critique matters. Some might say that is an exaggeration but once in conversation with a friend of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s I was told that O’Brien believed – and I paraphrase – that essentially there was a mob mentality extant in people and furthermore that the person I was talking to agreed with that idea wholeheartedly. That’s quite a view to take of people. What’s curious is that the actual history of the past century in this state tends to suggest otherwise.

Still, all that aside nonetheless evidence of said commemoration dividend is thin on the ground. What isn’t quite so thin on the ground is a general sentiment in favour of those who fought in 1916 for independence – this somewhat undermines Edwards line that ‘the Irish are no longer inclined towards blind loyalty to the dead of 1916’. Blind? No – the nuances and contradictions of the events of that Easter are too obvious to allow for that, but loyalty, I think yes. Low key but evident.

What do people think? Is that assessment of loyalty correct. And further, were, or are or will there be political benefits? If so what and if not why?

Comments»

1. EWI - May 16, 2016

The great fear from the Dudley Edwards and Harris contingent was of an atavistic lurch towards conflict (or nationalism and republicanism), as they saw it.

It’s nothing about a ‘great fear’. For some people generating controversy around a relatively uncontroversial rebellion was the goal in and of itself, to try to establish a wall of don’t-go-there fatigue between the Irish people and Irish nationalism.

And the error-riddled Duffy book consciously excludes several boy soldiers who died in the Rising, suggestive of the political intent behind it.

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WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2016

I think you’re right in many respects, that for them it is beyond the beyond to express even mildly nationalist, let alone Republican views. Perhaps I should have phrased it the great rhetorical fear….

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2. Roger Cole - May 16, 2016

I listened to Dudley Edwards speak at a Conference. She hates Republicanism of any hue. As the Chair of the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown 1916 Committee, an area once know as Kingstown, I can say that the Committee organanised a series of lectures on 1916 which were packed to the rafters and we published a book on Dún Laoghaire Rathdown & 1916 which was a complete sellout.
The problem with some people is to think that Sinn Fein is the only repository of Republican values as it was clear enough that very many of those who were interested and supportive of 1916 and its values were not necessarily supportive of SF. FF (The Republican Party) did well in the election (though not in DLR) and in fact by coming out in favour of the abolition of water charges took on a more “left” image, which suggests that the 1916 Rising could have had an impact. SF also had a good election even if it was not as good as expected. The Labour Party which all but ignored 1916 did not do so well. However on balance, I doubt if 1916 had much of an impact on the election as the result was due to a clear majority of people feeling that they knew little of the recovery the FGL Party were going on about.

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3. CL - May 16, 2016

” the republican image of freedom offers a moral compass for identifying what we should expect our country to do for us – and for the world – and what we as a citizenry should do for our country. In providing such a challenging perspective, it stands in stark contrast to the impoverished, neo-liberal ideal that is so widely touted today.”
http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/philip-pettit-the-republican-image-of-freedom-offers-a-moral-compass-for-our-country-1.2647299

The republicanism of those who fought and died in the 1916 uprising has little to do with the economy and society put in place by successive Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, and Labour governments. It is difficult to see how commemorating the Rising could benefit these parties.

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4. Michael Carley - May 16, 2016

I think that whatever people might think of the state(s) which resulted from 1916, and there is plenty of argument about that heritage here and elsewhere, there is a general view that Ireland was right to try to win its independence, and there is general respect for the courage of those who tried to do it.

Realistically, commentators who might claim there is no widespread support for the rising or for its results act as if they believe there is. Even Eoghan Harris has to frame his criticism of the left (public sector or LUAS unions, say) in terms of them not following the example of Connolly. In other words, he writes as if people believe Connolly was right.

More generally, when did that slogan `Dublin: the city that fought an empire’ become widespread? I don’t remember seeing it, or anything like it, before a year or two ago, and it does seem to indicate that, crudely, people see 1916 as anti-imperialist and not only nationalist.

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5. Phil - May 16, 2016

Deep down, RDE and other CCOBites seem to think that nothing’s changed – that twenty years of relative peace in the North is just one more stage in the great world-historical conflict between the Provos and everyone who’s not the Provos. It’s a weirdly bleak outlook.

I heard “The bold Fenian men” sung in a pub last night; I even joined in, a bit. If I’d heard it sung in a pub 25 years ago I would have concluded I was in the wrong pub & got out of there straight away, or at any rate before the collecting tin went round. It feels to me as if a lot’s changed since those days – and a lot’s been achieved, not least by Republicans. 1916, rebel songs, bombs in litter bins and “any loss of civilian life is regrettable”? Yeah… maybe not. 1916, rebel songs, the GFA and weapons placed beyond use (by Loyalist as well as Republican forces)? I’ll take that. Better than make a career out of opposing people who don’t even oppose you any more.

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CL - May 16, 2016

‘The Bold Fenian Men’ was written by the same guy who wrote the national anthem. Senator Frances Black gives a fairly decent rendition.

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sonofstan - May 16, 2016

I totally missed her election to the Seanad – excellent news entirely.

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WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2016

I met her recently, seems very very focused and determined to do something there beyond the usual seat holding.

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dublinstreams - May 16, 2016

FB seems very focused and determined to something about what?

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WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2016

Interested in policy, activism, etc. That’s just the impression I got. Time will tell.

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dublinstreams - May 16, 2016

policy and activism about what?

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WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2016

I’m taking a wild guess here dublinstreams that it might be to do with the sectors she’s expressed most interest in, that would be community and voluntary and the issues relating to those, poverty, addiction, homelessness, etc.

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dublinstreams - May 16, 2016

what about the industry and commerce of Independent broadcasters of Ireland that was nominated for and to

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WorldbyStorm - May 17, 2016

Who are we to second guess their motivations?

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dublinstreams - May 17, 2016

can’t believe you don’t expect people to do the job they’ve been elected to do, to represent the Independent Broadcaster of Ireland in Industrial and Commercial activities, if you don’t sure why not appoint people to that panel just to get at other parties, sure WTH!

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WorldbyStorm - May 17, 2016

How do you know that is the ‘job’, and since when was a nomination process quite so transactional. It might be for you but I’ve nominated people for things with no expectation of a quid pro quo. No doubt in nominating her they knew precisely what her jntersts and platform were, as well you know yourself.

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dublinstreams - May 17, 2016

transactional? its suppose to be vocational and she said she would represent the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland and I presume that why she was nominated by Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (it doesn’t stop her doing other stuff). Her qualifications were her Knowledge and practical experience of industry and commerce as is required by the constitution.

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dublinstreams - July 7, 2016

IBIreland ‏@IBIreland https://twitter.com/IBIreland/status/751092786468941824
Senator @frances_black seeks support for independent radio stations from @DCENR Minister @DenisNaughten

do check out its members

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Joe - May 16, 2016

What Phil said.

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Michael Carley - May 16, 2016

Having old school rebel songs sung in decent company is a return to the state of things up to about 1970: take a look at The Dubliners’ sixties output.

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CL - May 16, 2016

Or Margaret Barry:

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benmadigan - May 16, 2016

your link’s not working!!!

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6. dublinstreams - May 16, 2016

FF still havn’t had their main hooli 1916 National Commemoration Evening

Fianna Fáil will have its main national Commemoration for 1916 on Wednesday 25th May in the Round Room of the Mansion House, Dublin2, commencing at 7.30pm.

Entertainment on the evening will include performances by St John’s Brass Band, Caitríona Ní Cheannabháin, Seo Linn and a recreation of the Inaugural Meeting of Fianna Fáil, as well as an Address by the Party Leader.

Tickets for the Round Room are limited so early booking is essential. Entry on the evening is strictly limited to ticket holders. Tickets are limited to 30 per CDC and will be issued on a first come, first served basis.

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7. fergal - May 16, 2016

It will be interesting to see how the states remembers the Battle of the Somme. Like it or loathe it the commemorations have been very catholic to coin a phrase. Joe Duffy’ children of the Rising got great coverage, Myers, RDE and Patsy McGarry debated the rights and wrongs of the Rising in the very citadel of republicanism- the GPO and good ole Bob Geldof got to give his- admittedly predicatable- tuppence ha’fpenny’s worth.
Funnily enough, I think all of the above is positive- there are no sacred cows and mainstream Irish nationalism has accepted this. I see this as a mark of strength. The same process has yet to happen to unionism? Why not? There are too many sacred cows that are still happily grazing in the pasture of the north east
Will we see the same for the Somme? I wonder. Will the rights and wrongs be debated in a trench in France? Will the hundreds of thousands of children who lost their dads and orphans get a look in? Will those who resisted the war be remembered? You could file it under ‘parity of esteem ‘Let’s wait and see- though the 2014 events and the Gallipoli events don’t augur so well

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8. irishelectionliterature - May 16, 2016

For political parties. …
FG as the interim government didn’t let many people down with some wonderful State Commemorations.
FF must have been sick seeing non FF Ministers, President and An Taoiseach laying wreaths and overseeing various state events. They have done their own thing with various FF commemorations around the country. Didn’t lose or gain support from their stance.
Labour I don’t think came out too well. I’m sure I’m not alone in being bemused every time Joan Burton and co invoke the spirit of James Connolly!
SF has been a success but not as much as they hoped it would be. Mainly because the State Commemorations were quite good and relatively inclusive. Time will tell if their narrative of Pearse, Connolly and Sands made inroads outside of SF. I think it may have.

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Starkadder - May 16, 2016

“SF has been a success but not as much as they hoped it would be. Mainly because the State Commemorations were quite good and relatively inclusive. Time will tell if their narrative of Pearse, Connolly and Sands made inroads outside of SF. I think it may have.”

Possibly-there’s a whole generation of Irish voters who are
too young to recall the last Provosional actions to excite widespread revulsion, such as the London Docklands bombing and the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe (and note
how Harris & co. keep trying to make capital out of the latter
tragedy).

I see children and teenagers enthusiastically reading
books and doing projects on 1916. Which would not
have been common when I was growing up in the late 1980s and
1990s.

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EWI - May 17, 2016

FG as the interim government didn’t let many people down with some wonderful State Commemorations.

FG-LAB’s plans for non-commemoration had a rude firecracker (stuck where the sun doesn’t shine) after the disastrous launch. Not to forget, either, that so much of it was quite evidently only reactive, in order to pre-empt planned SF events.

Just wait until the re-branding of the Civil War as a heroic FG fight for democracy, in six years.

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9. roddy - May 16, 2016

Rebel songs were never out of favour up here even among people who were opposed to the modern IRA. Atweddings and similar events I used to be amazed at some of those who joined in when “lorry loads of volunteers” were “approaching border towns”!

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10. irishmarxism - May 16, 2016

It should not be missed that some on the left thought that commemorating what was an act of rebellion against an empire would be embarrassing at best for the Government, but that isn’t how it appeared:
.
https://irishmarxism.net/2016/04/10/remembering-the-rising-part-3-whos-afraid-of-1916/

and what it really represents is not agreed upon either:

https://irishmarxism.net/2016/04/24/remembering-the-rising-part-4-revolution-and-counter-revolution/

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Brian Hanley - May 16, 2016

Good posts. I tend to agree.

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oconnorlysaght - May 17, 2016

There is a lot in what my old comrade and sparring partner writes. I would just make two points.
Firstly, it should be remembered that the original thermidor was not just a sudden event that ended the forward march of the revolution; that process was already stalling, if it were not beginning to go backwards. It was no longer the aristos who were getting it in the neck, but too many of the sansculottes. The vast majority expected big things from thermidor; instead they got the Directory and the dictatorship of that old Jacobin Bonaparte. This puts the Irish Thermidor in context; what it did, was close and bar the door against a revolutionary process that had started in April 1916, and of which the increasingly bourgeois leadership were in disagreement as to how (or whether) it should proceed, while most of their activist followers clung to the word ‘republic’. Incidentally, I would place Thermidor at the attack on the Four Courts; the end of the Civil War is more like the ending of the purged National Convention in favour of the Directory.
Secondly, Irish Marxism admits to avoiding the q. of Connolly’s role in the Rising, yet the absence of any player of this role after his death is surely crucial to understanding the subsequent revolutionary process.
This last issue is taken up in more detail in my pamphlet ‘From the GPO to the Winter Palace’, launching in July.

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irishmarxism - May 17, 2016

I will take up only two points here. Firstly I think it is dubious and rather self-defeating to try to see in every revolution an inevitable counter-revolution, and one that more or less destroys the most progressive content of those revolutions.

Secondly, on Connolly’s absence after 1916. I would argue against the ‘great man’ theory of history. No doubt had Connolly lived he would have contributed to building the political and theoretical foundations of Irish Marxism.

He would not however have changed the nature of the Irish revolution and not have altered its flawed, partitioned, capitalist character – the material forces were simply not there to successfully challenge either of these outcomes. So in this sense I have to disagree with you Rayner that his death is not ‘crucial to understanding the subsequent revolutionary process.’

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oconnorlysaght - May 17, 2016

Firstly, in every revolution, there is a potential counter-revolution. The q. for revolutionaries is how to nip it in the bud, the answer usually being to push ahead. Of course not every potential counter-revolution is of the same magnitude, but that’s dialectics for ye.
As for Connolly, I am as hostile as Irish Marxism to the great (super-) man theory of history, but in certain circumstances an individual can change matters for better or worse. A Marxist whom, I think, we both admire called Leon Trotsky admitted in his History of the Russian Revolution that without Lenin that evolution would probably have failed. I would agree that Connolly would have had more of an uphill task in his country than Lenin in his, but I think that his problem would have been due more to organisational weakness than material forces.

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11. makedoanmend - May 16, 2016

Ms. D-E and Mr. Harris all too often seem to view everything through the prism of a profit and loss statement.

The commemoration meant different things to different people and groups. No doubt various groups in 6 counties view the event very differently. Young people probably veiw the event differently from people in the 50+ age group.

For many people the event was a non event. Others seemed to have really engaged and maybe learnt something beyond the cliches.

Seeing the event as some sort of profit-loss is probably the shallowest and least signficant way of understanding. They deserve our pity.

On the whole, no party really seems to have made “capital” out of the event.

Wonder if the historical revisionists feel they probably won the event?

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12. Starkadder - May 17, 2016

At least we remember our history. Observe how two important,
recent anniversaries in British history- the Battle of Culloden and the
General Strike – passed almost unnoticed (well, except for
a few “Guardian” articles on the latter).

I think Mr. Cameron and co. will be pleased with this lack of remembrance.

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13. Phil F - May 17, 2016

I think the southern state still has a very ambivalent attitude to 1916. They’re uncomfortable that their state’s origins are connected at all to an armed rebellion against the rule of law but worried that if they separate themselves from it too much others will grab possession of it, especially the Shinners. They know that the Rising, despite all the work of the revisionists, still resonates among the Irish pubic, especially the working class.

SF was very smart and I think it’s interesting to see what they did. They beat the state in terms of announcing their big plans first, they had an ambitious set of events with some big names attached and they made clear that all be welcome – in other words, they took advantage of the ambivalence of the state to act as if they themselves were the state in this instance.

It’s hard to say whether it paid off because who knows what part of their increased vote came from their partly pre-empting and upstaging the state, in particular the FG-led government (and upstaging FF for that matter). I think it’s clear, however, that FF upstaged Sinn Fein on the water charges issue and that probably counted for more.

The Adams-McGuinness strategy of being in government both sides of the border has stalled. They can only be in government in the south if FF is prepared to form a coalition with them and if SF and FF get at least half the seats; but a problem there is that they are partly competing for the same votes – working class and lower middle class people with small ‘r’ republican sympathies. They might have been able to do it by destroying the Labour vote, but a chunk of that vote went to the Trotskyists who are (rightly) seen as being a lot firmer on anti-austerity stuff.

SF in the south faces a major bind: to be trusted by the southern establishment they have to abandon all principle but abandoning all principle simply opens up further ground on their left flank for the Trotskyist currents and left-wing independents. At the same time, although they have a mass base in the north they have reached saturation point there. There’s no other sizeable section of northern society they can win support from to grow their vote. And because they are very much part of the establishment in the north they’re vulnerable to forces on their left flank (esp PBPA, which is not so hostile to republicanism so has the capacity to make ground in places like West Belfast and Derry). And, course, a strong trend is towards voter abstention. A part of the republican base is not going to vote for non-republican candidates but they’re sure not going to vote for New Sinn Fein either.

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14. Phil F - May 17, 2016

I wrote this 21 years ago, but I think it retains its general relevance. Politics and the rise of historical revisionism: https://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/politics-and-the-rise-of-revisionism/

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