Who Dares To Speak Of….1916?

So the Decade of Centenaries. It was always likely that 2016 would be the key year. And that the Easter Rising, iconic for nationalists and the Battle of the Somme, iconic for unionists would be the key events. And always likely there would be some kinda trade-off. “One for you…one for me”. Optimistically some think it can be “two for both of us”.

Can History be shared? Is the history of slavery in the Old South a shared experience? Is the Holocaust of the 1940s a shared experience. Is 9/11 a shared experience?

Certainly a few weeks ago the Chinese commemorated…celebrated even….the end of World War Two. I think they had a right to do so. The Japanese felt aggrieved that the commemoration was not inclusive enough. But surely the Japanese, who committed grotesque attrocities in China in the 1930s and 1940s cant complain that China celebrates a victory.

Conflict Resolution is of course a good thing. But the needs of official Remembrance cannot be allowed to trump family Remembering.

People have a right to own “their” history. Have African-Americans a right to exclude white Americans from sharing their history? Have Jewish people the right to exclude non-Jews from commemorating the Holocaust? Have Americans the right to exclude Saudi Arabians from commemorating 9/11?

The answer is that only the “owners” of the history can share it. Any shared commemoration has to be on the terms that the “owners” find appropriate. The parties should be by invite only and nobody should gate-crash them.

The problem with Anglo-Irish relations for nearly a century has been similar to two elderly neighbours who have not spoken in years. Yet their children and grandchildren get on very well. Ireland is too close to Britain to escape its influence and too far away to be integrated. Yet Irish republicanslike myself see no contradiction in supporting Manchester United and our wives see no contradiction in watching Coronation Street.

The process has accelerated over the years. It is not just a matter of young Irish people taking the boat to England when unempoyment in Ireland reaches crisis levels. Nor is it entirely about both countries being members of the European Union. Or even about the Republic of Ireland giving up its constitutional claim to Norn Iron as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is about State Visits by the President of Ireland to our nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner and where social connexions are even greater than with nominally friendlier nations like United States.

Only three years ago, Elizabeth Windsor who has visited China, India, Pakistan, Kenya….cameto visit Ireland, the first British monarch to so do since Independence. Does the totality of relationships as Charles Haughey called it extend to the English Head of State being part of the Easter 1916 Commemoration? After all…in modern Europe the Germans are part of D-Day Commemorations.

Ireland wrote its History after Independence. Unionists in the North did the same. Inconvenient Truths were airbrushed out of the narratives. We are where we are. The histories were written for the “common good”. A new generation of historians are airbrushing out inconvenient Truths. We are asked to believe that nationalists and unionists share History.

Does the slave and the slaveowner share History? Does the Holocaust survivor and the Nazi share History? The New Yorker and the Islamist extremist?

The Decade of Centenaries is a convenient way of promoting Shared History. But in accepting that the Easter Rising is unique…special…the most important single event in twentieth century Ireland, then we have to accept that it loses the unique quality when made part of a package deal.

Of course post-1916 History….the execution of the Leaders, the War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty and Civil War has produced the modern Irish political system. While leading figures in later Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael fought in the Rising,….Fianna Fáil opposed the Treaty and Fine Gael accepted the Treaty….and Fine Gael is now a Party of pro-Treaty people, up to the point of partitionist people and “west Britons” with latent unionist sympathies.

It has fallen to Fine Gael in government with Labour since 2011, to take the lead in organising the Easter Commemoration. FG might well still be in government when the next election takes place before Easter 2016.

I was visiting Kilmainham Gaol in December last year, just after the plans for commemoration were announced. A curious watered down programme called “Ireland Inspires” which was as much about 2016 than 1916….even Bono and U2 feature in the promotional video. Certainly it has been castigated by historians….the tour guides at Kilmainham could not believe it….and led to an alternative and more overtly republican commemoration. Thearchive of thisblog features a report on alecture by Robert Ballagh on thissubject.

The Easter Rising was what it was. It was about the men and women who gave birth to the Republic of Ireland. It is not about Ireland and Europe. Itisnot about Bono and U2.

So two commemorations. Well….more likely …three. For while republicanism in the Republic of Ireland is a broad church and supporters of Fianna Fáil, Labour, unalligned, Sinn Féin and even Fine Gael are republican….republicanism is a much more narrow concept in the North.

Certainly at the Robert Ballagh lecture, it was evident that Sinn Féin would be the lead player in the North. Nobody mentioned SDLP. Yet any SF led commemoration will be linked to Provisional IRA campaign after 1969.

Clearly SDLP cannot be supporting suuch a suggestion.

Like I have said, the Commemoration cannot be about U2. It cannot be about Provisional IRA.

So……where does SDLP play a role. The temptation is to make Easter about shared future in the North of Ireland.

But it is not.

It can only be about Easter 1916. That week. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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