The Dublin and London governments have signalled a major effort to combat nationalist sentiment in the run-up to the anniversary of the 1916 Rising following this week’s heavily promoted state visit to London by 26-County President Michael D Higgins.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was “very pleased” to hear the queen’s declaration that “my family and government” would “stand alongside” Ireland during the upcoming commemorations.
It was made clear that this meant the queen herself, or possibly another senior royal, would attend commemorations in Dublin in Easter 2016.
A hundred British soldiers were killed attempting to suppress the rising in six days of intense fighting before the rebel leaders surrendered. Over 300 Irish citizens died during the 1916 Rising, including the leaders of the rebellion who were executed later.
The governments believe the queen’s presence at the GPO, the headquarters of the Rising, would help deter a nationalistic view of the anniversary and suppress calls for Irish reunification.
Both governments are said to be nervous that ongoing moves towards Scottish independence could have a knock-on effect in Ireland, raising interest in Irish identity as well as demands for unity and independence.
Kenny signalled that the history of the Rising and related events a hundred years ago would be formally revised to fit with the new perspective. Ministers would work with “authentic” historians, he emphasised, to deciding what commemorations would be appropriate for the British royal family to attend.
Signalling a new level of cultural management between Dublin and London, British foreign secretary William Hague said “all” of the anniversaries had to be marked “in a way that helps to bring people together”.
The prospect of a British royal attendance was first revealed last September in a speech to the British Irish Association in Cambridge by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
Fine Gael and Labour are especially keen to prevent the two traditionally more nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, from benefitting from an increase in nationalist sentiment ahead of the Rising. The next general election falls in the Spring of 2016.
Ironically, the spectacle this week of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, standing for the British national anthem and toasting the queen fed into the agenda.
Kenny confirmed he would like to see the Windsors return to Ireland in 2016 because Irish people have become “very much enthused and interested” in such pageantry and ceremonies. He added that the past “should not strangle the opportunity for the future”.