By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
William Faulkner wrote: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ How right he was and nowhere is that remark better exemplified than in Ireland. James Joyce said: ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’ He meant Irish history of course and like some nightmares it recurs again and again always with the same ending.
The two governments, but particularly the Irish government, hoped that by developing a load of claptrap about a ‘shared history’ they could somehow exorcise the nightmare of Irish history 1912-22. In the flawed concept of a shared history first enunciated by Brian Cowen in 2010 both sides in the northern conflict would be encouraged to participate in each others’ commemorations joined by the Irish government. They had to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘shared’ as in that awful Americanism, ‘I share your pain.’ It’s a desperate unhistorical attempt to read the political correctness of 2016 back into the history of that decade a century ago and it’s nonsense.
‘Rogues and renegades’ Foster is absolutely correct to have nothing to do with it. Yes of course there’s an election on May 5 and she would look daft standing with a stony face at some commemoration of 1916 just after Stormont shut down at Easter to prepare for the election campaign. She’s not doing it, not even contemplating it, not because of the election but because it would be an exercise in hypocrisy. She shares nothing about the 1916 Rising its aims, its motives, its beliefs.
Her remarks show she knows nothing about history a century ago either but she knows what she doesn’t agree with and that’s republicanism in any shape or form. She said the Rising was ‘an attack on democracy’ and added, ‘I believe in the democratic will.’ Well yes, up to a point Lord Copper. First, democracy in our terms didn’t exist in 1916. Only 700,000 men in Ireland had the vote but no women. It wasn’t for want of trying. In 1912 a suffragette, Mary Leigh, got five years for throwing a hatchet at Asquith as he crossed O’Connell Bridge in Dublin in a carriage. She missed and it hit Redmond harmlessly on the arm. Was that ‘an attack on democracy’?
Secondly as many people have pointed out to Foster, the first attack on ‘democracy’ as it existed in those days was the unionist rebellion against the third Home Rule Act of 1912 including importing 25,000 rifles and three million rounds of ammunition from Germany in 1914. Curiously no interviewer has asked Foster if she endorses that rebellion involving tens of thousands of UVF paramilitaries threatening the British government. A rebellion incidentally which inspired Home Rulers to establish the Irish Volunteers as a counter force.
None of it matters. It’s all stupid stuff. You can’t transport the standards of 2016 back a hundred years. Suffice to say the Rising stands for everything ‘Rogues and renegades’ opposes, including the concept of an Irish Ireland. Her objection is political. At least she’s straightforward about it unlike republicans trying to ‘share’ the commemoration of the Somme when republicans a decade before 1916 were already making speeches objecting to people joining the ‘Crown forces’ which included the RIC. In 1915 Sean MacDiarmada, the main organiser of the Rising, got himself arrested in Tuam and jailed for making a speech opposing recruitment for the British army.
For unionists joining the British army en masse was their way of demonstrating loyalty to Britain and they got a separate division, the 36th as a reward. They didn’t anticipate it would turn into their blood sacrifice. It has nothing to do with republicans. Claiming they share ownership is just daft and embarrassing and politically correct and that goes for the Irish government muscling in on it too.
Incidentally talking about attacks on democracy such as it was in 1916 you hear a great deal about the fact that the organisers of the Rising had ‘no mandate’, a modern expression and a modern concept. Here’s a question. What mandate did the British government have for ruling Ireland in 1916 considering that for nine successive elections since 1885 the Irish had voted for Home Rule. Was it the Act of Union? Very democratic.