Conflicted over the memory of 1916?

This week sees the nintieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916. It is a subject not to be trifled with. Inthe online edition of the Observer Geoffrey Wheatcroft was avalanched with strident criticism for his characterisation of the Rising as a betrayal of democracy. He mentions “Pearse’s exalted (or insane) words about the tired old earth that needed to be enriched by the spilling of much blood”. Though as Dan O’Brien has argued this same theme was echoed in the work of Pearse’s contemporary, Rupert Brooke. John Waters detects a discomfiting dilemma (subs needed), when he argues that the bursting of the lid of Northern Ireland made the Rising less an iconic artefact of history than an uncomfortable present day narrative:

Unlike the British, the French or the Poles, we are paralysed in our sense of history by conditions beginning with the letter “a”, and this paralysis has in my lifetime never seemed more total than it does now, as we approach the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

There is one good reason for this: the unfinished business of Irish reintegration. Without this incompleteness or, more precisely, without recent attempts to complete it, none of the “a-words” would have any dominion. Had partition not occurred, or had it proved less controversial and problematic, there would be no sense of discomfort now about remembering the beginnings of independent Ireland.

At the least, had the lid been kept on the Stormont state, we would be going about the business of commemoration without much thought for ambiguities, and the idea that survived in Irish culture for more than half a century – that the Easter Rising was the most glorious and triumphant episode in the history of Ireland’s struggle for freedom – would be as current today as it was at the time of the 50th anniversary in 1966.

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  • nmc

    In response to Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s article, it’s the 90th anniversary not the 80th. Pure dross.

  • DK

    nmc,

    Then you obviously didn’t ready the first paragraph of the article (already made your mind up?): “Next weekend, the government of the Irish Republic will noisily celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising.”

  • Shamo

    Last night’s RTÉ documentary, with commentary supplied by Conor Cruise O’Brien and Ruth Dudley Edwards, seemed to follow a similar line to that jaundiced tirade of Wheatcroft’s. But there was some insightful commentary; for instance that of one academic on the ‘cult of the boy’ prevalent in Victorian/Edwardian culture, to which Pearse was thoroughly devoted, but which has since been confused with paedophilia.

    Irish Revisinionism (or, to be more accurate, ‘Second-Wave Revisioniism’), is not a mere detached, dispassionate academic approach, as its proponents often claim it to be, but rather a clearly unionist and highly tendentious take on history. My take, as an Irish republican, has its own biases, but I do not claim to be utterly objective. After all, Ruth D Edwards and CC O’Brien are active unionist agitators.

    As for this talk or Pearse as ‘warped’ or ‘insane’, such character defamation lies in the realm of reductive caricature. Yes Pearse’s rhetoric seems a militarist anachronism today – that’s because his words were uttered under completely different social influences. Jingoism was the order of the day in the midst of British expansionist wars, and the onset of WWI; Pearse’s ‘bloodthirsty’ language, though unpalatable and outmoded to the modern republican, was quite conventional in the public parlance of his times. Has anyone that makes such criticisms of Pearse actually read any of the British rhetoric from that period? Unfortunately, Pearse’s is a restrained version of that of his foes (who talk of the treacherous ‘hun’ etc.).
    As for his self-idealisation, his chaste, austere self-mortiofying existence and self-consciously dramatic death. Wasn’t this martyrology, of the ‘Onward Christain Soldiers’ variety, the common masculinist ideal of his age.

    The major criticism here should not be that Pearse was a radical, ‘warped’ eccentric, but rather that many of his attutudes and public pronouncements mimic those of his oppressors. But, as Franz Fanon notes in his brilliant ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, it is an almost inevitable part of the decolonisation process that the “native intellectual” insurrectionist will first mimic and attempt to emulate with fervour/exceed the ideology of his/her oppressor, before they can be set free to think on the world anew.

    Pearse’s sacrifice has allowed us to think on the world, Ireland and indeed himself anew. His legacy as First President of the Irish Republic is a heroic, if imperfect, one indeed.

  • DK

    “The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a tiny sect with little popular following. In 1914”. Does this make the 1916 rising the most spectacular PR stunt ever?

  • visionary

    It was pure dross. He is a good writer who does not write anything.

  • Brian Boru

    Wheatcroft is a revisionist.

  • nmc

    DK, I read it and left a comment on the page an hour before I came on this site. I was referring to the minor detail that is the title:

    “For Ireland to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion is to betray democracy”

    I suppose by pointing out this error I am painting myself as a closed-minded, viciously republican person who has no mind of my own.

    Or maybe, I have a brain, and noticed a huge glaring error that I decided to point out. You decide.

  • Michael Morgan

    Revisionists seem to be thick on the ground these days. I went to the talk by Charles Townshend – author, Easter 1916 – at the BTL Festival at Crescent Arts Centre on Thursday night and heard a lot of revisionist shite. I was itching to question him about some of the things he came out with, and although BTL had promised to include a question and answer session at the end, this was brushed aside by the organizers. It seems free speech was reserved for the revisionists but not for anybody else…

    I just thought I’d like to include this in the present thread as it shows what seems to be a pro-revisionist bias in operation in intellectual circles…

  • Mick Fealty

    All:

    This is not a rhetorical question. What is wrong with revising history? Or do people here object only to the way it is revised? Waters is quite clear about why he thinks the Revisionism movement entered on the project they did, but feels it in turn needs revising.

    nmc:

    That was a very unusual case of a man playing himself. These threads work best if people try to find the ball, rather than take matters overly personally.

    Michael:

    What about posing some of those detailed questions here and now?

  • Rory

    Thank you, Shamo, for attempting to draw character analysis using genuine historical perspective and understanding. I found your reference to Franz Fanon most apposite in the circumstances.

    Wheatcroft is what he is – a small time scribbler who gets published by the Telegraph/Spectator group in the main and so plays the same tired old tune that Cruise O’Brien and Dudley Edwards love to hum. His inventive use of numeroloogy linking the number “sixteen” inextricably with Nazi sympathy was an intellectual masterstroke sure to appeal to Ms Dudley Edwards.

  • DK

    Mick,

    That’s the thing about history – new facts and perspectives are constantly coming to light. This is most dramatic in the former communist regions where there have been some startling revelations that have made several histories redundant.

    Doesn’t mean that it can’t happen here as well. There needs to be debate in history and the story of 1916 is certainly proving to be more complex than the simple “popular rising” that has been portrayed for a long time. Or is it simple that there is finally room for revisionists to speak out when previously they would have been frowned upon for upsetting the status quo.

    There is also more popularity for “what if” history, and the 1916 rising is great for that. I understand that some units that were supposed to rise up didn’t get the message or didn’t bother. If no-one had bothered, what would have happened? Certainly no shelling of Dublin & executions, but would the post-war home rule have led to a civil war in any case (assuming NI kept separate)?

    Fascinating stuff!

  • Michael Morgan

    Mick

    Townshend quoted RDE approvingly about ‘celebrating violence’ and that the revolutionaries didn’t have a democratic mandate to launch revolution.

    That violence was central to the emergence of modern Ireland is unquestionable, but then the same could be said of most of the new countries that have emerged since the French Revolution. It is true that the revolutionaries of 1916 did not seek an electoral mandate before launching the Rising. But then, neither did the French revolutionaries of 1789, 1830, 1848 and neither did the communards of Paris in 1871. Neither did Garibaldi, or the communists in 1917 Russia or the FLN in Algeria or the Viet Minh in Vietnam. I could go on to list practically every revolution of the past two hundred years but the point should be obvious. Armed risings by relatively small revolutionary cadres shift subject peoples expectations and so bring about wide-scale revolution. Without 1916 there would have been no 1918 landslide electoral victory for Sinn Fein and possibly therefore no Irish independence in the twentieth century.

  • TAFKABO

    Shamo

    You think the wretched of the earth is brilliant?.It proposes that I and all my family have our throats cut as we lie in our beds.
    Nice to see where you are coming from.

  • mickhall

    shamo,

    An interesting post,[6] thanks.

    mick,

    There absolutely nothing wrong with revising history if and when additional information comes to light, but that is not really what the Irish revisionist historians were about. They were called up to ware their Khaki for political reasons, few new fact about 1916 have emerged from revisionist historians. For them interpretation is all, hence their spotlight upon the question of Mr Pearse language, which shamo has dealt with so well.

    Many of these people were acting as jobsworth’s, all be it well educated one’s, to distant the ROI from the struggle in the north. After all if the founders of the Irish State came to prominence by the bullet and bomb who is to say the Provo’s were wrong. This conundrum is a very difficult circle to square, as to this day the Irish national revolution has never been completed.

    The problem has always been there has never been a democratic system in the north which is acceptably to all and which if the electorate so decided could complete the national revolution by political means. I would have had more respect for the revisionists if they had concentrated on this, instead of sneaking out in the dead of night to bury their own State’s history.

    Regards to all.

  • TAFKABO,

    Shamos position was quite reasonably argued. It is not really fair to disregard the substance of his post by making a fairly hysterical one line critique of a book he references.

  • Rory

    I never noticed any mention of you or your family in any of Fanon’s works, Tafkabo. Could it be that you have taken some reference or other a little bit personally? There, there.I’m sure it wasn’t intended to cause you any loss of sleep.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s interesting/useful. I’m reading Townsend at the moment. I was thinking about kicking out some of his ideas as we go through the week. This is from the early ‘Revolutionism’ section:

    “The modern term for the Sinn Fein strategy would become ‘civil resistence’. (Though the Arabic word intifada was not yet familiar to the Anglophone world, its meaning- shaking or sloughing off – would have fitted the Sinn Fein line well. This was a programme with real claims to global relevance; Gandhi, for instance, acknowledged the influence of Sinn Fein on his own idea of passive resistence, satyagraha. People could refuse to buy British goods, refuse to pay taxes, play English games, attend English plays, or indeed to speak English”.

    “But this empowering agenda also upped the identity stakes in a fateful way. It invoked, and required, a sense of Irishness much stronger and more coherent than earlier nationalist strategies had assumed. For self-reliance and self-sufficiency to work in this grassroots way, the self had to be much more sharply defined”.

    “Griffith himself did not fully grasp this implication of his idea. His notion of nationality remained (as the name of his first newspaper indicated) the civic, territorial view of the United Irishmen and his Young Ireland hero John Mitchel, whose central idea was simple detestation of England”.

    Going back to Waters’ point though, it seems he hinting that some kind of new consensus may be required (particularly as he points out the Republic is attracting new populations) that is not so amenable to the ups and downs of contemporary politics in the post Belfast Agreement era.

    Is he right, or is this just the inevitable outworking of the long peace conditions initiated by that particular inter governmental treaty?

  • David Michael

    As a southerner I sometimes wonder how Ireland might have turned out had we not sought independence. I can’t help thinking that the positive would have outweighed the negative.

    Not in the economic sense; the spiritual and ethical are of far more importance to me.

    We certainly would have been spared de Valera’s unholy pact with the Catholic Church, which condemned so many thousands of children to abuse in industrial schools and had a devastating effect on sexuality. Clerical rape and other abuses would surely not have exceeded the UK ‘average’ for such offences.

    And censorship would not have stunted Ireland’s arts for so long.

  • darth rumsfeld

    dearie me, such a lot of sensitivity about a piece stating the bleedin’ obvious that Geoff must have touched a very raw nerve.
    Just for slow learners here’s what every Unionist, and not a few openminded and sensible nationalists know about the Rising-

    1. there was no mandate for it, so the will of the Irish people was irrelevant-hence the sensitivity over the need to twist the results of the 1918 election even today to retrospectively justify it- and unlike the revolutions mentioned by Michael Morgan everyone here had a democratic option.

    2. It killed 405 people, most of whom were innocent civilians or unarmed police and caused £3 million pounds worth of damage- innocent Irish lives and irish money wasted.

    3. this was done at the behest of an unbalanced man who may not have been a paedophile [- but would you have let him teach your kids?]- however who was certainly borderline insane with a messiah complex-{he did his tax return to the British exchequer shortly before going out to expel Britain from Ireland for instance). In fairness many revolutionaries are nutters, but few are quite so barking without some recognition of their deficiencies by history. I mean Garibaldi was a fashion victim for the colour red,and was a bit too keen of the Masons, but we don’t need to cover it up- it’s right out there. And even Fidel would have begun to nod off during one of the florid bombastic jeremiads that passed as Pearse’s rhetoric, nevermind his sub-Vogan “poetry”. Why link this mad escapade to Easter, instead of giving it a proper anniversary anyway?- oops, Pearse the second Christ wpould’nt fit the image of the 24th of April Rising too well though.

    4. There is absolutely no difference between the aims, methods and excuses of the IRB and Adams’ gang of killers-even down to Adams’ succesasful attempts to be a bad writer too.
    Though at least Pearse wasn’t involved in smuggling ciggies or diesel. And everyone knows that if you’re ambivalent about the ends justifying the means in 1916 it only takes the right set of circumstances -in 1921, 1970, or 1981, or 2006, or 2016, to hitch a ride on the memories of Pearse to start kicking the Unionists all over again.

    “The problem has always been there has never been a democratic system in the north which is acceptably to all”

    – well I might equally say there has never been a democratic system in the south which is acceptable to all, and the Free state pulled up the drawbridge on any chance of one by purging some of the British aspects of Irish society, leaving the Commonwealth, and imprinting its own brand of sectarianism on the state. Funny how arch lefty Mickhall seems blind to the type of society which the leadership of nationalism created post 1921, and which has only begun to crumble since the 1990s

  • Mick Fealty

    Mick et al,

    I know I must sound terribly boring, but can we dig for specfics? ‘Many of these people…’ is neither verifiable or quantifiable.

    I understand it may be a genuinely felt POV, but it leaves the rest of us, who aren’t precisely sure what you mean by it, groping in the dark.

    A quote or two from Fanon for instance would help the rest of us ground where precisely you’re coming from.

  • David Michael

    Darth Rumsfeld

    ‘[Pearse’s] sub-Vogan “poetry”.’

    LOL and LOL again! Made my day, Darth

    Thanks for all the fish 🙂

  • Brian Boru

    “- well I might equally say there has never been a democratic system in the south which is acceptable to all, and the Free state pulled up the drawbridge on any chance of one by purging some of the British aspects of Irish society, leaving the Commonwealth, and imprinting its own brand of sectarianism on the state. Funny how arch lefty Mickhall seems blind to the type of society which the leadership of nationalism created post 1921, and which has only begun to crumble since the 1990s.”

    No I don’t agree with that. The Presbyerian Church voted to recognise the Free State and the Church of Ireland did too. On the Commonwealth, we didn’t leave that until 1949 and De Valera actually disagreed with that as it saw it as deepening partition, and because of the believe that only a 32 county state could be the “Irish Republic” as it was proclained in 1916. Ironically it was the Fine Gael Taoiseach John A. Costello (traditionally a more pro-British party) that declared the Republic and left the Commonwealth. But he was right to do so. Having the unelected British monarch as our permanent Head of State was undemocratic and a reminder of oppression by her ancestors.

    “There is absolutely no difference between the aims, methods and excuses of the IRB and Adams’ gang of killers-even down to Adams’ succesasful attempts to be a bad writer too.
    Though at least Pearse wasn’t involved in smuggling ciggies or diesel. And everyone knows that if you’re ambivalent about the ends justifying the means in 1916 it only takes the right set of circumstances -in 1921, 1970, or 1981, or 2006, or 2016, to hitch a ride on the memories of Pearse to start kicking the Unionists all over again.”

    I cannot accept that thesis. The IRB did not target innocent civilians and neither did the Old IRA. The parallel is especially weak in 1919-21 considering the SF landslide of 1918. Provisional SF has not won 75% of the northern seats. Again the Old IRA did not target innocent people. I resent such a parallel being drawn. If you had researched history better you would know that the Old SF/Old IRA broke up into loads of different groups since partition including Fine Gael and Fianna Fail which are now entirely constitutional parties. The Provos are a distant relative and certainly do not deserve the accolade of being the heirs to 1916 still less 1919-21. The Easter Proclamation stated “we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine.” Obviously the Provos have not complied with that.

  • It is a little dispiriting to read some of the unionist commentary relating to 1916. While it might be politically satisfying to attempt to draw freakish and insulting parallels between the 1916 leaders and just about every political and moral bogeyman from Hitler to closet paedophiles, it contributes nothing to the debate.

    Anti-democratic unionist agitation from around the same period was just as blood thirsty as anything Pearse produced and whats more was reflected in UK establishment thought, which doesn’t improve matters perhaps, but should give pause for those who have yet to attempt to contextualise.

    One other interesting fact is that the 1916 proclamation was in many ways ahead of its time and a much more interesting, inclusive and socially conscious document than the Ulster Covenant.

    It is understandable that Unionists are uncomfortable that the Republic is celebrating the revolutionary actions of 1916 assuming, as many of them seem to, an unquestionable link between the bomber provos and the 1916 leaders. But I find myself asking, why are unionists so willing to accept Sinn Feins curent inception narrative that they are the true inheritors of 1916, when they will not accept any other myth propagated by the same organisation?

  • Garibaldy

    Mick,

    I thought the revolutionism section was the weakest of Townsend’s book, lacking an understanding of the earlier Irish context of the stuff he describes. The same applies to Peter Hart’s IRA and Its Enemies, where he fails to grasp the origin of the term ‘the boys’.

    Haven’t read Waters’ piece but the changing nature of the population will inevitably affect Irish politics to some degree in bringing a renewed stress on economic issues rather than arguments over 1916, which will mean nothing to most immigrants. Assimilation may reduce the cultural impact. It’s all too early to say, particularly if eastern Europe experiences economic growth and some of these migrants return home.

    Darth,

    The fact of the matter is that Irish people had been voting for home rule for several decades, and an unrepresentative rump in the British parliament repeatedly denied it. Even when it was passed, it was suspended, with partition likely. The 1916 rebels therefore had every reason to argue that the entire political system in Ireland was undemocratic, even by the standards of the day, nevermind our own, which is how the rebels are often mistakenly judged. Certainly the rebels had no democratic mandate, but neither had the then system of government, Pearse’s bad poetry notwithstanding.

    As for the state that emerged in the early 1920s, there’s a very good argument for seeing it as dominated by those opposed to 1916, not its heirs. Can we seriously argue that the anti-clericals of the IRB, much less Connolly, would have been satisfired with social and political nature of the Free State?

  • seabhac siulach

    Ah, the old chestnut of ‘there was no mandate for the 1916 rebellion…’

    All very well to say that, revisionists, but ask yourselves some simple questions…was there was a mandate for the anti-constitutional Ulster volunteers, formed to carry out open treason and violence against the democratic wishes of the Irish people and the British govt. in 1912? Was there a mandate for the Curragh mutiny of 1914 in support of the Ulster volunteers?
    The formation of the Irish volunteers and the subsequent use of them in 1916 were a direct result of the anti-democratic forces at work in the Northern counties (and Irish Unionism in general), forces that were willing to rise in violence against the democratically determined wishes of the majority of those in Ireland for home rule. Who mentions now the anti-democratic posturing of Carson/Craig who were willing to lead Ireland to civil war over a basically toothless Home Rule? We have these fascists to thank for 85 years of partition, in opposition to a Home Rule that would have given Ireland less autonomy then than the toothless Scottish parliament of today.
    Until 1912 Pearse himself was a Home Ruler, more interested in cultural than political issues. It was the failure, the impossibility of Home Rule, the freezing of it on the Statute books at Westminister in 1914 (why?), the never-ending threats and foot dragging of the Unionists that contributed to 1916. When talking of mandates, we must also ask who gave the Unionists of Ireland in 1912 the right to violently threaten democratic decisions, arrived at by their own government?

    Talk of mandates in any case is claptrap…when in history did a revolution have a mandate? Did the French/American revolutions have mandates? Is that to take away from the essential righteousness of what they achieved? Obviously, no.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Mick Fealty: “This is not a rhetorical question. What is wrong with revising history? Or do people here object only to the way it is revised? Waters is quite clear about why he thinks the Revisionism movement entered on the project they did, but feels it in turn needs revising.”

    The counter-question is if we start revising history, where do we stop? Shall we sweep the concentration camps (British in Boer Africa or German in Eastern Europe — your choice) under the rug? Shall we bury the comfort women of the War in the Pacific, gag those who died on the Trail of Tears? Pick the historical awkwardness of your choice — shall we obscure every single historical thing that makes someone feel uncomfortable. We do that, then, as the cliche goes, we doom ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past. Ideally, history, in all its gaudy ugliness, warts and all, should be let stand on the facts

  • German-American

    Some off-the cuff thoughts by an American relatively ignorant of Irish history but hopefully better versed in American history (apologies for the length, which required breaking this into two separate comments):

    First, if you want bloodthirsty “irrationalism” here’s another example: “if God wills that [this war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” I’ll come back to the mentally ill author of these words in a bit, because I think he’s relevant here.

    Second, I think Wheatcroft and and others are in danger of making themselves ridiculous by their incessant claims that celebrating the Easter Rising legitimizes Sinn Féin and the IRA; I think instead that they’re just playing into SF’s hands. Some of their comments seem so over-the-top to me, and presumably to others, that Gerry Adams has only to pay lip service to the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent to look like a reasonable moderate in comparison. Also, whether Wheatcroft et.al. consciously intend to do so or not, in effect they’re attacking the legitimacy of the Republic of Ireland; as an outsider I may be missing some nuances here, but how is this really different than the “26 counties” shtick SF has been peddling for so long?

    A digression (but it has a point, I promise): I know some people on Slugger have complained about the ROI celebrating the date of the Easter Rising, as opposed to celebrating dates relating to the formal establishment of the Republic or its predecessors, e.g., the date the Free State was created, the date the Constitution of Ireland went into effect, or the date of the Republic of Ireland Act. In one sense this is trivial to explain: Lots of nations celebrate the dates of acts symbolically related to their origins, as opposed to dates associated with formal constitutional arrangements, because ultimately the wellsprings of nationalism are emotional not logical. For example, the US celebrates July 4, 1776, a meaningless date in constitutional terms, and not March 4, 1789, when the US constitution was actually adopted. Similarly France celebrates July 14 (the date not just of the storming of the Bastille but of a symbolic proclamation exactly one year later) as opposed to whatever dates the various French republics came into existence.

    But I think there’s a deeper significance as well, in which the seeming paranoia of Wheatcroft and friends is at least explainable if not excusable. Returning to the person I quoted earlier, I’m a believer in Garry Wills’s thesis regarding how Abraham Lincoln used the Gettysburg Address and similar speeches to build legitimacy for bloodily suppressing an attempt at secession (or “partition” if you will) that was arguably legitimate in terms of the constitutional arrangements in effect at the time. Wills claims that Lincoln did this by in effect ignoring the US Constitution as the main source of legitimacy for the United States and its government, given the constitution’s acceptance of slavery, its granting enhanced political power to slave-holding states (the “three-fifths of a person” rule), and the implication of the constitution’s adoption that having freely joined to create the union states were as equally free to leave it.

    Instead Lincoln looked to the date of the Declaration of Independence as the true beginning of the US (“four score and seven years ago”) and in effect argued that the symbolic claims of the Declaration (most notably “all men are created equal”) overrode the legal reality of the constitution then in effect. This in turn provided “emotional authority” (if you will) for Lincoln’s prosecuting a war in which three out of every hundred Americans were killed or injured.

    (to be continued)

  • German-American

    Now back to Ireland: To me the most interesting part of the whole Easter Rising controversy has nothing to do with SF’s supposed plans to stage a putsch in the Republic of Ireland, but rather how it reflects future approaches Fianna Fáil (and possibly other ROI political parties) might take toward Northern Ireland. Not that I think Bertie Ahern is the second coming of Lincoln, but I think his strategy in promoting celebration of the Rising has some parallels to Lincoln’s in the Gettysburg Address. In the present case there will be no shooting war, no claims by the ROI to exert actual sovereignty in Northern Ireland (even in the limited form of true Joint Authority), and quite likely no future change to existing constitutional arrangements.

    However what I think will occur is a consciously (or at least semi-consciously) enacted strategy on the part of the ROI (or at least the present ROI government) to incorporate Northern Ireland economically, culturally, and even to some extent politically into the ROI’s sphere of influence, somewhat as Canada currently exists within the sphere of influence of the US. Like Canada from a US point of view, Northern Ireland from an ROI point of view will then simply be a place that for some odd reason continues to have different passports and use different currency, but otherwise is indistinguishable from home. (In this context Unionist strongholds in NI will be analogous to Quebec in Canada: Places and people who stubbornly refuse to “get with the program” and fully assimilate.)

    In this context Ahern’s promotion of Easter Rising celebrations enables him and FF to disregard the unfortunate reality of the border and how it came to be, and use the story of the Easter Rising (and in particular the symbolic language of the Proclamation) to claim emotional authority for the increased role the ROI government will play in NI in the future, especially if November 24 comes and goes without a stable devolved government having been established.

    Why would Ahern and FF pursue such a strategy? Partly to meet the political threat of SF’s success in becoming an all-Ireland political party wearing the assumed mantle of republicanism, and partly presumably because they themselves are emotionally bound to involve themselves in NI affairs, particularly on behalf of the nationalist minority. However I think a major factor, if not the overriding one, is that it simply makes sense for FF to do anything it can to promote political stability and (even more important) economic growth in NI, because these will ultimately promote the economic success of the ROI and thus the future electoral prospects of FF. Hence the ROI government’s willingness, perhaps even eagerness, to enter into an open-ended engagement as “management consultants” for the North.

    People on Slugger and elsewhere have claimed that the ROI would be insane to take on the economic burden that is Northern Ireland. Maybe I’m nuts too, but I’m of the opposite opinion; I think Northern Ireland represents a real economic opportunity for the ROI. In business terms Northern Ireland is like a company that has significant assets unproductively used: an attractive takeover candidate for an acquirer willing to implement substantial changes in corporate strategies, aggressively reduce bloat in the ranks of middle managers, and get the rank and file employees to accept a bit of present belt-tightening against the promise of better times to come. Even better yet, as in a leveraged buyout, under the current and likely future dispensation the ROI gets to use someone else’s money to pursue its NI strategy.

    So to conclude, I think people like Wheatcroft need to put away their seemingly lovingly-nurtured fantasies of the celebrations of the Easter Rising being but a prelude to “Sinn Féin/IRA” putting jackboots on the streets of Dublin; if they want to promote conspiracy theories then I think they would be better served by focusing on the “open conspiracy” driving increased integration of NI with the ROI. (This applies to the DUP as well: Even though they are safe from the Joint Authority bogeyman, I think that the DUP is increasingly going to be drawn into all-Ireland politics whether they like it or not, and needs to do some serious thinking about how best to play that game.)