In the Irish Times, Vincent Browne expresses his doubts about how inclusive, and how wise, the remembrance on Monday, of Easter 1916, actually was – “The city looked great, the GPO imposing, the Army drilled and disciplined, military music not too bad, fine weather, great crowds, no speeches and the rioters took a day off.”.. But.. but..He doesn’t provide his answers to the questions he raises.. but they are questions worth asking –
It may be true that had the Easter Rising not happened we might still be part of the United Kingdom with a very limited form of home rule.
Garret FitzGerald has argued persuasively that had the Rising not occurred, by the 1920s the scale of subsidy from the “Imperial” government would have been such as to deter any movement for full independence.
I am one of those who are glad we achieved independence and therefore glad of the consequences of the Rising.
But is that enough? Are actions to be judged by their consequences? Are there not side constraints on actions, side constraints to do with killing for instance? It is said we cannot impose our contemporary perspectives on past events, but by what other criteria do we have to judge past events for the purposes of commemorating those events? What would we say now to the widow of that poor policeman who walked up to the door of the GPO that Easter Monday morning in justification for the killing of her husband? Too bad, your husband had to be killed not for anything he did, but for the good of the Irish people as a whole? If so, how many people would it have been justifiable to kill for an outcome we approve? And what people would it have been justifiable to kill? Just policemen and members of the British military presence in Ireland, or would it have been okay to kill a few innocent bystanders as well?
Remember during the Northern Ireland conflict how it was said repeatedly nothing justifies the taking of a single human life? Was that all bilge or was it meant at the time? And even if meant at the time, was it still bilge because there are some things that justify the taking of human life, even the taking of innocent human life? Some things like national independence?
We would not have been too impressed with that argument, say, 20 or 30 years ago in the heat of the carnage, so why does it have any currency now? Okay, it might not matter to have had and enjoyed that one celebration on Monday, and since it went off so well is it churlish to be questioning? But why not celebrate it again next year and every year until the 100th anniversary and ever year afterwards?
Every year obliterating the memory of that poor RIC man who walked up to the door of the GPO to ask what was going on and having his head blown off? We will celebrate on the very steps on which his blood flowed, on the very scene where this poor man’s life ebbed away. Every year justifying actions on the basis of their consequences.
There was and is much to admire about those who acted as they did in Easter week 90 years ago and certainly they thought they were justified in doing what they did. Had they a chance to look back on everything that flowed from their actions, very probably they too would celebrate now. But, as with us, would they be right?