How the blood sacrifice of 1916 bequeathed independent Ireland to “the till-minders and crawthumpers”

I like the opening of John Waters’ column today

You have to hand it to Enda: at least he has courage. I have in mind “courage” in the Sir Humphrey sense – as on the occasion when minister Hacker announces his determination to go through with some “principled” proposal of his, in the face of the warnings of his executive advisers.

Having listened patiently, Sir Humphrey declares: “Very courageous, minister”. The word “courageous” triggers a note of panic in Jim Hacker’s response: “Wha-wha-what do you mean ‘courageous?”

Anyone going into Irish politics with unbreachable principles is entering an area of extreme danger. In this case, Waters is talking less about principle and more about Enda’s announcement that he intends to make it through the last possible days of his mandate, ie, the early Spring of 2016:

Other nations remember their epic moments as a matter of course, but for us 2016 presents a host of impossible dilemmas which freeze us in our tracks.

We might well have wondered if anyone would have the imagination to take us beyond the idea of a line of politicians standing on the steps of the GPO, gazing at soldiers marching past. Until Tuesday last, the merest intrusion of the question provoked consternation and dismay, causing the issue to be avoided by anyone with the remotest means or power of delivering even the most modest proposal to save national face.

But then, imagining himself to be announcing that the Government would run its full term, the Taoiseach confirmed the form of the commemoration: an election which will pit the political class of 2016 against the heroes of a century ago.

He goes on…

The test to be applied will not be, as Mr Kenny and his compadres appear to believe, whether Ireland has “emerged from the bailout” and “returned to the markets”. Instead, the election will place every candidate in an implicit comparison with the deeds and ideals of the past.


Perhaps what we most urgently require to recall about 1916 is not the heroism but rather the fatal loss of vision which it finally amounted to. In getting themselves shot, Pearse and the others denied posterity the quality of intelligence which their continuing presence would have brought to the independence project.

In the aftermath of their absence, Ireland was left to the tender mercies of till-minders and crawthumpers, and the consequences can still be heard on the radio any morning, as politicians and self-describing “experts” seek to define the existential difference between €2.8 billion and €3.1 billion.


The same consequences can be observed in the Fine Gael poster urging a Yes vote in the referendum to abolish the Seanad. Instead of idealism, Fine Gael offers constitutional vandalism and promises “fewer politicians” as an answer to national degradation.

Far from nation-building, the self-styled inheritors of the mantle of Michael Collins propose to dismantle the institutions for which the blood of past generations flowed in rivers. Instead of leadership, they seek to appease the mob by offering the depletion of their own numbers without benefit of firing squad.

And since they put it like that, it might seem churlish of us – when the opportunity next arises – to refuse the offer.

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