2020 Easter commemoration statement by the National 1916 Commemoration Committee.
Those whom we honour on this Easter Monday are the fulcrum upon which the entire struggle for sovereignty and social justice in this country pivots.
The essential balance required to achieve legitimacy of purpose, and a framework for revolutionary social change, were the core ingredients of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The insurrection was not only an armed expression of Irish sovereignty, it was also a cutting-edge tutorial for future generations on how to conduct themselves in the revolutionary tradition.
The potency of those events of that Easter Week reside in their clarity of intent. The choice the insurgents offered the Irish people had a dynamic simplicity: the Irish people are, as by right, a sovereign people, or, we are nothing more than a regional administrative area within the British Empire. That choice remains the same for the Irish people today.
The Proclamation was an evolutionary voice derived from the previous expressions of our revolutionary forefathers whose ideas mapped the trajectory of the republican struggle throughout our history.
The great revolutionary period of a century ago would not have happened without 1916, just as that great period was subverted, because the core ethos of 1916 was abandoned at the negotiations table with the British.
The Proclamation was addressed to the Irish people, Irish men and Irish women. And it was to the people of Ireland that Irish revolutionaries turned to give democratic legitimacy to that Republic proclaimed.
To seek a mandate from the people is as arduous and essential as to face the military might of the occupying power. Democracy is at the heart of sovereignty. Its denial is at the heart of armed conflict. The 1918 General Election was a peaceful and democratic expression of Irish sovereignty. At a time when the advocates of Home Rule had urged fifty thousand Irishmen to their violent deaths, in support of the Crown’s dominion over Ireland, Irish separatists secured the peaceful and democratic endorsement of a free and sovereign Ireland.
The establishment of Dáil Eireann in January 1919 represented the functioning reality of the Irish Republic and placed the ideals of 1916 above the aspirational and firmly in the realm of day to day reality, but this was only a first step. The totality of sovereignty and independence made it clear, that for the Republic to function for the betterment of its people, there were many other national questions that had to be addressed and it was the impatient business of Dáil Eireann to set itself to this task.
On January 21st, 1919, The Declaration of Independence spoke to the world of Ireland’s status as a sovereign country amongst the free nations of the world. That which was proclaimed on the steps of the GPO was now made democratically manifest. On that same day The Democratic Programme of Dáil Eireann set before the Irish people the foundation stones for revolutionary social policy, it declared:
“It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.”
More than a century later, this State, which lauds itself as the legitimate successor of that First Dáil, is in gross and continued dereliction of that basic commitment.
In a parallel act, on that same date, volunteers of the Irish Republican Army engaged an RIC escort at Soloheadbeg, killing two of that escort and seizing weapons and ordinance to prosecute a war of liberation against the British Empire.
Yet again, one hundred years later, the root cause of that conflict remains unresolved. And in a move which can only perpetuate that conflict the State has sought to sanitise the role of British forces deployed to deny the national and sovereign rights of the Irish people. The Royal Irish Constabulary was the British Government’s principal agency to enforce its writ in Ireland. Since its founding it had established itself as firmly pro-establishment, demonstrating a clear relish in quelling all aspects of dissent and protest. Agitation on tenant’s and worker’s rights were viciously suppressed as were those efforts to secure permanent constitutional change. They enforced the will of the industrialist and the landlord. They beat striking workers and oversaw the evictions of hundreds. The Royal Irish Constabulary were the enemies of the Irish people.
As the forces of the Irish Republic gained political and military control over the infrastructure of our country the British Government responded with historical infamy as they prosecuted a campaign of murder and terror against the Irish people. To this end they sought to bolster the resources of the RIC by recruiting ex British soldiers into a paramilitary force which became known as the Black and Tans. In tandem with this force a so-called counter insurgency unit of the RIC was also established comprising of former British Army officers and designated as the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Having declared Dáil Eireann an illegal assembly the British Government unleashed these combined forces against the Irish people with the clear instruction to initiate a campaign of terror, murder, reprisal, destruction and brutality. The British contempt for the democratic will of the Irish people was further demonstrated by the wilful murder of Tomás MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, at the hands of the RIC.
No amount of historical revisionism can exonerate the criminal role and deeds of these individuals and the forces they belonged to. The only monument they deserve, in this the centenary year of their establishment, is the ruthless and continuous historical exposure of their war crimes in Ireland. Those crimes are too numerous to list here today. They are well documented for students of history and political commentators and activists alike to determine both their historical and contemporary relevance. In honour and remembrance of all their victims we reference perhaps one of their most egregious atrocities, the Bloody Sunday attack on the patrons of Croke Park.
As the IRA prosecuted its counter-intelligence campaign, with the assassination of British agents, British paramilitary forces descended on Croke Park to seek reprisal. Fourteen spectators of the Dublin versus Tipperary football game were murdered for being Irish.
• Jane Boyle aged (26) Dublin
• James Burke aged (44) Dublin
• Daniel Carroll aged (30) Tipperary
• Michael Feery aged (40) Dublin
• Michael ‘Mick’ Hogan aged (24) Tipperary
• Tom Hogan aged (19) Limerick
• James Matthews aged (38) Dublin
• Patrick O’Dowd aged (57) Dublin
• Jerome O’Leary aged (10) Dublin
• William Robinson aged (11) Dublin
• Tom Ryan aged (27) Wexford
• John William Scott aged (14) Dublin
• James Teehan aged (26) Tipperary
• and Joe Traynor aged (21) Dublin
These are the people of our history, who as a nation, we are duty bound to honour. These, and countless others of their kind, victims of the rapacity of the British Empire, are the testimony to the legitimacy of the republican cause. The murderers of our people can never be elevated to a position of parity with those Irishmen and Irish women who fought to remove them from our country. Our commitment to them, in the here and now, is to secure the completion of Emmet’s epitaph. And if we are proven to be unable to fulfil that task then at least let us ensure that we have written a progressive verse to it. Our part in that process can only be forged through contemporary ideas of our own so that the inherited narrative of Irish republicanism can speak to today’s generation.
And it is with this generation that republicans and socialists must meaningfully engage. Their essential needs are the route map to the creation of our policy platform to comprehensively address those needs. We cannot say to the Irish people that social justice can only be realised once abstract eventualities somehow come to pass. A Republic must serve its people, and in its absence, republicans must become those servants as the surest way to establish that Republic.
The homeless need homes. The indebted need relief. The sick need medical treatment. The elderly need security and our youth need opportunity.
Ireland’s national freedom would be meaningless if its citizens were prisoners of a governing mindset which viewed them as nothing more than economic commodities. And this is precisely the state of affairs that we labour under today.
The current housing crisis is not due to a shortage of bricks and mortar but due to a deeply flawed and fundamentally unjust precept that profit from private property is a superior right to the essential needs of our people.
How can we stand idly by when the vast majority of new homes built are sold to corporate entities for the sole purpose of profit whilst thousands of our people, families and individuals alike, continue to be homeless? Can we discern any realistic difference between those evicted by the RIC at the behest of absentee landlords and those evicted by the Gardai and Private Security firms at the behest of absentee Vulture Funds?
Should we forget the names of those homeless people who perished sleeping rough on our streets because the narrative of their deaths is too uncomfortable for those who caused it and too damning for those who failed to unite to prevent it? If we forget the dead of the famine, of the poor house, of the lockout, of the occupation, of the church or of our own neglect then we rightly stand accused of killing them a second time.
In this current pandemic crisis, we have seen private hospitals taken under public control in order to offer maximum assistance to those affected. We applaud this move. We recognise its logic, but is our housing crisis no less deserving of such decisive action given the appalling death toll that homelessness is inflicting on our people annually?
How many viable dwellings around the country remain empty whilst families languish in endless temporary accommodation uncertain of what tomorrow holds?
When will we see the end of the vicious cycle of billions in government rent supplements going to private landlords as opposed to utilising such financial resources to provide sustainable public housing? The housing crisis can be resolved if there exists the political will and moral integrity to do so. Those who say the State cannot afford to provide social housing are those who have a vested interest in profiteering from it. This is the mindset which we must defeat.
In the midst of this current crisis we urge all our people to observe medical guidelines, stay at home where possible and take care of the most vulnerable in your communities. Such a crisis challenges the very fabric of Irish society across the 32 counties. There is a collective responsibility on all of us to face into this challenge to ensure that we come through this with the least loss of life as possible.
But make no mistake, this is a watershed in the development of this country. What emerges from the other side will be a completely different Ireland. And that Ireland will owe its due to the people of no property, those minimum waged and low paid workers who took to the front line, took the greatest risks and ultimately prevailed. The spirit of 1916 belongs to such as those, theirs is the courage that stood fast in the GPO and our debt to them can be no less than the establishment of the Irish Republic envisaged in the Proclamation.
If we choose to call ourselves republicans, if we describe ourselves as socialist, then the merit of those claims must be measured by our ability to impact positively on issues such as these.
Noble failures will not provide sustainable housing. Green and red platitudes will not end the hospital trolley scandal. Nothing will come our way unless we go out and fight for it. They did so in 1916.
It’s our turn now!