With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 approaching and with it the inevitable comparisons between the aspirations of those who fought for Irish independence, and the harsh realities of the independent Irish state that resulted from it, it is safe to say that we are about to reach a poignant milestone in our so-called “Decade of Centenaries”.
However, according to the national media of late, two factors threaten to undermine what is arguably the most important of all the national centenaries that we in Ireland will have to commemorate within our lifetimes – the politics behind the hosting and composition of the centenaries themselves, and the impulse to try and convert this most solemn of commemorations into some tacky tourist event.
More focus has been given to the latter by some, due to the fact that Sinn Féin had taken over the position of Mayor of Dublin in time for the commemorations, along with a few other equivalent positions in Councils where it has enough sway to do so, such as Monaghan.
Of course, it being Dublin, it was the change-over of the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin that received the most headlines in recent times – partially because Fianna Fáil made what turned out to be a pretty pathetic attempt to block the move, citing potential politicization of the Rising commemorations as a reason to deny the position to Sinn Féin.
Undoubtedly, you could argue all you like about the technicalities about how the original Sinn Fein party was not initially involved in the Easter Rising all you like, and certainly there are those in Sinn Féin, especially the more “veteran” members, who feel that they are the best modern political incarnation of those who fought for Irish freedom.
However, considering the fact that the same could be said for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, it is hard to see how the same couldn’t be said for virtually any other major political party in Ireland.
Indeed, even the modern Labour Party is indirectly descended from the original Sinn Féin party, due to it’s late 90’s merger with Democratic Left, a splinter group of a splinter group of Sinn Féin (although whether it could still be creditably called a “major” party within a year’s time remains to be seen).
The reality is, a modern democratic state is going to be controlled, to a fuller or lesser extent, by politicians we elect to govern the country, and it would be much amiss if the state did not head the official commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the event that arguably sparked the fuse that lead to it’s establishment as an independent nation.
So, virtually all issues under a government’s remit is political, because we decided that we wanted a state where the buck stops with a person we can turf out in the next election.
Therefore, I think that the more likely danger to the commemorations is the encroaching commercialisation of our country’s history and heritage for the purpose of a few tourist traps for some unsuspecting foreign tourists to wander in to, and in the process, suck them dry of money.
After all, it is fair to say that our current Government has been quite job-focused over the last several years. They created JobBridge – either a moderately successful internship program, or a source of cheap labour, depending on who you talk to.
They also delight in pointing to increasing job numbers whenever confronted by any of the negative side-effects of Government action (or inaction) such as emigration, or rising inequality or poverty rates (regardless of the quality and distribution of such jobs).
However, following the relative success of “The Gathering”, it did seem as if the Government were planning to use the anniversary of the 1916 Rising as an excuse to rinse and repeat the successful tourist campaign and subsequently create money and jobs, and to hell with due respect to such a sombre anniversary.
This came to haunt them in November 2014, when the campaign video that was meant to spearhead the lead-up to the commemorations, “Ireland Inspires 2016”, went viral – and the negative reaction was so overwhelming and universal that the video was soon taken down.
For many people, even those who wouldn’t think of themselves as being particularly patriotic, they were outraged by the fact that a video about the anniversary of the 1916 Rising didn’t even mention those who actually fought in the Rising.
Combine that with the fact that it mainly consisted of stock footage of the British Monarch, Ian Paisley, and what seemed like a mish-mash of previous Fáilte Ireland ads, it didn’t seem possible that a more meaningless, tacky, and commercialised commemorative video could possibly be made.
It was an utter disaster that threatened to undermine any faith in the Government’s ability to take the commemorations seriously.
In fairness to the Government, they have seemed to have taken the hint a little bit since then, and their most recently-published plans seem to indicate that they are actually starting to take the historical weight of the whole enterprise more seriously.
If one wants to worry about the commemorations going awry, they are barking up the wrong tree by worrying about Sinn Féin’s maneuverings – because it’s ultimately the Fine Gael/ Labour coalition, not Sinn Féin, that is charged with overseeing the actual, official state commemoration.
Even assuming an early election is held, and the coalition is turfed out, it will be almost too late for any new Government to drastically change the plans put into motion already.