John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: Easter 1916

COMMEMORATIONS REVEAL WHAT WE BELIEVE TODAY

cropped-irish-flag.jpgPresident John Kennedy once said that a “nation reveals itself “ by the events and people it chooses to commemorate.

This state is a rule of law based, parliamentary democracy, which has integrated itself with its European neighbours by peaceful negotiation and compromise, which is militarily neutral, and where its military power is subordinate at all times to the civil power.

If we decide that we were to choose from our history a “foundation event”, and chose as that foundation event the 1916 Rebellion and Proclamation, does that accurately reflect, or reveal, who we really are in 2016?

That is the argument I would like to explore today.

I believe our democratic state of today in fact came into being as the result of a process, not of one event.

A PLATFORM THAT LEFT NO ROOM FOR COMPROMISE AFTERWARDS

The Rebellion of 1916 was launched on a platform that left no room for compromise.

The Proclamation, which our schoolchildren are now being asked to regard as the founding stone of our democracy, left no room at all for democratic negotiation.

Therein lay the seeds of Civil War because, in politics as in life, compromise and negotiation are essential to a civilized life.

Rather than the Republic being proclaimed, on the steps of the GPO, in the name of a living Irish people, whose opinions had been taken into consideration, it was proclaimed in the name of

“God and the dead generations”,

 neither of whom could be consulted about what they meant.

 The rights of the proclaimed Republic were not conditional on consent, but were

 “sovereign and indefeasible”.

By definition, the Irish people would thus have no right to compromise the “sovereign and indefeasible” rights of the Nation, which was treated, in the wording of the Proclamation, as something separate from the people.

IGNORING THE ULSTER PROBLEM

The fact of fierce resistance in North East Ulster, even to Home Rule Administration, let alone to a Republic, governing Ulster from Dublin, was fully known to the signatories of the Proclamation

But in what they wrote in their Proclamation, this political reality was swept aside, as if it did not matter at all. This was politically irresponsible and showed no understanding of Irish history.

The only oblique reference to the Ulster problem in the Proclamation was a promise to cherish all the ”children” of the nation equally, and to be “oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government”.

It is worth reflecting on the assumptions being made here. Ulster Unionists were “children”, and normally children were in that era expected to be obedient, whatever they might think themselves.

The wish of Ulster Unionists not to be governed from Dublin, was assumed by the Proclamation’s signatories, not to have been a conclusion that they had come to freely themselves, but only the result of “careful fostering” by an alien government”.

At the very least, this did not show very much respect for the seriousness, or the  reasoning powers, of those who had signed the Ulster Covenant, only five years previously.

INCONSISTENT WITH MILITARY NEUTRALITY

The Proclamation acknowledged the support received from “gallant allies” in Europe, namely the German, Austrian and Ottoman Empires. It was not neutral in the war. It took the German side.

The Proclamation sits oddly beside the present Irish policy of inflexible military neutrality, one that requires a UN Security Council resolution, for Ireland even to allow it forces to go overseas defend another EU country that might be attacked.

THE NATURE OF THE SUBSEQENT STRUGGLE PREORDAINED

It is important also to stress that the 1916 Rebellion was not launched just to fight FOR, or to obtain, an Irish Republic.

The Republic was proclaimed already to exist, once declared outside the GPO, and to exist as a “Sovereign Independent State”, of 32 counties.  No room for compromise there.

Such a state does not even now exist. Yet its existence was declared to “indefeasible” in the words of the Proclamation. A recipe for endless conflict.

It is on the strength of, and in pursuit, that unfortunately absolute and unqualified claim, that people continue to be killed, including Adrian Ismay a couple of weeks ago.

Those who declaim the Proclamation, as many have been doing at pageants in recent weeks, should think about what its words mean, and what they led to.

That is aptly described in a 1924 quotation, from a member of the IRB Supreme Council at the time of the Rebellion , about the what  1916 led to, right up to until 1923 in this part of Ireland, but much longer, in the other part.

 PS O Hegarty said

“ We turned the whole thoughts and passions of a generation upon blood and revenge and death; we placed gunmen, mostly half educated and totally inexperienced, as dictators with powers of life and death over large areas. We derided the Moral Law and said there was no law but the law of force….Every devilish thing we did against the British went it’s full circle and then boomeranged and smote us tenfold”[1]

That is what the decision to initiate military action in 1916 led to, in the opinion of one of those who took it. He faced up to the consequences of that decision, while his memory was still fresh.  He knew what he was talking about.

As well as reading the Proclamation, Irish schoolchildren, 100 years later, should be invited to read PS O Hegarty’s words.

 WE SHOULD REMEMBER THE FIRST VICTIMS

And it needs to be said that it was not just “the British” who were killed as a result of the decision to start a Rebellion in a heavily populated, built up, area in 1916.

For every Volunteer killed (including those executed afterwards), three Dublin civilians died as a result of the fighting the Volunteers’ leaders had initiated.

The first casualty to die, on Easter Monday, was James O Brien, an unarmed DMP policeman from Limerick, shot in the face at the gate of Dublin Castle.

Another early unarmed DMP casualty of the Volunteers was Michael Lahiff, a 28 year old Irish speaker, from the West of Ireland, shot in cold blood on St Stephens Green.

Michael Cavanagh, a Dublin carter, who tried to retrieve his cart from a Volunteer barricade, was executed by the Volunteers.

 These were not “Brits”.

 They were Irishmen.

 They were the first to die.

 Their pictures adorn no public building, this Easter in Dublin, but they should.

The prominent display of the pictures of these men, 100 years after they were killed, would have reminded future generations of the real cost of 1916. Unfortunately that opportunity has now been lost. It seems that , even after 100 years, to have done that would have been  too much of a challenge to ancient myths, too much of a challenge to our ability to reimagine things.

O Brien, Lahiff and Cavanagh are still being treated by official Ireland as mere “collateral damage”, as they were treated by the people who killed them.

One must indeed ask the question of whether killing unarmed people is ever justified in war.

JUST WAR PRINCIPLES MUST BE APPLIED, TO THE PAST, AS WELL AS TO THE FUTURE

One must also ask the question whether this particular war was justified.

When it comes to taking life, moral questions always arise. Such questions should be at the centre of any commemoration, especially one we have decided to hold the commemoration on the same day as the great Christian feast of Easter.

Was the decision to take up arms in 1916 in accordance with “the Moral Law” in O Hegarty’s simple and clear words?

It is especially important to ask that question now, because the Irish State has chosen to place such a huge emphasis on enthroning the 1916 Rebellion, as the supposed foundation event of our democracy, in the uncritical minds of today’s schoolchildren.

Given that one of the purposes of education is to pass on a moral sense to the generation, it is vitally important that the morality of the decision, to initiate killing and dying in 1916, be examined by, and for, these schoolchildren.  That is a responsibility of the Irish State, and if it fails to discharge it, it is failing the next generation.

Let me cite an example of the sort of moral blindness that pervades the current commemoration of 1916.

I read a history professor, in a Sunday newspaper recently,[2] say that to have expected those who started the rebellion to  have sat down beforehand and examined

 “whether what they were planning met the criteria for a just war, makes no historical sense”.

Really!  “Makes no historical sense”?

That is like saying that moral considerations ought have no weight,  in the taking other people’s lives.

Of course the leaders who initiated the Rebellion should have examined whether the course they were embarking upon conformed to morality. I am sure some of them actually did so

To say that it “makes no historical sense” (whatever that means!) to use moral considerations, in judging the past, is dangerous nonsense.

We study history is to learn lessons that are valuable to the future…so that, drawing on past experience, we can better weigh up, in the most informed way possible, in light of evidence from the past, what is right and what is wrong.

It is that moral sense, in my view, that makes us human. It is the mark of a civilised man or woman.

The decision of the IRB, Irish Volunteer, and Citizen Army leaders to initiate military action in 1916, was a FREELY TAKEN decision, it was not taken in self defence, so must be examined against  the criteria for a just war

These criteria for a just war include the following.

 WHO IS ENTITLED TO LAUNCH A WAR?

“Only a competent authority or popular representatives has the right to start a war or insurrection”.

Interestingly the IRB’s own constitution of 1873 made exactly this point.

It said

 “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by the majority of the Irish people as the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England.”

 By no stretch of the imagination could that criterion be said to have been met, before the killing was started on Easter Monday.

RESPECT FOR MILITARY DISCIPLINE REQUIRED

Furthermore, as far as the Irish Volunteers were concerned, the rebellion was initiated in direct contravention of the orders of their military commander, Eoin McNeill.

 This is a serious issue for today and for the commemoration of what happened a century ago, given the prominent involvement of the Irish Army in this centenary commemoration .

 An orderly state, and the proper civilian control of the army serving such a state, is vital to civilization.  The maintenance of an orderly state requires scrupulous respect for military discipline, and careful respect for the chain of command, when it comes to the taking of life. Both were seemingly ignored when violence was initiated in Dublin 100 years ago

 The contravention of military orders of Eoin McNeill in 1916 should not be celebrated, without serious and well explained reservations.

A JUST CAUSE?

Another criterion for a just war is

“War requires a just cause: armed aggression or governmental policies (eg genocide) threatening the civilian population”

Ireland was not being attacked in 1916. In fact the Volunteers were allowed by the authorities to drill freely, something that would not be allowed nowadays.

 Governmental policies, in the previous years, had, [i] in many respects, been particularly beneficial to Ireland

 Old Age pensions and social insurance, from which Ireland was a net financial beneficiary, had been introduced.

 The landlord system had been completely overturned.

All that had been achieved by democratic methods.

Furthermore, the principle of legislative independence for Ireland had already won from the Imperial Parliament, in September 1914, by the passage into law, and signature by the King, of the Home Rule Bill.

 All that happened BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on Home Rule.

 The point of principle was already won without a shot being fired.

A LAST RESORT?

Another criterion for a just war, is that war should be a last resort, not a first recourse. All other methods of redressing grievances ought to have been first exhausted.

 Given that the principle of Irish legislative independence had already been conceded, in a Bill passed into law only a year and a half previously, it is hard to argue that starting a rebellion in 1916, and the War of Independence of 1919 to 1921, were, either of them,  a “last resort”. In fact much of what was being sought had already been conceded in principle and in law. Home Rule was law and there was no going back on it.

 For example, Home Rule was accepted even by the Conservatives as a “fundamental fact”, the only issue outstanding being that there be no “forcible coercion of Ulster” to go in under it.[3]

 The only open question was whether, or in what conditions, Home Rule might apply to Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry (and perhaps Fermanagh and Tyrone which had narrow nationalist majorities).

 I believe the Home Rule government would not have got jurisdiction over all those counties. But, after all the killing and dying of the 1916 to 1923 period, and the Treaty of 1921, the Free State did not get jurisdiction over those counties either!

  Nor after the “Armed Struggle” from 1970 to 1998, does this State have such jurisdiction today. Indeed, under the Good Friday Agreement, we no longer claim it, but respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future in that regard.

WOULD 1916 METHODS EVER HAVE ACHIEVED A UNITED IRELAND?

 If we ever do have a United Ireland, it will not be achieved by the methods used in 1916. Our centenary Commemorations should realistically acknowledge that

But, under Home Rule, if the exclusion of some Ulster counties was once accepted, there was no barrier in the way of the rest of Ireland progressively winning ever greater degrees of sovereignty. That could have been achieved by peaceful negotiation, if it was what the voters of the 26, or 28, counties wanted.

Further, the 4 or 6 counties , if excluded from Home Rule, would have been under direct rule from Westminster. There would have been some continuing southern Irish representation in Westminster too. This would have meant much better protection for the northern nationalist minority than there were under the Stormont arrangements,  that were set up in response to the Armed Struggle initiated in 1916.

 Indeed some of the powers withheld from the Home Rule Administration in the first place were only withheld , to reassure Ulster Unionists, because  it was envisaged,   in the original Home Rule Bill, that  that all 32 counties would be fully included from the outset.

 The same principle of legislative independence, conceded to Ireland in September 1914, was conceded b to Canada, Australia and other dominions.  We know now that they all proceeded to full sovereignty, without   the suffering and bitterness of war.

 The path of violence, started upon by Pearse, Clarke and others in 1916,and followed from 1919 to 1923 by their imitators, was traversed at a terrible price .

 Given the value Christians place on each human life, those who take life, have the primary burden of proof to discharge. It was for them to prove that no other way was open.  I believe that burden of proof was not discharged.

TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT

Some may seek to justify the 1916 Rebellion on the ground that the UVF had threatened violence in 1911. That is to claim that two wrongs make a right, not a view I accept.

Others may justify it because there was a war on anyway, the Great War. Again this is an argument that two wrongs would or could add up to a right.  The Anglo Irish War, started in 1916, was a separate conflict and, as such, it must be justified or not, on its own merits.

I believe it was not necessary or justified.

WHY HOME RULE COULD HAVE LED PEACEFULLY TO INDEPENDENCE

Home Rule, already law, could, if it had been allowed to do so and had not been derailed by the 1916 Rebellion and the 1918 Election result , have led this part of Ireland peacefully to the same position of Canada enjoys today, if that was the wish of its people.

 I say this for a number of reasons.

 Home Rule Parliaments would have elected under the same wide suffrage that applied in 1918.

 Sinn Fein might have won significant representation in the Home Rule House of Commons, as would the Irish Labour Party and the group led by Tim Healy. All three groups would have pressed for ever greater degrees of independence, going beyond Dominion status.

It is not credible to say that the UK would have denied, to a Home Rule Ireland, the powers it freely granted to dominions like Canada and Australia, under the Statute of Westminster of 1931, if that is what the Irish people really wanted.

The suffering of the War of Independence was not needed to achieve Dominion Status.

 In the 1918 Election, the policy of the Irish Party, led by John Dillon, was Dominion Status for Ireland. So also was the policy of the Asquith Liberals and the Labour Party. The policy of the Coalition Government remained the implementation of Home Rule, on the basis on which it had been passed into law four years earlier.

 The policy of Sinn Fein, led by Eamon de Valera, was complete separation of the 32 counties from the UK on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation.

 Sinn Fein won the election but, after all the killing in the War of Independence, all they ended up with was Dominion status, the very policy of John Dillon, and their other defeated Irish party opponents.

Therein lay the roots of the Civil War from 1922 to 1923.

 After all the deaths of the War of Independence, the separatists had to accept, in the Treaty of 1921, the exact policy of their democratically defeated Irish Party opponents of 1918.

It is said that Home Rule would have left British forces on Irish territory. But so also did the Treaty of 1921. It left the UK military in control of ports on Irish territory.

 But these ports were handed back in 1938, through entirely peaceful negotiation.  The fact that those ports could be won back by purely peaceful negotiation on the eve of World War Two, shows that the limitations on Home Rule could also have been negotiated away, peacefully.

TO LEARN FROM HISTORY WE MUST ASK” WHAT IF?”

If a nation is to learn anything at all from history, it must be willing to examine, using all it knows now, what might have happened, if different historical choices had been made.

 The choice to use force in 1916, and again in 1919, must be subjected severe and honest reappraisal, in light of what we can see now might been achieved, without the loss of life .

 If we fail to do that, we are passing on to the next generation, through  “indoctrination by commemoration” , a  dangerous misunderstanding of history.

 The focus on  the  1916 Rebellion and particularly on its uncompromisingly worded  Proclamation, is a worry at a time when  there is such a level of disdain for” politicians” and for the compromises that are a necessary part of democratic  politics.

WE SHOULD INCULATE RESPECT FOR POLITICAL COMPROMISE…AND AVOID IMPLACABLE PROCLAMATIONS

 Redmond and Dillon, whose achievement of getting Home Rule finally passed on 18 September 1914, a feat that eluded O Connell and Parnell, were “politicians”, who achieved what they did by tough but peaceful parliamentary methods. That centenary, two years ago, of an achievement by these mere “politicians” was almost completely ignored by the Irish State.

 Like WT Cosgrave and Eamon de Valera after them, those “politicians”, Redmond, Dillon and Devlin, LIVED and worked for Ireland .

 But that’s apparently not romantic enough to “re imagined” by our poets and seers.

 But THEY got the job done. They got Home Rule passed into law, they won back the land

 In contrast, the 32 county Republic, proclaimed at the GPO in 1916, never came into existence.

 This was for reasons that were knowable at the time, namely the implacable resistance of Ulster Unionists. These reasons were knowingly ignored because they did not fit into the ideology of the Proclamation, and of those who drafted it.

 That needs to be explained to Ireland’s schoolchildren, too.

[1] PS O Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein (Dublin Talbot Press 1924) page 91

[2] Souvenir Supplement of the “Sunday Times” 13 March 2016, page3

[3] “Irish Times “ , 18 November 1918

WHY THE IRISH STATE SHOULD FORMALLY COMMEMORATE THE CENTENARY ON 18 SEPTEMBER OF THE ENACTMENT INTO LAW OF HOME RULE……

In 2016, there will be extensive commemoration of the centenary of the Rising in Dublin in 1916.

No comparable commemoration is planned for an earlier centenary, that of 18 September 2014, the 100th anniversary of the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland. 

The events of Easter 1916 inaugurated an armed struggle, with many casualties, which continued until 1923.

In contrast, the enactment of Home Rule was achieved by peaceful parliamentary means, without any casualties.

As it is today, Ireland in 1914 was a divided society, with a majority (mainly of one religious tradition) favouring a large measure of independence, and a strong minority (mainly of another religious tradition) opposing this, and favouring integration in the United Kingdom.

Commemorations should be an opportunity to learn from history, not merely to celebrate one protagonist or another.

TOUGH, BUT NON VIOLENT, TACTICS WERE NEEDED TO WIN HOME RULE

Home Rule may have been achieved by exclusively peaceful and constitutional methods, but that does not suggest that those who obtained it, the Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond and John Dillon, were mild mannered and non confrontational.

Two previous attempts to obtain Home Rule had failed, one because it was defeated in the House of Commons and another because it was vetoed in the House of Lords. 

To get Home Rule onto the statute book, the Irish Parliamentary leaders had to get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons, and simultaneously to get the British constitution changed  to remove the House of Lords power of veto. 

There was a permanent majority against Home Rule in the House of Lords, and the veto could only be removed with the consent of the House of Lords itself. Furthermore, in the House of Commons, the Liberal party, which had been committed to Home Rule under Gladstone, had moved away from that policy under Lord Rosebery and Herbert Asquith. The Liberal Party had first to be won back to a firm commitment to pass Home Rule.

In a masterly exercise of parliamentary leverage and constructive opportunism, Redmond and Dillon achieved both goals, in a very short space of time. 

They withheld support for the radical 1909 Budget, unless and until there was a commitment to remove the Lords veto and introduce Home Rule. They also, in effect exercised pressure on the King, because the Lords eventually only passed the legislation to remove their veto, under the threat of the King swamping the House of Lords with a flood of new Lords.

All this was achieved from the position of being a minority party in the House, albeit a party whose votes were needed to avoid a General Election which the Liberal Government feared they would lose.  Considerable brinksmanship was needed, because, if the Liberals lost the election, the cause of Home Rule would also be lost. Redmond and Dillon did not have all the trump cards. They just played the cards they had very well indeed.

If commemorations are about drawing relevant lessons for today’s generation from the work of past generations, this remarkable exercise of parliamentary leverage, to achieve radical reform against entrenched resistance, has much greater relevance, to today’s generation of democrats, than does the blood sacrifice of Pearse and Connolly.

The subsequent turning away, after 1916, from constitutional methods has obscured the scale of this parliamentary achievement. There may have been a fear that too much praise of the prior constitutional achievement would  delegitimate the subsequent  blood sacrifice


THE ENACTMENT OF HOME RULE IN 1914 CHANGED THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO ISLANDS…..REMOVING ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR VIOLENCE

I hope the commemorations in Ireland in the period 1914 to 1923 will allow us to honestly address the following  related questions……
  • Does the use of violence help resolve the problems of a divided society?
  • Were the Ulster Unionists right to threaten violence to resist Home Rule? 
  • And were the men and women of 1916 right to actually use violence to achieve their goal of a 32 county Republic? 


On 1 July this year I took part in a panel discussion with a number of historians, in the Irish Embassy in London, on the topic of the enactment on the Irish Home Rule Bill into law on 18 September 1914. The panel discussion was broadcast on the UK Parliament channel.

When the Home Rule Bill received the royal assent on 18 September 1914, it was the first time that a Bill granting Ireland Home rule had ever passed into law. The struggle to achieve such an outcome had gone on since the 1830’s. Neither Butt nor Parnell achieved what Redmond and Dillon achieved.

The Woodenbridge speech of John Redmond on 20 September 1914, urging Irish men to join the Allied cause in the Great War that had broken out six weeks previously, must be seen in the context that Home Rule had been placed on the statute book just two days previously.

Home Rule was law, but the implementation of it was simply postponed until the end of what most people expected would be a short war.

Redmond’s address to the Volunteers at Woodenbridge was not a naive gesture, but reciprocation of the passage of Home Rule. He wanted to show that the passage of Home Rule had inaugurated a new and better relationship between Ireland and its neighbouring island.

Redmond wanted to show everybody, including Ulster Unionists, that things had changed. Irish men fought in the British Army in the Boer War, notwithstanding Redmond and the Irish Party’s opposition to that war, so those many of those who volunteered to fight in what turned out to be the Great War, would probably have  done so anyway.

Redmond’s Woodenbridge speech was also designed to show  to Ulster Unionists that, in some matters, Unionists and Nationalists were now “on the same side”.

If, Home Rule having been conceded, Redmond had instead still opposed recruitment, he would have handed arguments to those who had opposed Home Rule all along, to the effect that a Dublin Government could not be trusted.

The Woodenbridge speech also stood on its own merits. The unprovoked invasion by Germany of a small neutral country, Belgium,  in order better to be able to attack France, was something that many people at the time, and since, regarded as profoundly wrong and deserving to be opposed.

The case I made in this debate in the Irish Embassy was that Ireland could have achieved better results, for all the people of the island, if it had continued to follow the successful non violent parliamentary Home Rule path, and had not embarked on the path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in Easter Week of 1916.

BAD EXAMPLE DOES NOT MAKE A BAD DECISION GOOD

The use of physical force by the IRA and the Irish Citizen Army in 1916 was not without context.

In their resistance to Home Rule in the 1911 to 1914 period, Ulster Unionists, with the connivance of the Conservative Party, had armed themselves, and  threatened  to use force to resist  Home Rule from Dublin. 
Parts of the officer corps of the British Army, and in particular General Sir Henry Wilson, cooperated surreptitiously on the Home Rule issue with the Conservative opposition, against the duly elected Government, something that goes against all democratic and constitutional norms.

But bad example by ones opponents does not make a bad decision a good one. 

Furthermore, when the decision was made to go ahead with the armed rebellion, Home Rule was already law. It’s implementation was postponed for the duration of the war, but there was no doubt but that it would come into effect once the war was over, either for the whole of Ireland, or, more likely, for 26 or 28 counties.

The irreversibility of Home Rule is well illustrated by a comment that had been made by one of its staunchest opponents, the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law.  He had admitted
 “If Ulster, or rather any county, had the right to remain outside the Irish Parliament, for my part my objection would be met”.

The implementation of the Home Rule Act was irreversible politically and would have come into effect if the violence and abstentionism of the 1919 to 1921 period had not made it impossible. The Lloyd George Coalition Government’s  re election manifesto  in the December 1918 Election stated bluntly “Home Rule is upon the statute book”. There was no going back on it.  

My belief  is that , at that time, instead of launching a policy of abstention from Parliament and a guerrilla war, Sinn Fein and the IRA should have used the Home Rule Act as a peaceful  stepping stone to dominion status and full independence, in the same way as Treaty of 1921 was so used, but only after so much blood had been shed. 

Another important context in which the 1916 decision  must be judged is the Great War,  which was then in progress, in which thousands of Irish soldiers were fighting on the Allied side when the GPO was occupied by force. By occupying the GPO the 1916 leaders took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches.

In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their “gallant allies in Europe”. These allies were the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Empire.  Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish Republicans went to war ,  included the French Republic, whose territory had been premptively invaded, and occupied by force, by Germany. The1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany , Turkey and Austria and said so in their own Proclamation.

I argued, in the panel discussion in the Irish Embassy, that, in all these circumstances, this decision by the IRB and the Citizen army to use violence in 1916 was a bad decision.

I said it would have been wiser to have had patience, and adhered to the Home Rule policy, and to constitutional methods.

HOME RULE WOULD HAVE BEEN A BETTER DEAL FOR NORTHERN NATIONALISTS

I started by conceding that I did not believe that the Home Rule policy would have led to a United Ireland. 
The opposition to being under a Dublin Home Rule Parliament was so strong among Unionists in Ulster that, no matter how hard the Home Rulers might have tried to persuade them, at least four Ulster counties would have stayed out of the Dublin Parliament. The leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond, told the House of Commons that
 “no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government”. 

This was a sensible policy.

Attempts to coerce Northern Ireland into a United Ireland, whether by the attempted incursions across the border in 1922, by the propaganda campaign in the late 1940s, or by IRA killing campaigns in the 1950’s and from 1969 to 1998, have all failed miserably, because they were based on a faulty analysis of reality. 

John Redmond’s policy was one of attempting to persuade Unionist to accept a United Ireland, and his support for recruitment to the British army in 1914 was part of a (probably naive) attempt to persuade Unionists that they would not be sacrificing all their loyalties by taking part in Home Rule.

But, under the Home Rule arrangement, if Ulster counties opted out, they would have continued under direct rule from Westminster. 

There would have been no Stormont Parliament, no “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”, no B Specials, no gerrymandering of local government. Stormont was not part of the Home Rule arrangement and it  came about because of the threat posed by the nationalist violence of the  1919 to 1921 period, and because the  abstention of Sinn Fein from the Irish Convention, and of its MPs from parliament after the 1918 election created an opening for it. 

Under Home Rule, there would have been continued, but reduced, Irish representation at Westminster, so any attempts to discriminate against the minority in the excluded area of Ulster would have been  preventable in a way that they were not prevented  Stormont was left to its own devices after 1921. 

The constitutional Home Rule policy would thus have been much better for Northern Nationalists than the policy of violent separatism was to prove to be. Northern Nationalists probably sensed this;  for , while the rest of Ireland was plumping for Sinn Fein in the election of December  1918, the electors of West Belfast chose  Joe Devlin of the Irish Party to represent them in preference to Eamon de Valera of  Sinn Fein.  

STICKING WITH THE HOME RULE POLICY WOULD HAVE SAVED THOUSANDS OF LIVES

The Home Rule path would also have been better because it would have saved many lives throughout Ireland. People who died between 1916 and 1923 would have survived and would instead have contributed to Irish life, rather than to Irish martyrology. 

All things being equal, in my opinion, living for Ireland is better than dying (or killing) for Ireland.

I would emphasise that the waste of these lost lives needs to be weighed, and weighed heavily, in the balance against any supposed advantages secured by the use of force.  
Consider the dead for a moment. 

256 Irish civilians died during the 1916 rebellion, some at the hands of the rebels and many as a result of British artillery designed to expel the rebels from the positions they had occupied. 
These civilians did not have any say in the IRB/Citizen Army action and would all have lived if that action had not take place. We know of the rebels who died, and their deaths have been commemorated repeatedly by the Irish State. Each year the Irish army has a Mass to pray for the souls of those who “died for Ireland “ in 1916.  It is unclear to me whether this formula includes the civilians who did not decide to put their lives at risk “for Ireland”, but who were killed anyway because they were in the wrong place.
153 soldiers in UK Army uniforms were killed. Of these, 52 of the dead were Irish.

These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a Parliament, which had already granted Home Rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MP’s.  Did these men “ die for Ireland”? I would contend that they did. But their sacrifice is not commemorated, nor are their souls prayed for, in official remembrances by the Irish state. 

Consider also the dead of the War of 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the civil war of 1922 to 1923.

1200 were killed in the war of 1919 to 1921. Many of these were civilians who had not chosen the path of war. Others were policemen, who had chosen that vocation as a service to their people, and not to become participants in a war. Yet others were supposed or actual informers on behalf of either side.

If, in response to the appeal of the “blood sacrifice” of the 1916 leaders, the Home Rule party had not been rejected by the electorate in the General Election of 1918 in favour of a policy of abstention and separatism, Home Rule would have come into effect, and all those people would have lived.
 Many families of minority religions were made to feel unwelcome in Ireland as a result of the violence, and some left.  Southern Ireland became a less diverse society as a result of the policy of violence initiated by IRB and the Citizen Army at Easter of 1916.

Around 4000 Irish people were killed in the Civil War. Like those who were killed in the 1916 to 1921 period, many of these were amongst the brightest talents of their generation.  Ireland would have been a better place if the policy of violence had not caused their deaths.
Violence breeds violence. Sacrifice breeds intransigence. The dead exert an unhealthy power over the living, persuading the living to hold out for the impossible, so that the sacrifice of the dead is not perceived to have been in vain.

In that sense, the policy of violence, initiated in April 1916, led to the Civil War of 1922/3. 

The  earlier deaths of those who occupied the  General Post Office in 1916, seeking to achieve a 32 county Republic, made it harder for those, who occupied the Four courts in 1922, to accept anything less than a 32 County Republic.

Betrayal of the sacrifices of the dead is one of the most emotionally powerful, and destructive, accusations within the canon of romantic nationalism. It exercised its baleful influence in recent times in delaying the abandonment by the IRA of its failed and futile campaign to coerce and bomb Unionists into a United Ireland.  


HOME RULE WOULD HAVE LED TO DOMINION STATUS, AND TO THE SORT OF INDEPENDENCE NOW ENJOYED BY CANADA, AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

I believe Ireland would have reached the position it is in today, an independent nation of 26 or 28 counties, if it had stuck with the Home Rule policy and if the 1916 rebellion had not taken place.

Like all counter factual historical arguments, this proposition is impossible to prove.

But, once the Ulster question had been resolved by some form of exclusion, the path towards greater independence was open. The policy of the Irish Party in the 1918 Election was Dominion Status and I believe they would have achieved that. Perhaps they would not have achieved it by 1921, as was achieved in the Treaty of that year, but it would probably have been achieved by the end of the 1920’s, probably from a Labour Government whose policy already envisaged dominion status for Ireland.

Once Ireland had its own legislature in Dublin , it would have been able to avail of the progressive loosening of ties within the Empire, in the same way as the Irish Free State was able to do , for example through the Statute of Westminster of 1931. 

Some might argue that security and defence considerations would have made this unlikely. I doubt that.

If a Conservative dominated Government was willing, in 1938, to hand over the Treaty ports to Eamonn de Valera who, 22 years previously had been an enemy of Britain and declared ally of Germany, it would surely have been willing to place as much trust in a Home Rule Government in Dublin, whose political antecedents had stood with Britain in its moment of greatest threat in 1914.

To say that a decision was a mistake is not to deny the heroism or sincerity of those who made the mistake. Hindsight enables one to see possibilities that were not visible at the time.  But the reality is that, in 1916, Home Rule was on the statute book and was not about to be reversed.

The “Irish Independent”, usually a severe critic of the Irish Parliamentary Party, was unfair when it described the rebellion at the time as “criminal madness”, but if the 1916 leaders had more patience, a lot of destruction could have been avoided, on the road to the same destination, at which we eventually arrived anyway.


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