There were two sets of people commemorating the Rising over the past week.
First there were the ones happy with their 26 County settlement and viewing those counties only as Ireland. For them this was a great week to reflect on a sacrifice that led to the formation of the statelet they are proud of.
The other set were the ones who view Ireland as the island of all 32 counties of Ireland with all of its people. For them the Rising centenary anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on the same sacrifice, appreciate progress made since and assert the right of Irish people to live in a United Ireland. I am one of the latter.
There was some great and formative discussion on the “national airwaves” (that’s RTÉ by the way) on some matters rarely discussed before as part of the Centenary.
One such discussion focussed on the children who died on Dublin streets that week from both republican and British state violence. I am not always broadcaster Joe Duffy’s greatest fan but the work uncovering this focussed experience will benefit us all in years to come.
On Easter Sunday Ryan Tubridy, of whom frankly I’m not always a fan either, hosted a programme on Letters of 1916. Basically other than the letters of Michael Mallin before his execution, the Rising was contextual rather than centre stage for the letters read out. Indeed the Rising was irrelevant to many of them. I suppose it was a way to consider the Rising in a wider context of social and political experience.
Now there was another programme earlier in the week broadcast from the GPO on whether the Rising was justified at all. That programme basically debated whether it should have happened since Pearse and Clarke etc hadn’t held a full referendum on their legitimacy in advance. And it was contextualised with John Redmond pursuing peaceful resolution. In the way that mass murder in trenches only can. I will not discuss it further as the heart palpitations it brought on have only recently subsided.
But in all of these programmes the over-riding presumption that the 26 County state is the republic proclaimed was rarely challenged in either debate or in imagery. The issue of partition and its consequences for Irish people on both sides of the border was side stepped.
On Easter Monday the same broadcaster transmitted the most sensational spine tingling recital of the Proclamation. It included voices from across our island, and indeed across the globe. People tweeted from everywhere they were crying with pride. It was innovative and beautiful.
And I sat with my family in stunned silence as we realised that yet again Irish people living north of the border, in our own country, would not be reflected. Irish people on the wrong side of partition are clearly too awkward and contentious to discuss, acknowledge or even raise a flag with. For God’s sake even the Guinness Christmas advert can include Belfast, but this celebration of the Proclamation could not.
There is a pretence of a confident forward thinking Ireland when there is a fear of the debate on partition and a united Ireland. And that undermines the Good Friday Agreement and the centenary celebrations. Just as in 1916, the debate only begins now Easter is over.