General election 2016/Easter 1916

Published in Editorial, Issue 2 (March/April 2016), Volume 24


For the second general election in a row I find myself in the difficult position of editorialising in a vacuum: we go to press before the poll but arrive on the news-stands after the result is known. Last time out it wasn’t difficult to predict that Enda Kenny would be taoiseach. A similar result is expected this time but, given the expected collapse of Labour’s vote, with a different coalition partner (or partners).
In 2011 the result was hailed by the victorious coalition parties as a ‘democratic revolution’; there was much talk of ‘political reform’ (and by all parties). Apart from a populist attempt to abolish the Senate (which the electorate very sensibly rejected), we’ve heard very little about that this time around. So what did the 2011 general election result represent? It is hard to disagree with Diarmaid Ferriter’s pithy observation that it was ‘about revenge rather than revolution’. There was no attempt to transform Irish political culture, with ‘an excessively centralized state, weak local government, and national parliamentarians focused on local constituency work to secure their re-election’ (Richard Bourke and Ian McBride (eds), The Princeton History of Modern Ireland (2016), p. 171).
This rather depressing scenario is set in sharp relief by the idealism of the men and women we are about to commemorate. In spite of a very vigorous critique, focused ahistorically on the issue of unmandated violence (does one need a mandate to challenge a usurpation itself imposed by violence over centuries?), the vision of the men and women of 1916 still shines through: ‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible’. But the Proclamation cannot just be the excuse for a whinge at the expense of our current politicians; it also challenges the rest of us to be citizens of this republic: ‘The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman’. A sovereign (more or less!) independent Irish state is now an established fact, but, as Fintan O’Toole has observed (Up the Republic! Towards a new Ireland (2012)), taking that for granted is no substitute for an active, conscious, republican citizenship vigilant for the maintenance of civic virtue.

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