In praise of John Bruton

Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2014), Volume 22

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Let’s hear it for John Bruton, whose recent pronouncements (negative) on the 1916 Rising and (positive) on the enactment (subsequently suspended) of Home Rule on 18 September 1914 have stimulated a lively and long-overdue public debate on the nature of the Irish Revolution, its relationship to the First World War and the origins of the present Irish state. Given the apologetic tone of much of the ensuing discourse—that the 1916 Rising and consequent War of Independence were ‘unnecessary’, that subsequent economic and social problems ‘proved’ that the sacrifices involved weren’t worthwhile, etc.—it is timely to recall the tongue-in-cheek observation of Brendan Behan (whose passing 50 years ago is marked in this issue, pp 42–3 and 48–9) that if the queen of England were ever to visit Ireland we should hand the country back to her and apologise for the state of it. As I observed (also with tongue in cheek) at the time of the royal visit three years ago, such a hand-over had been pre-empted by the EU/ECB/IMF troika!

Now that we’ve weathered that particular storm (albeit battered and bruised), isn’t it time that we reflected on the achievements and not just on the shortcomings of the independence achieved? As Frank Barry observes in this issue (‘Big Book’ review, pp 56–7), economically it was ‘a patchwork of achievement and failure’. And in assessing our (mixed) experience of self-determination, rather than comparing ourselves to the Scots, who, when given the opportunity, determined that their immediate future would be within the UK, should we not compare ourselves to those peoples who have been denied that right, for example the Kurds, who were the victims of its exact opposite—the machinations of secret diplomacy (the Anglo-French Sykes–Picot agreement of 1916) and successive disastrous outside interventions? Time, perhaps, to be thankful for small mercies . . . and John Bruton.

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