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27 April 2006 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Proclamation Day

Ninety years ago this week, on 24 April 1916, Patrick Pearse, stood on the steps of Dublin's GPO and declared the Irish Republic. Did any of the establishment political parties recognise the significance of 24 April, Proclamation Day? Can they claim to have endeavoured to see its ideals implemented? Did they see the irony of the Proclamation of the Republic being read out by an Irish Army Officer at the GPO this Easter Sunday?

The signatories of the Proclamation declared a revolution that was socialist. The Republic they envisaged was pluralist, egalitarian and embraced all inhabitants and traditions on this island. The Proclamation was, in essence, a political programme designed to better the economic and social conditions of the people of Ireland. After the Civil War and the imposition of partition, the Proclamation became an embarrassment to the new political elite who abandoned any meaning it had for the people and suppressed its socialism.

Does the 1916 Proclamation have any relevance to contemporary Irish society? It was a progressive document and a practical political manifesto. It called for equality for all citizens, an end to religious and cultural intolerance, and public ownership of Ireland's resources. That is why the Proclamation is still significant. It presents the people of Ireland with an alternative to the political instability, violence, poverty and conservatism that has been our collective experience.

The dilemma facing establishment parties since the Civil War is one of legitimacy and that dilemma still confronts them. They have recognised that the only legitimising and unifying factor in modern Irish politics remains the 1916 Proclamation. Much to their discomfort, they cannot publicly reject the revolutionary and armed nature of the 1916 Rising which, as FSL Lyons said, is "the point of departure ...for all subsequent Irish history".

Without denying the legitimacy of their own existence, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the SDLP and PDs are stuck with the Proclamation. And yet, all the corruption at the heart of 26 County politics can be traced to the cynical abandonment of its democratic message.

The Proclamation is a guide to the development of an Ireland of equals. It advocates an all-embracing vision of freedom. It reminds us that freedom carries a heavy responsibility. Freedom for the signatories of the Proclamation included the freedom to dissent and to be different while still being cherished equally. We must continue to demonstrate our adherence to this principle, particularly to those of the unionist persuasion. That is real freedom and is the antithesis of reactionary conservatism practiced by the establishment parties today. It is a generous and potent statement of what is possible within a united, sovereign, socialist nation. It remains the basis for Irish unity and for the establishment of the Irish Republic. It is the duty of all Republicans and democrats to implement it for today.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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