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28 May 1998 Edition

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A day in Dublin

Mícheál MacDonncha visited some contrasting political events in Dublin last Saturday

It is impossible to know anything of Irish history and not be conscious of the ironies and echoes which fill Dublin Castle. The centre of British rule in Ireland for nearly 800 years, the Castle has hidden behind its walls the corruption of tyrants, the torture and execution of patriots, the nerve centre of a spy system reaching into every parish.

Under the Free State the concealing walls were needed more than ever to hide the shame of a regime which took down the British flag but kept their methods. The Special Branch was based here until the 1980s.

In Dublin Castle the day after the referenda the stage was set for yet another `historic occasion'. The Castle was opened to the world's media - or at least to that part of it which was not in Belfast. Satellite dishes and TV cables abounded as camera crews and presenters practised their ``pieces to camera'' on the lawn. A straggle of politicians hung around. The sense of history should have been even keener yet the scene in the Castle was strangely subdued.

Perhaps it was because the enormity of it all was too much to grasp, a new phase beginning in Irish politics, the tentative start to a resolution to 30 years of conflict. Perhaps it was because a referendum lacks the excitement of an election with the personal fate of people you know being decided by the last few transfers and a government hanging on the thread of a marginal constituency. Whatever the reason, it was obvious that history was not here. It had been made the day before in thousands of ballot boxes throughout the 32 Counties.

I left the Castle and went to Glasnevin Cemetery. The contrast could not have been greater. Gathered around the grave of Martin Doherty were family and friends and comrades of the man who had lost his life because he saved others.

He was honoured then, as he is honoured now, among his own. Slain by loyalist gunmen who had intended to blow up a pub full of people a few months before the IRA cessation of 1994, this Volunteer holds a special place in the hearts of Dublin republicans.

His people are the ordinary people of Dublin - a world away from the media up at the Castle.

A couple of hours later, once the final results were known, Bertie Ahern addressed a press conference in the Castle. ``Doesn't this mark the death of traditional Irish nationalism'' asked Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole, a man who has been writing the obituary of nationalism for many years now. When will he and those like him realise that if anything has been clear from this peace process it is that nationalism and republicanism are vibrant forces in Irish politics. They survived years of attempts to suppress them in the 26 Counties. O'Toole did not notice the presence in the room of a namesake - Larry O'Toole who was shot a week before.

In dark days before the peace process Larry, in a famous court case, challenged Section 31 censorship and won. He paved the way for the free debate which allowed the peace process to blossom.

It is hard to imagine now how grim things were when Section 31 was in force. It was a state in denial as whole communities were shut off in darkness. Public ignorance was cultivated in order to facilitate political opportunism. But Section 31 is now long consigned to the dustbin of history.

On Saturday evening I accompanied Caoimhghín O Caoláin to RTE where he appeared on Prime Time with Mary O'Rourke, Ruairi Quinn, John Bruton and Anthony Coughlan. We've only had four years to counter the effects of over 20 years of Section 31 but we're getting there.

The powerful in our society are still determined to keep many commmunities in darkness, even though they have unbanned some of their representatives from the airwaves. Dublin communities ravaged by drugs, like nationalists in the Six Counties, have suffered death and destruction, censorship and marginalisation but they are fighters and survivors and they have spirit.

A memorable Saturday ended with a social gathering organised by the Coalition of Communitries Against Drugs. Up and coming Dublin band Duffel rocked into the small hours and the hundreds in the Temple Theatre rose to their feet as Larry and Ann O'Toole were brought on stage. Having faced death at the hands of a crazed gunman in a Ballymun church a week ago here was Larry thanking his friends in the anti-drugs movement and in Sinn Féin for the support they gave him and his family in the most traumatic week of their lives.

Someone that day had re-christened him `Lazarus' but it could be a nickname for a struggle that has made more than one dramatic recovery.

History? Just make it.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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