1 May 2003 Edition
ArmaghAround 1,000 republicans took part in the annual Easter Commemoration in Armagh on Easter Monday afternoon. Following a short wreathlaying ceremony at the Hughes/McGerrigan memorial in Culdee, the parade, led by a 20-strong colour party, started off from Irish Street. Two visiting Scottish bands, the Sean McIlvenna Flute Band and the Joe Doherty Flute Band were in attendance and went down very well with the crowd. The parade made its way through the town centre to the Shambles and then to Railway Street over Banbrook Hill before heading out the Cathedral Road to the Republican Plot at St Patrick's Cemetery. Several hundred people gathered along the route the most of these being at the Shambles.
There was a commemoration ceremony at the Republican Plot, chaired by Stephen Fields of Armagh Sinn Féin. The crowd was first addressed by Cllr Paul Corrigan, who read out the Easter Proclamation. The main oration that was delivered by Sinn Féin councillor and Assembly candidate Pat O'Rawe.
Following the commemoration the parade returned along its original route to the Shambles where it dispersed after the playing of the National Anthem, Amhrán Na bhFiann.
Other commemoration in the Armagh area took place on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday morning. Several hundred republicans marched from Ferla Crossroads to the Republican Plot at Ballymacnab. Eamon Loughran chaired the commemoration and Pat O'Rawe delivered the main oration.
On Easter Monday morning, around 50 republicans gathered at the memorial that marks the spot where IRA Volunteer Sean McIlvenna was killed in action in 1984. Also in attendance was the Sean McIlvenna Flute Band, who travelled from Scotland to attend this and other commemorations in the Armagh area. This commemoration is a more personal affair, with many of Sean McIlvenna's friends and former comrades making a special point to attend. Christopher O'Donnell, who was a close friend of Sean McIlvenna, delivered the oration. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Vol Sean McIlvenna's death and local republicans are planning to mark this occasion.
The annual wreath-laying ceremony in memory of Patrick and John Watters took place on Easter Sunday at 12 noon in Quay Street, Dundalk. The two brothers were executed by the Black and Tans on 17 June 1921. The ceremony was chaired by local Sinn Féin representative Ian Dooley.
A large crowd, led by a 20 strong republican Colour Party and accompanied by the Burns and Moley Flute Band from Crossmaglen, and the Martin Doherty Flute Band from Scotland, attended the main Dundalk Easter Commemoration. They marched from Marjet Square to the Republican Plot in St Patrick's Cemetery, Dowdallshill.
The ceremonies were chaired by Ian Dooley and the main speaker was Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South Central.
At a function that evening in Fairways Hotel, a presentation was made to veteran republicans Maureen O'Neill from Drogheda and Molly Moran from Dundalk.
What kind of Republic do we want anyway?
At Easter, it is important to look not only at the actuality of the sacrifice made by Irish republicans and socialists 87 years ago, and in every decade since, in the struggle against imperialism, but also at the type of Republic they strove to create.
It is important to understand what inspired these men and women, what type of vision they possessed and what type of society they wished to create. This is essential, because much of what those men and women tried to achieve remains unachieved and still stands as a guide for modern day republicans towards a freer, better and more just Ireland.
During the revolutionary period from 1916-23, two documents were issued by republicans that gave expression to the type of Ireland they wished to build. The first was the Easter 1916 Proclamation and the second was the Democratic Programme, adopted by the Dáil at its inaugural gathering in January 1919.
Both of these documents were imbued with a radical social philosophy and affirmed three main contentions: that the Irish people had the right to freedom and self determination; that all Irish citizens had social and economic rights which superseded the rights of capital; that all Irish citizens should be treated equally, regardless of religious or any other type of differences, and should have equal opportunities in all respects.
In short, both these documents enshrined a progressive vision for the development of Irish society. Had they been implemented, the course of Irish history over the last century or so would have run very differently indeed.
Unfortunately, though, this did not happen. The suppression of the Rising in 1916 and the execution of its leaders prevented the Republic from being consolidated and halted, temporarily, the advance of the revolutionary movement on both its fronts, national and social.
The establishment of a revolutionary Dáil in 1919 and the re-emergence of a strong labour movement was evidence that this advance was in progress once more, opening up the prospect of fundamental political, economic and social transformation in Ireland.
The revolutionary Dáil, however, did not implement either the Democratic Programme or the measures outlined in the 1916 Proclamation. Any hopes that this might happen were finally dashed in 1921, when the section of the Irish capitalist class headed by Griffith, Cosgrave and O'Higgins made its peace with the British and agreed to work an imperialist, partitionist settlement.
The vision for radical social change was then eschewed in favour of rigid, capitalist economic orthodoxy, resulting in the creation of a miserable, poverty-stricken neo-colony in the 26 Counties.
Only an Ireland that has banished imperialism and inequality is worthy of the sacrifices that have been made since 1916, and only that kind of Irish Republic can provide peace and prosperity for future generations
Meanwhile in the North, a well-armed sectarian colony of Britain was established, which reflected and upheld the interests of both the British and the unionist bourgeois class which ruled it.
Fianna Fáil adopted the main tenets of both the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme upon its founding in 1926 and between then and 1932, won over many republicans, workers and small farmers with the radical policies and rhetoric on which they were based.
Exploiting the gap that existed for a socialist-republican alternative to the Cumann na nGaedheal government, de Valera's party was able to sweep to power in 1932 and establish itself as the principle governing party in the Irish Free State.
Despite embarking on a programme of limited reforms, however, Fianna Fáil made no attempt to implement the radical measures contained in both the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme.
Replacing Cumann na nGaedheal as the party of Irish business and landed interests, Fianna Fáil in power proved themselves to be as determined as their predecessors in upholding the rights of capital against the interests of workers and small farmers.
Neither did they tackle the question of the border in any sincere fashion, but used its existence in fact to build a conservative, Catholic nationalist 26-County state based upon their own image.
The result of all of this was a continuing of British control over the island as a whole, and widening of the divide between rich and poor.
Both the Easter Proclamation and the Democratic Programme, therefore, have had unhappy histories and have never formed the basis of national, economic or social policy for any of the organisations that claimed to support them.
But throughout the years there have been some republicans and socialists who have attempted to turn these programmes into real, living, full-blooded policies for fundamental political, economic and social change in Ireland.
There have been some who have gone beyond lip service and who have tried to bring these programmes to life by turning them into a series of measures and demands which, if implemented, could have created the type of Republic anticipated by the men and women of 1916. One such republican was Liam Mellows.
It was from his prison cell in 1922 that Mellows attempted to breathe life into the Dáil Democratic Programme. He hoped to turn it into a real and living programme, one which could be understood by workers and small farmers, and one which would undermine the rule of the newly installed regime in Dublin.
Here, Mellows was influenced strongly by the social programme drawn up by Roddy Connolly in the Workers' Republic. Connolly, son of James and active in the Rising, Tan War and Civil War, had urged republicans to link the call for a 32-County Republic to such measures as nationalisation of industry, confiscation and redistribution of ranch land, an eight-hour working day and abolition of rents.
Mellows urged the implementation of such a programme and called on the IRA to establish a provisional government in Munster to oversee it. For Mellows, this was the only way the Republic could be saved.
As he himself put it, "in our attempt to win back public support to the Republic we are forced to recognise - whether we like it or not - that the commercial interest, so called money and the gombeen men, are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone and - it is just as well - relying on that great body on men, the men of no property".
Mellows, later executed by Free State forces in December 1922, was unsuccessful in that this social programme was not adopted by the republican leadership on the outside.
This failure by republican leaders to so act was undoubtedly one of the main factors behind the eventual isolation and destruction of the Republic by the neo-colonialists. Mellows' example, though, is one that should be followed.
Just as he tried to flesh out the principles that underpinned both the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme, by taking them from the abstract into the living world, so too should modern day republicans.
The principles underlying these documents are still revolutionary and a social programme based directly upon them offers a way forward for the republican struggle in the 21st century.
If the areas covered by both the Proclamation and the Democratic Programme, the right to self determination, the social and economic rights of all Irish people, and the establishment of equal rights and opportunities for all, are examined in relation to present day Ireland, it is clear that muck work still remains to be done.
In fact, it is clear that 87 years after the Rising, the goals of those who sacrificed their lives for a 32-County socialist republic then, and in every decade since, are no nearer completion.
On all fronts, national and social, the existence of imperialism and capitalism has acted as a bulwark against the realisation of the republican ideal and the creation of a just society in Ireland.
Firstly, there is the question of national self-determination and freedom. This right is still denied and subverted by the continuing British occupation of six north-eastern counties. Three weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA stated that the provisions of that agreement did not constitute the granting of self-determination to the Irish people.
That was a correct analysis then and still holds today. It is only when Partition is brought to an end, and Irish people are allowed to act as a single unit, that such a development will have been said to have taken place. The demand for an end to occupation, therefore, stands as the principle republican demand and is imperative to the creation of a just and peaceful society in Ireland.
On social and economic issues, the situation is just as bad. Both states in Ireland uphold and perpetuate deep-seated social and economic inequalities, and differentials in wealth distribution among the most marked in Europe.
For republicans, who stick to the Connollyite dictum that the struggle for Irish freedom has two aspects, national and social, this constitutes a huge challenge.
As part of the process of meeting this challenge, rigorous social and economic policies must be pursued, with the aim of empowering those currently marginalised amongst the working classes of urban and rural Ireland.
Such policies could include increased State involvement and control over key sectors of the economy; the participation of workers in the running of them; the promotion of cooperatives; a much higher minimum wage rate and similar improvements in social welfare benefits and a free and decently funded national health service.
In the area of equal rights and opportunities, there are several measures that republicans must adopt. The first one relates to the question of citizenship. All of the inhabitants of Ireland should have the right to Irish citizenship. Ireland should be seen as a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples everywhere and those who escape its shores should enjoy the same rights and entitlements as those born in the country itself.
Racism and apartheid-style immigration laws cannot be tolerated and must be opposed by republicans.
Irish republicans should also give equal status to the cultural and religious identities of all Irish people. The various religious, linguistic, political and ethnic differences of Irish people should be respected and no one conception of 'Irishness' should be promoted over another. This has an obvious importance to the unionist population of the North.
Republicans should be to the fore of persuading Irish unionists that their best interests can be upheld in a unitary State. To this end, republicans must oppose sectarianism in all its guises and show a willingness to work with others, including unionists, in the framing of new concepts and symbols of Irish national identity which encompass the differences existent within the nation.
Were this to happen, the whole concept of Irish national identity could be separated from Irish nationalism itself, a progressive development and one which might allow unionists to feel that they are not outsiders, but an integral part of a culturally and politically diverse Irish nation.
The Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities should also be involved in this and should be encouraged to help reconfigure the concepts of Irish national identity to the point where they can relate to them.
The position of women in Irish society is another concern.
Republicans should reject the patriarchal structures enforced upon women, inside and outside the home, and should commit themselves to the promotion of equal opportunity in all areas of life, for all women in Ireland. They should be to the fore in promoting a view and model of humanity that underpins equality between the sexes and which accords to women the same freedoms as men in all spheres.
Finally, the marginalised and oppressed position of gay men and women should also be of great concern to all republicans. Gay relationships should be accorded the same status and legitimacy in the eyes of the law as any other, and gay couples should, of course, enjoy the same legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
This should include similar treatment in social welfare provisions, adoption rights, rights to legally recognised marriages and inheritance rights.
Easter is a time when republicans remember the sacrifices made by generations past and present in the struggle for full freedom in Ireland. But the best way to commemorate fallen comrades is for all republicans to rededicate themselves to the achievement of the goal that so many have given their lives for, that of a 32-county socialist Republic.
Only an Ireland that has banished imperialism and inequality is worthy of the sacrifices that have been made since 1916, and only that kind of Irish Republic can provide peace and prosperity for future generations.
In this task, the ideas, thinking and revolutionary principles of past leaders need to be learned and applied to the present situation, where so much still has to be achieved.