Speeches

Robert Ballagh

It is wholly appropriate that we should launch this citizens initiative here in Liberty Hall – after all, it was on this site in the basement of the old Liberty Hall, that the proclamation of the Irish Republic was printed and it was from here that the Citizen Army set off to join with the Irish Volunteers to take the GPO and ignite the flame of the Irish Revolution.

“Reclaim the Vision of 1916”, a citizens initiative was established to ensure that the centenary of the Easter Rising be celebrated in an appropriate and relevant manner.

Already over 75 significant figures from Irish civil society have signalled their support by becoming patrons of the initiative. A partial listing includes Brian Friel, Sinead O’Connor, Eugene McCabe, Stephen Rea, John Douglas, Jack O’Connor, Frances Black, Damien Dempsey and Tim Pat Coogan.

It is right and proper that the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who fought in 1916 be marked with dignity and respect but, I believe, it would be a disservice to their memory if we failed to recognise why they did what they did, in the first place. Let’s face it, these people were not merely rebels – they were visionaries! What they desired was not simply a government in Dublin, a green flag over Dublin Castle and a harp on the coinage. They were calling for a cultural revolution – a complete transformation of both public and personal reality!
The blueprint for that vison was set out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a visionary statement of the intent which rightly belong in the pantheon of human inspiration alongside other exceptional documents like the Magna Carta and the American Declaration of Independence.

Sadly the vision of 1916 has never been fully realised and the Irish people, north and south have been forced to bear the consequences of political, social, economic and cultural failure.

The “Reclaim” initiative is convinced that the vision of the men and women of 1916, incorporated in the Proclamation, remains as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. For this reason the initiative will be organising a wide range of activities to shamelessly celebrate this seminal even in our history.

On Sunday, April 24th 2016, the actual day of the commencement of the Rising, the “Reclaim” initiative will be organising a major National Gathering in Dublin in the form of a Parade and Pageant. The theme of the parade will be the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and it will progress through the streets of Dublin in a rousing, unfettered celebration of the vision of 1916, conducted in a lively, colourful, dramatic and musical manner, involving bands, dancers and community groups.

The pageant will take place on a stage, which will convert O Connell street into a massive public amphitheatre. This will be an exuberant, vital, exciting affair featuring music, poetry, song dance and drama performed by some of Irelands leading talents. Already Fionnuala Flanagan, Stephen Rea and Sinead O Connor, Damien Dempsey and Adrian Dunbar are on board for this unique event.

The Pageant will not only celebrate the vision, bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of 1916, but, taking note of the obvious failure, over many years, to realise their dream will present a new vision for a new Irish Democracy, where the common good will come first where the wealth of the country will belong to the people and where their natural resources, industries and services will be utilised in the interest of all the people.

Let us dare to dream!

Mags O’Brien

The PROCLAMATION states;

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

It is self-evident that one hundred years on we have not fulfilled the promise of the Proclamation and that, despite us having legislation for Equality, the nine grounds covered do not include socio-economic equality, and the gap between those who have and have not has been widened by the latest recession, so we have not cherished all the children of the nation equally.

As a trade unionist and feminist I was privileged to be asked to join the Committee of Reclaim the Vision of 1916. While we cannot know with certainty which of the signatories crafted the proclamation, we can safely say that Connelly’s hand can be seen writ large. The call for equal rights and equal opportunities for all the citizens epitomises Connolly’s commitment to a socialist vision for Ireland. We can but ponder; what if he, and they, had lived? What kind of a state would we inhabit now?

For instance on support for women, Connolly was forthright;

“when trimmers and compromisers disavow you, I, a poor slum-bred politician, raise my hat in thanksgiving that I lived to see this resurgence of women.”

Thus James Connolly addressed English suffragettes in a message of support in 1913. It was remarkable that a man who left school at eleven grew to be a leading socialist writer, theorist and activist. That he also became, in the words of trade unionist Louie Bennett, ‘A thorough feminist in every respect’ was perhaps even more remarkable (Sally Richardson)

Connolly felt that women’s subjugation was an integral part of both British rule in Ireland and Capitalism, so the ‘rising of the women’ would be crucial in freeing both Ireland and the working class.

So how would the signatories view the Ireland of today? As we approach the centenary of the rising have we fulfilled Connolly’s vision, Do we have bread and roses?

Undoubtedly we have failed in that vision politically, economically and socially, so Reclaiming the Spirit should be an opportunity to reflect on the way forward for Ireland, while looking back to the founders’ vision, and to this end we will be organising seminars on Cherishing all the Children, And, as a nation famed for its migrants, Our treatment of Immigrants and more. The seminars will run over the months leading up to the anniversary on 24th April and we will be reaching out to other groups across the island. There are also plans for a film festival, details of that will be posted as they become available.

The programme is a work in progress and we look forward to working with you all to Reclaim the Vision of 1916

James Connolly Heron

Towards 2016 – Who Fears to Speak of Easter Week?

I am delighted to lend my name as a patron of this important initiative and commend Robert Ballagh and the committee for their work to date.

This is a very important centenary initiative and it is fitting that it is publicly launched here at liberty hall in many ways the spiritual home of the 1916 rising – the pivotal event in our history. Here the flag of the republic was flown for the first time. Here the proclamation of the republic was printed and from here volunteers marched off in pursuit of their dream of a free and independent republic.

The importance of this planned celebration centred on republic day on 24th April cannot be underestimated. As recently as last Saturday in the Irish Times in a feature piece on a new series of ‘the rising street map’ and a new publication ‘Dublin Rising’ by author Joe Connell the following statement appeared – quote – ‘Connell doesn’t agree with the popular view of 1916 as‘ an unmitigated disaster for the city and for Ireland’. I had to double check this statement thinking at first that it was a reference to the unmitigated disaster that was the Great War. But no – this was indeed directed at the event that led to the freedom of our people from conquest, enslavement and oppression of colonial rule – the effects of which we are still struggling with to this day.

Yet in the obituary page of the same paper we discover that the late George Ioannou , a leading figure in the struggle against British rule in Cyprus, drew inspiration from 1916 and in particular the writings of james connolly which he translated into Greek for fellow prisoners. We remember him today and in so doing are reminded that the 1916 revolution is a national and an international story.

As the annual state Easter rising ceremonies come to a close for this year full consideration can now be given to our approach to the centenary year ahead of us. There is much to be done and time is not on our side.

The Easter rising was the seminal moment in Irish history when against all odds a remarkable army of men and women fought in the cause of Irish freedom – theirs and ours.

The men and women of 1916 defiantly went out to challenge the might of an army of an empire upon which the sun never set.

The late Sean Cronin wrote of them:

‘None considered himself a hero but all were heroes. There were fewer than nine hundred of them and they challenged an empire. They were ordinary men and their military training was minimal. In that lies their glory. They believed that Ireland should be free. In that lies their greatness.’

It follows that they deserve to be remembered honoured and paid due respect. It follows that a new generation now dismissive of politics must be introduced to that golden generation in our history.

A little under a year from the centenary we finally have an official state programme of commemoration for 2016.

This is, of course, welcome given the debacle of the launch of ‘Ireland inspires’ on an infamous evening at the GPO last November.

Then a video presentation literally airbrushed the men and women of 1916 out of history in the very location where they made history. Our heroes of history morphed into sportsmen and pop stars.
No images of Pearse, Plunkett, Clarke and Connolly, MacDonagh, McDermott and Ceannt were on display – the founding fathers of our nation ignored – as if they had never lived – as if they had never died.

The purpose and meaning of commemoration is not only to remember those who ‘died’ – it is to remember and pay tribute.

And so there is a lot of talk of remembrance but little by way of paying tribute. Why is this so?

There has been a questioning in recent times as to the justification of our fight for freedom – as if the fight for a people’s freedom from conquest requires justification.

We are led to believe that home rule would have arrived in time – if only we had waited.

Waited patiently in the worst slums in Europe at the time.

There are those who argue that a mandate is required before one can rise up and resist oppression. To resist slavery by all means at ones disposal hardly requires a mandate – it requires a response – it requires immediate action.

From the comfort of 21st century Ireland we can afford to debate such issues. How fortunate to be free to do so. Freedom is taken for granted by those who are free but not by those yet to achieve it. Our freedom did not fall from the sky – it had to be fought for – and in some cases died for.

We are – all of us – direct beneficiaries of that cause and that sacrifice.

Some hold that the founders of our nation – the men and women of 1916 – can be marginalised and so diminished. This can be seen as an attempt to avoid the real issue that needs to be addressed. Where stands the republic for which they gave their very lives?

What happened to their dream that they dared dream?

‘The freedom of a nation is measured by the freedom of its lowest class’, James Connolly wrote. It wasn’t that class that destroyed the economy of our country – but it is that class that is left to pick up the bill. Failed banks bailed out through public funding proceed to evict citizens unable to pay their mortgage payments.

At the same time failed property developers deemed experts are paid NAMA salaries out of the public purse to continue with their business plans and lavish lifestyles while a new generation of our people shake their heads in disbelief. How did it come to this – they ask? How indeed?

So who fears to speak of 1916?

Who benefits from portraying that great event –the pivotal event in our history – as just another event in a decade of historic events?

We are to remember ‘all’ who died in a ‘shared history’ we are told. ‘inclusivity’ the most used buzzword emanating from those charged with the protection of our history and heritage, multiple wreath laying for all combatants, royal visitors at commemoration ceremonies, Glasnevin cemetery replacing the GPO as the centre of commemorations , a planned memorial wall to all the 1916 dead. A planned GPO interpretive centre rather than a museum to the republic. The list is endless.

In honouring everybody in general, of course, we commemorate nobody in particular.

How convenient.

The presentation of the rising as ‘just another event’ never mind ‘an unmitigated disaster’ is a distortion of our history, a deliberate and desperate attempt to distance citizens from the aims and ideals of a golden generation the likes of which we have not seen since. Among their number were poets, writers, playwrights, teachers, musicians, journalists, actors, artists and ordinary working men and women – citizens – striving to create a society rich in cultural activity and identity. They contributed to the cultural revival of a defeated nation and they left us a legacy that needs to be embraced and cherished with pride – pride in our language not a dismissal of it, pride in our flag not a disregard for it, pride in our national anthem not an apology for it with trust in those elected to represent our interests – citizens interests. They were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country in stark contrast to those in our time willing to sacrifice their country for their lifestyles.

And they left us the proclamation of the republic for which they were willing to lay down their lives. Its aims and ideals yet to be fulfilled.

This reclaim the vision of 1916 initiative will give all citizens the opportunity to gather in celebration of the golden moment in our history and in so doing create a platform for the republic that successive administrations have failed to deliver. A republic of equality and opportunity with nobody marginalised, left behind or forgotten and no one forced through economic circumstance to flee the country of their birth.

This is our country – its title deeds are ours – it neither belongs to a banking elite a developer elite or a political elite – we the citizens need to reclaim it. The centenary year ahead presents this opportunity. This may be our time – our golden moment. It should not be missed. The centenary celebrations give us the opportunity to reflect and consider and act upon the aims and ideals beliefs and actions of those who in their time decided to act in the cause of freedom. Their vision of freedom remains the yardstick by which we measure the march of the nation.

Let all of us together through this initiative work towards the realisation of their dream their vision and build the republic that serves the needs of all citizens. A society of equality with no citizen left behind, nobody abandoned uneducated uncared for or forced by economic circumstance to flee the country of their birth. If all citizens have a stake in society then all citizens will sacrifice to rebuild it. That willingness to reach out to others and support others has not disappeared as a result of the greed of a few. That remains the legacy of 1916 – it is in all of us – it is in our collective DNA.

We must return politics to the secure embrace of the people – the citizens – the incorruptible inheritors of Irish freedom.