herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

1916 centenary risks being a damp squib

Who fears to speak of 1916? Right now, the answer to that age-old question seems to be: Enda Kenny's Government.

With barely 18 months to go, we have yet to see any concrete plans for the Easter Rising centenary in 2016 - raising fears that the whole thing could turn out to be something of a non-event.

Last Sunday afternoon, the people who care most about this issue finally ran out of patience.

At a meeting in the Alexander Hotel on Fenian Street, the 1916 Relatives' Association loudly condemned the Government's approach as "an absolute shambles".

The descendants of James Connolly and other Rising leaders are now threatening to hold their own breakaway events, possibly with Bill Clinton or one of the Kennedys as a guest of honour.

There is still just about enough time for the Government to avoid such an embarrassing scenario. A September deadline for draft proposals has been missed, but Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has promised to publish the document "as soon as possible" after today's budget.

If the 1916 relatives are fully consulted, then it should be in everyone's interests to put on a united front for the big occasion.

Sooner or later, however, some awkward choices will have to be made. Is 2016 going to be about anything more than a giant military parade outside the GPO?

Do we have to revere Patrick Pearse's blood sacrifice without question or is there space for those who see it as a brave but misguided suicide mission?

historians

If anyone thought this was a debate that only historians cared about, recent events have proved them wrong.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton provoked fury a couple of months ago by describing the Rising as "completely unnecessary", prompting even the Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney to publicly rebuke him.

Senator David Norris raised the temperature another notch when he slammed the 1916 leaders as "traitors".

For inspiration, perhaps we could look to an unlikely source, the 50th anniversary commemoration in 1966.

This is often condemned as a triumphal nationalist orgy and in many ways it was, but it also had a huge cultural element of music, art and school competitions.

A similar programme could turn 2016 into an inclusive celebration of Irish independence. But at the risk of stating the obvious, it won't happen by itself.

Humphreys has had a woeful start to her tenure as Arts Minister. McNultygate left her looking like a puppet, incapable of operating without a prepared script.

Now the ghosts of 1916 are threatening to haunt her reputation forever - and embarrass the Government as a whole.

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