herald

Thursday 21 August 2014

Sinn Fein feel they own 1916 – Queen might change that

If you live long enough, you'll see everything. As President Higgins' state visit to Britain continues, Enda Kenny has dropped a real bombshell by declaring that he will invite the Queen to attend the commemoration of the 1916 Rising in two years' time.

This may not exactly be what Patrick Pearse and his fellow revolutionaries had in mind – but it would certainly be the ultimate symbol of a bright new dawn in Anglo-Irish relations.

Queen Elizabeth's presence at the GPO in April 2016 might be positive for other reasons as well. It could transform the event from a Brit-bashing orgy (by some) into a celebration of peace and reconciliation.

SQUABBLE

It should also encourage our politicians to be on their best behaviour for the visitors – and help to prevent an unseemly squabble over which party owns the legacy of 1916.

If Enda Kenny really wants the Queen to come here again, he will need to give her a much better idea of what she would be getting herself into.

For an idea of how it could go disastrously wrong, just look at the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1966. Ireland staged an overblown nationalistic pageant that presented the Rising in black-and-white terms and constantly harped on about the need to end partition.

Some historians believe that this triumphalism actually contributed to the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland just three years later.

By the time the 75th anniversary rolled around in 1991, the IRA's murderous campaign had made the Easter Rising an embarrassment.

The peace process made Irish nationalism respectable again and ceremonies have been held outside the GPO since 2006.

If 1966 was too hot and 1991 too cold, 2016 is our last chance to get it exactly right. Just to add a bit of spice, the next general election is scheduled to take place just a few weeks previously in February of that year.

One of the campaign's biggest themes will be whether or not the 1916 leaders would be satisfied with the independent Ireland that their blood sacrifice helped to create.

Sinn Fein believe they own 1916 because they are the only party actively campaigning for a 32-county republic. Fianna Fail can argue that they have a special claim since Eamon de Valera was the most senior commander to escape execution.

Fine Gael has always prided itself on being the party that founded the State, while even Labour can boast a connection through the involvement of their founder James Connolly.

Ironically, Queen Elizabeth is the one person who could draw all these strands of Irish nationalism together. Many people were deeply moved when she laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance, but lending her support to an event that marks the overthrow of British rule would be something else entirely. If hearing God Save the Queen in Croke Park was a historic moment, how much more amazing it would be to have it sung after Amhran na bhFiann outside the GPO.

PUPPET

While Elizabeth may take some orders from the British government, she is not just a puppet.

Her gracious speech in Windsor Castle on Tuesday night gave us every reason to believe that she genuinely wants to do this.

The centenary of 1916 will take place in the same week as her 90th birthday – but she could give us a wonderful present by helping to draw a line under 800 years of blood and conflict.

Queen Elizabeth has already proved herself to be a true friend of this country. Her greatest Irish moment of all, however, may yet be to come.

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