- John Crawley, a member of the James Connolly Society Monaghan and IRA ex-POW who served two terms of imprisonment during the recent war in Ireland, with a short piece that first appeared in the July/August edition of our magazine.
The 1916 Proclamation is a call for the establishment of a government of national unity based upon the republican principles of popular sovereignty and democracy. It remains a primary frame of reference for many Irish republicans.
The Proclamation outlines the classical republican position that ultimate sovereign authority resides exclusively within the Irish people. That ‘the unfettered control of Irish destinies’ must be ‘sovereign and indefeasible’. And it confirms the republican tradition of good government being constituted in the interests of the public welfare, guaranteeing ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities’ to all citizens and declaring its resolve, ‘to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts’. It positions national unity and democracy as core values calling for a ‘National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland, and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women’.
The Proclamation is a declaration of war. A call to arms by a republican leadership whose place in struggle lay resolutely at the tip of the spear. Not for them a dissembling negotiation with London as to how best reconcile Irish nationalism with British sovereignty but a determination forged in their life’s blood to seize the narrative and reshape the strategic environment in the exclusive interests of Irish democracy.
It is also a template for peace. It identifies the root cause of strife in Ireland as the unjust and divisive occupation of ‘a foreign people and government’. In seeking to challenge and change this, in seeking to take the British gun out of Irish politics, it maps the way toward a permanent end to conflict.
The exceptional republican leadership of 1916 led by example. They have been criticised by some for allowing a situation to develop whereby the British were able to dispose of them in one week. These men, however, were not engaged in rhetorical posturing in order to mobilise a base that may one day act as a service industry for their private political ambitions. Their republicanism was sincere and they accepted the inevitable consequences of their patriotism. They knew that true leadership is not about producing followers but about producing more leaders. They hoped their inspirational words and deeds would generate such a psychic shock in the body politic that the oppressed subjects of a province of the British empire would now struggle to become the citizens of an Irish national democracy.
What would that leadership have thought had they known that one hundred years later their country would become ‘this island’ consisting of two states brought into being by British legislation? That the sovereign, democratic and united Republic declared in 1916, and endorsed by the democratically elected First Dáil, would morph into the Republic of 1949 in which British conditions and parameters constraining Irish democracy would become the accepted norm? That a contemporary leadership, claiming to be republican, would decide that Irish Unity can best be achieved by endorsing ‘Her Majesty’s constabulary’ as lawful authority and by internalising British constructs such as the Unionist Veto and the border poll? What would the signatories have made of the presumption that British legislation would pave the way to Irish freedom?
What would they have made of crude attempts to forge Nationalist/Unionist alliances through sentimentalising joint First World War service in the very army that executed them? Or the notion that Irish Unionists are actually British despite the fact they don’t live in Britain and their ‘Britishness’ has been proven on many occassions to be conditional upon England underwriting a comfort zone of sectarian supremacy?
We can never say for sure what the signatories of the Proclamation would have thought but we can be fairly confident that when they entered the GPO that Easter Monday morning they had no intention of eventually ending up on the same payroll as the Crown forces shelling their positions.
What we do know for certain today is what the 1916 leadership knew then. That freedom and democracy are not natural rights, they are political achievements.
So where does this leave Irish republicans as we approach 2016? By republicans we mean those that define Irish democracy by the aims and objectives of the 1916 Proclamation, those who define themselves, as Padraig Pearse did, as ‘Irishmen of one allegiance only’, those for whom equality under the Crown can never be judged an achievement. How do we in this generation develop a political campaign that will seize the narrative and reshape the strategic environment in the exclusive interests of Irish democracy today?
The 1916 Societies believe the campaign for a national referendum on Irish Unity is a good start but that is only one suggestion. It is important that republicans realign, reenergise and reunite. Only then can we develop the community of purpose needed to devise strategies that will help bring the republican and democratic ideals of the 1916 Proclamation to the contemporary relevance they, and the Irish people, deserve.