Micheál Martin is a man with a mission. To trample on the politics of those whose roots are in the radical republican tradition of Tone and Emmet and Pearse and Connolly and to rewrite Irish history in the image of a so-called constitutionalist revisionist republican narrative. In this narrative republican history ended in the GPO in Dublin and Fianna Fáil are the inheritors of the vision of 1916. The rest of us are upstarts, or worse.
So, a Micheál Martin speech at Bodenstown or in the Dáil or at Arbour Hill, where the leaders are buried, would not be complete without an attack on Sinn Féin. I suppose we should take some comfort from this. Teachta Martin does it because he fears the growth of Sinn Féin and the message of radical republicanism that we espouse.
This has been especially evident in recent months when during and after the general election the one thing that all Fianna Fáil spokespersons agreed on was their hostility to Sinn Féin emerging as the official opposition in the Dáil. The last eight weeks of negotiations over the formation of a government have been as much about that as anything else, as the Fianna Fáil leadership tries to construct an outcome in which it supports Enda Kenny in government on the one hand while pretending to be opposed to him on the other.
Micheál was at it again this weekend at his party’s centenary event at Arbour Hill. His speech majored on negativity and invective but offered no message of hope. Instead he sought to rationalise why Fianna Fáil will support the return of a Fine Gael government. He said he would even agree to Labour being back in government! What an abandonment of his electoral commitments and of the mandate he claimed Fianna Fáil was given not to put Enda Kenny and Joan Burton back into power!
But much of his time was spent attacking Sinn Féin – again. Not only do his remarks reveal how far he will go to misrepresent politics in the north but they are evidence of how far this Fianna Fáil leader has departed from the principles and vision that marks the Good Friday Agreement.
For decades Fianna Fáil posed as ‘the republican party’ while wielding power in the interests of visitors to the Galway Tent as opposed to those of ordinary citizens. Now under Micheál Martin’s leadership they are reinventing themselves as the party of fairness and reform. Even though this is a response to Sinn Féin successes it is to be welcomed.
The centenary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising have brought these issues into sharp focus along with the ideals and courage and heroism of the men and women of that period. For them the Proclamation was a Proclamation of a new society – a new Ireland – a real Republic. IN this centenary year the southern establishment parties and sections of the media fear this growing awareness about the men and women of 1916, what they fought for and why the British killed them in an effort to destroy the Republic they had proclaimed.
The Fianna Fáil leadership may defend the actions of 1916 but they want republican history and the legitimacy of that revolutionary option to end there. For their own narrow party political interests there has to be a line drawn between Terence McSwiney and Bobby Sands; between Thomas Ashe and Francie Hughes; between Countess Markievicz and Mairead Farrell.
So, revisionism is alive and well. Alongside Fianna Fáil’s efforts to shape 1916 in its own image there is an unprecedented campaign in some media and political circles to downgrade this seminal event in our nation’s history, and to denigrate many of those who took a leading part in it.
The popular response to, and the genuine pride, in centenary events has highlighted the unacceptability of that position. For our part Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin agree that there would be no Irish state, no level of independence and no amount of sovereignty, however limited, for Ireland but for the revolutionary republican tradition.
The others argue that the 1916 Rising was unnecessary. They demand to know by what right and what authority did the 1916 Revolutionaries launch a rebellion? They also seek to elevate what has been termed the ‘constitutional nationalist tradition’ in Irish history at the expense of the revolutionary republican tradition.
They ignore the reality that in the Ireland of 1916 there was no democracy. Repression and militarism were the means by which British interests in Ireland were defended.
Armed resistance was an appropriate response to that. Some who went on to become founder members of Fianna Fáil were part of that resistance. Micheál Martin could not easily disown them, even, and I doubt this, if that is his position.
But he does repudiate in the most vindictive terms those who employed the same methods in our time.
As we move beyond the centenary of 1916 and the revolutionary period to consider the events of the counter-revolution, the civil war, partition, the establishment of two conservative states, and the evolution of Fianna Fáil, there will be many interesting topics to discuss.
The fact is the counter revolutionaries won and the southern state developed into a narrow-minded, mean spirited place which was harsh on the poor, on women and on republicans or radicals of any kind.
Many of the scandals that we have witnessed in that state in recent years are a product of this post-colonial condition. This then was the reality that unfolded in place of the Republic which the 1916 Rising sought to bring about. This was the state constructed by conservative nationalists in the ‘constitutional’ tradition.
This is the political system which saw the establishment parties in the Irish state – including Fianna Fáil – abandon the citizens of the north; acquiesce to partition; then actively defend it.
Partition and the apartheid type system of governance in the north created the conditions for armed conflict. If 1916 had never happened this was a very likely outcome not least because successive Irish government made no real or consistent effort to engage the British government on its obligations and responsibilities to uphold and promote the rights of all citizens in the six counties.
Instead when the British state resisted the civil rights demands Dublin acquiesced to the British strategy of militarisation. It was in that vacuum that the IRA – which was almost non-existent – came back to life. The continued existence of the revolutionary tradition and its physical force tendency made that more likely, but not inevitable. The democratic, secular and revolutionary tradition of republicanism in Ireland dates back to Wolfe Tone and the 1798 Rebellion. Inspired by the American and French revolutions those progressives and radicals set their faces against sectarianism and in favour of equality, freedom and solidarity.
It is this noble tradition and upon these core values, espoused again in the 1916 Proclamation, that Sinn Féin makes our stand.
Some of this was under consistent and ongoing attack during the long years of conflict but it was the revolutionary republican tradition that recognised the stalemate that had developed and which actively sought to create and build a peace process. It was the initiatives of the IRA and the peace strategy of Sinn Féin, along with the contribution of others, which created the opportunity to end the war and create an alternative way forward.
As a consequence, and for the first time, the roots of conflict were addressed and a democratic route to Irish unity opened up.
Those who subscribed unapologetically to the Irish republican and revolutionary tradition were to the fore in achieving this.
Micheál Martin could play a leadership role in the necessary process of making Irish unity a reality. There is an imperative on him to do so.
That would require him working with the rest of us who are wedded to that objective. That of course is much more challenging than his current stance. It would also be much more in the interests of the people of this island.