The Ireland of 2016, the crowning year in this decade of centenaries, has degenerated into a vicious war of words.
The leaders of the establishment parties smear Sinn Fein as “gangsters” and a “Mafia”. Adams, the leader of the political insurgency returns fire, calling his republican opponents the equivalent of the northern pejoratives Lundys and West Brit. Micheál Martin has been repeatedly called a “revisionist” Brit loving “John Bruton“. Going further again he called the Fianna Fáil leader a “Thatcher” for his apparent callousness towards the perceived bravery of the Provisional IRA.
From the north, there are two things we think we know about the south – the roads are crap – and the politics is a stable and settled mass of green. Both these perceptions are patently false. The Irish republic’s roads are far superior to Northern Ireland’s. The political spectrum in the south is wide and varied, and in the most basic terms it goes from deep-deep green, to heavy green, to regular green, to light green.
Across this spectrum runs venom and it’s across this green spectrum that the political skirmishes are happening as the parties vie for power and the title of the true, pure and orthodox republican.
Micheál Martin attacked Sinn Fein at Arbour Hill as “not republican”. At Bowdenstown he continued his assault:
“Sinn Fein is not the ideology of 1798 and 1916 – it is a mafia-like organisation which is incapable of respecting anyone outside of its own ranks.”
Adams responded to Martin stoutly, writing:
“In his latest outburst, Mícheal Martin seeks to follow the example of Margaret Thatcher in trying to criminalise the republican struggle. However, like Thatcher, Mícheál Martin will fail.”
Adams has assailed the Taoiseach as soft on Irish nationhood and weak on 1916 credentials:
“The Taoiseach [believes]that our sovereign nation stops at the border. They just don’t get 1916. It is an inconvenient issue that they want to get out of the way.”
Enda Kenny has presented himself as aloof from this petty squabble for authenticity. He hasn’t attacked Adams or Sinn Fein on matters of the past or republican purity. But look closer, there’s some cute-whoor politicking happening here.
In Brian Hayes MEP, Fine Gael Director of elections, the Taoiseach has a corner boy more than happy to do the dirty work on Adams and Sinn Fein. Hayes rounded on Adams and Mary Lou and the republican movement at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. On Adams he said:
“Mr Gerry Adams, that economic guru from west Belfast… Sinn Féin presents itself as something new despite the fact that Mr Adams has been around as long as Robert Mugabe.
The crucial question for Sinn Féin is to whom do they answer? Is it to the people or as certain politicians and media outlets allege to a republican criminal underworld with their boiler suits and balaclavas?”
All of this vicious bickering and back-stabbing is starkly out of step with 1916 and the “ideals” professed by the revolutionary leaders, Patrick Pearse in particular.
Pearse strongly objected to endless debate as typified by this ongoing and endless spat over the inheritance of 1916. There is no conceited equivocation on my part here, this is not a hypothetical Pearse tailored to the requirements of my biases. We have Pearse’s writings, and they are categorical. He wrote in 1913, ‘From A Hermitage‘:
“We who are determined to rehabilitate this nation should commence working towards that end instead of arguing. The Nationalist movement in Ireland has degenerated into a debating society. In all our national or quasi-national organs we argue as to what a nation is, what is nationality, what is a Nationalist as if definitions mattered! Our love of disputation sometimes makes us indecent, as when we argue over a dead man’s coffin as to whether he was a Nationalist or not, and sometimes makes us ridiculous, as when we prove by a mathematical formula that the poet who has most finely voiced Irish nationalism in our time is no Nationalist – as if a man’s opinions were more important than his work! I propose that we take service as our touchstone, and reject all other touchstones; and that, without bothering our heads about sorting out, segregating, and labelling Irishmen and Irishwomen according to their opinions, we agree to accept as fellow-Nationalists all who specifically or virtually recognise this Irish nation as an entity and, being part of it, owe it and give it their service.”
So there you go Enda, Micheál and Gerry – Break it up lads! Stop classifying one another as excessively, properly or insufficiently republican and just get down to the work of making this island happy and prosperous.