HOW far have we come since Easter 1916? The simple answer to that question is, of course, 95 years.
The fundamental issue is how far we have advanced since the Easter Rising. Are we better off or are we worse off today than we were when Pearse, Connolly and the other leaders took over the GPO in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916?
I believe that in nearly every way we are far better off today than our fathers and grandfathers were 95 years ago. However, whether we are happier today than Irish people were in 1916 is a question I cannot answer because I was not around then.
People in general are far more comfortable today than they were then and this has nothing to do with the 1916 Rising. The motor car, the airplane, electricity, running water supplies and new technology in general have improved the quality of life of the ordinary man and woman to an extent far beyond the wildest dreams of any of the Easter 1916 visionaries.
In 1916 we were not allowed to elect our own government but less than three years later the survivors of the 1916 Rising, having been elected by the people of Ireland, set up their own parliament across the Liffey from the GPO and they called it Dáil Éireann.
Dáil Éireann might not have been the ideal envisaged by Pearse and his comrades but their dreams were never going to be fulfilled. However, Dáil Éireann, despite all its flaws and all the mistakes made by the Dáil over the years, is ours. It is not the House of Commons or the House of Lords, ruling us from London. It is our House of Parliament, elected by us, for us and of us.
If we don’t like the people in it, we can throw them out and elect new people to put in their place as we did in no uncertain terms two months ago.
We could not do that in 1916. We could elect some members to the British Parliament but they usually had little influence over the British government. The vast majority of the Irish wanted Home Rule, as did their representatives in the British House of Commons. However, they were unable to get it until after that tiny minority in the GPO on Easter Monday 1916 asserted the right for more than simple Home Rule.
So, the establishment of our own parliament in Dublin was another big step forward since 1916.
Apart from the freedom to elect our own government in Dublin, perhaps one of the greatest advances achieved since the Rising was the freedom to think for ourselves. For too long the Irish people were shackled by the dictats of the Catholic Church. Now we are able to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to go to mass, how many children we want to bring into the world, what books we want to read and what films we want to see. No longer is it a mortal sin to dance on a Saturday night.
The Proclamation of the Irish Republic read out on the steps of the GPO on that fateful Easter Monday declared “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible”. I accept that the language in that sentence might be somewhat archaic today but you get its meaning.
We were never, of course, going to have complete control over our own destiny. Decisions taken today in Washington, Beijing and Frankfurt have at least as much influence over Irish destinies as decisions taken in 1916 in London. Whatever sovereignty declared by the men of 1916 was abandoned by the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, further lost when we joined the then European Common Market in 1973 and completely lost when we called in the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund last November.
I am not saying we had a choice when we signed all those treaties and agreements; you could say they were forced on us. I am saying that in signing those papers we signed away the freedoms the men of 1916 fought for.
We are no longer going to be able to decide how much we are going to be able to pay our teachers, our police force, our army, our civil servants or our nurses. That is going to be decided abroad, as it was in 1916. We are no longer going to be able to decide how much to pay in social welfare allowances to the old, the sick or the needy.
While the poorest in our society are going to have to survive on less, we are being forced to pay huge sums – millions of euro – in bonuses, pensions and salaries to already wealthy bankers and senior public servants.
Was that what the men of 1916 died for? We know damn well it was not.
What else did the Proclamation say? “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.
You might say those were merely pious aspirations. We were never going to cherish all the children of the nation equally but we damn well might have tried better than we did. We might have adopted a more “Christian” approach when the children of the homeless were prevented from taking up accommodation near us. We might have demanded justice for those deprived children who, rather than being cherished and cared for, were abused and even tortured by those we put in charge of them in State-run institutions. Shame on those of us who did not speak out against such atrocities.
Dublin is a far better place to live in today than it was in 1916 when thousands of its citizens were condemned to eke out an existence in rat-infested tenements and disease-riddled slums.
However, what future has the child of parents addicted to heroin or cocaine? What does the future hold for young adults who see that the most glamorous, the most powerful and the most wealthy among them are making money from pushing drugs and from gang-related crime in general. What hope is there for them when the money that should be poured into improving their prospects has been cut-off by governments more interested in placating the financial fat cats than in trying to fulfill the dreams of 1916?
Equal rights and equal opportunities, how are you?