Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Fianna Fáil

Easter 1916 Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 22 2016

Colman's Column3

This  year  marks  the  centenary  of  the  Easter  Rebellion  in  Dublin.  This provides opportunity for reflection on the meaning of the event. What kind of modern nation emerged from the Rising? Although I am endlessly quoting my own adage –“the road to hell is paved with false analogies” – I will attempt to draw some parallels between Ireland and Sri Lanka.

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The Rising failed and was followed by a war of independence and a bitter civil war developed out of the ensuing treaty. The Republic of Ireland has just had a general election in March 2016 in which the two parties which developed out of the civil war reached a stalemate and Sinn Fein increased its seats. Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny) was the anti-treaty party of De Valera.  Fine  Gael  was  the  pro-treaty party  of  Liam Cosgrave,  Michael Collins  and  the  Free  State  government.  Éamon De  Valera  fought  against  the  treaty because  it  left  Ireland  divided,  part  of  the  Commonwealth  and  owing  allegiance  to  the  Crown. Ireland now owes allegiance to the European Central Bank rather than the Crown and  is still divided.

 

The aim of the 1916 Rising was to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was occupied with World War I. “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. Joseph Plunkett travelled to Germany in April 1915 to join Roger Casement in a bid to recruit Irish prisoners of war to the rebel cause. The two men met the German Ambassador in Washington to seek German support for Irish independence. Plunkett and Casement presented a plan which involved a German expeditionary force landing on the west coast of Ireland. That plan did not work out, although Casement brought guns into Ireland from Germany.

Irish historian Ruth Dudley Edwards has a new book just out – The Seven. This refers to the seven men who made up the Military Council of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Following the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, whose purpose was to resist Home Rule for Ireland, by force if necessary, the IRB were behind the initiative which eventually led to the inauguration of the Irish Volunteers in November 1913. The IRB intended to use the Volunteers to seek a republic, recruiting high-ranking Volunteers into the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and Thomas MacDonagh. These men, together with veteran Fenian Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee. It was just these seven who decided to wage war on the British Empire. On the morning of Easter Sunday 1916, they met in Dublin’s Liberty Hall. By noon, they had printed and issued the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, in which they declared themselves to be the provisional government of an entity that claimed the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman, even though the people had not been consulted.

Patrick Pearse was a poet and playwright who founded schools to which the Gaelicist intelligentsia sent their offspring to be raised in the high tradition of mythical hero Cuchulainn and to learn the Irish language: “better is short life with honour than long life with dishonour”. Pearse developed an unhealthy obsession with blood sacrifice.  “I care not though I were to live but one day and one night, if only my fame and my deeds live after me”.

Though not obviously a fighter, Pearse was enthused by the sight of armed Ulster loyalists and wanted to emulate them: “we might make mistakes in the beginning and shoot the wrong people: but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing”. He developed a messianic and sacrificial notion that his cause was, through a symbolic loss of life, comparable with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pearse expressed an ecstatic view of the energising force of the sacrifice of death in the First World War. He frequently celebrated the beauty of boys dying bravely in their prime, before the shoddy compromises of adult life corrupted them.  Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote: ““It would be frequently remarked of Pearse that he had no understanding of the mundane day-to-day concerns that precluded others from showing the same fanatical dedication to his successive causes: he lived and died for a people that did not exist.”

James Connolly was more hard-headed, a socialist and trade unionist who responded thus to an article by Pearse: “We do not think that the old heart of the earth needs to be warmed with the red wine of millions of lives. We think that anyone who does is a blithering idiot”.

Nevertheless, Connolly did sacrifice himself. The rising was planned as a “blood sacrifice” for a society that had become apathetic. There were disagreements among the rebels. Eoin McNeill, chief of staff of the Irish Volunteers, wished to proceed only on a basis of realistic hope of success rather than staking everything on a gesture of moral revivalism. He thought the blood- sacrifice option intellectually flaccid. Many, however, like 18-year-old medical student, Ernie O’Malley, who had no previous record of nationalist involvement, were strangely stirred by Pearse’s peculiar theology of insurrection. O’Malley became a key organizer and leader in the later guerrilla war as well as one of its most prominent literary chroniclers.

 

The Rising began on Easter Monday, 1916, and lasted for six days. Only about 1,600 rebels turned out in Dublin, with activity in the rest of the country limited to parading. There were isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, but the orders for a general uprising were countermanded by Eoin McNeill. He had no role in the planning of the Rising, which was carried out by IRB infiltrators. He found out that Pearse had duped him and placed a last minute news advertisement advising Volunteers not to take part. McNeill was supported by Bulmer Hobson and The O’Rahilly but O’Rahilly joined in the rebellion and was killed in action.

By the time Pearse surrendered, only 64 rebels had been killed. In the World War, 25,000 Irishmen died fighting as members of the British Army. The British Army in Dublin that Easter reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died, and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. All 16 police fatalities and 22 of the British soldiers killed were Irishmen. The majority of the casualties, both killed and wounded, were civilians. British and rebels shot civilians deliberately on occasion when they refused to obey orders. There were at least two instances of British troops killing civilians out of revenge or frustration, at Portobello Barracks, where six were shot and North King Street, where 15 were killed. Most of the civilians killed were victims of indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “They regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved”.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British army quickly suppressed the Rising, and Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender. Most of the leaders were swiftly executed following courts-martial.

The Rising had no popular support. As the rebel prisoners were marched away under arrest, they were attacked by working-class women, who pelted them with rotten vegetables and emptied chamber pots over them. In his eyewitness account, The Insurrection in Dublin, James Stephens (poet, novelist and short story writer) wrote: “Most of the female opinion I heard was not alone unfavourable, but actively and viciously hostile to the rising. This was noticeable among the best-dressed classes of our population; the worst dressed, indeed the female dregs of Dublin life, expressed a like antagonism, and almost in similar language. The view expressed was ‘I hope every man of them will be shot’.”

 

Next week – how things changed.

Corruption

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 1 2012

Although patriotic Sri Lankans might like to boast that they are the best in the world at the corruption game, there are lessons to be learnt from other countries. Somalia holds up the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index at number 182.  Sri Lanka is at number 86 (improving on a previous 91), somewhat worse than Serbia, Panama and Jamaica. I am not saying mutts like Somalia can teach us anything. Lessons can, however, be learnt from nations who are sophisticated enough to climb to respectable positions on the index.

In 2010, Ireland was at number 14 and the UK at number 20. The 2011 table shows the UK (now number 16) has improved in honesty and Ireland (number 19) has worsened. The US is at number 24.

Only this week, news came out that Micheál Martin, the current leader of Fianna Fáil, the party, which dominated Irish politics for most of the life of the Republic, has called on his predecessor, Bertie Ahern, to be expelled from the party.
Bertie’s mentor, Charles Haughey, enjoyed an opulent lifestyle on his modest salary as Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister, pronounced ‘tea-shock’). He had a fine art collection and wine cellar, racehorses, owned at least one island, a helicopter and enjoyed the services of a voluptuous but garrulous mistress. Retail tycoon Ben Dunne gave Charlie millions, prompting the T-shirt slogan: “Ben there. Dunne that. Bought the Taoiseach”. A culture of impunity has rewarded corrupt politicians, bankers and builders. Ireland shares with Sri Lanka a kind of cronyism. ‘Gombeenism’ describes the kind of parish-pump politics in which those elected to be legislators devote themselves to self-aggrandisement and bestowing favours,  rather than honestly representing their constituents’ interests.

Fianna Fáil was practically wiped out at the last general election. The last Fianna Fáil PM, Brian Cowan, liked to refer to himself affectionately as Biffo, Big Ignorant Fat F…er from Offaly. He has lost any affection the public felt for him, and has apologised for his role in ruining the economy. The culprits continued to receive generous pensions and expenses.

Martin’s condemnation of Bertie came after a report said, “Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.” The report found Mr. Ahern failed to “truthfully account” for the source of bank account lodgements and   confirmed the former Fianna Fáil leader’s personal behaviour had fallen short of the standard expected of holders of high office.

The report referred to was by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, commonly known as the Mahon Tribunal. As well as accusing Ahern of untruthfulness, the report found former European Commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power.
Martin made sure the other Irish parties were not left out of the condemnation. Current PM, Enda Kenny, refused to take any action when told a member of his Fine Gael party had “sought a bribe of £250,000”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claimed institutionalised sleaze and corruption had been rife in Ireland.  “It was not just political life that was corrupt,” he added. “So, too, was the business elite.” Adams said institutional corruption and gombeenism (a Sri Lankan equivalent of the Gombeen Man would be the mudalali involved in politics) were part and parcel of British colonial rule on the island and the practices survived and thrived in the post-colonial period.
Martin described Sinn Féin’s “embrace of double standards” as “particularly brazen”. During the period investigated by Mahon, “Sinn Féin’s movement killed more than 200 people, kneecapped and exiled many more and ran this island’s largest racketeering, kidnapping and bank-robbing network”.

Some Sri Lankans have a touching faith in the institutions of western countries. When one points to the shortcomings of other countries, one is told that there is at least accountability for wrong-doing, unlike the impunity that is characteristic of Sri Lanka. Taking Ireland as an example, one can take comfort in the fact that there is an Act of the Oireachtas (parliament), establishing Tribunals of Inquiry to look into matters of urgent public importance. Tribunals are obliged to report their findings to the Oireachtas. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of documents relevant to the work in hand.

By the end of 2000, there were six tribunals. According to historian Diarmaid Ferriter: “Tribunals were an indictment of the lack of investigation at home into these issues. It often took outsiders to unfold the truth, as with the exposure by Susan O’Keefe of the BBC of the beef industry in the 1991 documentary “Where’s the Beef?” O’Keefe concluded that there was in Irish society too much indulgence of unethical behaviour and that a culture of silence prevailed. These tribunal inquiries tended to go on for a long time (Mahon started in 1997), the details are very complicated and they are very costly to the taxpayer.

The amounts brown-enveloped by corrupt businessmen and politicians are trivial compared to the amounts legally made by lawyers at the tribunals. Barristers’ daily tribunal rates were €2,500 (£1,700 LKR 432,000). Senior counsel Patrick Quinn earned more than €50,000 from other  State work. In a year, he was paid almost €500,000 for working part-time at the inquiry. He earned a total of €5,273,521.17 (911,223,388 Sri Lanka Rupees) in fees over the decade he has worked at the tribunal. Legal team costs for 2011 were €950,000. Total legal costs have reached almost €50 million (8,639,610,596 Sri Lanka Rupees).

It is not a function of Tribunals to administer justice, their work is solely inquisitorial. Wrongdoers can take comfort in the fact that the outcome of tribunals would rarely be prosecution.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/4584-

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