So….Oxford Street, Belfast…the old Christian Brothers Primary School and the launch of the programme of events to commemorate the Easter Rising and the connexion to South and East Belfast.
There will of course be events in other parts of the city of Belfast and Norn Iron.
Three young people…two male and one female…looking very smart in Irish Volunteer and Cumann na mBan uniforms.
But surprisingly few young people. The attendees were mostly male and as old as I am. Most seemed to be “ex-prisoners”.
The question….to what extent is this event inclusive to South and East Belfast…to nationalists and republicans (I was the only member of SDLP present) and to what extent was the event a “Sinn Féin” event.
The event was hosted by Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, MLA for South Belfast. As is his way, he name-checked several people in the room, including Tom Hartley, Bobby Storey, Deirdre Hargey and Niall Ó Donnghaile.
He noted that the Taoiseach had just announced the General Election and Ó Muilleoir looked forward to good Sinn Féin performances in 2016, on both sides of the border. i thought it better not to reveal my “Team SDLP” tshirt and shout “Vote SDLP!!!”
A young woman led the singing of Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile and Ó Muilleoir introduced the keynote speaker, Bobby Storey, referencing his contribution to another phase of the republican struggle.
Bobby Storey referencing South and East Belfast figures who had fought the Rising…the Corr Sisters, Joseph Campbell (an “Intelligence Officer ” which Bobby seemed to find amusing) and of course Charlie Monahan, drowned during gun running.
Good that he pointed out that the republican ideals were actually Belfast ideas from before 1798 and the role of people like Dennis McCullough, the IRB and Gaelic League in Belfast.
For me, the Easter Rising is a stand alone event but Storey stated that the centenary of the Rising will be linked to the 35th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes in 1981.
Martin Ó Muilleoir then name-checked all the other people he had missed out first time around…Geraldine McAteer and Dermot Kennedy (who will be the Sinn Féin candidate in Strangford in May.
Tom Hartley spoke briefly about the history of Oxford Street CBS.
And then the young woman singer led us in our National Anthem.
Was it inclusive? No. But there are limits to how inclusive an event commemorating Easter 1916 can be. It certainly has to involve more than Sinn Féin and cant be about other “phases of the struggle”. Nor can it be about the Somme…or unionists…it is about the German allies of our Republic.Nor is it about the War of Independence or the Civil War.
It is about the Proclamation, it is about the three week period between the landing of Roger Casement to the execution of James Connolly.
It is not entirely Sinn Féins fault. While SDLP are absolutely right that the Easter Rising does not belong to one Party, the SDLP has not thrown itself fully into full hearted commemoration or celebration of the birth of our nation state.It is too nuanced….with the false god of “shared history” paraded before us.
Learned academic papers and seminars and re-appraisals are all very well but basically, we need a parade.
EDIT….Niall Ó Donghaile has contacted me to say that there were some unionists at this launch and probably some people who are not political.
“Not political” is an interesting term.
What exactly does it mean.
Well it was Nialls term not mine.
It was a big attendance in a small venue so crowded. Obviously some have a very public profile and Ó Muilleoir name-checked them all.
Significantly he did not hold back on electionerring for Sinn Féin and a genuinely inclusive gathering of republicans ..even a SF “front” like An Féile would at least go thru the motions of being “inclusive”.
Niall points out in a Twitter reply to me that unionists were present and I accept that but I would imagine in the role of observer rather than supporter.
Presumably it was an invite.
It always interests me that SF get on better with unionists than with SDLP….presumably SF think of themselves as the republican voice and SDLP is irrelevant to negotiation. Is that the case with DUP and SF MLAs and politicians and advisors and staffers.
Indeed is that how SDLP see things also…getting along better with Alliance than SF.
Or is SDLP marginalised by all including media or does it marginalise itself.
I ansolutely see myself as nationalist, republican and socialiist and above all an Irish citizen so I absolutely support the men and women of Easter 1916 but I dont,ike to see it hijacked by Sinn Fein (and linked to modern violence) OR minimalised by SDLP as “shared history…..let me find a poppy as I am going to Somme to show my shared history”.
Clearly lustily singing the National Anthem does not embarrass me …and I will certainly fly the flag at Easter….BUT it does embarrass me that SF is taking the lead.
In the run up to May, SF will milk this for everything its worth. It may not do them a lot of good in south (where the attempted hijack will be resisted) but it will do them a lot of good in the north.
SDLP give the impression that Easter 1916 is a problem. Indeed when the elections due in 2015 were pushed back to 2016 (the key year in the Decade of Centenaries) then it was pretty obvious that SF would take advantage.
The people I feel sorry for are nationalists/socialists/republicans who are not Sinn Féin voters. What do we do?
Consider a parade in (say) Derry and Colum Eastwood is a participant….and it incurs the wrath of every letsgetalongerist in (say) South Belfast, Strangford, North Antrim.
And consider Colum Eastwood NOT being a participant, it angers mainstream republicans in Upper Bann, West Belfast, East Derry.
I have seen no meaningful SDLP answer.
SF get on better with Unionists never found that to be the case at least Unionists can have frank discussions with the SDLP without fearing reprisals
It is in the interests of unionists to marginalise SDLP and deal/not deal with SF.
In my view unionists could happily deal with nationalism in the early 1960s as they ruled with contempt. The new nationalism of the civil rights movement and later SDLP scared unionists.
To this day “liberal unionists” hate John Hume.