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No place for IRA glorification in commemoration of Easter Rising

By Nelson McCausland

Published 09/04/2015

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly

For many people around the world, Easter is a time to reflect on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For many people it is also a family time, a few days when families can be together.

However, for Irish republicans, Easter is a time to remember the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Army and celebrate all that they have done, with a particular focus on the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916.

There is an old republican saying that "England's extremity is Ireland's opportunity". That principle was put into effect during the First World War and provided the context for the 1916 Easter Rising.

Britain was at war with the Kaiser and Irish republicans saw this as an opportunity to mount a rebellion - just as during the Second World War, Sinn Fein and the IRA took the opportunity to collaborate with the Nazis.

However, that is the part of their history that Gerry Adams and his friends prefer to forget.

As we look back over reports of Sinn Fein's 2015 Easter Rising commemorations, there is much that is grotesque about them.

They are not merely a commemoration of the rebellion in Dublin at Easter 1916, but also a glorification of subsequent IRA campaigns - including that carried out during the Second World War and the terrorist campaign carried out by the Provisional IRA.

This year, Gerry Kelly MLA was the main speaker at Milltown Cemetery and he told the crowd: "I want to pay tribute to the bravery, leadership and commitment of the IRA in this generation. I can speak for many thousands of Irish republicans who came through the conflict when I say that we are proud of our time as volunteers in the Irish Republican Army."

Does that mean they are proud of their campaign of sectarian murders and proud of atrocities such as La Mon, Bloody Friday and the Shankill bomb?

In recent years, Sinn Fein has been promoting the concept of "national reconciliation" and has talked of outreach to unionists.

However, if anyone wants to know what Sinn Fein really thinks, they will look behind the honeyed words and carefully-crafted phrases of Declan Kearney, the Sinn Fein chairman, and listen instead to the real voice of Sinn Fein, the raw republicanism of Gerry Kelly.

Another feature of the Sinn Fein commemoration in west Belfast was the inclusion of ranks of small children, dressed in junior 'paramilitary uniforms', marching up the Falls Road behind Sinn Fein politicians and rows of republican 're-enactors' carrying replica guns. Many people will view this as a form of child exploitation and some will see it as child abuse.

Easter Rising commemorations are an annual event, but there will be a particular focus on 2016 - the 100th anniversary - just as there was in 1966, the 50th anniversary.

In his book Provos, the journalist Peter Taylor writes about Gerry McGeough, an Irish republican who was convicted of attempting to murder Sammy Brush, a postman and part-time UDR man, who became a DUP councillor.

McGeough recalls that his republicanism "began on his grandmother's farm in 1966 when he was eight years old". He watched the RTE drama series Insurrection, which was broadcast to celebrate the Easter Rising, and was "mesmerised". From then on his ambition was to join the IRA.

That was the result of the commemoration organised by the Eire government in 1966 and we can only wonder how many other young people were mesmerised by those Easter commemorations and drawn into the ranks of what became the Provisional IRA.

As we approach 2016, we must hope that, in organising the official commemorations, the current Eire government will learn the lessons of the past and will not repeat the mistakes of 1966.

In the case of the Sinn Fein commemorations, it would be foolish to entertain such hopes. They have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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