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Queen on steps of Dublin GPO just too revolutionary a move for 2016

Published 29/07/2015

The Queen lays a wreath at Dublin Memorial Garden in 2011
The Queen lays a wreath at Dublin Memorial Garden in 2011
The 1966 march in Dublin for the Easter Rising’s 50th anniversary
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visit Mullaghmore in May, where his great uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed in an IRA bomb attack in 1979

The State visit by the monarch to the Irish Republic in 2011 and the Prince of Wales' in May were widely seen as paving the way for a royal invitation to the centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising. Now that invite won't be coming. So what went wrong? Malachi O'Doherty reports.

One could see the difficulty. The Queen attending the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising would have exposed too many contradictions. It would have been a bit like inviting the Pope to the Presbyterian General Assembly.

Not that that wouldn't be a great symbol of reconciliation much to be hoped for. But Presbyterians see themselves as having escaped from the domination of Rome, just as republicans see themselves as having escaped from the tyranny of the British Empire.

Cosy up to the old enemy and some of your people might think you are being heroically magnanimous, but others will say you are losing sight of core principles.

And when you're commemorating the Rising, everyone is a republican. Many of those who gather in O'Connell Street next year to mark the anniversary will not be supporters of Sinn Fein or the IRA, but those who vote for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and others trace their political lineage back to the day when Patrick Pearse stood on the GPO steps and proclaimed grandiosely that in the name of God and of the "dead generations" he was summoning the people to the flag to fight for their freedom.

You can't be even that kind of soft republican, perhaps even content that the vision of Pearse has been adequately fulfilled, and not think also that the very idea of someone being acknowledged as a legitimate monarch, even of another country, is heresy.

The republican ideal is that all people are equal. The Queen clearly does not regard others as her equal. What do you do, then, when you organise a great republican celebration and someone turns up in finery, surrounded by flunkies, someone who expects to be bowed to and whose attendant media routinely call "her Majesty"?

Any kind of royal at such a celebration, even an Arabian one or a Zulu chieftain, would be an embarrassment, would embody a contradiction of the core idea being endorsed by the ceremony.

And when the monarch in question is the Queen of Britain and the remaining colonies - now called British Overseas Territories - and represents the old enemy from whom the republican ideal was wrested by force of arms, then it is more complicated still.

Yet, this is what we all thought we were moving towards. Mary McAleese, as President of the Republic, had welcomed the Queen to her residence in Aras an Uachtarain and the Queen had visited the memorial to the republican dead of the Rising and had bowed her head and paid her respects to them as Irish patriots. Aside from that, there wasn't much else she actually could have done.

Okay, if she was a real Queen she could have given back the six counties of Northern Ireland, but she's not that kind of monarch. Take the word at its literal meaning - "one who governs alone" - and she's not a monarch at all.

Britain is governed by an elected parliament, much as the Irish Republic is, and the "monarch" is acknowledged to have powers on the understanding that she doesn't use them.

So, she was hardly going to turn up in Dublin and let the side down by restating her claim to the territory. You can see why the first Elizabeth might have presented problems, but not this one.

Then, she returned the hospitality by inviting President Higgins and treating him - well - royally. And Charles came and Gerry Adams (right) even asked to be allowed to shake his hand, perhaps realising that he had jumped the wrong way in response to the earlier visit of his mother.

Charles, like the Queen, has an important role to play. His job is to smooth out old diplomatic problems by shaking hands with people the Government would like him to shake hands with.

The mandarins had put their heads together, though, about whether good or ill would come of him meeting the man with the beard. Adams, in the estimation of their own intelligence services, was a commander of the IRA, but they concluded that a handshake would be all for the best.

They also sent him along to St Patrick's in Donegall Street, a church around which Orange protests were bristling, to let the Ulster Protestants see that your average Belfast Catholic is almost as giddily deferential to a Windsor as any Shankill Road housewife. It was a brilliant stroke.

Then it seemed obvious that the next item on the agenda was the visit of the Queen or Charles to Dublin for the centenary of the Easter Rising. Yet, now the news is that the invitation is not to be extended and we are left speculating on what has gone wrong.

Is a diplomatic incident in the offing? If it was as simple as someone not getting an invitation they had been expecting, this would be difficult, but no doubt those mandarins on both sides have concluded together that the Queen commemorating the Rising won't work.

Buckingham Palace is unlikely to record this as a slight. It has, after all, done its bit to demonstrate that it has no hard feelings against the Provisional IRA - let alone Pearse and James Connolly. It is amazing how these people move on; we don't do that here. The only side that is likely to feel some embarrassment at the change of plan is the party that is actually making that change - the Irish Government. International diplomacy being what it is, no one is going to rub that in.

The administration in Dublin had been under pressure from descendants of some of those who had participated in the Rising not to invite the Queen or the heir apparent. So, there was a danger there would have been protest around the visit, or that stern security measures would have had to be used to curtail protest from the less compromising sections of Irish republicanism - people who might be said to be closer in their thinking to that of the original revolutionaries.

There is also a danger that an invitation issued now might have been withdrawn by another Government in Dublin, for an election is looming and while Enda Kenny (far left) might be in a position to issue invitations now, he might not be the Taoiseach to welcome the guests next year. That might even be Gerry Adams. This isn't highly likely, but it is not impossible and today's caution about inviting the Queen next year might act as insurance against the prospect of Adams spurning her, or patronising her when his day had come.

But it isn't like Prime Ministers anywhere to imagine a world without them, or to act like they one day might not be around. It's all very strange. Perhaps it just never really was a good idea and that reality has finally sunk in.

Dublin can now have an unabashed Risingfest and then go quietly back to being soft, unoffensive democratic republicans having annoyed as few people as possible.

Malachi O'Doherty's biography of Gerry Adams will be published next year by Faber & Faber

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