By Tom Stokes
Charles Gavan Duffy, editor of The Nation newspaper which he established in 1840 with Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon, explained why they chose that particular name for the paper, saying “We desired to make Ireland a nation and the name would be a fitting prelude to the attempt.”.
The same thinking guides the campaign to establish April 24th as the new national day in Ireland, and naming it Republic Day is because we desire to remake Ireland as the true republic of the Proclamation, and applying that name to the national day will be an important aid in achieving that bigger objective.
While we may claim to be free citizens of an independent state, it is not the one conceived by both the Revolution of 1916 and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The anniversary of these events on April 24th has always been ignored by the Irish State which has abjectly failed to complete the task of building the progressive, modern republic that was promised in the Proclamation.
The evidence of this failure lies all around us – one of the most unequal societies in Europe, a shambles of a health system, a social-class based three-tier education system largely handed over to the control of religious organisations, State oppression of women over many decades, the systematic cover up by Church and State of rampant abuse of children, business and political corruption and collusion resulting in massive costs to ordinary citizens, the handing over of national assets to private multi-national corporations, divisions deliberately fostered between public and private workers, urban and rural people and between social classes. More troubling is the recent abject surrender of Ireland’s sovereignty to the European Union/European Central Bank/International Monetary Fund Troika. Even worse is the attempt by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil to dragoon Irish citizens into acquiescing in another disastrous Act of Union to replace the one substantially dismantled by patriotic Irish men and women between 1916 and 1921, this time with an Act of Union with a European Union that has recently taken on the appearance of being the Fourth Reich.
The newly elected President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, has placed creating a ‘real’ republic at the top of his agenda, while acknowledging that what we have now is not a proper republic. There was never any impediment from the beginning to the creation of that ‘real’ republic, other than the selfish interests of those who never believed in it anyway, were determined that their political class would govern even at the point of a British gun, and who created a counter-revolution in 1922 to crush the ideals contained in the Proclamation. Their political descendants have been, and are, every bit as self-serving, and have never shown the slightest interest in creating a progressive, enlightened republic.
While the Irish State studiously ignored the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution it promoted as our national day what was once St Patrick’s Day, a Christian religious feast-day, but has by now evolved into ‘Paddy’s Day’, a ‘fun’ day which is also a binge-drinking day. The image we send into the world, and to ourselves, fits with the negative stereotyping of the Irish as feckless drinkers who just like to party, hardly an image to sustain a proper national day, or a healthy nation for that matter.
The reasoning behind designating the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as Republic Day is that it would serve as a day of remembrance, understanding and celebration of that momentous event, and of the selfless heroism and integrity of the women and men involved in that strike for freedom. It is also so as to have at least one day in the year when the citizens might reflect on the sort of republic they live in, and how it might be improved, and on their role as autonomous citizens in shaping that republic. It is strange how, in a country with our particular history, these topics are rarely discussed by citizens in the way that they are in other countries with advanced democracies. While we have ‘Paddy’s Day’, the French have Bastille Day, the British have Armistice Day, the US has Independence Day, and India, inspired in its quest for independence by our 1916 Revolution and War of Independence, celebrates its Republic Day as the most important date in its calendar.
We cannot rely on the State to acknowledge the significance of that date, April 24th, and to make it our national day. On the contrary, the evidence is that the State, and the parties of permanent power, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, will resist any calls to support this proposal. Therefore it must fall to the citizens, acting outside the institutional framework of the State, to apply pressure by acting in common cause and by pressing home the legitimate arguments in favour of establishing Republic Day as Ireland’s national day. In the meantime, acting in the spirit of the founders of The Nation we can make Republic Day a reality by making it our reality. If we say it is, then it is. We just need to spread that belief to the citizens in general.
This campaign, organised as a Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day, is independent of all political parties, whose members are welcome to take part in or lend their support to the campaign as citizens. It is an inclusive campaign, and its banners will be the the Tricolour, the flag of the Irish Republic, and the Starry Plough – the three flags flown during the Revolution.
To mark this year’s Republic Day in Dublin, citizens are invited to join in the campaign by attending a ceremony at the graves of the executed 1916 leaders at Arbour Hill Cemetery (at the rear of Collin’s Barracks Museum) at 10.30am, from where participants will proceed to the GPO for 12 Noon where a commemorative ceremony will be held. Please attend if possible, and please spread the word on behalf of the campaign.
Interested citizens in other parts of the country are invited to create their own commemorations locally using monuments or other sites associated with the Revolution.
By working together to establish Republic Day as our national day we will help to bring the progressive, enlightened Irish Republic to life again.
“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. 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, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
(Paragraph four of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, April 24th 1916)