Tag Archives: 1916

My Citizens’ Assembly submission for #Repealthe8th

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Why it is essential to the concept of the Irish Republic that we repeal the 8th

 

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising. An Easter Rising in which women fought, and sacrificed their lives to, the ideal of a nation that ‘….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 of the children of the nation equally..’. Where the women of the nation have been concerned, however, the idea of civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities have been denied, and, through an unholy alliance of Church and State, betrayed.

It is essential that we no longer betray our forebears who sacrificed so much on our behalf. The suffragettes who risked life and limb, and who had the added burden of not just being revolutionaries on behalf of their fellow citizens, but on behalf of their fellow female citizens. Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, Dr Kathleen Lynn, Rose McNamara and Elizabeth Farrell, Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell are names all but unknown now – yet the role that these brave women played in altering the course of Irish history needs to be honoured.

There needs to be reparation for the sins of the past, in particular the sins of the State in colluding with the Church to imprison and enslave generations of Irish women in the Magdalen Laundries. There needs to be reparation for the toxicity of a State that held the rights of its male citizens as paramount and sacrificed its women at their altar. There needs to be reparation for the lack of care given to the women who were unjustly denied abortions: Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. The endangered, unnamed migrant woman in 2014 denied an abortion by our courts. All the unnamed women who, for reasons of their own (which should be their citizens’ right to decide) have had to make the lonely trip to England. Oh the irony that their former colonial masters can provide the medical procedure that their own supposed Free State will not. What a bitter pill to swallow, on top of all the other bitter pills women have endured since the beginning of our nation once again. Same oppression, different master. In modern Ireland, the possession of the Y chromosome is paramount.

Towhit: either all of our citizens are free and autonomous, or none are. For anyone who considers themselves an Irish citizen, true to the values of the Proclamation, no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, this is the crucial point to understand. To believe otherwise is to dishonor the very tenets upon which the Irish State was created. To believe otherwise is to betray those brave men and women who sacrificed their very lives on our behalves. To believe otherwise is but to ape the tactics of British rule, by which we were but second-class citizens in our own country. It is time to elevate women to first-class citizenship, whereby they have that most basic of human rights: complete bodily autonomy. Let’s finally do the right thing and be a shining example of transformation in the world. #Repealthe8th

Fail Better

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I have David Cameron to thank for this post. No, really – I have.

This morning I awoke at 4.44am after a dream whereby I was serving David Cameron at a Westminster function. My attitude to him was servile, obsequious; he was, as I imagine him to be, loud, bombastic, patronising. Every fibre of my being in the dream hated having to smile and bow and scrape; but smile and bow and scrape I did, in survival instinct mode. And then I woke up.

My first thoughts, in the early morning hours, was that must have been the feeling that, prior to 1916, many Irish people felt towards their English lords and masters. That unsettled feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen – and in one’s own land. The many slings and arrows of imperialist patronising remarks about the ‘savage Irish’. People who are happy with their lot do not lead rebellions, and the bravery of those men and women who cleaved themselves to the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation is but something which this generation can only imagine. Or is it?

Based in London, I’ve been following with interest the various and varied opinions on the commemorations for 1916. Clearly, there’s a section of society that sees it as something to celebrate unreservedly. And in a way, they are right. There’s another section who sees all the failures: the side-lining of women, the subsequent subservience of the Free State to another imperialist power, the Church and its Holy Empire, the enslavement and abuse of women and children, the gombeen politics – the list could go on. And in a way, they are also right. Here’s where I stand.

I grew up in the Ireland of the late 70s/80s. Being of Russian/Ukrainian/American/Irish and God knows what else parentage, I’ve felt connected to Ireland, though not of her. My presiding memories of those days is darkness and gloom. There always felt there was something not quite humane, not quite ‘Irish’ about the stranglehold the Church had over every aspect of society. People’s absolute, unerring, unwavering belief in the teachings of the Church both fascinated and frightened me simultaneously. In retrospect, and to a certain felt extent at the time, it was clear that Ireland had simply exchanged one imperial master for another – and one that was arguably more far-reaching and cruel. It’s one thing to impose oppressive laws of the realm over people; it’s far more insidious when oppressive laws are imposed on the human spirit.

Probably the biggest betrayal of the ideals of 1916 is the way that women have been treated in Ireland, like another second-class caste altogether. The sidelining of women in the life politic not long after the Civil War. The Magdalen Laundries. The fear that every Irish woman of a certain generation must have lived with of being incarcerated in one of these laundries, from any or all crimes ranging from being too pretty and a ‘temptation’ to unmarried pregnancies. Unequal pay and working rights up to the 1970s. The dominion that the State still holds over women’s bodies via the, quite frankly, archaic laws on abortion.

But maybe the biggest lesson that is most obvious to me is that, over the last 100 years – where the State has failed, it has been a failure of our own making. We can claim, to a certain extent, post-colonial trauma; but ultimately, our failures have been our own. We voted in the corrupt politicians, election after election, which led to an unsustainable Tiger economy and its inevitable crash. There are many in Ireland who gave into the venality of that period, based on the shakiest of foundations, and over-invested in property, like characters out of a John B Keane play. There was fear, the type of fear that a post-colonial economy exudes, the grasping for affirmation that we were as good as the rest of the world and could stand as equals. We learned that we couldn’t compete in that way or at that level.

But the good news that I see for Ireland is that we don’t have to. As someone who emigrated to the UK in the late 1990s, I hated coming back to Celtic Tiger Ireland where it seemed as if all people talked about was the latest property they’d invested in, their flash cars, the latest designer label they’d acquired. What has happened to many people since the crash is terrible, and they must be helped, and issues like poverty and homelessness must be addressed.

However, it seems to me that since the crash that the real riches of Irish society are returning. The creativity that has always been a hallmark. That ability to connect with each other on a more profound level. The ability to express ourselves through words, ideas that have not only shaped us, but the world. The spirit of rebellion in many of the protest groups that have sprung up: the water protests, the #WakingtheFeminists movement, Speaking of Imelda. What better way to celebrate rebellion than to engage with and support protest?

The biggest turning point for me however, and a key indicator of something quite unprecedented happening in Irish society was the ‘Yes Equality’ vote. I came home that weekend for my niece’s communion. I was struck equally by the joyousness and change that came about not only through the LGBT community, but also through the recently departed emigrants who returned en masse, with all they had seen and learned abroad, wanting, by their presence, to be part of a more equal and pluralistic Ireland; and by the greatly reduced numbers at the Mass the next day where the Church we attended was only a fifth full. I remember the packed Masses of Ireland of 30 years ago. This was something quite new, the passing of the old, the embracing of a brave new world with brave new ideals.

So on this very special Easter weekend, my stand on the 1916 commemorations is this: Let’s acknowledge the mistakes of the past, learn from them, and let them go. Let’s use our failures as stepping stones to achieve the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation: to ensure the “guarantee of  religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens…”, and renew our “…resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. These are lofty and noble ambitions. Like most ideals, they are difficult to attain, and, given our history, it’s also entirely possible that we did our best with the behaviours learned at the time, and it’s entirely possible that we can achieve these ideals, if there is but the will. In the words of one of our great scribes, Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”.  Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh go léir.