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The government, Sinn Féin and the battle for 2016 ... It starts today

Sinn Féin are insisting their massive O’Donovan Rossa event today is not a ‘rival’ to the official one. But it sure looks like they’re competing.

Updated: 11.10am

YOU MAY HAVE been under the impression that you wouldn’t have to worry about 2016 commemorations until around Easter, in 2016.

Not so.

The centenary celebrations officially start this morning with the State commemoration of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral at Glasnevin cemetary.

Padraig Pearse’s graveside oration for the prominent IRB member (“the fools, the fools – they have left us our Fenian dead”) is one of the most notable speeches of the independence movement.

Today, it will be reenacted in not one, but two events: an official State ceremony starts at 10.30am, to be followed later this afternoon by a Sinn Féin-organised one.

Source: Saoirse Éireann/YouTube

Rival events 

Sinn Féin insist they’re not in competition with the government for ‘ownership’ of 2016. The standard line from the party is that they’re organising parallel events – and that the party is merely adding to the range of commemorations and exhibitions on offer over the next year or so.

There’s no question, however, that the coalition’s near-disastrous launch of the ‘Ireland 2016’ programme at the GPO last November left something of an open goal for Gerry Adams’ party.

You’ll remember the controversies: first there was a row with a 1916 relatives group; later, it emerged some of the language on the official government site for 2016 had been derived via Google Translate; and of course there was the small matter of the official video that featured cameos from the likes of David Cameron, but made no mention of the signatories of the Proclamation.

The fact that the press launch was taking place at the height of the public uproar over Irish Water did the government no favours either.

enda Source: TheJournal.ie

‘Revolution 2016’

Sinn Féin took until February to respond with their own programme for the centenary year.

The launch, just around the corner from the GPO at Wynn’s Hotel, veered into slightly surreal territory at times (see below) – but the scale of planned events was, to say the least, ambitious.

A 33-week-long ‘Revolution 2016’ exhibition will kick off at the Ambassador Theatre, at the top of O’Connell Street, in February.

Elsewhere, images will be projected onto the GPO as part of a 3D ‘visual arts project’ that will run nightly over 24 to 29 April (the actual dates of the Rising).

There’ll also be a series of parades on Easter Sunday in March, with the main events in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Galway.

The others

Other parties, of course, are holding their own events – but so far we haven’t seen anything quite as audacious as, for instance, SF’s plan to book out a major city centre theatre for months on end.

Speaking at the launch of Fianna Fáil’s programme for the centenary back in March, leader Michéal Martin hit out at the government’s “inadequate” plans – but also set his sights on the Provisional IRA for ‘hijacking’ the Rising and its legacy.

A 1916 concert is the tent-pole Fianna Fáil event to mark the Rising year (their full list of commemorations can be viewed here). They also had their own event to remember O’Donovan Rossa, attended by around 500 people, at the end of June. 

Labour’s programme for the centenary year includes a travelling exhibition – and when contacted for comment, a spokesperson highlighted a bursary for young people in the name of Councillor Richard O’Carroll (the only elected representative to be killed during the Rising).

Fine Gael, responding to a request, said they would also be commemorating 2016. “The plans are being worked on and will become clear in due course,” a spokesperson said.

scgb-3-630x276 Source: Screengrab of the Sinn Féin events programme

Back-and-forth

The government unveiled the full programme of 2016 events in March of this year (the controversial website was given an overhaul too).

New announcements included a major exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland, the delivery of a national flag to every school in the country, and confirmation of the decision to buy the National Monument site at Moore Street (the site of the decision to surrender in 1916).

Sinn Féin (as you might expect) claimed the announcement of their own 2016 events spurred the government into action.

However, the coalition had long been insisting that we should expect further events – and that the programme for the centenary year was far from complete.

moore Plans were announced to buy the historic Moore Street 1916 site, as part of the government launch in March.

It starts here

What’s unusual about today’s rival O’Donovan Rossa events is that they’re happening one after another.

On what’s likely to a busy day for Glasnevin staff, the official State ceremony kicked off at around 10.40am. The President, Taoiseach, ministers and opposition politicians (including the Sinn Féin Dublin Lord Mayor) are all scheduled to attend.

There will also be a re-enactment of Pearse’s iconic graveside oration.

Source: Eire 2016// Ireland 2016/YouTube

Hearses and big-screens

As the great-and-good disperse from the official event, the Sinn Féin production will be swinging into gear in the city centre.

Billed as a ‘full-scale’ re-enactment, there will be around 500 participants in the day’s events, which begin with a ‘lying in State’ at City Hall.

A horse-drawn hearse will remove the casket at 1.30pm, and will be lead out of the city by a marching band, arriving in Glasnevin by 3.

“The public are encouraged to come out to watch the parade pass on the streets as in 1915 and to wear period dress,” Sinn Féín says in its promotional material.

A big-screen will be erected in a park across the road from the cemetery to cater for the crowds expected, the party’s 1916 coordinator Bartle D’Arcy told TheJournal.ie. 

In addition to the Pearse graveside oration (performed by a different actor), Pete St John will also debut a new song for the occasion – to be sung live by Red Hurley.

9/7/2015 O Donovan Rossa Celebrations Gerry Adams and members of the Cabra Historical Society outside Wynnes Hotel. Source: Leah Farrell

‘Inclusive, appropriate and respectful’

Speaking to Keelin Shanley on Radio 1 yesterday, arts and heritage minister Heather Humphreys – who’s heading up the 2016 programme – was clearly keen to avoid any controversy.

Asked about the difficult balancing act that had to be struck today, considering, for instance, that O’Donovan Rossa described himself as a “progenitor of terrorism”, she highlighted the importance of his funeral as a catalyst for the Rising.

It was important, she said, throughout the centenary events “to commemorate and to reflect what happened because at the end of the day people lost their lives”.

Answering TDs’ questions on 2016, the minister regularly stresses that the commemorations “will be inclusive, appropriate and respectful”.

Different versions

Starting from today, you can expect to see the pattern repeated over and over well into next year…

We’ll have official State events, with every detail pored over to make sure the right balance is struck and no-one’s too offended.

And we’ll have mirror Sinn Féin parades and ceremonies, with a significantly more militant emphasis.

The two videos below sum up the contrast pretty well…

Source: Eire 2016// Ireland 2016/YouTube

Source: Sinn Féin/YouTube

Read: The Rising: Sinn Féin is booking out the Ambassador Theatre for most of 2016

Read: Micheál Martin: The IRA hijacked the Easter Rising, it’s time to take it back

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