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Opinion: The 1916 centenary is coming... but are we honouring the ideal of equality for all?

Is becoming ‘The Best Small Country In The World In Which To Do Business By 2016′ really the best ambition Ireland can have for the centenary year of the Rising?

Donal O'Keeffe

IN 2004, CHARLES Haughey was asked by Frank McDonald of the Irish Times for his opinion of the then-current Fianna Fáil-led government. Haughey’s verdict was withering. “The worst government in the history of the State – the worst”. Bertie Ahern’s government, he said, “can’t seem to get anything right” and, worse again, “they have no real vision of the future of Ireland”.

In fairness to Bertie, we don’t really seem to do the Vision Thing in Ireland. Dev might have looked into his heart and seen frugal comfort, athletic youths and happy maidens – but he made sure to clear it first with Archbishop McQuaid.

And Bertie was all about frugal comfort too. Not a man for material wealth, or indeed bank accounts, all The Bert needed was a few pints in Fagan’s, the odd trip to Old Trafford, maybe an auld dig-out or the occasional flutter on the horses, where he would win tens of thousands of untraceable pounds – possibly in sterling.

I’m not sure about Brian Cowen’s vision, but I’ll bet it became increasingly congested when he slowly realised that his government was actually, genuinely, cursed.

Garret Fitzgerald always seemed an honestly nice man when I was a kid but if Garret had any overarching vision for Ireland, I suspect it got a bit befuddled as he asked questions like “It sounds great in practice, but how will it work in theory?” And talking of Fine Gael Íar-Taoisigh, I’m almost certainly wrong, but to me John Bruton’s vision seems to have been that one day he’d be on a daily pension of €365 and would presumably be able to save up enough money to buy a time machine and go back and prevent the 1916 Rising.

And, of course, it should be acknowledged that Charles Haughey’s own primary vision for Ireland involved him living like a king and Divil take anyone who asked where he got the money. Those of us old enough will recall not just the time Charlie won the Tour de France but also the time he came back with the “Mitterrand Roll”, walking in such tiny, regal steps as to appear drawn along on an invisible cart.

This government’s vision

Our current Taoiseach, too, has a vision. He’s been going on about it since (I think) the start of The Emergency. Right now, Enda has 13 months to complete his dream of making Ireland The Best Small Country In The World In Which To Do Business By 2016. A sort of greasy tills cover version of Seán Lemass and TK Whittaker dragging Ireland into a 20th Century then already six decades old.

Last week, Cork Simon reported a 358% increase in rough sleeping in the last two years and a Cork food bank reported that it has delivered 80,000 meals in the past four months. Two years ago, Cork Penny Dinners served about 100 meals a week. Now it’s over 1,500.

This is Ireland today, where a homeless man can die, alone in the cold, right across the street from Leinster House. Was it for this, indeed.

A year from the centenary of 1916, it seems some are ambivalent about the Rising, not least the current government, which recently managed to release a godawful commemorative 1916 video that actually only mentioned Proclamation and Rising as a literal afterthought. The claim by the Provisional IRA and all of its splinters that they are the legitimate heirs of the men and women of 1916 has always upset those of us whose family members fought for independence, but Ireland was born in violence and has long struggled, through the Civil War, through partition and through the Troubles, to be free of that violence. Maybe that is why some of us are ambivalent.

Be that as it may, it’s worth looking again at the principles, the ideals, the vision of 1916.

Equal rights and opportunities for all

Ireland’s Proclamation of Independence is a remarkable document. It declares “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland”, it commits to universal suffrage and guarantees “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens” (this is the first mention of gender equality as Irish women under British law were not allowed to vote). Most famously, the Proclamation promises to cherish “all the children of the nation equally”.

Right now, we have nearly 2,000 children warehoused in our indefensible and inhuman Direct Provision system. These are children who were, many of them, born in Ireland but who are not legally Irish, children of the nation whom we do not cherish but rather deny and whose whole lives are in limbo.

Traveller children born in Ireland today have a mortality rate four times that of the rest of the population. It’s worth repeating that, statistically, they would not be much worse-off in a 1940s mother and baby home.

Every year in Ireland over 3,000 children report that they have suffered sexual abuse. Large numbers of these children never access therapeutic services. This is a betrayal that no republic can stand over.

With 800 children homeless in Dublin tonight and with many, many more children going to bed hungry every night in Ireland, is The Best Small Country In The World In Which To Do Business By 2016 really the best ambition Ireland can have for the centenary year of the Rising?

In a country so desperately in need of hope and in such dire need of a vision for the future of Ireland, is it not almost a hundred years past time that we reclaimed our Proclamation of Independence as a blueprint for the Ireland we want to be?

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. He tweets as @Donal_OKeeffe.

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