Earlier this week, two army officials came to my school to present us with a copy of the Proclamation of Independence and an Irish Flag, which we will have to raise on March 15th 2016. This is all part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the 1916 Rising. However, should we be celebrating the 1916 Rising? Are we fulfilling the vision of the Proclamation and should we be celebrating war?
It’s difficult to know whether one should ever celebrate a war, especially in light of all the atrocities that have happened in Ireland and abroad in the name of war since 1916. While the result of the Rising was ultimately the independence of this country, should it have involved bloodshed or is there an argument that Ireland would have achieved independence anyway, without it? These are not questions where I have an answer but I think they are worth considering. Some part of me thinks we should not be celebrating a war, rather we should be focusing on peace education and what can be achieved via peaceful resolutions. The issue of Northern Ireland is probably relevant here in that bloodshed has not solved anything but peace talks, albeit a bit in the air right now, have worked much better.
I guess my main beef is with the Proclamation itself. In every school in Ireland, during the ceremony, a child or group of children have to read the following paragraph:
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of 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 in the past.
This paragraph, of all the paragraphs, really annoys me. It doesn’t annoy me because I don’t agree with what it says; quite the opposite. I believe Ireland should guarantee equality to all of its citizens and cherish all of its children equally, but it doesn’t. The Republic of Ireland does not guarantee religious and civil liberty, equal rights or equal opportunities in most of its primary schools. Any child that is not a member of the faith of the school’s patron body cannot be guaranteed religious liberty and therefore is not cherished equally. The Proclamation does not state that the children will be treated well or respected or tolerated (yes, I’ve seen this word used); it is supposed to guarantee religious liberty. One could argue that no school in Ireland can truly achieve this when Rule 68 of National Schools states: “Of all the parts of a school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important,” which obviously flies in the face of the Proclamation.
I guess one could argue that the Proclamation did assume that everyone had a religion as the following is said: We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God… One could say that the Proclamation excludes those who do not have a religion or a belief in a god and therefore my previous point is bunk.
Having said this, Ireland is a secular country and at least 10% of its citizens profess as having no religion in the census, a figure that is growing. 100 years since 1916, is the Proclamation relevant at all anymore? Children have been invited to write a new Proclamation and I think this is a very good idea. Should this new Proclamation include references to war, bloodshed or religion and what kind of message do we want to give to this generation and to generations to come? I’m looking forward to seeing that Irish primary school children come up with in the months ahead.