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The Irish Times, Saturday, 6th April 1996
The Message of Easter

Saturday, April 6th 1996



The message of Easter is resurrection, renewal and hope. And, as spring returns, it is a moment of creation, new life and the expectation of peace. One of the most savage ironies of our history is that Easter, the great shared festival of Christianity, and thus a day that all should be able to celebrate together, has been allowed to become a symbol of division by being politicised. Whether accidentally or by design, the links forged with it by the planners of the Rising in 1916 have helped to consecrate their political attitudes and give them more than a tinge of religious certainty and inflexibility.

Pearse’s belief in blood sacrifice was tragically reinforced by the decision to execute the leaders of the Rising...

It was not all their own doing: Pearse’s belief in blood sacrifice was tragically reinforced by the decision to execute the leaders of the Rising. If they had survived, to take part, perhaps, in a process of political dialogue, who can doubt that the history of the last 80 years would have avoided at least, the sterility into which it was plunged by 1916. Pearse alive would have been one voice among many in Irish nationalism. Dead, he became an icon to preserve and emulate.

This is still the case, as the latest IRA declaration has shown. The mandate it claims is meaningless except in terms of the events of 80 years ago, including the 1918 election, and therefore the link that supporters of the IRA make between their own violence and the Rising – "if you condemn one, you condemn the other" – is vital to their sense of political justification. It is a false comparison, however. Every generation has to work with what it has received: it is responsible for its present and future, but not its past. It need not condemn, and it need not follow.

It is not a good starting point for dialogue...

There are some signs of hope in the IRA’s statement, as Mr John Hume has pointed out. Its acknowledgement that "there remains only one place for all the representatives of the Irish people to go, and that is to the negotiating table," is clear and unambiguous enough. If this is more than simple rhetoric, however, there needs to be less inflexibility in analysing the issues that will be the subject of negotiation. "It is self evident", the statement says, "that the British denial of democracy is at the core of the problem." This is tantamount to saying that the section of the population of this island who disagree most with the IRA and Sinn Fein has no views worth talking about. It is not a good starting point for dialogue. Nor is the refusal to accept that demanding an end to violence is not a pre-condition but a pragmatic requirement if the talks the IRA say they are committed to are to have any chance of success.

Dr Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh, noted in his Easter message that basic Christianity was more important that sectional interests. Even in the face of growing secularism, this remains true. As people become more detached from their churches, and less sectarian, however ethical similarities become more obvious, strengthening the demand for peace and isolating the advocates of violence. This may even have influenced the debate in the IRA and Sinn Fein about political as opposed to military strategies. The lack of any attempt in the IRA’s declaration to make a logical connection between support for negotiation and the refusal to reinstate the ceasefire suggests the depth and implacability of the arguments.

The Irish Times,
Saturday April 6, 1996
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