On The Edge
IN this decade of centenaries doesn’t it behove each and every one of us to reflect on the idealistic aspirations of our founding fathers and mothers? Isn’t it timely to critically appraise where we are now as a people? Do we not owe it to our children – and, indeed, the next generation not yet born – to scrutinise our successes and failures as a society, with equal measure.
As we look back on the First Dáil – held in the Mansion House on January 21, 1919 – one cannot but be moved by the relative innocence of the ideals.
Espousing the principles of ‘Liberty, Equality and Justice’ – the catchcry of the French Revolution – this first parliament’s Democratic Programme stated: “It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.”
This inaugural programme, written with so much hope, also referred to the care of the nation’s ‘aged and infirm’, who, it stated, ‘shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration’.
The programme went on to address the harnessing of our natural resources, from our bogs to our mineral deposits and fisheries. There was a poignant reference too to the duty of the republic ‘to prevent the shipment from Ireland of food and other necessities until the wants of the Irish people are fully satisfied and the future provided for’.
This was an unsurprising aspiration, as the dark shadow of the Great Famine of the 1840s – and, indeed, the repeated failure of the potato throughout the 19th century – still overshadowed the country, culturally, socially and economically.
Moreover, the continued ownership of vast tracts of lands and stately houses by the Anglo-Irish ascendancy was still a reality, a symbol of medieval colonialism that was about to be addressed violently during the War of Independence.
The compromises made by Michael Collins and the other Irish plenipotentiaries in order to deliver the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 would culminate in the Civil War in 1922. And we are all well aware that one key compromise, the creation of the six-county border, is central to the Brexit drama a century later.
SINN Féin may have had a landslide victory, mortally wounding the Irish Parliamentary Party, but only 27 of its 73 members of parliament (Teachtaí Dála) were able to attend that first meeting, as the majority of the remainder languished in British jails in the aftermath of the Easter Rising 1916. And while the formalities of this day started at 3.30pm on January 21, 1919 in a grand house on Dublin’s Dawson Street, word was probably filtering along the bush telegraph of the ambush by Irish Volunteers of a consignment of gelignite that had been stored at Tipperary Military Barracks and was en route to Soloheadbeg Quarry. Two RIC men – one of them from Erris in Co Mayo – were murdered by the volunteers.
Isn’t it wonderful that a century later we live in a peaceful country, where the bullet and the bomb have been largely consigned to history? Aren’t we lucky that we live in a relatively rich country too? One that, as former Taoiseach Enda Kenny once said, punches above its weight on the world stage?
But have we achieved this by espousing the ideals of our forefathers? What would the almost 10,000 homeless people across the country say about that? What would many of our older people, who are consigned to rural isolation or hospital trolleys, say about the successes of Ireland Inc?