by John O’Mahony
This “historic” picture of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, cat-that-got-the-cream grin fixed in place, schmoozing with the members of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, tells us what Sinn Fein is now and where its leaders are intent on going.
It is a symbolic picture, too. The Irish bourgeoisie was very hostile to the Easter Rising of April 1916. Not only did their leading newspaper, the Irish Independent, urge the British to shoot the wounded Marxist socialist trade union leader, James Connolly, for his part in the Rising (too weak from his wounds to stand up, he was strapped to a chair and then shot). The Dublin Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution immediately after the Rising in which they expressed their “outrage” against the insurgents and described the Rising as “Larkinism run amok”.
“Larkinism”, after the union leader Jim Larkin, was their name for working-class militancy. To them the Rising was an outgrowth of the trade-union militancy which had gripped the Dublin working class from about 1910, leading the Dublin workers, in James Connolly’s expression, to “grip the fierce beast of capital by the throat”.
The Chamber of Commerce had not forgotten, or forgiven. Connolly, the military leader of the Rising, had been Larkin’s lieutenant in those battles between labour and capital in Dublin. He led a couple of hundred members of the Citizen Army, the trade union militia organised in 1913 to stop police batoning striking workers, into the Rising (they were about one-sixth of the total number of insurgents).
The Irish Independent was owned by William Martin Murphy, the chief leader of the bosses in the 1913-14 “Labour War”. When the Independent urged the British to shoot Connolly, Murphy had more than the recent rising in mind.
Other nationalist Chambers of Commerce throughout the nationalist south followed Dublin’s lead. The Chamber of Commerce in Ennis, County Clare, for example, passed a similar resolution.
For sure the Dublin Chamber of Commerce is now as hostile to what the leaders of the 1916 Rising stood for as the Chamber of 1916 was. Adams still pays lipservice to the 1916 tradition, and even to James Connolly. But it is all now a cynical political game. Sinn Fein is a bourgeois party, plying for hire — like the other ex-physical-force-republican party, Fianna Fail.
The disarming of the IRA and the concentration of its forces into “mainstream” politics, via Sinn Fein, has already led to shifts in the political ecology of the 26 County Irish state. For five decades after the Rising, it was celebrated every year with military marches, brass bands, and (Catholic) religious services. In response to the breakdown of the Northern Six Counties state in 1969, all such official celebrations stopped in 1970.
Now, with an eye to competition for the nationalist vote with Sinn Fein, the Fianna-Fail-led coalition government has announced that official celebrations of the Rising will resume, after a 35 year gap, next Easter. The General Post Office in Dublin, from the steps of which Patrick Pearse on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, on behalf of the insurgents, read the proclamation of the Irish Republic, is to become a museum dedicated to the Rising and related themes.
Adams too, of course, will continue to celebrate the Rising and Pearse and Connolly - in between trying to convince the political, social, and in many cases biological descendants of those who in 1916 urged on the British to butcher the insurgents that they can trust Sinn Fein in government. For sure they can!