Why did RTÉ Prime Time host an imbalanced debate on The 1916 Rising?

Peter Kearney

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There should be debate around 1916. And that debate should focus on how the ideals it set out can be best achieved and whether we still desire a united Ireland. It should not focus on, as RTE framed it, “Was The Rising Justified?”. It was justified. Its objective was independence and independence was achieved. Where’s the debate?

Was the Rising Justified
Miriam O’ Callaghan, Co-host of “Was the Rising Justified” RTE Prime Time (Photo Credit: RTE Player)

Some alternative debate titles should be; 

  • “Do you support the Irish state?”

And

  • “Why are those who opposed the Irish state being included in the commemorations and others excluded?”

Or most importantly

  • “Did Britain create the conditions for an armed rising?”

These would be both honest and appropriate.

“Was The Rising Justified?” is a clandestine and unhelpful title and a deliberate mis-framing of The 1916 Rising. So too is the remembrance of the British who died at that time. There is a day for that already; so why the need to also colonise our days of celebration and commemoration?

If you question the justification of The 1916 Rising, you question the existence of the Irish state. The 26 County Irish state would not exist without it. Debating The 1916 Rising justification is valid for the monarchists and collaborators who oppose the Irish state. Debating the validity and existence of the Irish state is relevant when we are debating the validity and existence of statehood all around the world. But we are not. So the debate is not valid.

So-called ‘Dissident Republicans’ and Southern Unionists oppose the Irish state. It’s an unholy alliance. However, as ‘Dissident Republicans’ believe The 1916 Rising was justified but remains unfinished, they have no appetite for debating its justification as they already believe it.  Southern Unionists, however, believe in the outdated and imperialist British Commonwealth, the UK and the old days of the empire. We know these positions so, again, there is no debate.

Paradoxically the position of Southern Unionists supports that of ‘Dissident Republicanism’. Well, claiming it wasn’t justified as, full independence was not achieved (according to Kevin Myers), is exactly the position of ‘Dissident Republicans’ is it not?

Des Dalton – President of ‘Dissident’ group Republican Sinn Féin (Photo Credit: Irish Republican News)
Des Dalton – President of ‘Dissident’ group Republican Sinn Féin (Photo Credit: Irish Republican News)

So why did RTE’s Prime Time arrange this debate and host it at the site of The Rising, The GPO? Why did they invite known Southern Unionists; Kevin Myers, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Patsy Mc Garry to represent the tiny and almost negligible minority that is a Southern Unionist? Was there nobody else available?

Kevin Myers is well known for his pro British Empire opinions and he is also known for expressing opinions that are anti Islamic . Ruth Dudley Edwards pens regular anti-Irish articles. Patsy Mc Garry was a surprise as I had no real knowledge of his political opinions except that he is the Religious Affairs Correspondent with the Irish Times.

My initial reaction was that they were scrapping the bottom of the barrel and formulating an utterly pointless ‘debate’ to fill a timeslot. Aware of its pointlessness, the RTE ‘Chairperson’ David Mc Cullough, in his usual condescending, smug and misinformed manner, attempted to weigh in behind the imperialists (quite possibly influenced by his south Dublin Church of Ireland education) in taking a much heavier tone with the pro-1916 Rising side of Eamon O’ Cuiv, Michael Mc Dowell and Professor Emeritus from UCD, Ronan Fanning.

Most notable about the pro-1916 Rising side in this ‘debate’ is that, they all know what they are talking about! Shocking eh?! They are all either elected representatives, former Government Ministers, well read educated people or direct descendants of 1916 Rising participants. The Southern Unionist side is tragically, for the TV license payer and those fond of democratic debate, a sorry collection of self-important ignorami and, like the Empire they support, unelected by anybody.

As this ‘debate’ progressed, the Southern Unionist side demonstrated that they were out of their depth. Edwards showed that she is more at home putting finger to keyboard, where her opinions cannot be immediately challenged. Mc Garry engaged in constant interruptions and sensationalism while both Myers and Edwards had to eventually admit, the well-known fact, that the British Empire achieved what it achieved through criminality and violence.

None of this is news and it serves only to further discredit an underhand ‘debate’. So why did it go ahead? Was it some attempt at balance? If so, why weren’t ‘Dissident Republicans’ invited? Is it because a tiny minority of them supports the use of violence? Surely not, as Myers, Edwards and Mc Garry, who support the British Empire, admitted that their empire achieved what they achieved through violent means.

The inclusion of Southern Unionists demonstrates imbalance and a return to the dark days of RTÉ willfully imposing the Section 31 broadcasting ban until its repeal in 1994 by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins.

In fact balance does not exist. What exists is a framing of the narrative so you can only speak about The 1916 Rising under the terms already laid out for you. You have no real choice. As Chomsky said “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Professor Noam Chomsky (Photo Credit: The New Yorker)
Professor Noam Chomsky (Photo Credit: Citelighter)

Attempts to speak about 1916 as a movement towards a United Ireland is to be thwarted by these fringe, unrepresentative and unknowledgeable populist folk. Indeed, I was unaware that they had even formally organised until this debate. Of course some will retort that this is in fact the purpose of debate – to inform you of what you did not previously know. But likewise I did not know, until now that is, that the Flat Earth Society and Esperanto Ireland, who celebrated their centenary last August, are also organised. Why weren’t they asked? There is after all, potentially 8 million people worldwide who speak Esperanto and they have an Irish membership.

The Flat Earth Society (Phot Credit: Flat Earth Today)
The Flat Earth Society (Phot Credit: Flat Earth Today)

 

 

Esperanto International (Photo Credit: Heroes Community)
Esperanto International (Photo Credit: Heroes Community)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Unionist and anti-Republican opinion are not new in Ireland. Indeed the journalistic career of President Mc Aleese in RTÉ bears testimony to this. However, all is not lost and there are a number of well-respected figures in Ireland writing and speaking favourably of The 1916 Rising and its achievements, and the unfortunate need for violence and an armed insurrection. Below is a recent sample from Ireland, north and south as well as from the UK.

Brian Feeney – The Irish News

Dan O’ Brien – The Irish Independent

Inclusive of religion also

Britain Should feel Shame about The 1916 Rising

So let me sum up by outlining why I feel The 1916 Rising was, not only justified, but an absolute necessity;

  • The 1916 Proclamation supported Irish Independence – those who opposed it supported an empire and the slaughter of millions.
  • Home Rule, even if it were honoured, was not an alternative. It proposed the creation of an Irish assembly, subordinate to London, and circumscribed powers to protect Protestants.
  • “The Rising was undemocratic”…say monarchists…
  • “Ireland would be better off under the British today” NONSENSE. Ireland today, is effectively under German and US control through finance, legislation and industry. Irish society does not resemble that of the USA or Germany, in any meaningful way. AND, only the south-east of the UK is what you might call prosperous.
  • “India achieved independence without violence” – HOGWASHMillions were still slaughtered by the British or allowed die , as they were during the Bengal famine. Even with independence, India remains in the British Commonwealth, Ireland does not.
  • People in Dublin lived in squalor, Catholics could not practice their faith during penal times, northern Catholics were Gerrymandered and beaten out of democracy, which was the ultimate trigger to the conflict in the north of Ireland – NOTHING AT ALL to do with the 50 year celebrations in 1966.
  • “It legitimizes the Provisional and Dissident IRA”. The Provisional and Dissident IRA never fought in open combat – although the fact that everybody accepts the Provisional IRA leadership in Government in the north of Ireland, and as a legitimate political force in the south should be ignored…MORE NONSENSE
  • It was indeed the British, through their Auxiliaries and Black and Tan criminal gangs, that used terror tactics in Ireland not to mention the war crimes carried out in the rest of their empire.
  • Those negating The Rising quote the conditions of a “just war” as laid down by Thomas Aquinas. The fact that this theologian lived and preached during the mid 13th century wouldn’t concern anybody?
  • And quite simply…remaining with an Empire, that;
    • Murdered millions worldwide and stole their resources
    • Allowed millions of Irish people to starve to death or emigrate during the famine of the 1840s
    • Forbade Catholics from practicing their faith and from voting
    • Allowed British loyalist militia murder and butcher
    • Support dictators, such as General Pinochet among others…would never be an option.

 

 

 

 

/ 10 Articles

Peter Kearney

Freelance Journalist