There have been many fine political speeches made in the course of Irish history. Speeches of the utmost eloquence that flowed magnificently and that moved and inspired listeners. Speeches of great vision that upheld the highest ideals and noblest aspirations. One can, however, rest assured that no speech by the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, will ever grace a list of outstanding Irish oratory. Characterised by incoherent thought and the shallowest of political vision - all presented in tortured language and in a puffed up manner - the only emotive response they are capable of stirring in listeners is an overwhelming urge to cringe.
But what are we to make of the recent trek of the Fine Gael faithful to Beal na mBlath to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of the death of Michael Collins and what are we to make of the speech delivered by Enda Kenny there? It is standard practice of political parties in Ireland, of course, to make annual pilgrimages to commemorate esteemed historical figures in the hope that some of their standing will rub off. The Labour Party assemble at Arbour Hill every year where the bones of James Connolly cry out in agony from deep in the ground, “Please! No more! Do not continue to abuse me this way!” while Fianna Fail still make their way to Bodenstown to denigrate the memory of Wolfe Tone. Should we attribute any more significance to the recent Beal na mBlath gathering than the usual self serving activity of the bourgeois parties?
A great deal of the commentary on Kenny's speech at the commemoration has focused on a substantial historical inaccuracy. Others have accused him of attempting (in another historical inaccuracy ) to revive civil war politics by asserting that Collins had been “assassinated”. But, as embarrassing as it is that the leader of the country and his well paid advisers are incapable of getting simple historical facts correct, is that the main issue with the speech? And when did Fianna Faíl and Fine Gael ever give up civil war politics? Finally, some have commented on the bombastic manner in which Kenny put him himself forward as a great warrior in the Collins tradition who will fight to the end for Irish freedom while he and his party willingly secede every greater amounts of is sovereignty to the EU. But this is treated as more of the usual Brave New World spin of contemporary bourgeois parties. War is peace, Slavery is Freedom.
Personally, I think the Beal na mBlath speech was a significant one and progressive public opinion would do well to prick up its ears. And what is significant was outlined quite clearly when Kenny stated:
“We will shortly begin a decade of national commemorations…….. the Dublin Lock-Out, The Easter Rising, The First World War, the War of Independence, The Treaty, the Civil War and many others, North and South. It is the firm intention of the government that the official commemoration of each and all of these milestones in our history will be generous and insightful…. inclusive and dignified.”
The ruling circles are cognisant of the turbulent waters they are currently navigating as the crisis of capitalism deepens, and they are more than aware of the effect the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 rising had on stimulating patriotic sentiment in the country. They are determined not to be caught out this time and are planning well ahead. The plan is to rip any patriotic and progressive content out of major struggles fought by the Irish people. The Beal na mBlath speech was laying down a marker. It was an announcement that another major revisionist onslaught on Irish history is to be launched. Presenting economic sovereignty as the ability to borrow money on the international markets at “reasonable” rates and putting Michael Collins forward as an individual who would have embraced unelected EU bureaucrats running his country is just the start.
In this regard I note that this Saturday retired members of the Garda Siochana and the RUC will be holding a commemoration in Glasnevin cemetery to mark the disbanding of the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police and to honour the 500 policemen who were apparently “murdered” in the course of the War of Independence.
It is clear that in upcoming years Irish republicans, socialists, and indeed all honest citizens will have a huge battle on their hands to preserve the patriotic, progressive and revolutionary content of some of the most major struggles of the Irish people for freedom and justice. The ruling circles have commenced their offensive. It is time that progressive opinion started the fight back.
Sam Lord 23 August 2012