It’s at the planning stages still. Throughout Ireland, thought is being given to ways in which the events of 1916 might be best commemorated. Yesterday, for example, there was a fine article by Tim Pat Coogan in a series the Irish Times is running, and today Vincent Woods has an article about how the arts, particularly music, might contribute to commemoration. What neither Coogan nor Woods nor any other commentator includes is the p- word: partition.
Tim Pat, for example, is scathing about the grubby corruption and greed that characterised the southern state over so many decades. Vincent Woods speaks of how the arts can encompass the complexity of the Easter Rising, with its courage and self-sacrifice as well as its toll of suffering and death. But like virtually all writers on the subject, they steer clear of an obvious fact: Padraig Pearse wasn’t talking about just 26 counties when he called on the Irish people to strike for independence.
“But we’ve resolved the Irish question” some would say. The south is an independent state; the north is part of the UK and will remain so, by the will of the Irish people, until a majority north and south decide otherwise. That’’s what the Good Friday Agreement was about. What’s the point in poking at an issue that has been resolved?
Well, maybe because it hasn’t been resolved. Unionists are keenly aware that they are on the window-ledge of the Union. Britain patently doesn’t want to have them and resents paying the north’s bills. Nationalists and republicans by definition are people who want to see an end to partition and the emergence of a 32-county republic. With the thought in everyone’s mind, how come no one is talking about it?
Fear is probably the predominant reason. Having emerged from the horrors of the thirty years of conflict, no one wants to go back to it or anything like it. Pointing out that the six northern counties were also part of Pearse’s dream might encourage violent republicanism to strengthen and re-emerge. It might also encourage a similar bloody-minded response in unionism. Better to let the sleeping dog lie than waken it and receive a mauling.
These are real fears and we are right to protect ourselves from the danger that they might become a reality. But to talk as though a core issue – maybe the core issue – didn’t exist when commemorating the Rising is to undermine the value of any other comments you might make on that topic.
Because partion is a prickly and sensitive subject doesn’t mean we should pretend it doesn’t exist. Quite the contrary: because it arouses strong feelings it should be looked at calmly and dispassionately, not ignored. And we could do worse than start with the cost of Irish unity.