Despite facing overwhelming odds, it was a direct challenge to the might of the British Empire, a challenge to their occupation of our country and a challenge to the repression and denial of basic human, civil and political rights to the Irish people.
It was a challenge for which those brave men and women of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly's Irish Citizen army, who took part in the Rising of Easter Week, were to pay a heavy price, both in the fighting that took place and in the subsequent British reprisals. The civilian population of Dublin also suffered heavy casualties with hundreds killed and injured by British troops during Easter week.
Sixty four of those who took part in the uprising were killed in action. Fifteen, including all seven signatories of the Proclamation, were executed by firing squads. Roger Casement was also subsequently hanged at Pentonville Prison in August of that year. Almost 1500 others were interned in prison camps within England and Wales.
Over the course of Easter week, and during this week when the actual anniversary occurs, as well as Republicans, other political parties ranging from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael through to Sinn Féin will have commemorated these events and those who took part in them. So what exactly were the men and women of 1916 fighting for and why exactly do virtually all political parties, bar unionists, commemorate and honour those who fought in Easter week?
The Proclamation is quite clear in its content.
We hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a sovereign Independent State.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.
The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
However, not only have these rights and aspirations not been achieved, many of those politicians and parties now paying tribute to the rising, have played an active role in opposing and subverting those ideals. By their actions and political decisions, they are actively assisting in the denial of the self determination and sovereignty aspired to by the 1916 proclamation.
The British occupation and partition continues. It is enforced on the ground in the six-counties by the heavily armed paramilitary police force the RUC/PSNI and by British troops, including undercover British army regiments, who remain active within the six-counties. The occupation is administered by the political establishments in the Stormont and Westminster regimes and supported and assisted by the regime in Leinster house.
The Ireland of today is not the Ireland fought for by the men and women of Easter week and subsequent generations of Republicans. Their objective was not a partitioned Ireland or a puppet parliament in Stormont or in Dublin. Their objective was not a two -tier Ireland where poverty is widespread and the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few to the detriment of working class people and working class communities the length and breadth of this island.
Their objective was not to see the giveaway of our natural resources to private multi-national companies to exploit and create profits, wealth that could and should be utilised for all of the Irish people. Their objective was not an island where the forces of the state, including the so-called forces of 'law and order' side with the wealthy political and business elite to deny local communities their rights and to stifle legitimate and peaceful protest through harrassment and intimidation.
Mass unemployment is once again rampant on this island. More than half a million people are now unemployed, with thousands more forced to emigrate once again to foreign shores in order to secure work and earn a living. This is particularly true for young people who have been particularly hard hit by savage cutbacks in social welfare payments, making it virtually impossible for any young person to survive while unemployed in this state.
The current recession has been used cynically by the Fianna Fáil led administration and by employers to further attack and undermine the pay and working conditions of workers, increasing hardship for low income families in the process.
Extremely harsh cutbacks in pay, social welfare and essential health and education services have all been imposed, with more planned, in order to bail out the banks and to protect the profits and the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy political and business elite.
Poverty is on the increase once again. According to an Institute of Public Health report from 2007, elderly people, the young and the ill continue to die in their thousands each winter due to preventable cold-related illness, while the Combat Poverty Agency made clear that people “who live in poverty are at greater risk of poor mental and physical health: they get sick more often and die younger than people who are better-off”.
The Central Statistics Office also revealed that in 2008 more than four per cent of people were still living in consistent poverty, with almost 15 per cent at risk of poverty. Almost a third of those living in consistent poverty were children.
All the figures above have, almost certainly, risen over the past 18 months as the recession kicked in and the latest budget cuts took effect. So much for adhering to the “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” contained in the 1916 Proclamation.
And at the same time as they impose so much hardship on working class communities, they have pumped in the region of €70 billion through NAMA to bail out the banks that, along with the political classes, created the current economic crisis. Indeed, the true cost of NAMA for Irish tax-payers, is likely to rise above €100 billion as time goes on.
What passes for a government in Leinster House will be spending tens of billions of euros of our money to private banks when that money should be spent on health and education, on housing and jobs, on ending poverty and creating the Ireland envisioned in the 1916 proclamation.
But they have shown where their priorities lie as they deliberately chose to bail out their cronies in the banks. And in order to pay for that bail out, they deliberately chose to impose savage cutbacks on essential health and education services, on low paid workers, on the unemployed, on children, the elderly, the ill and those with special needs. In short, the most vulnerable in society, are being made to pay for the greed and the corruption of the wealthy political and business elite on this island.
So while politicians from all those parties stood during Easter Week and some will do so again this week, at the gravesides of those who died fighting for Irish freedom and an end to the British occupation of our country, the reality is that they have abandoned everything that those republicans, the likes of James Connolly and Liam Mellowes, fought and died for. Despite paying lip service to them, they have betrayed both the social and national ideals and the vision of the 1916 proclamation, as well as that of the Declaration of Independence and the Democatic programme adopted by the First Dáil in 1919.
Those who at one time opposed the British occupation now administer and enforce that occupation from Stormont in coalition with the DUP. Those who once opposed British policing in Ireland, now endorse and fully support the armed paramilitary RUC/PSNI, a force with an appalling human rights record, who continue to intimidate, assault and imprison nationalists and political activists opposed to British rule in Ireland. Those who once opposed British rule in Ireland describe those who continue to oppose the occupation and political repression by the forces of the British state as “traitors”.
But while the ideals and vision of the men and women of 1916 has been completely abandoned by those sitting in Stormont and Leinster House, as socialist republicans, éirígí remain as committed as ever to striving for and ultimately attaining the democratic socialist republic that so many have suffered imprisonment and death to achieve.
While many tributes have been paid to the volunteers of Easter Week, the only truly fitting tribute that can be paid to them will be the completion of their unfinished business. We will continue with our efforts to sow the seeds of socialist republicanism within working class communities once again on both sides of the border. While we acknowledge the difficult task that lies ahead of us, we will not be deflected from that task in the months and years ahead.