It has only been in the last few years that I have started to understand what it means to live in a Republic. As a kid, a teenager and even as a young adult I thought of myself as a ‘Republican’ only when it was an expression of some misguided national(ist) pride; usually when I was on holiday or while Celtic were playing against Rangers and mostly I just felt that to be a supporter of the ‘Republic’, as I knew it to exist, was merely to be against anything overly British, or more accurately, English. (Except Man Utd, Roy Keane was the captain so allowances were made)
The reason I’m thinking about this (and sharing my thoughts) now, is that the recent occupation of the Moore St battlefield site has got me thinking about the foundations of our own Republic and indeed, how we should commemorate those who dedicated their lives to the establishment of what we call the Republic of Ireland.
I think that it was because I was so ignorant to what it meant to live in a Republic for so long, that I couldn’t really appreciate the depths of poverty and injustice that surrounded us everyday in the Inner City and in other Irish communities such as ours. This poverty still exists and I talk to people everyday who are at the very coal face of it. It’s sometimes subtle and often difficult to relate to from outside but I promise you it’s there.
It exists in our homeless & housing crisis. That’s the obvious place we see it now. It appears in other places too though and it’s harder to define. Without question we have a mental health crisis in this country that isn’t entirely unrelated to how much we rely on alcohol as a coping mechanism. It’s also there in our education system too but we rarely discuss it properly. I think a true test of any Republic is in the percentage of its citizens who are taught and encouraged to think and if need be to act in a manner critical to the status quo.
Despite some great teachers doing their upmost best our education system is for the vast majority of students a rat race in the form of a memory test of what pointless information you can regurgitate on to a sheet at a very difficult stage in any young adults development. The real tragedy of our education system is that every statistic we have shows that how well a young person will do in school is primarily based on the location in which he/she was born.
In our version of a Republic, how much money you have will also determine the type of hospital treatment you can receive; whether a victim of domestic violence can afford to leave an abusive partner; whether a person looking to better their life chances can afford to work that unpaid internship for 9 months to a year and even whether a parent(s) can justify returning to work while the cost of childcare is so tragically high.
I think that the citizens response that is currently taking place on Moore St at the moment is truly wonderful. Following on from the Right to Water demonstrations and the manner in which so many predominantly young and progressive minded Irish people made Marriage Equality a reality this year, there has been a real awakening of that famed fighting Irish spirit.
We have to see these as battles though and the end-game has to be about the establishment of a Republic that is truly worthy of the name. That Republic will lay in the type of schools we have; how we treat people when their sick; the trust we place in our citizens to have full autonomy over what occurs in their own bodies and the means by which we can all look each other in the eye without fear or deference or indifference to circumstance.
This is an election year. I know that because I’m one of the people contesting it. I implore you though- don’t allow me or any other political individual or party to hijack any of these movements or indeed how we celebrate and commemorate the past to suit our/ their own ends.
The people of 1916 and the Revolutionary period that followed fought for an ideal that has yet to be fulfilled. We should preserve and cherish their memory while honouring the sacrifices that were made not only by great individuals but by the society in which they lived.
However, if all we aim to do is commemorate their memory then we are doing a grave disservice to their ambitions and reasons for which they died. We have a responsibility too.
It is our responsibility to achieve that Republic. That shouldn’t be done with hatred to another group irregardless of how different their political views are to our own. In a Republic we debate, we educate, we inform others and we respect the right to disagree as long as the end goal is in the name of the collective good.
I’m really looking forward to this year. It’s already showing so much potential.