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A Republic of Equals and the Legacy of the 1916 Rising

Wherever green is worn, are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.

These are not just the words of a W.B. Yeats poem ‘1916’ that I was forced to dissect for the Leaving Cert. They are statement of the legacy we have inherited from 1916.

For the good and the bad, the Rising created an idea that freedom should not be something for the few but for the many, proclaiming the principle of universal suffrage that only a handful of countries practiced at the time.

Nonetheless it produced a state that allowed women to be locked up for the rest of their lives in laundries, run by cruel and unforgiving nuns. Our particular strain of virulent Catholicism is still something that haunts the abortion debate to this day. Women still are underrepresented in our society and only 15% of TD’s in the Dáil are women, which is less then in Afghanistan.

The Easter Rising roused the nation to vote for Sinn Féin and proclaim Dáil Éireann. It was fought by men and women who believed in the ideal of a republic, and were willing to sacrifice themselves and others for that dream. Ideas are something worth fighting for but they should not require violence to make a reality.

We should also remember that Easter 1916 killed 485 people, many of whom were civilians, when we celebrate the centenary. The use of violence at any cost has brought much trouble to our little island and this bloody inheritance should teach us that reconciliation is not the path of surrender but something that creates greater liberty for all.

Our proclaimation declared that ‘equal rights and equal opportunities’ are for all but this has not manifested as a reality. Income inequality has never been higher, one in five people own 75% of all the wealth in Ireland and our public services are in a shambles. What would those who fought in 1916 think of the ‘Republic’ of Ireland in 2016?

Having all of our political parties sprout from Sinn Féin has, according to political scientists created a party system where all our parties aim to get elected on local ideas, so called pot-hole politics rules the day. Labour’s ambivalence during the founding of the republic and its decision not to enter politics in 1918 made it a small and only occasionally significant party. Consequentially the civil war politics of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael dominated our party system until the turn of this century.

However this is beginning to change, new parties are now entering the political arena and independents are even more prominent than ever. Irish politics is changing. We should not forgot that 1916 brought us new hope and new ideas; 2016 can do the same.


  • Charlotte McLaughlin, Politics Writer
    This piece originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 7 published February 2nd 2016

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