Former taoiseach John Bruton has expressed his reservations against the 1916 Rising commemorations, saying the use of violence in the Rising did not meet a criterion for just war and raised moral questions, the Irish Times reports.
Speaking at a lecture on John Redmond to the Wexford Historical Society on Friday night, Bruton’s statements revealed clear differences with current prime minister and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who said last week that the Rising “had been the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland.”
Said Bruton: “Many of the 1916 leaders were familiar with Catholic teaching on what constitutes a just war. One of the criteria is that war should be a ‘last resort.’
“Given that home rule was already passed, would have come into effect, and would have been a platform for further moves to greater independence, the use of violence in 1916 was not a genuine last resort,” he said.
He defended Redmond’s support for the first World War, saying that by forcibly occupying the GPO, “the 1916 leaders explicitly took the opposite side in this war to their fellow Irishmen in the trenches.
“In proclaiming the Republic, the 1916 leaders spoke of their ‘gallant allies in Europe.’ These allies were the German empire, the Ottoman empire and the Austrian empire. Although their immediate target was Britain, those, against whom the Irish republicans went to war, included the French republic and Belgium, whose territories had been invaded and occupied by Germany, ” he said.
“The 1916 leaders were not neutral. They were taking the side of Germany, Turkey and Austria and said so in their own proclamation. Gerry Adams who recently attacked [John] Redmond at a meeting of the Irish Neutrality League should remember this,” said Bruton.
“There is a moral issue here. Irish people today take the taking of life seriously. We have abolished the death penalty. 1916, and the subsequent campaigns of violence it inspired, involved taking thousands of lives.”
Speaking of the 256 Irish civilians killed during the Rising, and the 52 Irish members of the British army, 14 RIC members and three members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, he said: “These Irish men were acting on the orders of a duly constituted Government, elected by a parliament, which had already granted home rule to Ireland, and to which Ireland had democratically elected its own MPs.
“Did these men ‘die for Ireland?’” he asked. “Consider also the dead of the war of 1919 to 1921, and the dead of the Civil War of 1922 to 1923, for these deaths flowed, in large measure, from the initial decision to use force in 1916.”
Last week, during the launch of a biography of WT Cosgrave in Dublin, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny said he was proud to be a 1916 man.
“Many of those who were leading figures in the parties he [Cosgrave] led, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael – Richard Mulcahy, Ernest Blythe, Desmond Fitzgerald, Fionán Lynch and others – were also 1916 men and it was the unshakeable conviction of Cosgrave and the other founders of Cumann na nGaedheal that their party was a 1916 party and that it drew its inspiration from the memory of 1916.”