Editorial from the March 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising is being marked by celebrations in the Irish Republic and in ‘Nationalist’ areas of the North of Ireland.
On Easter Monday 1916, which fell on 26 April, about 1200 armed rebels seized buildings in Dublin and, at the General Post Office, a proclamation of independence for the 32 counties of Ireland was read. Fighting continued until the 29 April, when the rebels surrendered to British forces. Some leaders of the uprising, including James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, were executed by firing squad. That the uprising took place during the First World War was no coincidence, as the rebels reckoned that Britain would be distracted by the war and hoped to receive arms supplies from Germany, which never materialised.
At the time, the uprising had little support among the Irish population. However, the retribution exacted by the British State garnered sympathy for the rebels' cause, and the introduction of conscription into Ireland (although it was not enforced) was very unpopular with Irish Catholics, who were less favourable to the war effort, although many enlisted in the British Army.
Thus support for Sinn Fein grew and, at the 1918 General Election, it eclipsed the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party by winning almost all of the seats outside of the six counties of the North East of Ireland.
The Irish War of Independence followed and ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which partitioned Ireland into two states – an independent Irish Free State in the south comprising 26 counties, and the six counties within Ulster remaining part of the UK. Republicans, who opposed the Treaty, waged a civil war against the new Irish Government, but were ultimately defeated.
The new 26 county state that emerged did not live up to the aspirations of those who fought in the Easter Rising. It was not James Connolly's Socialist Republic, nor Patrick Pearse's bilingual state. It was a capitalist state, where employers were free to make profits out of the working class. Workers continued to experience poverty and unemployment; many were compelled to emigrate to the former Imperial Power. They would still have to engage in struggles with their employers. Catholic workers in the North of Ireland had to suffer discrimination in employment and housing under the Stormont regime.
In this centenary year, the Irish republic held a General Election on 26 February, in which Sinn Fein stood candidates on a reformist platform of opposing austerity measures. Sinn Fein are already participating in the government of Northern Ireland.
It is ironic that Ireland will be celebrating a historic bid for freedom from one power, not long after it had to succumb to another one. As the price of a bailout that the government needed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the Troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF – insisted on a tough austerity programme which included having the country's financial affairs effectively taken over by their representatives. Most Irish people may be free of British rule, but, sadly, they have not escaped the rule of capital.