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Ireland Remembers the Past and Forgets the Present

Dublin.

Ireland is schizophrenic. The line dividing the country in two also divides the head. Irish thoughts, words and behaviour are scattered, disconnected and delusional. Whatever reality there is, is confined to the underground and the class that lives there. But what else can we expect in a land steeped in colonialism and neo-colonialism?

This Easter, during the commemorations marking the 1916 rebellion against the British Empire, all was on show on the streets of Dublin. The official appearance of independence was on parade. The flags flew, the army marched, the bands played, the choirs sang, the media was in tune and the generals and politicians looked real. It looked like Woody Allen’s “Bananas”. There was even a bit of sunshine. Although the usual rain and cold arrived late in the day.

The present was missing. The British colony in the north, the bank bailouts in the south, the Berlin dictatorship in the east and the American tax dodgers in the west were all hidden from view.

The Easter fairytale was that contemporary Ireland bore some resemblance to the intention of 1916. The Easter fairytale was that Irish history had ended a long time ago. And the only thing left to do was to look in the mirror and praise oneself.

It was therefore appropriate that Ireland had no government this Easter. In fact Ireland is still looking for it’s first government one hundred years after the rebels took over Dublin’s General Post Office.

In any case, almost two months after it’s latest general election Ireland is still headless. This no doubt explains the pious patriotism on show during Easter. The Irish state was attempting to grasp the past because it has lost control of the present. Like in Greece and Spain, Ireland’s political structure has fractured because of the Banks and Austerity. However unlike Greece and Spain, the threat to traditional politics in Ireland is not something new like Syriza or Podemos but is tradition itself. It is 1916. It is Sinn Féin.

The political tradition in contemporary Ireland is anti-traditional. It is so in the sense that hard Irish politics for hundreds of years has been anti-British Empire. Contemporary Ireland however has rejected this anti-colonial DNA. Contemporary Ireland, that is, throughout most of it’s post-1916 life has been appeasing the Empire.

The border of 1921, which broke the promise of 1916, locked Ireland into an anti-nationalist mindset. As a result from 1921 up to the present day Irish nationalism has been criminalised and demonised in the Irish state. The British view of Ireland has prevailed. A divided Ireland has been institutionalised. And the bitter fruit of this was the 1998 referendum that rejected the idea of Irish sovereignty over the whole of Ireland.

The rise of Sinn Féin today however is a direct threat to this post-nationalist (pro-Empire) state of mind. For the 2016 Irish status quo 1916 is still too close for comfort. The political movement most like 1916 (Sinn Féin) is after the recent general election the third most popular party in Ireland. And the Irish elite are nervous.

The two largest political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil (which together got 49.8% of the recent vote), can’t form a government. And Sinn Féin (13.8%) is just waiting for it’s chance. That chance will not come today but will in the future. Every election since the 2008 banking debacle has seen an increase in the Sinn Féin vote and a decrease in the combined vote for the Irish oligarchs (Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil). The fact that a stable government cannot be formed today means another election and another increase in Sinn Féin’s power is expected in the near future.

When the memory of 1916 is added to this mix the post-nationalist (pro-Empire) cause doesn’t look promising. Everything points to a common sense defence of Ireland in the face of EU aggression (the Banks and Austerity). And a post-nationalist (pro-Empire) ideology is clearly unable to deliver this.

For Ireland’s neoliberal and anti-nationalist elite, the EU and the USA (the godfather of the EU) has always represented an escape from history. But the reemergence of history after the collapse of the West’s financial industry has exposed the bankruptcy of this elite. And now that history is again in full flow contemporary Ireland is way out of it’s depth. After a lifetime appeasing imperialism contemporary Ireland has lost the will to defend itself. And the memory of 1916 makes this clear. The history which the Irish oligarchs tried to bury (1916’s anti-imperialism) is more relevant now than ever before. Hence the potency of Sinn Féin’s position.

This was evident this Saint Patrick’s Day in Washington, D.C.. It is traditional for America and Ireland to meet in the White House every March 16. And since the Irish Peace Process got under way Sinn Féin has had a place at this political gathering. But this year the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, was literally kept outside the door for “security reasons “. It was a not very subtle message. The USA, like it’s Irish agents (Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil), aren’t comfortable with the rise of Sinn Féin and it’s anti-imperialist roots.

It’s not just about imperialism however. It’s class too. Like the 1916 Dublin Rising itself, Sinn Féin today has a socialist edge. The current Sinn Féin movement originated in the Irish working class of Belfast and Derry. And it’s rise south of the border is particularly strong in working class Dublin. This is the underground that suffers Austerity and is the anchor for Irish reality. While Sinn Féin might want to dine with the American and European elite, it still for the moment reflects the working class community it comes from. And so it’s anti-Austerity politics, like it’s anti-imperialism, is unwelcome both in the White House and the “White House” establishment in Ireland and Europe.

But if that’s the price of realism Sinn Féin and the working class it comes from should embrace exclusion. Otherwise it is the prison of schizophrenia. The acceptance of delusions is no escape from reality. The acceptance of phony borders and phoney bailouts will only prolong colonialism and neo-colonialism in Ireland. And the acceptance of a phoney economic model that is based on global tax dodging will leave Ireland more exposed than ever before to the whores of Empire. In 1916 and the few years that followed, the Irish (Sinn Féin) chose to exclude themselves from the whoredom that is Empire. In 2016 they should choose to do the same. Only then will they end the madness.

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Aidan O’Brien lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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