Attending Rising celebrations is still a step too far for unionists

Morning View
Morning View

One of the most significant dates in the decade of centenaries – perhaps the most significant of all – passed yesterday.

It is not quite 100 years since the 1916 Rising, because Easter was in April that year, but it is as good as a century since that momentous rebellion.

The commemoration of it in Dublin at a huge event was not attended by senior unionist politicians. But the date was nowhere near as traumatic for unionists as it might have been.

Sinn Fein are not in power on both sides of the border, as they would like to have been by 2016, and their dream of Irish unity remains a distant one, whatever Gerry Kelly might say.

The menacing element to this weekend was small and confined to extremists in Lurgan, Coalisland and west Belfast whose unpleasantness is apparent to almost everyone (it is interesting that it is republicans who live in Northern Ireland who mark the anniversary in an ugly way and not many actual residents of the Republic which the thugs aspire to join).

The ceremony in Dublin was a dignified occasion, attended by the British ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott.

Whether or not to attend the event was a difficult call for unionists. But their insistence that the Rising was illegitimate is gaining support from a growing number of observers, ranging from John Larkin to Father Seamus Murphy.

The authorities in Dublin, however, have shown awareness over the sensitivities and that helped ensure that the celebrations were not, as the Guardian journalist Henry McDonald noted yesterday, “triumphalist”. Meanwhile, the centenary of the Somme approaches. Nationalists now routinely mark world war commemorations.

Unionists in turn have in recent years been breaking new ground by attending GAA games. The legacy of the Rising, however, and the concept of republican violence that lacks public support is why marking the Rising is still a step too far, particularly after the recent murder of a prison officer.