Rising partly achieved its aim but led to a partition that is now entrenched

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is 100 years to the day today since the 1916 Easter Rising.

It is hard to think of any other event in the last century that was as significant for the island of Ireland as that rebellion.

The insurrection failed in its immediate aims, and its leaders were executed, but it succeeded in securing independence for Ireland by changing public opinion decisively in favour of a breakaway from Britain when previously it had only been in favour of Home Rule.

The British reaction to the violence played a key role in that change of opinion.

By the standards of the Great War, in which hundreds of soldiers were executed at the Western Front for offences such as cowardice, more than 1,000 Rising participants could have been executed for the at least comparable offence of taking part in a rebellion. Britain had a significant motive in sending out a deterrent signal about launching such an uprising in one of its key cities at such a perilous time for the country.

But regardless of how explicable or understandable it was to execute 16 of the rebels, it was strategically disastrous because the British were not forgiven by most Irish people.

The rebel leaders themselves, however, made a disastrous miscalculation if their motive genuinely was a united 32-county independent Republic (we cannot know the extent to which some of them might have compromised on some sort of partitioned solution, akin to the one that came to pass).

The island is now so divided that it is hard to see it being united within the next 100 years. The entity Northern Ireland seems increasingly secure, given the rising number of people from a Catholic background who identify as Northern Irish.

Republicans such as Sinn Fein can say what they want about inclusiveness but they have entirely failed to persuade people from a non Catholic background that unity is a remotely attractive option.