By Ben Antenore, European Affairs
As Irish citizens commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising against Great Britain, the current Republic is struggling as a governing coalition still does not exist after the general elections of February.
One hundred years ago on April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising occurred when 1,200 rebels seized some of the main administrative buildings in central Dublin. One of these buildings, the General Post Office, became the rebel headquarters. That same afternoon, Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rebellion, proclaimed the birth of the Irish Republic and the formation of a provisional independent government.
Because the Irish revolutionaries had failed to take over important ports and railways independence was delayed. British troops were able to flow in and, within a week, there were nearly 16,000 soldiers posted on the Emerald Isle and the rebellion was suppressed. These British soldiers viewed the uprising as an act of treason and responded with force. More than 450 people were killed and 2,500 injured in six days of fighting. Some sections of Dublin were reduced to rubble.
On April 29, Patrick Pearse surrendered and, in May, all seven signatories of the Independence Proclamation and eight other leaders associated with the Rising were executed. It was the manner in which the executions were performed – James Conolly, a leader of the rebellion, was already dying from wounds sustained in the fighting and had to be tied to a chair to be shot – which enraged public opinion in favor of the rebels. While the Easter Rising was a failure, historians hold it to be a transformative moment in Irish republicanism and the informal birthdate of the Irish Republic.
Last weekend, on the official of centenary of the uprising (based on the date Easter fell), the Irish government held a series of commemorative events. On Sunday, the country staged its largest ever military parade: 3,600 members of Ireland’s military and emergency services marched in a 5-hour, 3-mile procession through Dublin and past some of the buildings that had been seized by rebels. Irish President Michael Higgins laid a wreath in front of the General Post Office, the building’s columns still pock-marked with bullet holes from the fighting 100 years ago.
In Dublin, private groups, including the Irish Great War Society, orchestrated “Reflecting the Rising”, which involved talks, music, theatre, films and multimedia displays exploring the Easter Rising and its aftermath.
These events stand in contrast to the current political turmoil in Ireland, which has been without a government since the February 25 general elections.
The morning after the elections, the Irish Independent called the elections a disruptive “earthquake.” Both parties of the governing coalition, Fine Gael and the Irish Labor Party, lost seats—26 and 30 respectively. Together, former coalition partners fell far short of the required 84 seats to form a government.
For the moment, current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny of Fine Gael is caretaker Prime Minister until a coalition can form.
The most logical union would be a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, both center-right parties and considered Ireland’s political establishment. However, both parties adamantly oppose uniting. In aguest column penned for the Irish Independent, Health Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael called a potential alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil “a nightmare.” Eight of Fianna Fáil’s most senior politicians have ruled out the prospect of a coalition with Fine Gael. Historically, the parties were created out of a disagreement over the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty creating the Irish Free State, and the ensuing Irish Civil War. Originally, Fine Gael supported the treaty and Fianna Fáil opposed to it, seeking instead total independence.
The Dáil, the Irish parliament, meets on April 6. It is likely the last chance for compromise between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael or the formation of a government between one of the major parties and a collection of independents. Failure to form a government will send Irish voters back to the polls.