Anarchist report from 1916 Easter Commemorations in Belfast


This year marked the 96th anniversary of the Easter Rising traditionally a time when republicans across this island come out to remember the sacrifice of fallen comrades and renew their ideals set in stone in the 1916 proclamation. It is also a time when rival republican groups set out there stall in a show of strength and support; but what is noticeable in so-called republican heartlands is a decline in overall attendance and of the wearing of the Easter lily and houses flying the tri-colour.

In Belfast, every shade of republicanism was keen to claim the mantle of Easter week with five seperate commemorations and parades taking place over just two days. This year was marked by a front page  ‘scare-mongering’ lead-off from the local Andersonstown news in an attempt at to demonise and criminalise republican opposition outside of Sinn Fein.

Since a young age I have been attending republican parades and commemorations first as a republican socialist and now as an anarchist observer. The day began with catching up with the Republican Sinn Fein parade at mid-day which was the smallest of them all with around 10 supporters, RSF is becoming akin to a religious cult with little ambition. The main oration was given by Geraldine Taylor who basically re-cycled the same speech every year which was heavy on rhetoric accusing everyone from Sinn Fein to the GAA of being ‘sell-outs’ and ‘traitors.’

Next on the list was the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM) annual parade where I caught up with comrades from German Antifa. Despite missing the last two commemorations and a noticeable increase of IRSP flags on the Falls Rd, beyond their loyal base of followers and supporters the IRSM parade has not grown in size or influence as much of the ‘left republican’ space has been occupied by Eirigi who do not carry the same political baggage.   They are rivals over claiming the mantle of James Connolly, who actually had little influence in the Proclamation apart from vague notions of ‘equality’ and ‘public ownership.’ It is clear the IRSP is here to stay, at least going by their fanatical flag waving at every picket and protest organised outside of their own organisation.

Coming out of Milltown cemetery we briefly watched the main parade organised by Sinn Fein which is still the largest even if they had to make a request for support from GAA clubs to bring out their members to outnumber their republican opposition. The sight of the Sinn Fein leadership bringing out their green colours when they are showing their true colours at Stormont by imposing savage anti-working class cuts resulting in growing unemployment and job cuts meant it was time to leave.

Monday marked the Eirigi parade or ‘Provo left’ as they have been dubbed by their republican critics, was the largest apart from Sinn Fein and, despite their own widely exaggerated figures, around 400 people took part ending at the Harbinson plot in the heart of Milltown cemetery.  The event was chaired by John McCusker and the main oration given by Daithí Mac an Mháistir of Dublin. The talk was quite positive and engaging with its main emphasis being in the words of Irish-born socialist and union organiser ‘Mother’ Mary ‘to remember the dead but fight like hell for the living.’

However, the main oration catered for every shade of disaffected republicanism present from Irish language activists, to wrap yourself in a tricolour ‘brits out’ brigade to those on the left.  Although heavy on populist class struggle rhetoric and the need to combine the social question with national liberation the reality is that republicanism has been unable to transcend the sectarian division in the North. The cross-cross and often sectarian dynamic of republicanism is a significant barrier towards this, and in times of intense class struggle, republicanism has been unable to leave the 'labour must wait' position.

Beyond its emotional and militant appeal in Ireland can the proclamation deliver a better society for all in the 21th century.  The 1916 proclamation is long on rhetoric about “dead generations” and “august destiny” but short on any sort of concrete program, never mind one that addresses the concrete needs of the working class today. This  has allowed every party and shade of republicanism to claim to stand in its tradition in the 90 years since it was first read out.

 Three years after 1916 the war of Independence started. This was Irish republicanism in its most militant period; it was simultaneously a period when Irish workers were at their most militant. Land occupations, general strikes and ‘soviets’ spread across Ireland. Yet the republican leadership saw the direct actions of these workers as a hindrance to the struggle because they were something that threatened nationalist unity.

Nearly 100 years on, Irish republicanism is at a cross-roads and has reached its critical mass.  The armed struggle over the last 30 years has delivered little of its objectives apart from providing a bargaining weapon for Sinn Fein for its complete integration into the British state and imposition of a right wing neo-liberal agenda.  Their only answer is either a return to militarism or rebuilding the relic of left republicanism.  But republicanism is unable to build a united working class movement that can transform the island and link up with similar movements internationally.

The weakness of republicanism is not in its failures but in its successes because that success requires building nationalist unity and class collaboration, whether that be it military as during the war of Independence or political as in the ‘Peace Process’. The price of such unity is always the marginalisation and removal from the agenda of any prospect of social revolution.

 Peader O’Donnell writing in 1963 observed “Many an IRA man in jail in ’22 and ’23 cursed his use as a defender of pure ideals to patrol estate walls, enforce decrees for rent, arrest and even order out of the country leaders of local land agitation”.

 It is time to bury the politics of the dead and build the politics of the living. As anarchists, the solution is in one where we realise our own class power, we can finally take control of our lives, our communities and workplaces’ free from exploitation, alienation and oppression. Real freedom and independence - not just one set of bosses replaced with another. This future, a libertarian communist one, is truly a future worth fighting for.

 The link below contains analysis of Irish Republicanism from an anarchist perspective. These range from analysis of the issues of the day to detailed re-examination of the history of the republican rebellions and movements.

WORDS: Sean Matthews