BBC's 1916 coverage challenged

Ken Keable responds to the BBC following a programme about the Easter Rising aired on Radio 4 on 16 April 2006. We reproduce his letter here for information.

THE BEST kind of criticism is self-criticism, but this is something that we English, at least in relation to Ireland, are reluctant to engage in. The coverage of the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916 by Broadcasting House, as with most of the BBC and most of the British media, is a case in point, which is all the more reprehensible given that British policy in Ireland from 1916 to the present day can only be described, even in the kindest words, as a dismal failure.

As an English person living in Ireland for some years, but soon to return home, I offer the following analysis.

At the outbreak of the First World War the Home Rule Bill, granting devolved government, within the UK, to the whole of Ireland, received the royal assent, with the proviso that its implementation would be delayed until the war was over. This bill was the fruit of over 40 years of patient work by Irish politicians who erroneously believed that Britain would abide by its own professed constitutional principles where Ireland was concerned.

The Tory Party had fiercely opposed Home Rule, urging and financing the Ulster unionists to form an illegal paramilitary force, 100,000 strong, with weapons illegally imported from Germany with Tory money. Thus it was the Tories who brought the gun into Irish and UK politics, to threaten insurrection in order to frighten the Liberal government into abandoning Home Rule.

In May 1915, as a result of the disaster at Gallipoli, the Liberal government was replaced by a Liberal-Tory coalition. This brought into the cabinet those who had threatened insurrection - including Sir Edward Carson, the leader of the paramilitaries. Instead of charging Carson with high treason, we made him Attorney-General - another case of "Britannia waives the rules".

This rewarded political violence and signalled that Britain would never implement Home Rule. It suddenly made the partition of Ireland a real possibility, it vindicated those who wanted full independence, and it made the 1916 Rising inevitable.

One of the aims of the Rising was to bring Ireland out of the War. This would have saved the lives of thousands of Irishmen who were joining the British Army because they believed the imperial spin that this was a high-minded war for "the rights of small nations", and that Britain would repay their sacrifice by granting Home Rule as promised.

Ireland was the first British colony in modern times to make a bid for freedom. It's no wonder that the Irish want to celebrate that, and so should we.

Ken Keable, County Waterford, Republic of Ireland

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-05-18 07:33:39.
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