Easter Rebellion resonates throughout Ireland to this day

By Jim Dee/Irish Times
Monday, April 12, 2004

BALLINLOUGH, Ireland - In the past decade, Ireland has morphed from a sluggish rural economy into a high-tech powerhouse. But fully grasping the dynamics of what is now the European Union's most pricey country means understanding an event Saturday at this sleepy County Meath crossroads.

Here Brian Keenan, a reputed Irish Republican Army heavyweight, addressed a rally marking the 88th anniversary of the failed 1916 Easter Rebellion - a pivotal milestone in the eventual securing of independence from Britain for 26 of Ireland's 32 counties.

"The IRA, and the present-day republicans, will not forget their objective. And that is freedom in this country," Keenan told a gathering of about 50 Irish republicans.

Keenan spoke after two 70-year-old IRA veterans laid wreaths at the graves of two local 20-year-old IRA men killed during the War of Independence.

Ballinlough's gathering was tiny compared to weekend rallies in Belfast, Derry and Dublin that drew thousands. But the fact that Ballinlough - comprised of a half-dozen houses, a pub, a store and a church - had an Easter Rebellion rally at all was an illustration of how the 1916 rising still resonates across Ireland.

Later this month, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose own Fianna Fail party was born after splitting from the IRA in 1926, will lay a commemorative wreath in Dublin's Arbour Hill cemetery where 14 of the leaders of the rising were buried.

In fact, so strong remains the pull of the Easter Rebellion and the subsequent 1919-21 War of Independence that, in October 2001, Ahern had the bodies of 10 IRA men whom Britain executed during that period exhumed and reburied with state honors.

Some pundits say Ahern wants to steal the IRA-allied Sinn Fein's republican thunder in order to halt the party's growing popularity in the South. His justice minister, the Progressive Democrats' Michael McDowell, has been more aggressive, accusing the IRA of engaging in widespread criminality on Dublin's docks.

Republicans deny the charge. And on Saturday Keenan slammed McDowell and Ahern's coalition government, which he claimed was just slinging mud ahead of June's local council and European parliamentary elections in which Sinn Fein is expected to do well.

Alluding to some pundits' ascribing to Sinn Fein a metaphorical "whiff of cordite" from IRA weaponry, Keenan said, "It's not the whiff or cordite around Sinn Feiners the Irish people have to worry about. It's the prevailing stink of corruption around this present administration."

Indeed, Ireland has seen several public tribunals into alleged government corruption since 1997. Last week Ahern himself was grilled at one over claims he was present when a property developer was asked for a bribe to speed the approval of his project. Ahern strongly denied witnessing anything of the kind.

Ahern wants the current IRA to vanish for good. Otherwise, he says, Britain will neither lift its 19-month suspension of Northern Ireland's assembly (imposed amid an IRA spying scandal), nor further reduce its troop levels or army bases in the North.

But Keenan, while a staunch peace-process advocate, gave no indications republicans are ready to fold.

"If the British army and the (police), and all their death squads, can arm, train, reinforce and bring in electronic devices, more troops, more helicopters and more guns, well, they shouldn't be surprised if the IRA won't go away," he said. "And long may it continue."

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