Politicians have forgotten about ‘vulnerable fellow citizens’ in the prelude to the Rising Centenary, writes Editor Michael Kelly
The Fine Gael-Labour coalition has been at pains to point out that the commemorations of the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising should be as inclusive as possible. The State has given grants to unionist communities in the North to facilitate parallel commemorations of the Ulstermen who died in the Battle of the Somme in a bid to ensure that the various traditions on the island feel part of 2016.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, a Protestant whose grandfather signed the Ulster Covenant to resist Home Rule for Ireland, was in Belfast recently reassuring unionist leaders that events to mark the seminal moment in the road to Irish freedom would be sensitive and inclusive.
It’s admirable that the Government is so committed to ensuring that those who feel alienated by Irish nationalism and republicanism do not feel excluded from commemorations of the Rising. It all strikes me as rather hollow, however, in a week where it was revealed that more than 5,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen are now homeless. As our special features on homelessness demonstrate this week, campaigners believe that the crisis is worse than ever.
With an election just weeks away, few politicians seem remotely interested in solving the emergency. There’s also the spectacle of some 90,000 people who are languishing on local authority waiting lists for a home.
A survey by the Simon Community released this week found that only one rental property in the country was within reach of someone trying to access accommodation using rent supplement. Despite this, the Government has insisted that it knows better than the agencies in the frontline of tackling homelessness who have pleaded for the cap on the supplement to be lifted. Enda Kenny has remained resolute in his view that lifting the cap would make matters worse.
Plans are underway for an elaborate military ceremony to parade down Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Easter Sunday to make the Rising centenary. Dignitaries will be invited from all over the world and President Michael D. Higgins will host a grand State reception afterwards in Dublin Castle for the VIPs. Meanwhile, as our political leaders congratulate one another on recent economic achievements, there will be 1,000 children under the age of eight homeless in the capital where the 1916 rebels struck for freedom.
The Proclamation – the foundational document of the modern Irish state – spoke of a country “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.
An army officer will read that same proclamation on Easter Sunday while our political leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder on borrowed pride. The spectacle will surely seem like a sick joke to those who have long since given up on the basic right to have a home to call their own and a place to lay their head.
The centenary celebrations must be a pause for thought: and politicians trotting out pious clichés about making the events inclusive should be asked just why they are so comfortable that so many of our forgotten and vulnerable fellow citizens are excluded.