Ken Loach speaking on the Centenary of the Easter Rising @ Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church London on 7 March 2016. Hosted by Socialist Resistance and Pluto Books The speakersincluded author Geoff Bell and former MP and activist Bernadette McAliskey. Ken Loach asks that we celebrate the Centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising by rejecting the revisionist history and standing in solidarity with the Irish in their quest for a free and united Ireland.
It's a real privilege to be here and I'll only speak for a few minutes because I'm very interested to hear the historical background to ... 1916 from Geoff – and I'm particularly good to hear Bernadette's take on what's going on in Ireland now so – I'm the interlude, really. And first of all to say it's fitting to discuss 1916 because this year we're going to get a lot of revisionism about 1916: It was just an adventure – it was irresponsible – it had no hope of success - it was a distraction and so on. But to me it was an essential step in the struggle for independence. And it wasn't a wild adventure - it was absolutely essential and inevitable and right.
You mentioned mobile phones in the beginning. If they'd had a mobile phone maybe they wouldn't have countermanded the order to rise up in the other parts of Ireland and then we might have had a bit more of a success. (I hate mobile phones, but maybe mobile phones, even two at a time, would have been quite handy.) But it was a huge event and the, it goes without saying, the bravery and the commitment and the ideas of those who were there have left a mark that I think few events can match.
I just want to say a couple of things really: First of all, as the only person from this side of the water I think on the platform, a couple of points drawn from our, the perspective on this side of the water: I think it's important to say that the violence over the centuries has been done by the British to the Irish and that what we are told and what we perceive (jokes about a mobile ringing in audience) (all laugh) but what we are told is that it's the Irish that are the terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth. And we're used to hearing this and we take it for granted and the news sort of washes over us and yes we say, well it's all propaganda. And we don't fight it.
And I think it's really important that we do challenge it because it's the context in which everybody, apart from people who are concerned about it and maybe people here, but it's the context in which people in general feel what is happening. And they see it where terrorist equals the IRA or Republicans and they forget or they're not told or they don't know that of course the terrorism was the British. They forget about Carson, they forget about the British Army, they forget about the mutiny to install partition and so on and the violence was done to the Irish people. And I think that's a basic building block of our understanding of what went on.
Of course we get the examples of this all the time. And it's very subtle, it's very nuanced. It's in the people you hear interviewed. It's in the questions they're asked. It's the sub-text of every interview. And just to give one example, which I guess you've all heard or listened to but in the story last week of the Omagh bomb where the last suspect was freed - I mean a terrible, appalling event of course but it was routinely described as the worst atrocity of The Troubles – the worst atrocity of The Troubles. There were I think either twenty-nine or thirty-one (depending how you count them) people killed and two hundred and twenty-eight injured. A terrible event. The Dublin and Monaghan bombs, which of course you will probably know about, in 1974 actually killed thirty-four and injured three hundred. But they were planted by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and the British Army and security forces have been implicated. They're not mentioned. That is – now, comparing two appalling atrocities is not very attractive, but why on Earth would you say the one that killed thirty-one was the worst atrocity when the British were responsible, or the Loyalists were responsible, for killing thirty-four? Why? Why? Are they ignorant? Did the journalists not do the research? No. It's part of the knowledge, it's part of the understanding that has to be passed on. And that's the context in which we judge it. And it's permanent and it's consistent and it's part of the 'mood music' whenever Ireland is discussed.
And I think we have to challenge it, we have to fight it, we can't just let it happen - we have to oppose it. There's numbers you can ring, there's demands we have to make because otherwise it just continues and continues. We expect it from the press and the BBC flaunts it's objectivity but of course it isn't objective it is the voice of the state and that, I think, that should be part of our demands of the new Labour leadership: That when they develop a media policy the role of the BBC in perpetuating myths like this have to challenged. And it's very well saying: Yes, we defend public (inaudible) broadcasting but we don't defend lies! And these are lies. (applause)
The second point I wanted to make was that Ireland was where the British learned to be imperialists. It was the first colony and there's a remnant of it still which makes it probably the last. For seven to eight hundred years the process has been in action. And you can see it and the pattern was repeated in all the other colonies - and it has a pattern. First of all you steal the land and you impose the taxes. Then you put down every opposition brutally, with violence, with ritualised killings, with slaughter. Absolute violence. Then you install settlers to rule on behalf of the absentee landlords. And then you promote sectarianism, maybe on a religious basis or in whatever way, promote sectarianism to keep the independence movement divided.
And then of course you would enact laws that keep the people from that country subjugated so that there are laws to prevent them taking part in the governance of their own country or making any significant inroads into the wealth of that country. And then finally you fight the independence movement with every ounce of strength you can. And finally - finally the last - the last trick is when the independence struggle looks like it's winning you make certain you pass the political power onto people you can do deals with. So in other words you split them which is what the old-class warrior Churchill and his cohorts did was when they proposed a treaty they phrased it in such a way that it would divide the Republicans and then they armed the people they wanted to do a deal with to attack and slaughter their opponents.
And that's the process of imperialism and they learned it in Ireland and they're still learning it and they're still practicing it and, as I said, every night in the news about Ireland reinforces that. I mean you can see it in a way in South Africa where the ANC (African National Congress) began with a communist set of ideas and Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Then they got independence and big business rules and Nelson Mandela's a saint. And it's not rocket science is it?
So those were … the two points I wanted to make. The third is a question really which is: How do we best honour the memory of the people who fought in 1916 and gave their lives in the independence struggle? And again, I thought that I would've been the first to quote Connolly - (refers to Geoff) you beat me to it but the remark I particularly like is: We cannot conceive of a free Ireland with a subject working class. Well, the working class - if you look at the austerity programme it's certainly subject to the constraints of the economic system - so the working class itself – suffers the bad housing, the poor public services, the unemployment to the casualisation of work - and it's the same as we have here. Now how do we perceive that? What political demands can we make? I think there is.
And I don't know if everyone will agree with this, but I think there is a possibility now with the change in leadership in the Labour Party to make demands of that leadership. I think we know that John McDonald has spoken in support of Irish Republicanism and I think we have to hold him to that now. I think we have to hold the Labour leadership to that. We say: Don't back down, you know?
Let's give our support and demand that the Labour Party speaks out for the Republican struggle in Ireland. And if there is a point when the people of Ireland feel that they are entitled to vote again on whether that country should be united that should get our absolute, one hundred percent support. And interestingly, I think it's in three years time, will be another centenary commemoration which is when the Irish people did vote for independence across the whole of Ireland. And I think it was an overwhelming vote – was it eighty percent? Or eighty-five percent. So there's an anniversary we can look forward to in three years time let's commemorate the one vote that was taken by the whole of Ireland to vote for a united, independent country - that's the one! (big applause)
And of course the other way in which we can show solidarity is to fight along side the people in Ireland against austerity, for homeless, for the common ownership and democratic control of the commanding heights of industry, for the utilities, the defence of public services, the end to privatisation there, the end to subcontracting and for a new economic order. And ending with James Connolly has to be thus: 'The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour.' And we can stand for the cause of labour!
Original article: Ireland's Easter Rising – A Revolutionary Legacy, transcript thanks to The Pensive Quill
Original Video: Bernadette McAliskey and Ken Loach mark Easter 1916 Risingtime stamp begin 28:36