What happens to Ireland if Britain leaves the EU?


A general election in Britain is always watched closely on the other side of the Irish Sea, not least because of the tumultuous political history linking the two islands. But never has an UK election been of greater interest to Ireland’s business community, amid fears that if the Conservatives win, it could spell catastrophe for the country’s economy.

A win for David Cameron would trigger a referendum on membership of the European Union, which if it results in a British exit would send shockwaves through Ireland’s economy. Each week there is €1bn (£730m) in trade between the two countries, supporting about 400,000 jobs.

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Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Gett

Home rule and the Commonwealth

2517376937Irish Times Letters, Thu, Mar 31, 2016

Sir, – Dr Brian P Murphy (“Democratic path would not have brought independence”, Opinion & Analysis, March 30th) misses the point of John Bruton’s argument in favour of home rule and a peaceful and democratic transition to Irish independence. A home rule Ireland would have been a stepping stone towards full independence – thus achieving the desired goal without the violence and deaths of 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

I expect Dr Murphy is also an opponent of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty but it, too, was a limited form of independence. Ireland was established as a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, King George V remained head of state and members of the Irish parliament were required to sign an oath of allegiance. Greater independence was then achieved, peacefully and by degrees. Under the 1931 Statute of Westminster all the dominions became sovereign states. In 1937 Ireland adopted a new constitution, and in 1949 declared itself a republic and left the Commonwealth.

The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty did secure more independence for Ireland than home rule would have done.

But we must question whether that difference justified thousands of deaths and all the negative consequences that have arisen from the violent events of 1916-1923.

I don’t think so.

Dr Murphy mentions in passing the view held by myself and others that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth – an act that we believe would deepen the fraternal relations of all the peoples of these islands. It seems to me that in the event of Brexit, it would be highly expedient for the Irish government to consider this option as a means of mitigating the impact on Anglo-Irish relations of Britain leaving the EU.

More importantly, Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth would reinforce the powerful message of this centenary year that while the country does bow to its history, it is not bound by it. – Yours, etc,



School of History,

University College Cork.

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Northern Ireland’s Attorney General condemns 1916

JohnLarkinAttorney General: Easter Rising was profoundly wrong and undemocratic
John Larkin says the 1916 Rising couldn’t have been a Sinn Fein rebellion  the official policy of the party up until 1917 wasn’t for a republic

Sam McBride, Newsletter—Friday 18 March 2016

The Easter Rising was “profoundly wrong” and cannot be justified as a “just war”, Northern Ireland’s first Roman Catholic Attorney General has said.

In a typically candid interview with a magazine examining multiple perspectives on the events of 1916, John Larkin said that the Dublin rebellion “lacked any democratic or constitutional legitimacy”.

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Image: Newsletter.co.uk

Rising events must not close churches, says John Bruton

JohnBruton‘Easter Sunday is the most important day of the Christian year,’ says former taoiseach.

Patsy McGarry—Irish Times, 2 Mar 2016

Religious leaders and a former taoiseach have called for access to religious services to be prioritised over 1916 centenary commemorations in Dublin on Easter Sunday.

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Photograph: David Sleator.

Arlene Foster is right to challenge physical force nationalism

ArleneFosterThe Newsletter—Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The politicians in the Republic … submit to cringe acceptance, and moral abasement when it comes to the dictatorship of 1916 which unleashed devastating forces of death and destruction and undid the heroic political work of John Redmond, and many others, who sought an enduring, and peaceful constitutional resolution to Ireland’s divided loyalties, and ethnic differences.

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Republicans must not be allowed to shift blame

Image: First Minister Arlene Foster, News Letter

Heather Humphreys’ speech to the Presbyterian Church

HeatherHumphries22 January 2016

Minister Heather Humphreys spoke at an event organised by the Presbyterian Church on the events of 1916, “Church in the Public Square”. A conference held in Belfast on Thursday January 21 2016.

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Letter in Irish Times on 1916

2517376937Letter in Irish Times from Rob Bury on 7 January.

Was 1916 Rising ‘immoral and anti-democratic’?

Sir, – Congratulations to Patsy McGarry for laying bare the ethical and political wasteland of 1916 (“Pádraig Pearse’s overtly Catholic Rising was immoral and anti-democratic”, Rite & Reason, January 7th).

We need to be led away from the poisonous ideologies of Pearse, Connolly, Markievicz and Michael Collins, the last mentioned being a hero of the Taoiseach. The Rising copper-fastened partition, encouraged sectarianism, led to economic impoverishment and a major exodus of southern Protestants from 1920 to 1926.

The Government’s Easter Rising year-long programme emphasises “reconciliation”, not a legitimisation of anti-democratic behaviour. Our leaders are arguably endangering the lives of their people by their support of self-appointed extremists who had no support. We have an admirable democratic system through which our politicians were elected to promote peaceful changes by constitutional, democratic means. Surely they owe it to us to set an example by getting on and doing so? – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

1916 Rising is something to be angry about, not celebrated writes historian Liam Kennedy

ProviProcCeremonies will be held throughout Ireland to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising this year but we should look back at 1916 with anger, not celebrate it, writes historian Liam Kennedy

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The 1916 commemorations

220px-Reform_Group_logoPerhaps we need to think about the celebration of violence as politics in 1916 by unmandated extremists and their legacy as 2016 approaches.

Here is one consequence of their terrorist activities:

The historian Peter Hart wrote ‘the single greatest measurable social change of the revolutionary era was the dramatic reduction of the non-Catholic population in the south, Methodist, Presbyterians and Church of Ireland.’

Here is another quotation:

The 1916 rebels sought ‘freedom’ but the Free State brought about ‘ a diminuation of individual rights…divorce, contraception, censorship of books and films and no jury service for women(shades of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban) distinguished the legislation’ according to Liam Kennedy in Unhappy the Land.

Then there were some 200,000 Irishmen, the majority Catholics, who went to fight ‘the armies of the Kaiser, makes it easier to understand why the great political question of the day was not a call for the end of the union but for devolution of power to a subordinate assembly in Dublin’, according to Liam Kennedy. He also wrote that the unionist Irish constituted a quarter of the population and ‘remained unsupportive. cowed into submission, as in much of the South.’

2016 will see the elevation of Anglophobia, the foundation stone of the 1916 rebellion (the Rising associates these men with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the celebrations will take place on Easter day next year, not on April 24th, the day of the rebellion, shame on the FG/Labour coalition.)

Roy Foster wrote in Modern Ireland 1600 – 1972:


The Irish nationalism that had developed by this date (1914) was Anglo-phobic and anti-Protestant, subscribing to the theory of the Celtic Race that denied the ‘true’ Irishness of Irish Protestants and Ulster Unionists, but was prepared to incorporate them into a vision of ‘independent Ireland’ whether they wanted it or not’. And we know they did not want it.

So we might ask our politicians, why don’t we put these totalitarian impulses firmly in the past, in a museum, and celebrate the new, more secular and tolerant Ireland? Ask the Presbyteran Minister Heather Humphreys who is organising the commemorations. What leadership is she giving to Irish Protestants? And those who want to move away from violence as politics?

Texting Terror? Proclamation of the Irish Republic, 1916


Professor Liam Kennedy’s talk on the Proclamation to the TCD Students History Society on 24 November 2015.


A short extract from a chapter in Liam Kennedy, Unhappy the Land, Merrion Press, 2015.

Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes

Bertolt Brecht



Less than four years separate the publication of two of the iconic texts of modern Irish history, the Ulster Covenant and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Those were momentous years and by Easter 1916 the world had changed. A possible civil war between North and South, between the newly-formed Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the copy-cat Irish Volunteers had been averted as martial energies were re-directed towards the European conflagration that was the First World War. But fissures within Irish nationalism were about to produce some unanticipated outcomes. On Easter Monday, groups of lightly-armed volunteers took over buildings in the centre of Dublin and the first serious uprising since the union of Britain and Ireland in 1801 was underway. In form it bore a resemblance to nineteenth-century risings in Europe, particularly those of the 1840s, in which street barricades and armed civilians were to the fore.

One of the set pieces of this theatre of the streets was the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in front of the General Post Office (GPO) by the schoolmaster, poet and conspirator, Patrick Pearse. The GPO was located on the main thoroughfare, Sackville Street (later re-named O’Connell Street), not far from the landmark Nelson’s Pillar. Passers-by listened with varying degrees of bemusement and indifference.


The Signatories

As good a starting point as any in breaking open the text is to start at the end, that is, with the signatories to the 1916 Proclamation. The numbers were small indeed, as befits a revolutionary conspiracy. Seven men and no women had their names on the document. The first signature belonged to Tom Clarke, and there is some dispute as to why this was so since Patrick Henry Pearse had been designated the president and commander-in-chief of the Republic. Clarke represented an older generation of Fenians, and more specifically the faction that believed in the benefits of a dynamite campaign to terrorise the English and Scottish public in the 1880s. Perhaps these considerations entitled him to a place of honour. Two symmetrical columns of names appear beneath Clarke’s, in no apparent order of precedence. Later on the matter of precedence was to assume some significance, with the widowed Mrs Tom Clarke clashing with Mrs Pearse on ‘who owned 1916’ (as some put it). Included in the seven was the socialist and trade union organiser, James Connolly, who played a significant role as a military leader in the rising. The others, less well-known now and little known then, were Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett.

The document is usually referred to as the Proclamation of the Republic, or more loosely as the 1916 Proclamation or the Easter Proclamation or the Proclamation of Easter Week. There are other minor variants. The use of the definite article in the original text implies that this is not any old republic: this one has been in the making for some time. The Fenian oath drafted in the previous century spoke of ‘the Irish Republic, now virtually established’. So the virtual Republic, long whispered about by Fenians in backrooms and public houses, was now fully incarnated as the Republic.

SackvilleStWriting the Text

The principal architect of the Proclamation was Patrick Pearse, while James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh added suggestions. Almost certainly the main reason the term proclamation was chosen was because there are textual echoes here of the ‘Proclamation of Independence’ by Robert Emmet, prepared before the latter’s abortive rising in 1803. The aim of Emmet and the remnants of the United Irishmen was ‘a free and independent republic in Ireland’. Emmet’s manifesto was issued by a so-called Provisional Government and addressed to the People of Ireland, which is a form of words replicated in the headings of the 1916 Proclamation.

Then there is the question of the language in which the Proclamation was written. Some might find it surprising, if not actually ironic, that the Proclamation was penned in English, and not as Gaeilge to which Patrick Pearse and others were so deeply committed. Only two of the signatories attached their names in Irish and Pearse was simply P.H. Pearse. An Irish-speaking Ireland might be the vision but the reality was that the practice of republican and nationalist politics had always been through the medium of English.



Less than a decade after the Rising the great Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey, would cast a cold eye on how the rhetoric turned to wreaths. In Act 11 of Shadow of a Gunman, Seumas Shields, one of the principal characters, observes bitterly: ‘I hear the gunmen blowin’ about dyin’ for the people, when it’s the people that are dyin’ for the gunmen!’ And so it came to pass in early twentieth-century Ireland, and with renewed ferocity in later twentieth-century Northern Ireland.

Liam Kennedy is Emeritus Professor of Economic History at Queen’s University, Belfast, as well as Visiting Professor in Economic & Social History at University of Ulster. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and is the co-editor of An Economic History of Ulster in the 1980s and Ulster Since 1600, amongst many other notable publications.