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history and heritage |
Saturday December 06, 2008 12:10 by Jim Gibney - The Irish News 4 December 2008
Watershed events deserve RTE’s star treatment [Section 31 lives]
RTE is this country’s national broadcasting agency for both television and radio.
I doubt it very much if a columnist writing in a mainstream newspaper in Britain would feel the need to write, ‘The BBC is this country’s national broadcasting agency’.
My comment about RTE is as much a product of the partition of this country as it is a comment on the failure of RTE’s management, as I see it, to represent themselves to the people of this nation as a truly national medium.
This failure is not exclusively the fault of RTE’s management; it merely reflects the position of the political establishment who believe the Irish nation or ‘Republic’ stops at the border.
The notion that this nation consists of 26 counties and not 32 has dominated this country’s political discourse since partition in 1920 and probably took firmer hold after the declaration of a republic in 1948.
RTE’s primary responsibility as a public broadcaster is to promote and reflect the aspirations of the people of this nation.
In simple terms, irrespective of where you live on this island – north, south, east or west; whether you come from a rural or urban background, male or female, a new arrival or a native, an Irish or English speaker, a unionist or nationalist – when you tune into RTE there you must be able to see yourself, your hopes and dreams.
These are the thoughts that came into my head when I came across RTE’s impressive and expensive publication Our War: Ireland and the Great War.
The book is based on the 2008 Thomas Davis Lecture Series and is designed to mark the 90th anniversary of the First World War. It was 18 months in the making a lot of prior thought and preparation.
While I might quibble over the book’s title ‘Our War’ when it was nothing other than ‘their’ war, which is the imperialists of Britain and Germany, the book will make a contribution to the much-needed debate about the impact of the First World War on the people of Ireland.
What I am more concerned to establish is whether RTE intends to commemorate, in a similar or more expansive form, a far more significant 90th anniversary for the Irish nation.
In a few weeks time, December 14 to be precise, marks the 90th anniversary on which the people of Ireland voted in the privacy of the ballot box and expressed an overwhelming preference for Irish independence. And next month, January 21, marks the 90th anniversary of the First Dail, Ireland’s first and last national parliament.
The December 14 election was the last time the people of this island voted as a nation in an undivided country.
That election set off a train of events which continue to dominate Irish politics to this day.
Sinn Fein secured a landslide victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). Of the 105 seats contested Sinn Fein won 73, Unionists 26 and the IPP six.
Sinn Fein’s platform was for independence and an Irish parliament based in Dublin; the IPP stood for Home Rule within the United Kingdom and the Unionists opposed both.
On January 21 1919 the first dail met in Dublin, ratified the 1916 Proclamation, issued a declaration of independence, proclaimed itself the parliament of the Irish Republic and called on the “Free nations of the world to recognise Ireland’s independence” and the British to evacuate from Ireland.
On the same day the Irish Republican Army emerged from an operation carried out by the Irish Volunteers when they shot dead two RIC officers at Soloheadbeg. This action is considered the beginning of the War of Independence or the Tan War.
The British government banned meetings of the first Dail, imprisoned and shot dead those elected to it and imposed partition on this nation at the point of a gun, an action which led to the Civil War and the break up of the national movement for independence.
I might be wrong, I hope I am not, but I do not see any evidence that RTE intends to mark these watershed events in this nation’s struggle for national independence and democracy.
If they do not have any plans prepared now is the time to prepare them.