Fear of Violence around 100-Year Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising
On March 4, 2016 in east Belfast, a bomb exploded under the van of a 52-year-old prison officer. A group calling itself the new IRA claimed responsibility, and police have four suspects in custody, including three men and one woman, all of which are in their 30s and 40s. According to the new IRA, they targeted the officer because “he was responsible for training prison officers who work in a wing housing dissident republicans at Maghaberry Prison.” The officer was badly wounded, but has been hospitalized and is in stable condition.
The new IRA was formed in the summer of 2012 as an “an amalgamation of a number of dissident republican organizations.” In November 2012, they murdered prison officer David Black when he was driving from work at Maghaberry Prison. The new IRA has been carrying out attacks ever since. The group’s spokesman said that the 2016 attacks are in protest to the poor treatment of Maghaberry’s imprisoned dissidents.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland has publically stated its deep concern that dissident republicans were committed to serious attacks to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. Stephan Martin, the Assistant Chief Constable, warned “I believe another attack is highly likely. There are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark this centenary by killing prison officers, police officers or soldiers… We believe the threat is extremely high, at the upper end of severe.”
From the conclusion of the Williamite War in 1691, the minority group called the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy established the Church of Ireland that was loyal to the British Crown. It ruled in a discriminatory manor against Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants. Although the Irish had their own parliament, the Declaratory Act of 1719 gave the English veto power over Irish legislation deemed unacceptable.
When France supported the Americans in the American Revolutionary War, the English feared a French invasion of Ireland and called for Irish Volunteers to defend it. The Irish aristocracy used this as leverage to get concessions for voting rights for property owners. The Society of United Irishmen was formed in 1791, which included Catholics and Protestants in opposition to the Anglican British.
With the French Revolution and execution of Louis XVI in 1793, the opposition went underground. They later attempted to work in conjunction with France to launch an invasion and remove the English from Ireland in 1796, but the weather prevented the 14,000 French veteran troops from landing, forcing the French fleet to return to France.
In response, the English began a counterinsurgency campaign of repression. One of its key methods was to use religion to divide the United Irishmen, continuing a divide and conquer technique used throughout the empire. This all resulted in the United Irishman Rebellion of 1798, influenced by the French and American Revolutions.
Following the various revolutions and insurgencies, England passed the Acts of Union 1800, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This move eliminated the Irish Parliament and instead merely gave Ireland representation in Westminster, thereby diluting its power.
Opposition over British rule took may forms over the next hundred years, including revolutionary (Rebellion of 1848 and Fenian Rising), social (disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and the Land League), and constitutional (the Repeal Association, and the Home Rule League). When the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) succeeded in having the First Home Rule Bill of 1886 introduced by the Liberal government of William Ewart Gladstone, constitutional nationalism seemed to be about to bear fruit. However, not only was it defeated in the House of Commons, but the Second Home Rule Bill of 1893 was passed by the Commons and then rejected by the House of Lords.
It was at this point that frustration over the failed attempts of legitimate legal change lead to the 1916 Easter Rising. The failure of the Third Home Run Bill in 1912, the formation of conflicting armed forces (including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and Sinn Fein), and the outbreak of World War I in 1914 created an environment ripe with tension. The last straw was the issue of conscription in Ireland for the war.
In 1915 The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) sought to receive German military assistance. The socialist leaning Irish Citizen Army (ICA) convinced the IRB to work together and have a united uprising on Easter 1916.
Finally, on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, they proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic. 1,600 followers helped stage the rebellion, in which they seized prominent buildings in Dublin and clashed with British troops. After a week, the rebels were suppressed and more than 2,000 people were dead or injured. Soon after the leaders of the rebellion were executed. Although there was little support initially for the Easter Rising from the Irish people, public opinion later shifted and the executed leaders were eventually hailed as martyrs. Finally a peace treaty established the Irish Free State in 1922, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland.
Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s culture minister, has stated that the Irish government will not allow republican hardliners to exploit the 100-year anniversary to justify terror attacks in Northern Ireland. “Unionists and some historians are fearful that the centenary may be used by anti-peace process republicans to claim the 1916 rebellion is ‘unfinished business.’”