Yesterday, saw the re-interment of ten republican volunteers from the War of Independence era. Kevin Barry, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Moran, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Thomas Traynor, Edmond Foley and Patrick Maher were all tried by British military tribunal and sentenced to death. Few expected clemency. The British were not renowned for that type of thing.
Many have expressed disappointment that the re-interment took so long in happening. Few seem to doubt that one motive in the Fianna Fail dominated government’s calculations has been the perceived need to confront Sinn Fein with a little shroud waving. On the 20th anniversary of the H-Block hunger strikes Fianna Fail must find it apt to say 'our ten men dead are better than yours'. An election looms in the not too distant future and Fianna Fail, aware that Sinn Fein will hardly be standing idly by when there are votes at stake, are intent on decreasing the likelihood that such votes will come from any new emerging constituency of republican sentiment.
Sinn Fein too is aware of the electoral implications. And so nothing registered on the shock seismograph when Sean Crowe appeared firmly squeezed in between party leaders Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. Crowe believes he is comfortably placed to take one of the capital's seats in the Dail next time around. A whiff of Dublin republican cordite from the 1920s, safely removed in time from a similar whiff from Bogota 2001, would not go amiss.
There is a strange irony in what Fianna Fail is doing. Bertie Ahern and colleagues are obviously apprehensive about the Sinn Fein challenge eating into their majority status in the Dail. Yet the Sinn Fein vote seems to increase as the party ditches more and more of its republican baggage. Why then should Fianna Fail challenge Sinn Fein on ground that is rapidly thinning out under the feet of the latter?
One explanation is that in burying the ten volunteers Fianna Fail were not engaged in a vote grabbing exercise alone by laying to rest republicans. They were also engaged in a symbolic act of burying any republicanism other than their own. This act of re-interment could have occurred in 1971, 1981 or 1991. Better not to arouse a sleeping dog of presumed latent Southern republican sentiment in those years. Provisional republicanism was on the go and, as they say, armed and extremely dangerous.
The very act of inviting the most articulately vociferous anti-Provisional cleric of his day, Cahal Daly, to act as celebrant for the requiem mass combined with the tricolour clad coffins actually being allowed to enter the church was a statement by the political establishment that its 'constitutional' republicanism had won the day; that it and it alone was the heir to those being buried yesterday. Added to this was the fact that the leaders of Provisional republicanism - who at one time would have shunned any attempt through a ritualistic ceremony by Fianna Fail or Cahal Daly to claim the mantle of republicanism - felt compelled to sit in subdued silence as their republicanism was mocked, sneered at and dismissed.
At the symbolic level the burying of the ten dead volunteers was a victory celebration for constitutional nationalism. Unlike 1971, 1981 or 1991, the sleeping dog of latent republicanism can be stirred. Who is it going to bite? What home has it other than a safe constitutional one? It is safe now for the constitutional to bury the unconstitutional. It is safe because in the act of interment an unconstitutional philosophy was being laid to rest. And its chief philosophers were summoned to watch the act. Their words of protest as silent as the graves into which their philosophy was being lowered.