Former taoiseach John Bruton believed Easter Rising unnecessary

One-time Fine Gael leader’s revisionist views highly controversial and proved divisive with many in the party

John Bruton, as those who knew him would testify, was a man of strong opinions even if they set him in opposition to the consensus.

Mr Bruton believed the Easter Rising and War of Independence were unnecessary to achieve Irish statehood.

That belief was not shared by most Irish historians of that period. Prof Ronan Fanning, author of the seminal book Fatal Path, about the British political response to the Irish rebellion, believed that only the use of violence made the British take seriously the demand for Irish independence.

Mr Bruton contended that the Home Rule Act, which was put on the statute books in 1914 but not implemented because of the outbreak of the first World War, could have secured a peaceful transition to independence.

READ MORE

He articulated his views in an August 2014 speech to mark the centenary of the passage of the Home Rule Act.

“Ireland could have achieved better results, for all the people of the island, if it had continued to follow the successful non-violent parliamentary Home Rule path, and had not embarked on the path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB [Irish Republican Brotherhood] and the Irish Citizen Army in Easter Week of 1916.

“Sinn Féin and the IRA should have used the Home Rule Act as a peaceful stepping stone to dominion status and full independence in the same way as the Treaty of 1921 was so used, but only after so much blood had been shed.”

For that, he was rebuked inside and outside of his party, with Simon Coveney stressing at the time that Mr Bruton’s views of the Easter Rising “does not represent the views of Fine Gael supporters”.

Many took exception to a former taoiseach making such comments given that he would not have held such an office had it not been for those who took up arms against the British. Historian Jack Lane said it was “mind-boggling to hear an ex-taoiseach condemn the founding fathers of this state of which he was a leader. Can you imagine a US president denouncing George Washington or a French president denouncing the French revolution?”

Perhaps the most cogent rebuttal to Mr Bruton’s views came from his Fine Gael predecessor as taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald. FitzGerald’s parents were in the GPO during 1916 and he was adamant that the Rising and War of Independence was not only necessary, but timely.

In 2006 to mark the 90th anniversary of the Rising, FitzGerald confronted head-on the revisionist school of thought led by Bruton, which insists there was an alternative peaceful path to independence.

Such a belief, FitzGerald wrote in his The Irish Times column, was “alternative history gone mad. It does not follow that Home Rule would have led peacefully onwards to Irish independence.” He advanced two reasons for this.

“There is little reason to believe that Britain would have permitted Ireland to secure independence peacefully at least until many decades after the second World War.

“Secondly, long before that point could have been reached, the growth of the welfare state within a United Kingdom of which Ireland remained a part would have involved a scale of financial transfers from Britain to Ireland that would have made the whole of our island even more financially dependent upon Britain than Northern Ireland is today.”

Famously, while his successor Bertie Ahern had a photograph of Patrick Pearse in the Taoiseach’s office, Mr Bruton had a photograph of John Redmond, the Irish parliamentary party leader from 1900 to 1918.

Redmond found his life’s achievement of securing Home Rule for Ireland washed away in a sea of blood during the first World War. His championing of the British war effort and condemnation of the Easter Rising reduced him to hated figure in nationalist Ireland, but Mr Bruton was more understanding.

Mr Bruton always maintained that the magnitude of Redmond’s achievement in succeeding where Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell had failed paved the way for the peaceful democratic state that eventually emerged after the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here

Read More

Recommended