1916 - The rebellion in Dublin

Nothing is more to be regretted in connection with the Dublin tragedy than the decision of the authorities to execute the ringleaders. We question not the justice of the decision but its wisdom. Cui bono? If the answer is that these men had caused a great deal of innocent blood to flow and richly deserved their fate, we certainly shall not dispute it, but that answer is equivalent to a confession that the executions were inspired by mere righteous indignation rather than by the consideration for the future of Ireland which ought to be the Government's main concern. If the executed men had been killed in the fighting few would have regretted them; or if, while the fighting was going on, the Commander-in-Chief had considered it necessary to make an example of them, his action would have been generally endorsed. But the rebellion was already completely crushed and the executions, therefore, must be regarded not as a military but as a civil and political measure - directly authorised presumably by the Government in London. The only alternative plea, that it was necessary to deal sternly with the ringleaders in order to deter other Irishmen from following their example in the future, is not one that will be put forward by anyone with the smallest knowledge of Ireland's history.

A week ago these men were recognised as foolish firebrands who had imperilled the welfare of their country, and as such they were execrated by the great mass of their fellow-citizens. But now they have atoned for their mistakes by paying the full price, and in the heart of every Irishman their names are already added to that long list of heroes and martyrs who have died at English hands for the sake of Ireland's freedom. That is what the Court Martial has done. Was it worth it? We suspect that the Government never took time to consider whether it was worth it. We suspect that it was a case of automatic reaction to the charges of indecision which have been brought against them. They wished, we suppose, to show that they could act decisively. In such a case, however, conscious strength would have shown itself in merciful justice - but that would have been strength of a quality which, perhaps, it needs a Lincoln to exhibit.

This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery