Should Ireland have its own 'independence day'?

Experts say it is important to arrive at "some degree of consensus" rather than "something else that divides us"

Should Ireland have its own 'independence day'?

Photo: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

The Easter Rising centenary celebrations may be over and done with, but we are only in the middle of the broader 'decade of centenaries'.

The programme marking a century since one of the most important, turbulent periods in Irish history is due to run until 2022. As the country looks back to the foundation of the Free State, there have been some vocal calls for an official Irish 'independence day'.

Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of the campaign for a new national holiday, and last year introduced legislation calling for April 24th to be designated 'Lá na Poblachta'. The Government rejected the proposal.

Fianna Fáil Senator Dr Keith Swanick, meanwhile, earlier this year brought forward proposals to designate January 21st as 'Declaration of Independence Day' - which would represent a formal recognition of the meeting of the first Dáil in 1919. However, he stressed that there are 'no plans' to designate it a public holiday.

Maurice Manning, chairman of Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the ongoing calls for an independence day here.

He explained: "Our job is to advise the Government on what it should do during the decade of centenaries. We've had one political party and a number of individuals come to us and say 'it's a great shame that we don't have an independence day to mark our 100 years of independence'.

"What we're hoping over the next couple of months is that people will make their views known to us - there'll be a bit of consultation about this, and then we'll come back to the Government and make a recommendation."

Ghosts of history

One potential concern with any celebration of independence is the political & social division that defined much of the early chapters of the Republic - indeed, the two largest Irish political parties in 2017 emerged as a result of the so-called 'Civil War politics'. That's not to mention the problems an independence celebration could cause in a still divided Northern Ireland.

Maurice told Kieran Cuddihy that while the 'ghosts of history' are still around us, there are some issues we must attempt to face head-on.

He observed: "I think it's important that we move into the next phase in the decade of commemorations, and in particular how we handle [and commemorate] our Civil War. Can we make it a healing event? Can we make it history rather than politics?

"The last thing you would want is that having an independence day would become a matter of division [...] I think it's more important that there is some degree of consensus, rather than that we create something else that divides us."

He added: "We came through the 2016 [centenary] year very, very successfully, and people in huge numbers were at one. It was a people at ease with its own history."

Another possible argument against an independence day is the existence of St Patrick's Day - widely considered the Irish 'national day' around the world.

Despite being enthusiastically celebrated here and elsewhere, it is also a holiday that has a mixed reputation - in particular due to the high levels of binge drinking often associated with the day.

Maurice noted: "St Patrick's Day is a wonderful day right across the world for Irish people [...] I think there are aspects of the whole St Patrick's Day thing that have got out of hand, but these are things that hopefully can be cleared up."