Every year, on the 11th of November, hundreds of far right and neo-fascist campaigners in France, including the former leader of the Front national, Jean-Marie Le Pen, make their way to the small island of Île d’Yeu, just off the coast of the western Pays de la Loire region, to lay flowers and wreaths at the grave of Philippe Pétain, the head of the so-called Vichy government during the German occupation of 1940 to 1945. Unlike some of the other territories of Europe seized by the Nazi regime during World War II, where domestic civil authorities made a pretence of co-operating with the enemy in order to ameliorate the effects of the invader’s presence, under the auspices of Marshal Pétain and l’État français passive co-operation became active collaboration. Tens of thousands of French citizens, from Jewish children to resistance fighters, died through the policies of the dictatorship headquartered in the interior town of Vichy, a former spa-resort for the European elites during the 1930s. The Pétainists, self-isolated in their administrative capital, became indelibly associated with a torrid mix of authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, Catholic fundamentalism, corruption, hedonism, torture and murder. Far from reducing the effects of a foreign occupation upon their nation they worsened them, turning Frenchman against Frenchman, leaving behind a poisonous legacy that is as virulent today as it was in the late 1940s and ’50s.
I was reminded of the contemporary Pétain tributes in France when reading about last weekend’s controversy fabricated by the political eccentrics of Loyal Orange Lodge 1313, a branch of the British ethnocist and sectarian Orange Order based in the counties of Dublin and Wicklow, and the so-called Reform Group, a minuscule pro-UK or neo-unionist lobbyist body with several maverick journalists and historians among its number. The fringe gathering, all of fifteen strong, had staged a so-called Remembrance Day commemoration in a secret event at Mount Street Bridge, Dublin, the location of one of the better known battles between the forces of the Irish Republic and the British Empire during the Easter Rising of 1916. During that revolutionary week, from Wednesday the 26th of April to Friday the 28th of April, seventeen – and eventually just four – volunteers of the Irish Republican Army had held at bay several infantry battalions of the British Army, inflicting nearly half the UK casualties incurred during the course of the insurrection. Four young men, Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds and Patrick Doyle, were killed during the fighting, at least one almost certainly summarily executed after capture.
The Orange Order and contemporary apologists for Britain’s colonial rule over Ireland are of course perfectly free to remember those who fought to maintain the supremacy of the invader over the native during the many centuries of conflict. The laying of a commemorative poppy-wreath is not an unreasonable thing to do for the small minority on this island nation who oppose its sovereign independence. Like those in France who think it fitting to remember the men and women of the Vichy regime during WWII, or those in the modern United States who remember the men and boys who died beneath the flag of the Confederacy, there are many ways one can honour individual lives without honouring the causes which they served. However such acknowledgements must always come with an acceptance of past misdeeds and quiet contrition for the injustices which were done. No such laudable sentiments came from the Orange Order or the Reform groupings last Sunday. Instead they issued a boastful post on their Facebook profile, one purposely designed to generate animosity and rancour:
“Dublin Orange men assemble on Mount Street Bridge in an act of remembrance to those who paid the ultimate supreme sacrifice in putting down the 1916 Rebellion. A rebellion which was aimed at replacing constitutional government with tyrannical government and civic peace and harmony with destruction of property and murder. We like to thank the Belfast Telegraph for covering the event and the photography student from UCD. In addition, we thank those representatives from the “Reform Group” who also attended and the many fellow Dublin citizen who engaged us with voices of support. Going forward; Dublin orange men will be holding an annual act of remembrance on the bridge.”
Unionist poison, it seems, still begets unionist poison. The fifteen odd men and women who attended last Sunday’s would-be commemoration at Mount Street Bridge have shown that they have no interest in honouring the British war-dead of 1916. Instead they are only concerned with besmirching the memory of the Irish war-dead of that same fateful year. If that requires historical untruths and falsifications of the known record, then they have proven themselves to be equal to the task. The colonist-deniers, the Redmondites and Carsonites of Ireland, as with the Pétainists of France, are still with us and still as unreformed – and unreformable – as ever.