Travel Journal April 4, 1999
Dublin: Adventures in Politics.


Easter Sunday, and absolutely everything was closed. What to do?

I had noticed yesterday that there was going to be a "day of rememberance" gathering and march today, starting from the General Post Office (about two blocks from where I was staying), and featuring Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as one of the speakers. I've often been curious about politics in Ireland, so I decided to go along and observe. However, the gathering didn't start until 1:30, so I decided to just walk around the city and get oriented.

Here's a shot of the Dublin streets, taken near O'Sheas hotel.

Here's the river Liffey, which bisects Dublin.

I took a shot of Dublin castle, but didn't stop to look inside.

At this point it was still two hours before the march, but I decided to head over to the starting point and check it out, which was rather fortuitous as it turned out.

Here's the GPO (General Post Office), often considered the "birthplace of the Irish Republic". Note that there's a van parked outside, this belonged to the guys setting up the sound system. The sign painted on the outside of the truck said that they provided audio services for weddings, dances, etc. but somehow didn't mention political gatherings...


About an hour and a half before the march was supposed to start began, a different group (calling itself the "true republican Sinn Fein") set up a podium and some speakers. By this time, a moderate crowd had gathered. A parade of young folk dressed in quasi-military outfits marched up in front of the podium.

This group started by reading the 1916 proclamation, along with a recounted version of history that seemed somewhat revisionist to me.

Then a little old lady, looking like someone's grandmother, got on the podium and spoke about the "treasonous decommissioning of weapons" and reviled any "collaborators" who would deal with the Unionists.

Of course, while this was going on the souvenier sellers were in full swing.

I noticed a well-dressed gentleman standing apart from the crowd, and asked him a few questions (a later inquiry revealed that he was a plainclothes policeman). He told me that this group was "a bunch of yahoos", and that the real speakers would come later.

You could tell when this changeover occured, because the podium was taken away, as well as the audio equipment, to be replaced by a much better sound system. Instead of a podium, there was a flatbed lorry with a large political banner and microphone stands on it, looking like the familiar travelling religious revival setup.

There was some proclamations and some folk music, but at this point it was too crowded to get any good pictures. They said that Gerry Adams was not here, but would be speaking at the Garden of Rememberance (in the cemetary), at the end of the march. Too bad for me, as I had hoped to skip the marching part.

Here's some photos of the march. I actually stayed about a block ahead of the parade the whole time, I was instead following the garda (police) who were clearing traffic. The length of the march was about two miles.


A picture of the cemetary, this place is just packed with graves and markers.

At the very far end was a little grassy space, the Garden of Remembrance, which had a roped off area for the speakers. There were a couple of speakers, including local Sinn Fein party candidate, as well as some younger speakers representing the Sinn Fein youth contingent. Finally, Gerry Adams gave his speech, as you can see in the following picture:

Analysis of the speech:

To be honest, the whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me. He railed against the unionists, using lots of emotion-laden language and invoking bitter memories, while the description of his own actions, especially with regards to the decommissioning issue, seemed obfuscatory. In particular, he stated that Sinn Fein could not decommission it's weapons, since it had none; yet he also claimed to be responsible for maintaining a number of cease-fires, which seems a contradiction. I guess that Sinn Fein's links to the IRA are either affirmed or repudiated as convenient.

On the decommissioning issue in particular: as a supporter of the U.S. Constitution, I really don't have a big problem with people owning weapons, however I do have a serious problem with people who possess weapons being unaccountable. I'm not a die-hard NRA type who thinks that firearms shouldn't even be registered.

In a real army, while the deployment and strength of forces may be kept secret for reasons of strategy, the actual employment rolls of the military are always a public matter. And generally, once force has been used, the public is almost immediately made aware of who is responsible for that use of force. This means that an officer who makes a mistake can be reprimanded, court-martialed, brought up on criminal charges, sacked, sued, or otherwise held accountable, not only to his own superiors but to the government and the general public as well. This serves as an essential error-correction mechanism, without which the military would quickly become corrupt, inefficient, and a hazard to the security of the nation. The same is true for any body of men, whether they be priests, politicians, lawyers, or corporate managers; Without some form of Darwinian selection from an external body of men and women who are not in the same profession, these organizations would gradually but inexorably become corrupt, institutionally despotic, nepotistic, and organizationally stupid.

Which explains the real danger of a secret army. Or a secret police, for that matter.

So my view is this: If Gerry Adams doesn't want the IRA to give up it's weapons, then to my mind there is only one alternative - the IRA should be incorporated into the regular military, given proper training and made accountable to the Irish people. However, I would suspect that many of them have been spoiled, rendered temperamentally unfit for military service. I heard on the news that a number of former members of these secret armed groups, being irrelevant to their original purpose, and having been trained for nothing but violence, are now finding new careers in organized crime and extortion. I can only hope that that particular news story was overstated.

Later that evening, I went to see a movie: "Waking Ned." The movie wasn't bad, but unfortunately the entire plot is contained in the trailer for the film - the rest is just embellishment.