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Home Uncategorized One Bold Deed of Open Treason

One Bold Deed of Open Treason

Angus Mitchell
The text below is a slightly edited version of an address given at Court No 1 in the Four Courts in Dublin on Easter Monday 2016, sponsored by RTÉ. One of the more unsettling facets of the barrage of history that has been unleashed to mark the centenary of the First World War is the silencing of those who either opposed that war or took a trajectory that cut against the grain of the imposed loyalties of that age, and, in particular, those loyalties where nation was pitted against empire. Roger Casement falls into both these categories. During a distinguished career as a British consular officer, he had driven two insightful investigations into European imperialism. In 1911, the British government was so impressed by his work that he was knighted. He had become the moral voice of the British empire. Five years later, he was in the Tower of London and about to face trial for high treason. His volume of essays The Crime against Europe contains a coherent attack on the legitimacy of Britain’s decision to go to war in 1914 and reasons why Irish independence could only be achieved through developing deeper connections to Europe. His mission to Germany, between 1914 and 1916 was, as he called it himself, “one bold deed of open treason”: a candid confession illuminating, among other things, his bitter differences with the Liberal imperialist elite that took Britain into the war. Analysis of Casement’s treason and his treatment at the hands of the law remain deeply controversial and divisive. To those who enter the vortex, it is an intriguing way of gaining insight into the complex structures of both power and sexuality. To legal specialists, the moment allows for analysis of some of the most important legal luminaries of that age. But this is an easy digression from the analysis of the constitutional implications. In the final analysis, Casement’s story is about the use and abuse of history and the symbiotic tensions between law and history. At the Royal Irish Academy symposium on Roger Casement held in May 2000, in response to a request from the Department of the Taoiseach, a great deal of new and original work emerged about the trial. Conor Gearty, professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics, argued that there were essentially three specific contexts for the trial: a constitutional context, a legal context and a political…



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