‘Road To Referendum’ Must Set Toward Full Irish Unity

Sean Bresnahan with an address delivered to Yes For Irish Unity Campaign’s Road To Referendum Conference — November 16th 2018, Strabane.
Sean Bresnahan & Tommy McKearney

Road to what and where?

First-off, can I thank the organisers for the opportunity to speak here this evening, to give my opinion on what a referendum should entail if it is to advance and not hinder Republican objectives.

While the theme tonight is ‘road to referendum’, it might easily be ‘road to what and where’. For at this stage in the unfolding border poll process — which is presented by some here as a referendum on Irish Unity — it is clear that those who advocate such a poll have no clear policy as to where a successful vote actually intends.

From the public utterances of established constitutionalism, it is already obvious that it is not to the Irish Republic.

In the first instance, the Northern Ireland Act’s border poll usurps the right of the Irish people to self-determination, not only by denying our rights to freedom and sovereignty — by empowering an artificial gerrymander — but by ring-fencing the scope of political change that can be mounted upon a ‘Yes’ vote.

It becomes further evident, with each passing week, that a ‘Yes’ vote sets not to the Irish Republic but to an ‘agreed new Ireland’ — one premised on the Good Friday Agreement and a reconfiguration of its core elements; elements contrived unilaterally by Britain and which Britain has described as the ‘totality of relationships’.

Good Friday positions all of Ireland, both north and south, within this construct, giving to it legal standing. The establishment in Ireland is already pushing that, even were a border poll to be held and passed, the Agreement continues onward, into any political structure to follow.

That structure, then, will also be mounted upon that set of relationships and that is where a border poll takes Ireland — to a revised continuum of the Good Friday Agreement, not to a republic premised on the 1916 Proclamation. There is no road here to the Irish Republic. It plants in its stead the ‘agreed new Ireland’.

That is not the objective of the Republican struggle, for only an all-Ireland republic can deliver on the freedoms and entitlements set out under the Proclamation.

Where stands the Irish Republic?

Irish Republicanism stands to uphold the sovereignty and unity of the Irish Republic — the Republican object being to restore its writ over that of Britain’s Partition system.

But given all that has already been spoken of regards a post-border poll Ireland — about a forward role for the British Crown, about the continuation of Stormont, about the Commonwealth, the Union Jack, and even Jim Gibney’s incredible reference to the ‘Britishness of the Irish people’ — are we really to believe that a border poll intends on that same Republic?

Those who advocate that means have yet to address this concern, as they ought to. In particular for the ‘Yes For Irish Unity’ Campaign, this needs considered sooner rather than later if such revisionism is not to be given free reign — or worse still internalised.

When we have people like Jarlath Kearney, fronting for the Think Tank, pushing that Ireland reunified ‘need not mean any change in constitutional or sovereignty realities’ — that it should take the form of ‘two states – one system’ — we need to get wise to what is unfolding.

Anyone not concerned here should look closer at what we are being conditioned toward, no matter their political persuasion — be they an ordinary Republican activist or an elected representative. All of us should be deeply worried by the Adams notion of a ‘United Ireland not as traditionally envisaged’.

But regardless the contortions of those who are pushing this, in the ongoing context of Brexit it is clear that the United Ireland agenda has been energised and it is right that we should take stock.

Brexit renews imperative for Irish Unity

Post-the recent ‘Brexit’ vote in Britain, with the electorate there having determined upon exiting the European Union, Ireland as a result — both north and south — faces certain upheaval over the months and years to come.

Brexit is now the touchstone issue in Irish politics, with much of the discussion centering on its likely impact on the border — a border which still separates the north of our country from its natural hinterland, the rest of Ireland.

Much of the focus is on whether a ‘renewed’ border — despite it having never gone away — should be a ‘hard border’ or a ‘soft border’, depending on what arrangements are decided on by Britain (which claims sovereignty over the North) and the rest of Europe when Brexit has been finalised.

But the damage that Brexit is certain to do Ireland, in particular the North — which faces acute isolation removed from Europe and on the margins of the so-called UK — demands neither a hard border or a soft border but an END to the border, with full Irish Unity to proceed in its stead.

Brexit, then, establishes a renewed imperative towards Irish Unity — that Ireland at last be reunited. With the difficulties faced by our divided country set only to intensify, in a manner not seen here in many decades, this is now a national priority and indeed THE national priority.

The current status of Ireland partitioned is untenable on a forward basis. In that context, in accord too with the longstanding Republican position in regard to Partition, Britain must withdraw her claim to Ireland and make way for our right to determine our own affairs — the latter to proceed upon a national referendum that brings forward an independent 32-county republic.

It is there, in such a republic, that the complex challenges presented by Brexit can best be resolved. It would bring forth a better future for all Irish people — be they from Dublin or Belfast, Kerry or Tyrone — in a modern and democratic political arrangement as this time of uncertainty demands.

A full 32-county republic is the only such arrangement whereby Irish national sovereignty and the right to self-determination can be upheld in their totality and as they should. It is to there alone that any referendum must aim. It is surely obvious that only a national referendum, where all votes are cast and counted within the one constituency, can realise that end.

Britain, ultimately, must accept the sovereignty of Ireland and allow our people the same opportunity for national development voted for in the Brexit referendum. That must be the message to come now from Irish nationalism and that must be where ‘Yes For Irish Unity’ locates itself on the ‘referendum spectrum’.

Were Britain to state her intent to leave Ireland, a national dialogue on the mechanics of unity can from there and in turn proceed. A 32-county constituent assembly, elected upon the national suffrage, is the appropriate vehicle to advance such discussion.

Through such a forum, the Irish people can determine together their own affairs and future — as is their right and entitlement. The outcome of that deliberation can in turn be put out to national plebiscite and that is where a referendum should be pointed. It is to here that all concerned in the ongoing Brexit crisis should now look.

Republicanism as a bulwark against reformist revisionism

Republicans, then, must approach a border poll with utmost caution, conscious and aware that core to its design is both an acceptance of its right to determine Ireland’s future and a paving of the path towards a revision of current structures — these to be dressed in the garb of a United Ireland. While there is a need for nuance in our forward direction, we ignore these matters at our peril.

We must guard against another shift towards reformism — for we have already seen where it ends: in the abandoning of the Republican position. Partition and its constitutional constraints stand to usurp Irish self-determination. Thus the need for a national referendum — to supplant the occupiers design towards change, empowering instead the rights of our people.

Republicans should be under no illusion. A long term process, with no quick fix, lies ahead. We will face many challenges along the way — not least efforts to steer what remains of Republicanism away from its core beliefs and principles, to a position that can reconcile with Britain’s strategic aims as opposed to our own.

We must become a bulwark against that agenda — clear in our opposition to every strata of the occupation regime and its intentions. With constitutional change now firmly in sight, the stakes could not be higher. We can respond, as we must, or watch on from the rear as Britain makes good on her scheming.

Will Ireland at last take her place among the nations or be further reconfigured in the interests of British power? A fundamental reckoning lies ahead.

Sean Bresnahan, Chair, Thomas Ashe Society Omagh blogs at An Claidheamh Soluis

Follow Sean Bresnahan on Twitter @bres79

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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