A chairde. First off, a word of thanks to the organisers, Republican Sinn Féin, for the opportunity to speak here today — to forward my slant on how Republicanism needs to progress in what are times of historic import.
The new terrain that is Brexit
As Brexit, coupled with shifting demographics, speeds the prospect of constitutional change — and here we are talking about a meaningful likelihood there be change, not a mere rhetorical notion — it is imperative that Republicans speed a vision of the Republic that can impact this unfolding process.
Some form of ‘Irish Unity Now’-type initiative, that can better position the Republic in this context, is a fundamental if we are to succeed. Building that platform, though ensuring its ideological compatibility, is the ‘way forward’ at this critical time. On here — on such a project — the Republican effort must focus.
Republicans, however, are far from alone in seeking to impact the process of change. Indeed, if anything, we are far behind our rivals and opponents, the ‘agreed new Ireland’ of constitutional nationalism the frontrunner of proposals for change. But what and to where does this ‘agreed’ Ireland set towards?
It becomes clearer, month-on-month, not only that the Good Friday Agreement bedded down British position in Ireland but that it guarantees it into perpetuity. The developing notion that there are two nations on Ireland, as opposed to two traditions, is a vehicle to ensure any future United Ireland is tempered by a forward role for Britain.
How far this is to be entrenched within its constitution has yet to be determined but the British, here, will seek to maximise whatever hold they are left with. There, in that forward role for Britain, lies what has still to be ‘agreed’, as opposed to the governmental structures of a future Irish republic.
This ‘agreed new Ireland’ — to be mounted come a ‘Yes’ vote border poll — is effectively Britain’s ‘backstop’ should the unionist veto fail to hold. This is the realpolitik confronting us. Republicans must thus be careful, in terms of the initiatives we partake in.
For under the border poll process, rather than Ireland becoming fully independent, instead she is to be bound within a structural relationship with consequences for her sovereignty. The so-called ‘totality of relationships’ is the framework designed to effect this. Nowhere, there, can be found the republic envisaged by the 1916 Proclamation, to which we are pledged as Republicans. An alternative must be developed.
The Republican alternative
In the context of the above, while our efforts must ward against such an outcome, we must, though, offer more than the ‘politics of rejection’. We must empower, through hard work and endeavour, a credible alternative that attracts mass support. This is a necessary counterweight to the designs of the British state. Criticism alone, be assured, won’t cut it.
In the first instance, Republicans must set out the steps to be taken were constitutional change to proceed. We are speaking, here, of our ‘roadmap’. We must give substance to what physical process should action a 32-county republic, campaigning in turn that this go forward come all or any circumstance.
Through such, while cognisant of changed political realities and seeking to impact the same, we need not internalise British constitutional constraints — constraints which seek to place permanent limits on the sovereignty of Ireland for the purposes of imperialism, not just in the here and now but even under a so-called United Ireland.
And while Republicans, of course, must endeavour to impact the emerging Irish Unity conversation, the lessons of the past must be learned. Where Republicans have embraced the state and its mechanisms, as Tony here once put it, Republicans have been included but Republicanism Excluded. We can’t let this happen again. We must remain beyond the state. We must stand behind the Republic.
In search of the Republic
But through what political means or mechanism do we intend to depose the current order — in all of its parts — including the jurisdiction of what Ó Brádaigh described as the ‘southern twin’ of British oppression — and restore in turn the Republic?
There is no unified thought process, here, as to how a constitutional ‘re-mapping’ would unfold, should Britain withdraw, creating space for the ‘agreed new Ireland’ of constitutionalism to thrive. This demands, on our part, that a ‘white paper’ on Irish Unity be issued, detailing the technical process of how constitutional change is to be managed, which can be stood over in ANY eventuality, regardless of how it be triggered.
In this sense, more important than the virtues of any constitutional trigger is to where, in turn, it intends toward. Rather than focusing on the merits of any trigger, of itself, we must look to the process beyond it. For unless it leads onto the removal entire of Britain’s constitutional footprint then what use? Here is where our ‘roadmap’ comes in.
Fundamental here is that the parameter for any future negotiation with Britain should not encompass the workings of a United Ireland but should extend no further than how her withdrawal is to be effected. No less than full Irish Unity under a full 32-county republic should be contemplated. The future from there is a matter for Ireland — inclusive of her differing identities and traditions but free from external impediment.
Setting towards the future
Republican cohesion can only be formed around the substantive of the Irish Republic. Whether the Republic is on offer through the initiatives we partake in is the only question that matters — and it is very hard to see how a republic of any kind can emerge out of the Good Friday process. As Mellows rightly called it, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Worse again is that the revisionist compromise certain to emerge is sure to stand for at least a further 50 years. That’s 50 years forward with again no Republic, if not more. That compromise, of course, is the spoken of ‘agreed’ Ireland — where Britain gets to stay, though in reduced capacity, while her fools in Ireland agree to it. Nowhere in this lies the Irish Republic — there is only its forward usurp.
We must take our cue accordingly and, instead, must chart our own path — upon the solid foundation of the Republican Constitution. The idea, here, is that we organise not for a British border poll but for the reconstitution of the Irish Republic, upon an end to Partition rule.
Come that event — the end of Partition — Dáil Éireann should be restored as a national parliament, for all Ireland, convening upon free elections across Ireland’s 32 counties. It would sit, initially, as a constituent assembly, tasked with framing the forward governmental basis of the country. Essentially we are speaking here about a new constitution and adjoining bill of fundamental rights.
What we lack, at this time, is the power to effect such an outcome but that doesn’t mean we change our core politics, that in turn we become more electable — which is surely the approach of the new Sinn Féin and of others set clearly on joining them. It means we work to popularise them — to build them into the mind’s eye of the people. Only through the hard work this requires will our day ever come.
The integrity of the Irish Republic
The political integrity and sovereignty of the Irish Republic must be the foundation on which a future United Ireland is built, including in regard to both its governmental systems and allowances for constitutional protections, for those who these might concern or be required.
Irish Unity should encompass, thus, a full expression of Ireland’s right to freedom and sovereignty. While constitutional guarantees can be built into any new political arrangements, these should be bound within a fundamental bill of rights — not in conceding a forward role for Britain, as the Good Friday Agreement envisages.
If we can successfully coalesce behind such ideas we can then begin building an effective strategy. But there must first be the correct analysis of events and a solid foundation that underpins all. As the prospect of constitutional change comes into sight, the stakes could not be higher — and nor could our own responsibilities. We must hold the line and now more than ever.
Go raibh mile maith agat a chairde — An Phoblacht Abú.
Sean Bresnahan is an independent Republican from Co. Tyrone who blogs at An Claidheamh Soluis.
Follow Sean Bresnahan on Twitter at @bres79.