Responding To Seán Mór

Earlier today the former republican prisoner and current Irish language enthusiast ‘Seán Mór’ placed a comment on The Pensive Quill which while not addressed to anybody in particular, does merit something in the way of response from those of us who feel we can rule in or out of the republican court people on the basis of the views they profess to hold.

Thomas Paine’s notion might well have some purchase on the thinking of Seán Mór. If so, it is good company to be in.

It has always been the political craft of courtiers and court government to abuse something which they call republicanism but what that republicanism is or was they never attempt to explain.

There is already an interesting discussion prompted by the Seán Mór question. Because my response, although quickly written, is a bit long for a comment, I have opted to post it as an article on TPQ. This gives it no special status and others who feel they wish to make use of the same facility for a lengthy response can do so.

I have neither the time nor inclination to find the time to write a comprehensive piece detailing what republicanism includes and excludes. But there are some thoughts that struck me immediately upon mulling over Seán Mór’s question and which I wish to commit to print.

I see a difference between an Irish nationalist and a republican. Connolly was at pains to emphasise such a difference in his Labour In Irish History. He placed a demarcation line between conservative nationalism and radical nationalism. The latter was more complementary to and compatible with republicanism. So, there is history of differentiation that republicans might draw upon.

In 1995 I used a term to describe the SDLP at a public discussion in Derry - ‘partitionist nationalists.’ Mitchel McLaughlin bristled at its usage arguing that there was no such thing; to which I responded that a partitionist nationalist was a nationalist – very different from a unionist who valued the union and opposed any united Ireland outside of British rule - who wanted Irish unity but who was prepared to have such unity deferred in preference to the partition/consent principle. Now Mitchel knew quite well that I was actually critiquing the SF position-to-be in a shielded fashion and for that reason he tried to rubbish the suggestion. So while a nationalist can be a partitionist a republican never is. It is the primal ground a republican cannot abandon.

About three years ago in a review for Fourthwrite I wrote the following:

But if republicanism is viewed as a systematic history of ideas rather than a whatever you’re having yourself philosophy then at its heart are core tenets that it seeks to promote and which distance it from the other perspectives that seek to utilise its insights.

It stands apart from nationalism in that interdependence rather than commonality defines it … Republicanism poses a particular challenge to nationalism in that it is based on citizenship rather than commonality. The point is illuminated in the collection of essays by showing that Germans living in Russia could obtain German citizenship as soon as they arrived on German soil but Turks living for years in Germany were denied citizenship.

In other words republicanism embraces people, not just some people on the basis of their national identity. It champions citizenship rather than common background.

The type of republicanism we are discussing today however is the republicanism that moulded the bulk of us – Provisional republicanism. It was a hybrid ensemble and the Provisional part ditched all republican sentiment and jumped into the arms of the British administration. The core issue it ceded ground on was the partition principle. Accepting that a minority in the island have the right to exercise veto and keep the country divided is the antithesis of republicanism. And support for the consent principle is inseparable from acknowledging that minority right to veto the unity of the country.

Whether the consent/partition principle is a good or bad thing is not the point – what is the point is that it is not a republican thing in that it is alien to the republican primal ground.

Taking it down to its most basic level, is there any republican who would criminalise armed republican activity and side with the British police against it? I totally oppose the use of armed force and criticise it most strongly but never forget that the people using it are in the very same mould as those young men and women who resisted tenaciously the British criminalisation policy in the jails. The SF leadership is in the mould of Don Concannon, Roy Mason and all that British crowd that stood shoulder to shoulder with the British police shouting ‘criminal’ at the people wearing the blanket. It should be an easy matter for observers to judge for themselves on what side of that line republicanism is to be found.


  1. thanks for that, Mackers. I'm heading out for Valentines shortly and I'll return to this later as it's a discussion I'd like to have. I have to say that your distinction between the focus on citizenship within republicanism and the focus on commonality in nationalism, is a very useful one for me.

    My republicanism was really a fusion of a number of different strands, including nationalism, socialism, secularism, and separatism.... these things might not all necessarily blend in with the concept of republicanism all the time....

  2. Seán Mór, enjoy. On the way out ourselves to one of our favourite restaurants. We live real lives while Marty will be stuck to the computer all night!!! Ony winding Marty - no rose petals for us!

  3. Antony,

    "In other words republicanism embraces people not just some people on the basis of their national identity. It champions citizenship rather than common background."

    Thanks for this. It is an important definition that I was looking for (and failed to find) when thinking about my long comment on Mark's Dis/topia [sic]ness post this morning.

    I was trying for my own comfort to define Republican Socialism in a way that separated it from National Socialism.


  4. now thats a fine howdie ya do! I nip out for a few jars and lo and behold a dose of Shakespear breaks out,in the form of Anthony and Cleopatra(Fionnuala),well folks you know how that ended ,Cleo was bit in the asp, and Anthony sloped of to his favourite restaurant i.e. the kiddies section of Mac Donalds where he immediatly threw a tizzie when the toy he was given with his meal was a wee plastic figure of G.Adams(with moveable arms) hmmmp throws another politican on the fire kicks the cat and slams the door

  5. Irish republicanism is almost unique as a political philosophy in that it cannot have a reformist wing, it is revolutionary or it is not at all.

    By saying this I am not suggesting for Irish republicans armed struggle must always take precedence, that would be absurd and self defeating. All it simply means is for an Irish Republican recognising the writ of the UK State within Ireland is an impossibility.

    Not least because at the heart of Irish republicanism is the core belief the 'English' State's presence in Ireland has for centuries been illegal, a curse from which much suffering and injustice has flowed; and by recognising Britain's legal right to be in Ireland, is to give it succour; and encouragement to remain.

    Nationalism is something different and is a political philosophy which is far more pliable, but that is for another debate.

  6. Marty, dear friend, everything I said was in jest. I knew you were missing in action because you did not defend me against the shinners who are now on the offensive again. Is it a figment of my imagination or is there a distinct correlation between shinners in trouble and perceived threats? It's just seems everytime they get themselves in a stickie situation (no pun intended) the PSNI arrive at their homes (all three of them usually )with a threat from some organisation or other. Has anyone else noticed this?

  7. Fionnuala a cara you are the last person that would need my assistance a million dollar babe like yourself is more than capable of landing a knockout punch on any shinner who would be foolish enough to enter into a verbal sparring match, apart from ,beauty brains, and a nifty right on your side anyone daft enough to claim to be a republican and a shinner at the same time is living in cloud cuckoo land, The latest debacle over section 44 is a real embarassment to them, as far as threats perceived or imaginary ,exactly the same tactics used by the sticks to aquire and retain personal protection weapons, yip hon the shinners have cloned into the wp 2010,what do you call a sinn fein mla behind a steering wheel, an air bag

  8. Is there a difference between (1)the position of Sinn Fein (the participation in a partitionist administration, councils, etc. north or south coupled with their main principle of ending partition) given that the violence has ended by the group they were affiliated to and (2)the position of actually denouncing all violence, past as well as present in the style of the SDLP?

    Is Sinn Fein's participation realpolitik to pursue their goals peacefully now considering abstentionism would lessen their influence? Is it purely non-republican?

    If armed actions are over does that mean abstentionist politics and non support for the police would be better; waiting for a united Ireland to happen before there is a supported police service and before politicians take power north or south and thereby have influence? Are we going to have a situation where armed Republicans police the community? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The Ombudsman?

    Surely nobody should fetter their ideologies to the detriment of the core principle of that ideology?

    Perhaps if violence is unacceptable and non-participation is unacceptable Sinn Fein's policies are more efficacious in delivering Republicanism's main goal? Delivering it without Republican and other deaths, prison terms etc.