Scotland… Catalonia… Ireland? Irish Unity On The Agenda Once More

A recent piece on the national independence question from the 1916 Societies website.


With the dust settling on the Scottish independence referendum of last month and a poll for Catalonia only days away, many are now asking could a similar process here in Ireland present as a viable template to bring about an end to partition and the reunification of our country. A debate of sorts has opened up, however imbalanced, with much of it admittedly constrained by the parameters of the 1998 British-Irish Agreement and its provision for an internal six-county border poll as the gateway to a United Ireland. That debate, while welcome of course, needs broadened out to account for the national integrity of the Irish people and we in the 1916 Societies consider our ‘One Ireland-One Vote’ proposal an effective means to address that imbalance.

The 1916 Societies, as an Irish separatist movement, believe the Irish Republic should be a sovereign, independent state as set out in the 1916 Proclamation and are committed to achieving the reunification of Ireland on that basis. We believe in the right of the Irish people to national self-determination and suggest this be exercised in the form of a 32-county, inclusive and democratic all-Ireland referendum on Irish Unity, requiring at its end a full British withdrawal from all of Ireland. In our view the proposals for constitutional change as set out in the 1998 Agreement, and the Westminster Northern Ireland Act of the same year, are unsatisfactory, do not constitute and conflict with national self-determination, undermine the sovereignty of the Irish people and all with a design on perpetuating the status quo indefinitely.

Schedule 1 of the Agreement gives the British Secretary of State a supreme veto over Irish self-determination and guarantees the continued gerrymandering of the island of Ireland for the purposes of the occupying British government. Its terms award the British Secretary of State exclusive rights to determine if and when a border poll may be called, to decide on its wording and to decide who may or may not vote in any such poll – all the while reserving the right to add any qualification or provision so desired for the purposes of the British government, who control the process at all times.

Indeed Britain clearly states, backed up by its own legislation, that it will only call a poll if and when there is satisfaction as to its outcome. Even after all of that, any decision is legally non-binding and subject to the further assent of the British Parliament at Westminster. This ‘triple lock’ effectively bars any movement towards ending partition without British agreement, ensuring the notion of Irish Unity remains no more than an aspiration with little prospect of being physically realised.

The 1916 Societies believe instead that the people of Ireland, acting alone and free from external impediment, have the absolute and sovereign right to determine the future of this island and their own destiny. We hold that national self-determination in the form of a singular all-Ireland referendum – One Ireland-One Vote – will give every Irish citizen an equal say on the vexed issue of partition and speed the formation of a sovereign, independent, unitary state to replace its failed political arrangements. Recent developments in both Scotland and Catalonia demonstrate that such a referenda-type strategy can offer a credible and democratic alternative to the British-promoted ‘unity by consent’ model, itself founded on London’s historical and ongoing refusal to accept the democratic will of the Irish people.

Talk of the six-counties having its own right to self-determination is simply a way to circumvent that will, ignoring as it does that Irish consent was never sought or given for such an arrangement to begin with, and another way of saying Britain and Unionism should be allowed to dictate the parameters of Irish democracy and must first agree to Irish reunification. We say they have no such right and ask why should that be the case, why should a small minority be granted veto power over the vast majority? Protection for minorities is one thing and of course to be encouraged but this is something entirely different and basically an attempt to reason away the historical context of how we arrived at this point to begin with. To argue the virtues of such a position is to submit the democratic rights of the Irish people to an occupying power and give legitimacy to its schemes to subvert genuine self-determination, that it might exercise continuing control over our country.

No matter the passage of time the historical fact remains Britain has occupied Ireland, in whole or in part, for centuries and has done so against the express wishes of the people who live here. You can’t get around that simply by ignoring it or moving the goal-posts and it is our belief that Irish Unity, as the only truly democratic model, needs examined at this point and a process leading to its implementation engendered at once. It is our hope that One Ireland-One Vote can speed such a worthy end and help challenge the dominant narrative – derived as it is from British policy in Ireland – by giving voice to the legitimate demand of the Irish people to determine their own sovereign affairs in the form of an independent and democratic republic they can call their own.

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