‘Agreed Ireland’ Revisionism A Further Move From The Republican Position

From the 1916 Societies, Sean Bresnahan of the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh discusses Sinn Fein’s emerging ‘Agreed Ireland’ proposal, its impact on the quest for an All-Ireland Republic and the continuation of British rule in Ireland post a nationalist majority in the Six Counties.

Sean Bresnahan
New Sinn Fein are moving away from the idea that once a vote in the North of Ireland mandates Irish reunification that national sovereignty will follow. They are saying now, albeit indirectly, not that Britain’s presence will end forthwith but that instead there will be a tripartite negotiation to agree new terms of reference. Why is that if they are intent on an Independent 32-County Republic? The short answer is obvious: they are no longer set on that position and have given up on the idea it can be achieved.

Where the latest line from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is headed, that he and his party are prepared to countenance new options other than a United Ireland, is not an Éire Nua-style arrangement as some are imagining but to somewhere else entirely – to an ‘Agreed Ireland’ that accounts for the clause in the British-Irish Agreement that London be the guarantor of the unionist community regardless the constitutional status of the Six Counties.

Sinn Fein then seek not a sovereign and independent all-Ireland republic – whether unitary, federal or otherwise – but a renegotiation of Good Friday that allows for the above proviso within any new constitutional set-up to follow a ‘Yes Vote’ in a border poll. This is what Adams means when he talks of ‘alternatives to a United Ireland’ and this is the height of change that can flow from his party’s proposal for a border poll.

Republicanism asserts that the Irish people should freely agree the terms and conditions of their own governance upon a full British withdrawal from our country. Constitutional nationalism, as embodied by New Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Free State establishment, asserts otherwise however, holding that the contracting parties to Good Friday should negotiate and agree any new Ireland that might emerge. The Ireland this process imagines will continue to include Britain.

Adams and Sinn Fein, with the wider Irish establishment, are not then on the path to the Irish Republic but to a revised constitutional arrangement where Britain plays a role in determining both its shape and structure and where Britain retains a role within the same. This has already been signed off on by all concerned during the Multi-Party Talks in 1998.

A discerning look at their emerging position makes clear they are not simply saying there should be rights for the national minority within a ‘New Republic’ and which no right-thinking republican would object to. Instead they now claim the ‘Britishness’ of the unionists must be guaranteed. But who will guarantee this if not London and how will they do so if Ireland is to be a national republic?

The answer of course is that Ireland, at least should this go forward, will never be such a republic but something else instead – an ‘Agreed Ireland’ where the British get to stay and the Irish agree to it, with the ‘Britishness’ of the unionists upheld by awarding London a permanent role in the internal affairs of our nation.

This is the endgame coming into sight, ‘the last wet dream of British imperialism’ as so aptly spoken of by John Crawley at a recent commemoration to the Loughgall Martyrs, where Ireland is settled ‘as a permanent British redoubt’. Not only is this far from what the Martyrs of Ireland laid down their lives for, it is also a complete about-turn on what the republican leadership promised when encouraging support for the Agreement, that the Irish Republic would immediately follow a nationalist majority in the north. Like every other position they’ve held – from the unionist veto to decommissioning to policing – that too now is gone.

But regardless the contortions of others, it remains for ourselves – the Irish people and none other – freely and without impediment – to determine the shape and structure of the All-Ireland Republic. The Irish people alone should determine our future and that remains our inalienable right. Britain should be afforded no role in determining or participating in any future all-Ireland arrangement. The rest is up for discussion but that is at the core of what it means to self-determine and must thus be fully non-negotiable.

In my own opinion – with all that in mind and regardless how Ireland be reunited – a Constituent Assembly along lines proposed by the late Daithi Ó Conaill should follow-on immediately. It is that process which should agree the new Ireland, allowing the Irish people to freely determine – of themselves and without impediment – an Ireland that upholds the rights to freedom and sovereignty laid down in the 1916 Proclamation; an Ireland that, no matter the scheming of Britain and her quislings, remains the birthright of our people.


  1. Sean

    I'm largely in agreement with your opinion that a constitutional assembly ought follow on immediately to a decision by the Brits to relinquish existing arrangements with regards to jurisdiction of the other 3/16th of the island.

    Couple of points though ... if that were ever to be a runner most if not all of the finer details will have to have been essentially agreed by negotiation previous to any constitutional change.
    The terms, conditions and guarantees will have been already debated and disseminated. A final settlement would only come about in the event of that settlement enjoying and being guaranteed widespread popular support.
    Otherwise it doesn't proceed.
    Any constitutional assembly would of necessity have to suffer some dissenting voices (though most dissidents would probably boycott). In reality it would for the greater part be a hopeful affirmation of an agreed compromise by the over-riding majority ... Of course, there'd still be a few crackpots bemoaning that this wasn't what the men of 1916 fought and died for in either Flander's Field or the GPO.

  2. More mantra no mechanics from the Societies. Ho hum.

  3. This piece works better as a critique of SF than it does as an alternative to SF. That does not make the critique invalid: far from it. What it does however, is limit the critique to the descriptive rather than broadening it out to be prescriptive.

    That limits the usefulness of a discussion about a post Northern referendum scenario when the problem is as stark as it has ever been: a majority in the North favour the status quo making the post status quo academic.

    This is what republican face:

    A Northern referendum is most unlikely to favour a UI

    A country wide referendum that would presumably favour a UI cannot be enacted.

    Republicans need to ask themselves what lies within their strategic capacity given the constraints imposed by that situation.

  4. AM

    "Republicans need to ask themselves what lies within their strategic capacity given the constraints imposed by that situation."

    The challenge there, or at least so it seems to me, is that you're expecting a rational analysis from people for whom, by far the largest part, are blinded by strong emotion and passion. Cool objective evaluation, as suggested in your comments, from such individuals is unlikely if not impossible.

    Most citizens with a modicum of good sense I'd guess will not be expecting or looking to any of the republican micro-groups for guidance or leadership.

  5. Henry Joy,

    I am not expecting anything but merely pose the question in the hope that some people can think about it.

    If one life is saved or one person prevented from going to jail as a result of these discussions something will have been achieved. For the most part things move incrementally rather than exponentially. One bite at a time. I don't expect republicans to abandon their beliefs but I do feel they can be asked to apply them in a manner more congruent to the strategic possibilities. Sean Bresnahan and others have thought seriously and rationally about some of the points raised in these discussions.

    People are wedded to their long held ideas but a divorce is always possible. Intellectual promiscuity is a good thing and people should always be invited to flirt with ideas that challenge them.

    In my real world I am not always that patient!

  6. AM

    agreed, things tend to move in an evolutionary way rather than a revolutionary one. Denial of this general rule is part of the problem with old style republicanism. These guys are wedded to revolutionary ideas and tradition. They are the archdeacons of what has become a largely irrelevant church. Being archdeacons they find it painfully difficult to do flirtation and they certainly don't do divorce.

    Your appeals though well-intentioned have and are likely to continue to fall on deaf ears.

  7. Henry Joy,

    I think people have a greater tendency to listen when they are not talked down to by gurus. I hope I do not come across to them as such and that in time some might listen. I recall many years ago not being listened to by very many people. A lot of them today say they wish they had listened. Circumstances so change. If we try not to perfect their thinking but improve it we shall stand a greater chance of success. I am not on a mission to convert them but engage in a simple exercise of tryin to have them view things from a much wider range of positions.

  8. The republican confusion continues in floundering bout with how to accommodate an unwilling British community in N. East Ireland and at the same time wanting an outright victory. The republican groups should adopt the Beatles son 'Love me do' as the national anthem and play it for the loyalists.

  9. AM
    Keep doing what you are doing. It is sterling work, if it keeps one person out of jail... Republicanism's pain in feeling betrayal and defeat is stopping them from seeing or accepting the realities of modern Ireland. Look at how bad things were between Dublin and London during the Hunger Strikes. Since then things have shifted incredibly, from the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the Downing Street Declaration to the GFA and on to the Royal Visit. If there is to be a united Ireland it will take another move closer between Dublin and London, who will bend over backwards to accomodate us unionists. I no longer fear a UI. Any notion of a victory for republicanism and a 32 county republic are dead in the water. The Irish people have rejected republicanism. The continuance of micro-parties and splinter groups with no agreed direction or strategy is such a waste.

  10. AM

    in my opinion you have as much chance of having them view things from a wider position as we would have of asking those of religious faith to abandon their beliefs in sky-gods. As I have attempted to draw attention to above rational arguments, whether presented from above, below or from the side just doesn't cut it in such situations.
    I acknowledge that forceful argument has little direct impact on these people and possibly even entrenches them further but what such forcible arguments do do is to expose to some and reinforce for others the shallowness of dissenting republicanism's positions when its proponents fail to offer sustainable rebuttals of these critiques.

  11. Henry joy,

    plenty of people abandon their belief in sky gods. Very few people start out in life as atheists but become atheist.

  12. It's all very well having intellectual discussions on the futility of war but the reality is and always has been we are one murder away from disaster. It is human nature to want protection in such times. As long as you have loyalist hatred masquerading as culture encroaching on people's streets, as long as you have state violence and intimidation, which mostly comes from the sinn fein element within the state, then you'll have republican armed groups.
    In my opinion if we had an effective political opposition to sinn fein the appeal of violence would subside. It amazes me that with the political knowledge within republicanism we've failed to do so. On a wider scale attitudes won't change unless there is more cross community cooperation but then you need a desire for that, that might not exist yet.

  13. AM

    true but that shift is subject to the individual being able to think for oneself and act independently. Rather hard to do when s/he is enmeshed in the group and fixated on dogma. Exiting the security of the group and letting go of the comfort blanket of dogma requires development of a greater capacity to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty.
    It requires identification of the needs met by belonging to the group and adherence to its dogma ... and then finding ways of having those needs fulfilled in an alternative and wholesome way.
    Membership of these groups satisfy fundamental needs for security, agency, control, belonging, status, meaning and purpose. They can be very seductive for the marginalised, the emotionally vulnerable and for those who haven't matured into independent thinkers.
    Thus its far more complex than asking them to give up their ould sins!

  14. Henry Joy,

    for all of that people still leave groups, change direction, do different things, grow more pluralistic in terms of association and alignments and promiscuous in their ideas. It is very difficult to subvert the anonymous pressure of the group but remorselessly putting the logic to those we disagree will probably pay greater dividends than hectoring them with the enthusiasm of the convert.

  15. AM

    as acknowledged above hectoring has little direct impact but logic only works with people when they're receptive to such inputs. At the risk of leaving myself open to more charges of hectoring I contend that these characters are obsessive and compelled by something other than logic. Their mind set is something akin to that of an addict; they don't know when to stop or when to fold. Like the addict they are compelled along their path to self-destruction.
    The only potential for logical intervention comes immediately after they fcuk up or hit yet another unmerciful low. At such times it may be useful to enquire if they have hurt enough yet.

    Don't be surprised though if they insist that the next phase will be better. It'll be different next time ... yeah!

  16. Henry Joy,

    but that is to treat them as an undifferentiated whole. The world rarely works like that. Yeah some fit your characterisation but others don't. There is no one size fits all way of engaging with them. Will engagement lead to the wilting away of the physical force tradition? Not at all. But it might reduce in size the numbers attracted to it. I think to the extent that cult activity anywhere is for the most part small is because it is limited by competing discourses that better describe the world we live in.

  17. AM

    sure the psychological profile I present is not universal but it is, I'd bet, applicable to a very significant section of that population. If this were to be an accurate analysis then logical persuasion will have little more impact than hectoring, at least not on those who are deeply entrenched. We may influence a few out who are already wobbly or prevent the odd one on the periphery and not yet fully committed from becoming further enmeshed but in the end of the day the best you and I can probably do is just be the change we advocate for.

  18. Henry Joy,

    we don't know how significant. If republicanism has been as penetrated by the state to the extent that is often said then the profile weakens even further in terms of general application. Those who genuinely feel they have a case are not all at the same level of immersion.

    If we berate republicans who disagree with us on the grounds that they are intellectually inferior then it is done from the perspective of a superiority complex. If we try to establish what is the most ethical position, even if we fall far short from it in terms of "being the change we advocate for", we then make the challenge from something other than a sense of superiority. The preaching element is avoided.

    The purpose in discussion is to have people think and reflect. And it is a two way process.

  19. AM,

    To what extent do you believe the State had penetrated and perhaps guided the Republican Movement up to the GFA? Won't be offended if this is too sensitive a question to answer.

  20. AM

    intellectual inferiority isn't necessarily at play here (For example addicts can be ingeniously clever and self-destructive at one and the same time). Intellectual inferiority isn't what I've been proffering at all. I can understand it could come across that way though. What I'm challenging is the idea that there's any probable receptiveness to compromise from the 'dissidents'.
    Sometimes in change process work its useful to build a model of what's going on. I'm suggesting reason and logic are almost absent in this scenario. Hence appeals to reason and logic are likely to fall on deaf ears with most.

    The consistent evidence suggests that these guys are too totally wrapped up in their own world view to contemplate alternative ones. For by far the greatest part, they are heedless of both the democratic will and commonweal of the people of Ireland. Its their way or no way at all, at least that's how it will come across to most reasonable people.
    You yourself are on the record as saying republicanism as once practised no longer works. I agree. It has become outdated ... outdated and dysfunctional in every sense.
    Is it not reasonable and logical to look for some dysfunction in those who support and propose a dysfunctional ideology?

    I agree with you that the purpose of discussion is to have people think and reflect and that purpose is indeed best served as a two way process. However after consistent requests for clarification on strategy from you, and coupled with strong challenges attempting to expose the futility of their position from me and others, Sean and those who supported his stance have left the field without offering any workable plan nor setting forth any sustainable rebuttals. Plenty of guff but nothing of substance.

    Any arrogance rests with those who doggedly and fanatically propose a dogma that has time after time been ditched by an over-riding majority of the peoples on the island ... the arrogance falls to the proponents of such a pathetic path not with those who dare to question the views of those on it.

  21. Steve,

    extensive penetration I imagine through agents compromising operations to agents of influence nudging and pushing the movement towards the partitionist destination it eventually arrived at. Look at it like this - take everything being done or advocated today by SF. Had this have been out forward prior to the ceasefire, the first suspicion is that those making the suggestion were agents.

  22. AM and Henry Joy,

    Your rhetoric sounds like a pre-planned performance. In all due respect, I compliment your wisdom in applying it. I must say, however, that any rapprochement with naïve and treacherous. I'm surprised at you, Anthony.

  23. Ronnie,

    resist the temptation to succumb to the fanciful explanation when the simplest is the most logical.

    Both myself and Henry Joy have been arguing against each other's rather than a pre-planned conspiracy against whatever it is you believe.

    I am pleased that at such a stage in my life I still have the capacity to surprise some. Thought I had gone stale by this point!

  24. No offense to you by all means, Anthony, and I really do respect your sense of humor. I've noticed that Henry and you aren't the greatest of friends.
    Notice, also, that I said, "...sounds like" not was, but I understand it could be misconstrued as you say. Rapprochement with England is asinine.

  25. Ronnie,

    Henry Joy is an acquired taste but very palatable once accustomed and consumed. While we are not friends in the sense that we don't go out on the beer together, many of his opinions are invaluable. And he will not be short to help someone in need, even those he avowedly opposes. That is something we can say about a lot of people on this blog. We should resist the temptation to fault people for expressing a different opinion even if we dislike the opinion and fault them for holding it.

  26. I don't fault Henry Joy. He can say what he wants. I believe in "I may disagree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it."

  27. "...pushing the movement towards the partitionist destination it eventually arrived at."

    Was there really any likelihood of anything else ever happening though Anthony? The British COULDN'T withdraw and the RM could not elevate the war to a level that required full military intervention in everyday life for the entire north. I think Larry once said that the RM was on the wane just before the Hunger Strikes which then proceeded to breathe new life into it, at least for awhile.

    As someone at the sharp end, what is your thoughts on the state of play just before the Strikes?

  28. Steve,

    given the circumstances and relative strength of the various participants, the republicans could not achieve a united Ireland.

    Prior to the hunger strikes they had recovered from the Mason era and were capable of acts like Mountbatten, Narrow water and foreign operations. I don't think the Brits felt the level of threat was as potentially damaging for the state as it was after the hunger strikes. Then the Brits moved to take the sting out of it courtesy of the supergrass system