‘Brexit’ Opens The Space For The Irish Republic

From the 1916 Societies:

Speaking at a debate on ‘Brexit’ and the opportunities it affords Irish republicans, Sean Bresnahan of the Thomas Ashe Society in Omagh spoke on ‘Éire Nua’ as the way ahead at the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.

First-off, I’d like to thank the Seán Heuston Society for the opportunity to speak here this evening and intend using my contribution to discuss the fallout and new context ushered in by ‘Brexit’, to make mention of what in my view is the opportunity it affords us to craft a ‘New Ireland’, an Ireland to replace what is now without question the erroneous partition system, which now more than ever stands in the way of national advance across this country.

And just on a quick point of note at the outset, it’s worth stating that I was invited to speak here as an individual – as an independent republican and not on behalf of the 1916 Societies in an official capacity, despite my position on their Officer Board. As such then, all views are my own.

Political Fallout

To begin with I’d like to touch on the political fallout from the referendum itself. For ourselves as Irish republicans intent on constitutional change, the fallout from the Brexit referendum in Britain offers a useful view as to where power really lies in Ireland – useful because it is only when we realise what we are dealing with that we can respond accordingly and with appropriate measures.

What ‘Brexit’ reveals is that the interests of Ireland are of secondary import to the UK state. For republicans, of course, that is nothing new and an obvious reality. But what is important here is that this same point has now been revealed to the wider Irish people, many of whom can see now for the first time that the Good Friday peace accord runs contrary to the national interest, that its framework renders it incapable of meeting the needs of the people in this emergent situation.

The reason for this is simple. Brexit, having established an imperative that Irish Unity be given serious consideration and that preparations be made towards the same, has likewise exposed that even though the people of Ireland may want and indeed need reunification, even though it be in the national interest now and at this time and according to all but the unionist parties in the north, it cannot be brought into being due to the Good Friday Triple Lock and the veto over Irish Unity it affords the unionists and by extension of course the UK state.

Ireland post-Brexit then continues to see prospects for constitutional change pinned down under the weight of the Good Friday Agreement, which remains an enduring obstacle to the fulfilment of republican aspirations, presenting serious issue for the Irish republican project. Those who signed off on that Agreement created a situation where the necessary change at this time cannot go forward, being subject to a reactionary veto. If we are to succeed in fostering political change we must find means to dispose of that fundamental context.

Historical Injustices Cannot Be Wished Or ‘Waited On’ Away

The existing constitutional arrangements as set out in 1998 are contrived to accord legitimacy to Britain’s continuing claims to sovereignty over a part of Ireland, deriving not from the will of the people but from a contrived process designed to exclude the will of the people, to ensure it has no impact or influence on outcomes. In reality, the will of the people was neither sought nor determined, with Britain instead creating a process with only one outcome which could then be sold as ‘war or peace or else’.

Those who genuinely wish to see the democratic will of the people adhered to should advocate that the people be free to determine what it is they want for Ireland, in an open process without preconditions. Brexit opens up new opportunities for that to go forward, regardless of those who yet assert that an artificial gerrymander has separate rights to self-determine, a position which derives from a historical injustice and bows to the politics of conquest. How long must injustice wait before freeing itself from that same charge of injustice?

It’s time instead for a new beginning and for a meaningful peace between our people. Whether unionism cares to admit it or not, the northern statelet is not a country or a state but a contrived gerrymander. It is a part of a country attached to another state for reasons of political expediency. Due to how it was created it has never known peace. And it can never know peace – for peace is about more than the absence of violence.

The Ulster Protestant tradition within our nation should consider a parliament for all Ulster within a ‘New Ireland’. Their political representatives have signed up to a Treaty, no matter our views as to its legitimacy, which holds that the Six Counties will only remain in the UK while a majority within continue to support that position. That majority won’t last forever and indeed could already be gone – with Brexit conceivably furthering its demise, thus creating a new imperative for a final settlement.

There will only be a full peace when we reach such a settlement. Good Friday did not and could not deliver on this because it was not agreed by the Irish people, being instead imposed as the price of peace through the Major Government’s Framework Document, which lead in turn to the Downing Street Declaration, the Multi-Party Talks and the agreement at Stormont itself.

Because it was crafted unilaterally by Britain, it was framed to meet the strategic needs of the British state and not those of the people of Ireland, whether north or south. Thus, it failed to deal with the root cause of the conflict and thus that conflict continues – albeit in the non-violent arena (for the most part). It is likewise incapable of meeting the needs of Ireland at this time, in the context of Brexit and its implications for our country.

Éire Nua And A New Beginning For All

Peace and a full reconciliation between our two traditions remains a great prize to aim towards. The Éire Nua policy of our colleagues in Republican Sinn Féin, born at the outset of the war in Ulster as a revolutionary alternative to the reactionary partition system, can deliver on as much and more. In the ‘New Ireland’ it imagines, the rights of the Irish to national freedom and sovereignty would be upheld while allowing Ulster, with its distinct identity and separate historical development, her own ability to self-determine in accord with the same.

Irish republicanism intends on a new political dynamic and a new set of political arrangements that meet the highest standards of democracy and independence. Éire Nua sets republicanism firmly within that mould and presents an anti-establishment, anti-imperialist vision for a republic worthy of our people. It offers a credible alternative to the existing political institutions on this island, within the framework of a federal system based on the historic Provinces of Ireland.

It imagines a participatory democratic polity, with decision-making devolved to the maximum, awarding communities a direct say in the issues that impact their lives. This is to include voluntary councils, where all have the right to audience, with local councils elected from there and so on up to Provincial Assemblies and a National Dáil, whose remit would be restricted to issues of a national concern.

Éire Nua proposes then a diffuse state, with power devolved to the margins in a political system defined by its commitment to decentralisation. But its advocates, myself among them, likewise envisage a parallel economic system, where the cooperative model is given preference without totally excluding private enterprise (which is, though, to be subordinate to the needs of the wider community). The workers, as such, are to have a share in the businesses they build and work in, cooperating in joint enterprise and with direct participation in the decision-making process protected as of right – all within and regulated by a wider political system with the same intent in mind.

For more information on these ideas it’s worth paying a visit to Republican Sinn Féin’s national website – RSF.ie – where a raft of useful documents on republicanism past and present are readily available.

Such ideas are immediately to hand and can be the future for our country. They represent a credible alternative to the rampant corruption of modern capitalist society, which has utterly failed the people of Ireland, whether north, south, east or west. For republicans, who at this time and in the aftermath of Brexit are searching for a policy to unite behind, it is certainly worth revisiting. It can be the unifying position that unites once more our fractured base, pushing forward with a republican solution to the constitutional conflict in our country.

The time has never been more right, a fact best-evidenced by the emergence of what we might term the ‘Eire Nua-lite’ initiative of New Sinn Fein – the ‘Agreed Ireland’ they have concocted to replace the 1916 Republic, where Britain’s sectarian gerrymander will continue-on post-reunification, in a ‘post-republican’ Ireland. No thanks. Éire Nua is a ready-made counter to this sham and should be embraced – if only until a better alternative can be brought forward.

Personally, I consider that a decentralising of state power to the advantage of community councils and other regional bodies would shatter the cosy arrangement for too long enjoyed by the privileged few in Ireland. Alongside a transition to a cooperative, progressive and ultimately resourced-based economy, it offers the Irish people a way forward in an Irish Republic which holds as highest priority their needs over those of profit.

How To Get There

British rule in Ireland is a barrier to democracy and freedom and as such must be challenged and defeated. But equally we must find appropriate means to do so, relevant to Ireland in the 21st century, its position within the emerging global system and how we hope to relate to it going forward.

A sovereign and democratic republic, where the people come first and the people determine their own affairs to the greatest extent possible, can only be realised through empowering the citizens who make up its number, the ordinary people of Ireland – not at a mythical point in the future, following a ‘redeclaration’ of independence, but now and as part of efforts themselves to achieve such a declaration of itself. This must be the root on which all else grows if we are serious in our intent to succeed.

Through as much, resistance to British rule will spread and grow, which Britain cannot afford and has worked hard to prevent. They do not want republicanism to become again the mainstay of the people. The relation between the Republican Movement and the people then must be as that between the cow and its calf. The cow will give abundant milk for the benefit of the calf – and so likewise must republicanism, with those who adhere to its objects.

The path to a better future lies in establishing the democratic republic; the path to the democratic republic lies in solidarity among and between ourselves, working together on the common issues that are the site of struggle in our individual lives, both here at home and in societies as our own all across this world.

On that basis, we must work to make republicanism relevant to all engaged in struggle throughout Ireland – to open up the conversation, to demonstrate how republicanism, built as it is on the principle of mutual solidarity, offers a vehicle for everyone to band together and achieve a truly progressive society, a new democratic arrangement that wrestles power from imperialism and returns sovereignty to the Irish people, offering a better life and life prospects for us all. It is within our grasp if we believe in our own abilities.

The argument we have come to an end of a revolutionary cycle and must wait on events is a nonsense. The events are here and now and are happening all around us, in Ireland and beyond. That is surely the first lesson to be gleaned from Brexit. As republicans still badly impacted by the failures of recent years, we must believe this is not the end but the beginning – the beginning of a new cycle in the revolution and a new phase in the struggle for freedom.

Our task then is to build again the struggle for a national democracy, with the notion that the will of the people – freely expressed and without impediment – should prevail to the forefront of our analysis. Brexit gives us new opportunities but it is not enough to simply talk about them or write a good speech or have a discussion in a room. We need to get out of the room and go from here set firmly towards that end, on ramping up our activism within our communities and within the broader nation of itself. For when all’s said and done, it is ourselves alone who have the power to do so. The choice is our own to make.


  1. In terms of cow metaphors, the relationship between the general public and Republicanism is more akin to : a cow (Joe Public) and the fabled Ching Chong Chinaman (Republicanism).

  2. Is the border poll and notions of a united Ireland based on the land mass of the island or the feelings of the citizens of the island. In other words is the goal just to have one government, be it federal or whatever form, on the island of Ireland ? I am a 'Free Stater', from down here I think the first sign of any sort of progress would be a socialist loyalist party...but none exists. A united Ireland will never happen if ordinary 'loyalists' or 'unionists' cannot first accept the idea of even a British republic. I love the idea of a 32 county or 4 provinces Irish Republic...but it is not going to happen in my life time. FG/FF dominate down here, and SF/DUP dominate in the 6 counties. Like it or not, nobody (or the vast majority) cares about a united Ireland. Brexit only showed that Unionism/Loyalism will vote for anything that seems contrary to progressiveness. Ideas of unity have to start at grassroots with everyone. A working class pleb on the Shankill or Falls or Ballybrack really has no time for this because they are trying to survive.
    So, while all good theoretically , let's get back to basics. Unite people on real 'bread & butter' issues, like water charges etc. then build unity from there.

  3. "Those who genuinely wish to see the democratic will of the people adhered to should advocate that the people be free to determine what it is they want for Ireland, in an open process without preconditions"


    the democratic will as expressed in 1998 declared that there'd be no change without the consent of a majority within the six counties. The citizens of both states effectively endorsed such a precondition to Irish unity. The agreements between the two governments have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Irish people and have been enacted into law. The Good Friday Agreement is now enshrined in international law. Its way beyond the balance of probability that this agreement will ever be rescinded or reneged upon.

    Call it a triple-lock or a veto if you must but remember you're with a tiny minority that view it as such. Most sensible and thinking citizens will view it as a compromise ... a worthwhile compromise that has saved lives and for the largest part put an end to, what most would now deem as, the gratuitous violence of the Northern Irish conflict.

    Like it or not aspirations for geographical unity have become secondary to the unification of the wishes of the peoples of the island in that regard.

  4. Invictus Maneo
    There is a "socialist loyalist party" it is called the PUP, Progressive Unionist Party. It is a good party with a lot of interesting ideas and people however, people like me who are their natural constituency won't vote for them because of their links to the UVF.

    You are right about uniting people over common issues, but I don't see many republicans outside of SF reaching out to their loyalist neighbours when that is precisely what they should be doing. They would rather stop the OO walking past "their" shops.

  5. Peter

    There are plenty of places for the Orange Order to parade to their hearts content. But they deliberately choose controversial hot-spots. Let them show some common sense, especially at the age of the leaders on show. As for the PUP they hit the skids when David Ervine died. That was unfortunate for grass roots loyalist / unionist politics. That other eejit Billy Hutchinson set them back no end with the pathetic fleg protest. It doesn't surprise me you find that kind of hooliganism impossible to vote for. Both sides are still chasing the elusive final victory, only by none violent means.

  6. Socialist loyalism is a contradiction in terms. How can you be socialist while swearing allegiance to the most elitist family on the planet. Peter you have to educate me on the political understanding of loyalism for it still leaves me baffled

  7. Larry
    I have no interest in where the OO parade, especially a district where the leadership contains someone so odious as Nelson McCausland. But for GARC to say the parade goes "through their area" is laughable and how that plays out in the unionist community in terms of persuading people into a UI, well it is counter-productive to say the least. As you say both sides are seeking a victory above all else.

    A socialist loyalist is a person with socialist principles who given a binary choice between the UK or a catholic Ireland chose the former. You seem easily baffled.

  8. Peter

    What do you think of Jeremy Corbyn? I get the feeling that the ordinary Great British punter has had enough Tory A and Tory B and between Brexit and Corbyn they have got their long awaited opportunity to sock it to the establishment and it's lap dog media outlets.

    Personally I like Corbyn. Not because he was prepared to talk to the IRA, I never knew that until the media launched its crusade against him in recent times. I wish we had someone like him here. For example Michael Martin FF leader who immediately upon entering coalition with FG stated water charges would need to be forced through. A total reversal of the FF election stance. Now with the fear of a new election on the horizon he says water charges should be scrapped. Worse still the cute hoor hangers on will think he's a quare fella and a smart lad. Disgusting little state-let the 26 counties. There's no arguing with the EU on water charges or bank bailouts but they are frantically taking the EU to court to fight off the return of 13 billion in unpaid tax from Apple. You really couldn't make it up. And Bertie Ahern has claimed over 500,000 euro in expenses since LEAVING office and the Dail. I mean really...WTF? If Corbyn gets elected I'm moving to Liverpool, unofficial capital of Ireland.

  9. Peter, believe it or not am not trying to be confrontational. I am genuinely baffled, you talk about Catholicism, it's as if your unaware of the history of socialism. Loyalists speak of socialism while supporting feudalism, speak of democracy while ignoring the will of Ireland, are proud of British military history while sporting nazi flags in your community. I know most movement's are a broad community but I fail to see how you can marry such beliefs.

  10. David Higgins

    I think when Peter talks about RCs he does so in the manner I do myself about the 'huns'. A convenient generalisation. In fairness de Valera neutered a great swell of support for socialism in Ireland and cozied up to the RC church. More or less handed the 26 counties to it. Absolute disaster. Sure we have a diversity on the nationalist side from Gerry McGeogh for example who is a rampant Catholic to Mackers here who worships a flying tin of spaghetti. Each to his own. I think for most nationalists it is the national territory being fucked over endlessly by London and their planters here waving foreign flags. For the unionists it is about preferential treatment / advantage and superiority in a country they would rather destroy than ever feel any genuine part of. Having said all that, if the Tory party was banned and a Corbyn type leader guaranteed to be elected every time, I would be happy to see the back of the Dail and the criminals that infest it as of a rite. TDs for life. They care only about themselves and less about the country than the huns do.

  11. Larry
    I don't like him. The left are fucked and need something new and dynamic. Corbyn isn't the answer. Maybe something or someone good will come out of his leadership. Given the choice of Corbyn or May I would hold my nose and vote May. Corbyn couldn't run anything bigger than a Students' Union.

    And Irish republicans fought for Franco in O'Duffy's Green Brigade and against Franco in the International Brigade. I know most movement's are a broad community but I fail to see how you can marry such beliefs.

  12. Peter

    So you would 'hold your nose' and vote Tory, bedroom taxes benefits cuts disability allowance cuts etc etc and the self interest destruction of UK industry for personal profit? Can I enquire if apart from getting dressed up in Army Surplus gear and driving about all day in a Land-rover fantasising about saving wee Ulster are you qualified at anything else? I think voting Tory is cutting off your own nose to spite your neighbours face. How utterly DEPRESSING.

  13. All society becomes split over the left-right paradigm. Most republicans aspire to a socialist republic in some form. Unionists have been in power in the north east for almost a century and I not sure what your majority outlook is. Apart from suppressing the civil rights of your neighbours I don't see what your long term aims are. Current loyalist literature and websites tell us you love auld Lizzy, your culture is being eroded and Sinn fein and the S.N.P are evil but what is the driving force behind loyalism? Christian fundamentalism, royalist quasi socialism or the extension of the Tory agenda peddled by your politicians? After all you are the victors here you maintained your little statelet so whats the plan with it?

  14. David Higgins

    I don't think there is a unionist/loyalist plan. They are forever gazing into the rear view mirror. The days of long shifts in the UDR or Prison service on top £££ is gone forever. Harland and Wolf and the security sector and service industries were the Orange dole, saved them signing on the dole proper like the taigs or heading abroad. I knew a UDR man once. He had two trades, electrician and a welder and part time U'll Do Ritely. Greedy bugger! Didn't stop him serving a double didget sentence for ambushing and killing a random RC with his UDR/RAF mates while off duty and the RC was on his was home drunk and alone in his own district of town.

    That's why I am curious as to Peter's alternative employment options. Is he a genuine Tory boy or a Unionist thruppence looking down his nose at RC tuppence?

  15. Larry
    I didn't say I would vote Tory. I said given a binary choice between May and Corbyn I'd vote for May cos Corbyn's a useless wanker.

    I read a journalist who visited a prominent IRPS's house in Londonderry. He said the living room wall was covered in communist and catholic icons and paintings. And you think we're mixed up!!! I'm semi retired with no kids, If you want to know loyalist long term plans for this place, ask someone who gives a fuck.

  16. WTF did I just read....

    Peter: I didn't say I would vote Tory. I said given a binary choice between May and Corbyn I'd vote for May.....

    So you would vote Tory, Peter...

  17. Maybe someone in the house was Catholic and someone else was communist. If you don't give a fuck why comment? Not very insightful

  18. Peter

    Was that the slap of your wee dummy hitting the floor there at high speed? lol