Sinn Fein’s latest so-called political ‘charm offensive’ towards the pro-Union community about embracing a new Ireland reeks of an admission that the republican movement’s concept of a 32-county democratic socialist republic as envisaged in the 1916 Proclamation is now a dead duck realistically.
Speaking to the Basically with Stefanie Preissner podcast, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the issue of convincing Unionists that embracing a new Ireland was a way forward was “a tricky one”.
The Sinn Fein boss is quoted as saying: “I think that we can have not just an united Ireland, but an equal Ireland, an entire society of people getting the chance to turn the page.”
These are fine words which differ radically from the Shinners’ usual ‘Brits Out’ rhetoric.
Has the Sinn Fein leadership reached the same conclusion as former Stormont deputy First Minister and former Derry IRA commander, the late Martin McGuinness, when he realised the British Government could not be bombed or shot out of Northern Ireland and some sort of peace settlement was the only way forward.
Has Sinn Fein now realised, too, that the British will never agree to a united Ireland on the republican movement’s terms and that dreams of a Proclamation-style solution are firmly in the political dustbin?
Perhaps in realising this ‘solution’, Sinn Fein is returning to the founding political roots of 1905 and its founder Arthur Griffith. When he set up the Shinners, Griffith did not envisage a full-blown republic as the final option.
He was a separatist who was more akin to the Dominion Status solution for Ireland. Sinn Fein only opted for the full-blown republic route when British commander General ‘Bloody’ Maxwell decided to have many of the failed 1916 Easter Rising leaders executed by firing squad.
It should not be forgotten that after the Dublin Rising was crushed militarily, many of the rebels were spat upon by Dublin residents as they were marched into captivity.
Maxwell’s insistence that James Connolly and his co-rebels be shot swung Irish opinion against the British and fuelled considerable sympathy for the republican cause.
Whilst it can only be speculative, but if Maxwell had cooled his hot head and just jailed the leaders for a few years, the course of Irish history could have been much different.
Supporters of Maxwell’s military decision to have some of the rebel leaders executed is based on the fact that in 1916 the British Empire was involved in the equally bloody Great War in Europe and beyond, so this rebellion had to be crushed with equal venom.
Although the outbreak of Great War in 1914 had averted a Home Rule-style civil war between the pro-Union Ulster Volunteers and the nationalist Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizens Army, the outcome of that civil war could have seen the island of Ireland split in two, with a Northern Unionist-controlled half of around 16 counties and a nationalist-dominated Southern Ireland of only 16 counties.
Instead, because of Maxwell’s dogmatic decision to execute the main Rising leadership, it laid the foundation for a new more militant republican movement which sparked the War of Independence in 1919 only a matter of months after the 1918 Armistice which ended World War One.
That War of Independence, which republicans like to brand as the ‘Tan War’ because of the activities of the British Army’s Black and Tans units, ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which saw a partition of the island and republicans gaining 26 counties.
Subsequent IRA campaigns have failed to dislodge the British from Northern Ireland. Even the electoral reality that Unionism is no longer the dominant political ideology in Northern Ireland does not mean that a 32-county democratic socialist republic is on the cards in the near future.
Sinn Fein may have won massive electoral gains in last December’s Dail General Election, but Fianna Fail and Fine Gael agreed an historic pact to keep the Shinners out of any Leinster House coalition government. So much for the Southern nationalist acceptance of Sinn Fein’s vision of a ‘new Ireland’!
On paper, it reads like great public relations spin trying to ‘persuade’ the pro-Union community to politically buy into some kind of Irish unity. But Sinn Fein faces two problems with that strategy. Firstly, the republican movement’s military faction, the Provisional IRA, slaughtered and maimed thousands of people across the island with its terror campaign known as The Troubles.
There are many survivors and victims of IRA terror who still recall the loss of loved ones or suffer the pain of injuries both mental and physical.
Is Sinn Fein really saying? - okay, for around three decades we tried to bomb and shoot you into a united Ireland; that tactic didn’t work, so now we will try the political softly, softly tactic!
Secondly, if the historic Fianna Fail/Fine Gael Dail pact for coalition government is taken as a benchmark, the bitter reality is that there is no room for the Shinner vision in any ‘new Ireland’.
Sinn Fein has still to cope with the equally bitter legacy of the centenary of the Irish Civil War in which republican butchered republican in a manner not witnessed even in the brutality of the War of Independence against the British.
The Free State forces supporting the Treaty pulled no punches militarily in dealing with the anti-Treaty IRA. A visit to the Ballyseedy Massacre monument marking the blowing up of eight anti-Treaty prisoners by Free State troops in Ballyseedy, County Kerry, in 1923 is proof of the civil war’s brutality.
Perhaps the best ‘new Ireland’ Sinn Fein can hope for is some kind of Dominion Status which Canada enjoyed? Could that be the ‘tricky’ compromise which Sinn Fein seeks? The Shinners abandon their mythical 32-county democratic socialist republic, and Unionists accept all of Ireland as a Dominion of the Commonwealth.
In practice, Sinn Fein returns to its 1905 founding roots, and Unionism revamps the old British Ulster Dominion Party which existed in the 1970s.
Persuading the Irish Republic to become a Commonwealth Dominion; now there’s a ‘new Ireland’ solution, but in the words of one party leader: “It’ll be tricky …”!
Listen to Dr John Coulter’s religious show, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, or listen online at www.thisissunshine.com