When first read in the context of Ireland in 1971, when a long guerilla war was only in its early years and when Republican military objectives were arguably at their highest chance of success, the reader's priority is drawn to how the 6 county position is to be resolved within the policy.
This focus point of course is natural given the conflict at that time and as the 26-county state was presenting a facade to the world that it was a functioning democracy.
Since being first developed, I think significantly, by Republicans from outside the six counties, and adopted as Republican policy, nothing has come close to resetting the parameters of what is in my view a deeply unequal and corrupt, anti-democratic constitutional arrangement of two states in Ireland. To get right to the point, the greatest benefit of the Éire Nua, proposal is that it vests power back in the people where it belongs.
Understandably, with hindsight, many Nationalists and Republicans within the six counties may have struggled at that time to see how liberating it would be to share a provincial parliament, in opposition benches, with a continuing majority of Unionists given the very oppression that the Unionist administration of the Orange State visited on them. This oppression was the very reason for the civil rights movement and the subsequent suppression of the most modest demands for rights and equality arguably becoming the stimulus for recruitment and a renewed militant Republican liberation Campaign.
If the general will of the Nationalist population before the late 1960s had been in favor of National liberation as the primary focus and not simply everyday equality then the initiative of Operation Harvest would have yielded more popular support and success. The fact that it didn't led to the practical final cessation of military operations of the "Old" IRA and the embarking on a socialist program for democratic change.
With the absence of an organized militant republican force, this gave rise to the need for the birth of the Provisionals, as the Orange State attempted to crush the civil rights campaign and loyalists violently attacked the Catholic and Nationalist population resulting in the pogroms and people fleeing areas of the North. This situation later evolved and saw the Provisionals going from community defense to Crown Force attack in the following years in a war against Britain for a 32 county Socialist Republic.
In 2023, however, we have a different situation in the six counties. There is a popular, non-Republican-dispensation among the electorate for a functioning parliament with both communities represented as indicated by the support expressed in 1998. Indeed, there is a growing third demographic that identifies as neither tradition now. All seek a functioning democracy which has proven to be impossible to consistently deliver through Stormont, firstly because subordination to Westminster makes a mockery of the democratic principle but secondly because the sectarian headcount remains the perpetual mechanism of representation.
With demographic trends continuing to see the Nationalist cohort reach parity and beyond there is an increasing likelihood of an eventual border poll, the very un-republican resolution contained within the Good Friday Agreement. Without detailing the restrictions of the border poll and its own anti-democratic dimension it still represents the only likely mechanism for the next constitutional change, which is coming.
There is, therefore, theoretically, no reason why a 9 county Dail Uladh would be such a radical concept. The maximum devolution of power to the lowest possible community level envisaged in Éire Nua, would see autonomously controlled communities. This would mitigate the concerns of domination of one tradition over another which is what the orange state visited on Nationalists. This would give each citizen access to influence their locality at council level and allow freedom of each diverse unique cultural or ethnic identity.
We have learned in the imperfect peace years since 1998 that community cooperation happens naturally as trust is built over time. In this scenario, as the constitutional issue will have been resolved, the access to true democratic local power will provide the kind of fairness and local cooperation impossible if ruled by Dublin, London or Brussels.
It is crucial therefore, that no future constitutional tie to Britain be inserted into the resolution of a border poll in favor of Irish Unity that would hinder the new beginning between people. True democracy at local level makes Sovereign Jurisdiction an irrelevance in the substantive local issues but continuation of colonial claims prolongs the divide.
If the cascade of democratic structure envisaged in Éire Nua was not implemented in the event of Unity, then, as Connolly would have pointed out, it would still be only flags and accents changing: the committees for the rich are still in charge. This is why we must go further and truly democratize society on an all Ireland basis. With such democratic access, economic justice can be decided on by the people which will surely remove the profiteers and vultures consuming the working class people.
What about the old "Free State" territory?
The radical democratization of the other three provinces is crucial to disestablishing the Neo-liberal stranglehold of EU Federalism and US Corporate control over the potential of the country.
I will speculate that this is possibly the strategic reason why external interests would have wanted Éire Nua, dumped as the policy of the Provisional Republican movement, using the sop to Unionism as an easy way out. While acknowledging that division within Ulster was deep. Ireland of today couldn't provide the strategic military logistics for the US war machine that it does in a truly democratic society because quite simply the majority don't want them here.
When O Bradaigh and O Connell were ousted effectively from leadership roles in the movement, Éire Nua, went with them, and the revolutionary vision left with the revolutionary leaders just like in 1922. Without a fundamental change to where power lies in relation to the people, there is little material benefit to the everyday lives of people in Ireland. We must also remember that the current system works well for a privileged section of the people and they would not like to see such democracy at work. These are the same class of people who existed just as well inside the British System too.
True Democracy must be egalitarian, pluralist and secular to ensure liberty, equality and justice. This must also include recognition of fundamental civil and human rights and directly involve the people in participatory local, national and international structures.
Democratization and Sovereignty are proportional, but this does not mean isolation internationally. The will of the majority of Irish people, clearly, is Internationalist, which means we must maintain our place as a progressive nation while reforming the EU to resemble true democratic cooperation.
The Éire Nua policy suffers from stigma simply because it was written by Republicans. It isn't widely discussed outside of Republican interest groups and for the many who do not share in the understanding of the Republican ideals, which have been slandered and misrepresented, first by the British and then by the counter-revolutionary West British and latterly West European Leinster House Establishment who do not see what Pearse defined freedom as, “Separation and Sovereignty”.
I believe Éire Nua has to be viewed outside of the Republican package as a democratic alternative to what exists. For the people at large to understand the practical participatory principles of Éire Nua, without bias it may need to be presented in isolation from being the policy of any group or at least free from ideological baggage.
As the original authors and more recent revisions of the policy have always insisted, the policy is open to debate and development. Continuing membership of the EU is likely preferred by the people for example. This means the EU must be reformed, as Sovereignty cannot be both in Brussels and with the people. We must always consider landscape changes to social and economic events but the fundamental concepts of Éire Nua are ultimately the essence of democracy, Independence and equality for Ireland.
In part two I will give an opinion on how maximum devolution of power as envisaged in Éire Nua would affect some of the big issues of today in Irish society.
⏯Pádraig O Maonaigh is a social justice activist.