In opposing the motion "That This House Believes That Irish Republicanism Has No Future", I base my argument on the premiss of the existence of the historic Irish nation.
I quote from the contribution last year of Sylvie Kleinman of the Department of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, to a volume entitled "Reinterpreting (Robert) Emmet" with particular reference to Emmet's mission to France: "A common thread runs through the extensive manuscripts detailing official attitudes in France towards Ireland and the United Irishmen, namely that they were consistently described as representing une nation, un people, which to French perceptions could already claim its place among the nations of the earth."
Documents issuing from the Irish College in Louvain, in what is now Belgium, 400 years ago used terms "náisiún" with regard to Ireland and "Éireannach" instead of "Gael" and "Gael-Ghael" in reference to an Irish person. We are not a revolted colony nor as Thomas Davis said "a sandbank thrown up by caprice of wind and wave", but an ancient people.
It follows that there will always be an element of the Irish people to oppose English rule here. The Belfast Agreement of 1998 does not provide for final British government disengagement from Ireland and therefore cannot be regarded as the ultimate settlement.
This agreement took nine years to become effective and is basically an artificial arrangement to secure British rule in an artificially carved out area of Ireland and to safeguard the future of the vested interests of the 26-County State.
It has succeeded in creating an "institutionalised sectarianism" that is going to constrain the right of all the people of Ireland to self-determination. In the medium to long-term, this artificiality is bound to collapse. When the Stormont budget was introduced last week there was only the very small Alliance Party to oppose it. There is in effect no opposition.
The Agreement has succeeded only in subverting former Republicans to act as agents of British rule. Such an arrangement can never be viewed as a long term solution. Meanwhile the nationalist electorate continues to grow as is clear at local council level. However to look forward to a small majority of nationalists in the Six-County area within a gerrymandered Ireland is not the way ahead. With the passage of time the question arises: "Would they still be nationalists?"
What Republicans have proposed to meet this situation is an entirely New Ireland - Éire Nua - consisting of a four province federation and including a nine-county Ulster. Every power of government, except foreign affairs, national defence and overall financing would rest at provincial level or beneath.
In a nine-county Ulster, the Unionist-oriented population would have a working majority with the nationalists close behind them and within reach of power. With optimum devolution of decision-making strong regional boards and powerful district councils would be controlled by the local majority. In other words, natural horizontal power-sharing would replace the present enforced vertical arrangements.
We do not want to back the Unionists on to a cliff-edge politically where they will oppose us all the more. Neither do we seek to have them as a permanent and disgruntled political minority in one corner of Ireland. Besides, the proposals outlined would be more in keeping with the ideas of Wolfe Tone and Thomas Davis.
During the 1970s, soundings were taken with every shade of unionism to obtain reactions. The result in all cases was similar. "What would they do if the British did disengage from Ireland?" First choice was an independent Six Counties. We did not think that would be viable. In that case all said they would opt for our "four provinces idea" as the "most generous on offer". As recently as last September, a delegation from the Ulster-Scots Society at a seminar in Donegal town reacted in the same manner: "provincial government" as what interested them.
Apart from providing a solution to the Ulster situation, these proposals would bring power nearer to the people and help to correct east-west economic imbalance nationally. Republicans submit that such structures will be necessary to ensure justice for all, including the 18% of the national population who have supported the unionist position.
In order to implement these proposals Republican Sinn Féin calls for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly elected by the adult sufferage of the whole people of Ireland. Instead of two different sets of questions being posed in the two parts of Ireland to determine a way forward for the entire country, the Irish people, acting as a unit, must be free to exercise their national right to self-determination.
The Assembly advocated would have the sole function of drafting a new Constitution and this would be put to the people in referendum for acceptance or rejection.
The internal relations of the Irish people with one another and their external relations with Europe and the world at large would be determined through free and open debate.
Prior to the setting up of the Constituent Assembly, the British Government must declare that it will withdraw its forces and establishment from Ireland within twelve months of the adoption of a new Constitution by the people of Ireland. Coupled with the above mentioned proposals there must be an amnesty for all political prisoners and people on the wanted list.
The beginning of a break-up of the "United Kingdom" with the establishment of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly marks a step towards a Celtic League as advocated by Republicans since 1976. Such a body, on the lines of the Nordic Council or the Arab League would include the New Ireland with Scotland, Wales and Brittany and even perhaps the Isle of Mann and Cornwall.
Is the future outlined here not worth striving for? Republicans would go further and advocate a Democratic Socialist Republic and a Green Republic as the policy documents of Republican Sinn Féin show. It was boasted in 1921 that Lloyd George had solved the Irish Question. Yet 77 years later, the Belfast Agreement was again supposed to have solved it. It remains to be solved. And even then with the struggle finally ended, the work of liberation goes on.
There is a future out there!
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