Breaking the connection: the road to a New Ireland


Des Dalton, vice president of Republican Sinn Fà©in

Following speech was held on a conference organised by the Anti-imperialist Camp in Vienna, Austria, on Oct 23, 2008.

The road leading to the position in which the Provisionals occupy today did not begin in 1998 or indeed in 1994, it began in 1986 with the decision by an element within the Republican Movement to radically transform the direction in which the revolutionary movement was headed. The British Government were not blind to these developments and changes within the leadership of the Republican Movement and moved quickly and early to facilitate and ease the path of the Provisionals to its logical conclusion. Each step since then has seen the Provisionals ensnared further within the apparatus of British rule:

1. The acceptance of the Unionist veto- whereby 18% of the population have a veto over the other 82%, they also supported its insertion in the constitution of the 26-County state.
2. Decommissioning of arms,
3. Administering British rule in Ireland,
4. Enforcing British rule through active support for British policing in Ireland.

The central objective of the entire process from the beginning has been:

1. The reform of British rule in Ireland with the clear intention of securing nationalist support and participation in the administration and policing of the Six-County state,
2. The normalisation of British rule and partition in Ireland as a whole (32 Counties).

The Stormont or Belfast Agreement of 1998 marked a major step in this process, in his book Great Hatred Little Room: making peace in Northern Ireland Jonathan Powell (Chief of Staff to then British Prime Minister Tony Blair spells out what was the first principle underlying the Agreement: "But Tony had zeroed in on the fundamental principle: what was the unit that had the right to self-determination? Was it Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland, or the islands together including Britain? He believed the key point to be that of consent of the people being ruled, and that meant it had to be the people of Northern Ireland who should have the say. For the Unionists this was of fundamental importance." The then British Secretary of State for the Six Counties Mo Mowlam made it explicit when she pointed out that whilst two referenda were being held in Ireland on the same day regardless of the vote within the 26 Counties it was the vote within the Six-County state which would be the decisive one.

The Stormont Agreement also contained within it the seeds of its own instability; on the one hand it was sold to Unionists as strengthening the union with Britain whilst on the other hand it was sold to nationalists on the basis it would lead to a united Ireland. It could not deliver both and in reality it was designed to secure the Union. In 1998 Republican Sinn Fà©in opposed the Stormont Agreement on two grounds:

1. It would not deliver a just and lasting settlement as it failed to address the root cause of conflict in Ireland which is the partition of Ireland and continued British occupation.
2. It institutionalised sectarianism, making a sectarian head-count the ultimate arbiter of constitutional change. This would result in increased polarisation.

The increase in polarisation within the communities has been borne out particularly in a number of major studies carried out by the University of Ulster which show an increase in sectarian division. The evidence of this is plain to see on the ground where sectarian attacks have increased over the past number of years,

The Stormont Agreement took nine years and the negotiation of a second agreement at St Andrews before it become fully operational. It is an artificial agreement framed to uphold an artificially created statelet whilst also protecting the vested interest of the 26-County political elite. The political structures it created are flawed and undemocratic; the Stormont Executive has only the tiny Alliance Party to provide a token opposition within the Stormont Assembly.

It is an agreement which uses institutionalised sectarianism to deny the right of all of the Irish people to national self-determination. This cannot provide the basis for a just, lasting and permanent settlement.

Indeed it cannot be said to be capable of even providing a medium term solution, today the Stormont Executive is again in crisis having failed to meet since mid-June, The Stormont Executive is not functioning and is effectively hostage to the DUP. Writing in The Irish Times on April 7 then DUP Deputy leader and now leader Peter Robinson said it had strengthened the Unionist position: "The DUP has buried the Belfast Agreement. Does this period of devolution since May 8 bear any resemblance to the last? Unionism is now in a much stronger position." Even the limited gains which the Provisionals claimed they had secured in the St Andrews Agreement have not been delivered on such as an Irish Language Act or education reform. All that has been achieved has been to co-opt former Republicans into the machinery of British occupation. The recent IMC report reveals that the Provisionals are now viewed by the British Government as an arm of the British intelligence service, gathering information on Republicans and it would appear passing it on to MI5 or some other arm of the British intelligence services.

What is the alternative to all of this? Republican Sinn Fà©in bases our position firstly on the fact that Ireland is a nation and her people entitled to exercise the rights of nationhood. Starting from this premise we believe that a public British declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland is an essential first step.

Irish history is littered with failed agreements, in 1921 British Prime Minister Lloyd George declared that he had solved the Irish question, none of these agreements including Sunningdale in 1974, the Anglo/Irish Agreement of 1985, the Stormont Agreement in 1998 or St Andrews in 2006 have been able to provide an answer to that 'Irish Question'. Each has failed because each has denied the very existence of the historic Irish nation. Ending British rule and allowing the Irish people to exercise their right to national self-determination and independence is the essential basis for a stable and lasting settlement, providing a final answer to that 'Irish Question'.

We believe that the proposals contained within EIRE NUA provide the framework for a New Ireland for all of the Irish people, 'Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter' in the words of Tone. EIRE NUA proposes a federation of the historic four provinces of Ireland with maximum decentralisation of power and decision making from provincial to regional right down to local and community level. In a nine county Ulster the Unionist oriented population would have a working majority whilst nationalists would be within reach of power. With optimum devolution of decision making strong regional boards and powerful district councils would be controlled by local majorities. What this means is that strong horizontal power-sharing would replace the present enforced vertical or top-down arrangements.

We believe these proposals provide the space within which the Irish people can negotiate a New Ireland. Speaking in UCC in January of this year the President of Republican Sinn Fà©in Ruairà­ Ó Brádaigh reiterated the Republican view that the Unionist population must not be marginalised or feel that they are not part of the New Ireland, it is essential that they take their place as equals in the Irish nation: "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."

Again Ruairà­ Ó Brádaigh spoke about Unionist reaction to EIRE NUA:
"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" is what interested them."

Apart from providing a solution to the constitutional question in Ulster EIRE NUA puts real power in the hands of the people and helps to address the east/west imbalance in economic development. EIRE NUA ensures justice for all of the Irish people including the 18% of the population who have a unionist opinion.

To implement these proposals RSF calls for the election of a Constituent Assembly elected by the suffrage of the adult population of the 32 Counties, the purpose of such an assembly would be to draft a constitution for a New Ireland. Such a constitution would then be put to the people of Ireland in referendum for acceptance or rejection. Instead of two different sets of questions being put in the two parts of Ireland in order to shape a New Ireland, the Irish people acting as a unit must be free to exercise their right to national self-determination.

Prior to the election of a Constituent Assembly the British Government must give a public declaration of intent to withdraw from Ireland within twelve months of the adoption of a new constitution. All political prisoners must be released and an amnesty for those on the wanted list.

The war in the Six Counties over the past almost 40 years was not about civil rights under British rule; it was a war of national liberation waged against the British government. It was part of the centuries long struggle of the Irish people for a free and independent Ireland.

Irish history teaches us that as long as there is British rule in Ireland it will be resisted. It is time to break that cycle of history. When the British Government put serious pressure on the DUP in the lead up to the St Andrews Agreement, the DUP signed up to it. When the British Government removes the prop even the most unreconstructed Unionists have been prepared to do a deal. This simply bears out the Irish Republican analysis that the ultimate responsibility lies with the British Government.

To bring about a lasting and just settlement the British Government must declare their intention to withdraw from Ireland - removing the prop of the Unionist veto - creating the space and conditions from which a New Ireland can emerge.

The Irish Republican Movement can with some historical justification lay claim to being the oldest revolutionary movement in the world. It traces its origins to the foundation of the Society of United Irishmen in 1791. Whilst the Society of United Irishmen began as a constitutional movement seeking merely reform and redress for Catholics and Presbyterians under British rule, within the first four years of its existence it had evolved into a fully fledged revolutionary movement seeking French aid in ending British rule in Ireland. The man described as the father of Irish Republicanism Theobald Wolfe Tone set out what could be described as the mission statement of Irish Republicanism: "To break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter; these were my means."

The continuity of revolutionary Republican thought and organisation are clearly set out - the United Irishmen engaged in armed insurrection in 1798 and the 1803 rising attempted under the leadership of Robert Emmet. The 1840s saw the next organised manifestation of organised separatist thought, again like the United Irishmen before them the Young Irelanders began as a constitutional and reformist movement, however due to a combination of political environment and circumstances and personality it too, or a large section of it became a revolutionary movement, it in turn led to the foundation of the IRB, which from its foundation was an avowedly revolutionary movement seeking an end to British rule and the establishment of an Irish Republic. Over the next 150 years revolutionary Irish Republicanism has remained a constant within the Irish body politic.

Irish Republicanism played a central role in almost all of the major, political, social and cultural developments in Ireland. From the land war in the 1880s, to the cultural revolution of the 1890s, and the early 1900s with the revival of the Irish language and the foundation of the GAA. When circumstance and ideas once more combined following the outbreak of the First World War again Irish Republicans were prepared to take advantage of it. The 1916 rising, was a seminal moment in Irish history and indeed world anti-colonial history. It provided the platform for a concerted attempt to 'Break the connection with England'. Its aftermath again saw resurgence in mass support for revolutionary action and the 1918 election (the last All-Ireland election) saw the election of am independent All-Ireland parliament Dáil Eireann and the establishment of the Irish Republic. The British Government's response to the democratically expressed will of the Irish people for national independence was war and eventually the partition of Ireland and the creation of two partitionist states, subverting the democratically instituted Irish Republic.

The history of Republicanism over the following decades is marked by periods of rapid advance and growth such as 1919-21, 1969 -72 and 1981, split and division in the years: 1922/23, 1926, 1946, 1969/70 and 1986, and dark periods of repression and collapse followed by rebuilding and reorganisation such as the post 1926, 1945-49, 1962-69 and post 1986. Writing recently in the New York Times Noam Chomsky had this to say about bring about radical change: "consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.

"Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace."

Throughout all of this the constant dynamic has been the belief that ending British rule and the partition of Ireland is essential for the social, political and economic advancement of the Irish people. This has always guided those who remained within the Republican Movement. Others have tried to wed constitutional politics to a revolutionary movement and have found it to be a circle they are unable to square.

This analysis is not based on emotion but on historical evidence, the same forces, tendencies and trends remain in place, all who have previously entered the partitionist system have not undermined or ended it, instead they each in turn have been absorbed into it, defending and upholding a system they said they would use as a 'stepping stone' - to borrow that much hackneyed phrase- to full Irish freedom.

The re-organisation of Sinn Fà©in under the name Republican Sinn Fà©in in 1986 - following the walkout from the Ard Fheis in the Mansion House in Dublin - needs to be seen in this historical context. As had occurred previously in Irish Republican history a reformist leadership sought to transform the Republican Movement from being a revolutionary national liberation movement into a constitutional party. They sought to change the direction of the movement away from its goal of ending British rule and the partition of Ireland. Those who reassembled in the West County Hotel following the walkout did so under the constitution and banner of the historic Sinn Fà©in organisation and name.

Irish Republicanism has always been internationalist both in its origins and its world view. It is in itself a tradition inspired in the late 18th century by the most progressive elements of the American revolutionary movement, in particular Thomas Paine and his enunciation of the 'Rights of Man'. It could be said that the French Revolution of 1789 was the spark that finally lit the fuse of revolutionary Republicanism in Ireland. Seeking aid from the Revolutionary French Directory for insurrection in Ireland Theobald Wolfe Tone and the leaders of the Society of United Irishmen very much viewed Ireland's war with England in the context of the revolutionary wave sweeping Europe.

But Irish Republicans did not merely seek financial or military aid abroad for the struggle at home they also took back with them ideas and inspiration from international revolutionary thinking. Indeed the Irish national flag was inspired by the French tricolour, and the Young Irelanders who fled to France in the aftermath of the 1848 rising were shaped by the influences and ideas which they came in contact with. These influences were to be subsequently found in the writings and the programme of the Fenian Movement.

The Irish fight for independence has always had a pivotal place in the international anti-colonial struggle; it has inspired revolutionaries and movements throughout the world. The life writings and heroic death of Terence MacSwiney inspired revolutionaries throughout the world, including Mahatma Ghandi in India. His collected writings 'Principles of Freedom' were published in English in Madras in 1922 and up to 1944 were translated into various vernacular languages within India. Egyptian nationalists hung a large portrait of Mac Swiney on the banks of the Nile, whilst Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh famously walked away from his job as a dish washer in a London hotel in order to attend the funeral of MacSwiney.

Sixty one years later the hunger strikes in the H Blocks of Long Kesh and in particular the death of Bobby Sands sparked protests and mass rallies throughout the world, with streets being named in honour of Sands, in Paris and famously in Teheran, where the Iranians renamed the street on which the British embassy was housed. In the 1920s the British banned the writings of Padráig Pearse such was their fear of the influence they might have. In the 1950s Irish Republican prisoners imprisoned in British prisons came in contact with fellow political prisoners from the EOKA independence movement then locked in combat against British occupation of Cyprus.

In the foreword to his recently published book telling the story of this amazing episode in revolutionary history, Vias Livadas summed up the importance of the bond forged within those British prison walls: "I aim to show that EOKA and the IRA were not merely internal affairs for their countries, but a wider revolutionary effort that is recorded among international liberation movements." He goes on: "I want to clarify that these are not just ordinary relationships, but long lasting and true friendship, built upon the solid ground of common goals, ideological convictions and deep concern for human values everywhere."

The worldview of Irish Republicans has always been one of solidarity for anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggle; we have consistently campaigned against any Irish involvement in imperial wars of conquest, from the Boer War in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the First World War, Connolly defined participation in that war as "to slaughter our comrades abroad at the dictate of our enemies at home". To those who wished to fight he urged: "If ever you shoulder a rifle, let it be for Ireland".

In 1991 Republican Sinn Fà©in were the first to protest at the use of Shannon by US warplanes bound for the US led Gulf War. We have taken our place in the anti-war movement in opposing the blatant breach of Irish neutrality by the Dublin administration in supporting the illegal Anglo/US led war and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our solidarity has brought Republicans in contact with revolutionary movements of national liberation from throughout the world. In the Basque Country, links where established from the early 1970s, Catalonia, Corsica amongst others. Of course relations were also established with our sister Celtic countries in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, the goal of a league of free and independent Celtic nations is one which Irish Republicans would aspire to.

Whilst on an international level each nation has its own distinct history and each political situation brings its own set of particular circumstances and objective conditions. Certain general principles apply:
1. The right of a people to national independence,
2. The right of a people to resist in arms the occupation of their national territory and defend their right to national self-determination,
3. The defence and protection of each peoples cultural and linguistic rights.
4. The right of each nation to formulate and pursue a policy of neutrality independent of power blocs or 'spheres of influence'.

It is agreement and active support for these principles which is the basis of true internationalism.

In Ireland today we continue to suffer partition and British occupation, the Stormont and St Andrews Agreements simply update and restructure British rule in Ireland, but leaving in place the cause of war and conflict in our country, British occupation and partition. This can only be addressed by British disengagement from Ireland allowing all of the Irish people acting as a unit to determine their future as an independent nation. But the struggle does not end there, like Connolly we believe that Ireland without her people means nothing. For that reason Republicans are to be found in the Trade Union movement defending and fighting for proper pay and conditions for all workers, opposing the use of Irish airports or airspace by US warplanes, waging war on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Opposing the creation of an undemocratic and militarised EU superstate, the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty was a victory, but the war remains to be fought, we must resist any attempt as seems very likely by the political elite both at home and in Brussels to railroad the Irish people into an EU superstate. Almost 100 years after the First World War, is yet another generation of Irish people to be sacrificed on foreign battlefields in the interests of European capitalism and imperialism?

Writing recently in the New York Times Noam Chomsky had this to say about bringing about radical change: "consistently over the centuries, progressive legislation and social welfare have been won by popular struggles, not gifts from above.

"Those struggles follow a cycle of success and setback. They must be waged every day, not just once every four years, always with the goal of creating a genuinely responsive democratic society, from the voting booth to the workplace."

The neo-liberal economic agenda pursued so vigorously Fianna Fáil and the soon to be disbanded PDs views people as cogs in the wheels of the economy rather than the economy as being there to serve the needs of society, in terms of providing people with viable income, housing, schools hospitals and social services. This is evident in the recent 26-County Budget which targets those who profited least from the so-called 'Celtic Tiger' of the past ten years whilst those who profited most go largely unscathed. The Dublin administration's neo-liberal economics coupled with a cosy relationship with developers and the banks resulted in a free for all of easy credit, massive debt and huge profits for a minority. Now that the house of cards has collapsed tax payers money is being used to bail out the banks without any regulation and it is working people who are being forced to foot the bill.

Republican Sinn Fà©in's vision as set out in our social and economic programme SAOL NUA and our programme for maximum devolution of power and decision making, bringing power to the people EIRE NUA, is for a New Ireland of real political and economic democracy, a truly Democratic Socialist Republic.

Our definition of the All-Ireland Republic would be that of Connolly: "..Of such a character that the mere mention of its name would serve as a beacon light to the oppressed of every land…the Irish Republic might be made a word to conjure with - a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the Socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom." Truly such a Republic is one worth fighting for!

Our cause is the cause of Humanity!