Writing in the series Perspectives on the presidency in the Irish Times of October 13 Tom Hickey; lecturer in the School of Law NUI Galway gives a definition of Republicanism with which one could readily identify.
However he then puts a construct on Irish Republicanism, which is a misrepresentation of a 220 year-old revolutionary tradition. He writes that Irish Republicanism has for many become a “dirty word, gradually conflated with sectarian nationalism.” He goes on then to accuse Irish Republicans of defining Irish nationality along sectarian lines – reserved only for one section of the Irish people.
Irish Republicanism stands as a polar opposite to sectarianism. Drawing from the wellspring of the enlightenment, it rejects the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and replaces it with the sovereignty of the people and the universal ‘Rights of Man’. The Father of Irish Republicanism Theobald Wolfe Tone could not have been clearer as to the foundation upon which a free All-Ireland Republic would be built: “To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter - these were my means.”
This has remained the bedrock of Irish Republicanism right up to the present day. Indeed it is this rejection of sectarianism, which was one of the two primary reasons advanced by Republican Sinn Féin in rejecting the 1998 Stormont Agreement. Because it served only to institutionalise sectarianism in what was already an undemocratic and sectarian statelet in the Six Counties. The other of course was that it copper-fastened British rule in Ireland.
Tom Hickey writes that in a real Republic the two “distinct pillars” are the “sanctity of the public space, and of the common public good.” He then says: “this requires meaningful deliberative engagement on the part of all citizens, and participation.”
The second pillar he identifies as “equal citizenship” and immunity from “arbitrary power.” I would invite Tom Hickey to read Éire Nua if he wishes to see a definition of just such a republic based on real participation and the common good. The Éire Nua proposals make tangible the Republic aspired to by Tone, Emmet, Davis, Lalor, Pearse and Connolly. Éire Nua presents a vision and a programme for a New Ireland that is in stark contrast to both failed partitionist states.
In an article published in Saoirse marking 40 years since the launch of Éire Nua Sean Ó Bradaigh had this to say about the nature of the two partition states: “The partition of Ireland in 1922 created not one, but two unnatural entities, not just a ‘Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ in the Six Counties, but also a Catholic state in the 26 Counties.
“The Unionist majority in the North behaved very badly in their gerrymandering of electoral boundaries and in discrimination against the minority. The, mostly hidden, hand of the Orange Order was behind serious civil rights abuses. Westminster consistently refused to intervene and the whole thing blew up in all our faces in 1969. This would not have happened in a 32-County pluralist Ireland which guaranteed equal rights and equal opportunities to all her citizens.
“The same unnatural partition affected the 26 Counties also. A 32-County state with its balance of different religions could hardly have brought about the controversy over the appointment of a Protestant librarian in Co Mayo in 1931; the banning of Edna O’Brien’s short novels; the hounding from office of Dr Noel Browne, Minister for Health in 1951; the scandals of the Magdalene Laundries and the Industrial Schools, for examples.”
The opposition of unionists to the idea of being incorporated into such a state is understandable what is not is their treatment over a prolonged period of the minority within the Six-County State something that was shameful and unworthy of the descendants of the first Irish Republicans of the 1790s.
Not unreasonably unionists have expressed frustration at the apparent lack any concrete proposals setting out the shape of a future free and united Ireland. One Unionist, David Adams, writing in the Irish Times on December 3 2009, criticising this percieved failure of nationalist or republican Ireland to propose a blueprint for a united Ireland. He wrote: “Clarity is what the people of Northern Ireland (sic) need.” However he also noted: “The Éire Nua document, authored by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill in the 1970s, remains the only serious bid by any strand of nationalism or republicanism to address the issue at all.”
There is an onus on Irish Republicans to be very clear and precise in setting out our vision. Irish Republicans have never advocated a 32-County Free State. We believe that a New Ireland for all of the Irish people is required if we are to advance politically, socially and econimally. In short we seek the restoration of the 32-County Republic which was subverted in 1922.
Éire Nua proposes a Federal Ireland based on the historic four provinces including a nine-county Ulster. This would be horizontal democracy based on sharing autonomy and sovereignty between provinces, regions right down to local or community level within the framework of an independent nation state. This would represent meaningful decentralisation of power and decision-making. A nine-county Ulster Parliament would have considerably more power than any Stormont Assembly ever had. Importantly an Ulster Parliament or Dáil Uladh would be soverign and could not be suspended over the heads of its elected members by an outside parliament such as Westminster, as is the case today.
Again as Sean Ó Brádaigh points out : “Éire Nua includes a Draft Charter of Rights and the right of Petition or Initiative. This right of Initiative is much used in Switzerland. It is a constitutional modus operandi whereby a referendum can be resorted to on an issue of importance if a sufficient number of signatures are collected. This can be done at local, provincial or national level. Issues like Shell to Sea or the M3 motorway near Tara come to mind. This is direct participative democracy at work, as distinct from representative democracy.”
Tom Hickey concludes by saying if we are to “renew our Republic (sic) in advance of 2016 we must first restore the idea of republicanism.” I would agree with this sentiment but would go further and say that we must also restore the Republic of 1916, a Republic that was stolen from us and reconnect with the ideals enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation. To quote Liam Lynch: “We have declared for an Irish Republic and will not live under any other law”