Tag Archives: republic

Martin McGuinness & dispelling sectarianism

On my way back to Dublin with a parcel of other 13-year-olds from a three-month stay in the Gweedore Gaeltacht in 1961, I paid my first visit to Derry to switch from bus to train.

Even for a boy who was well used to seeing the Dublin tenements, Derry was like something out of the distant past. No sign of development or modernisation but all the signs of poverty. I particularly remember a street of single-storey cottages of the sort featured in old photos of 19th century evictions, maybe mud-walled. Hovels. Ragged children, and ragged mothers. Another country.

My parents had told me about that other country. During the war, freshly married and with no ready employment in Dublin, my father had got work with Thompson & Nutt’s motor works in Garvagh in Derry, reconditioning truck bodies at a time when no new trucks were available because of the war effort.

Son of a 1916 Volunteer, and a committed republican, he worked with a mainly Protestant work-force without any problems at all. When he was the subject of a serious external death-threat, it was his Protestant workmates who sent out the message that not a hair on his head was to be touched, and that was the end of the matter.

He stayed in touch with Thompson, Nutt and his workmates for decades after, and he and my mother made regular trips north of the border from then on.

So, they made sure their children knew from an early age what the set-up in the Protestant State for a Protestant people was, and the conditions I saw in Derry in 1961 confirmed that there was no place at the table for Catholic nationalists.

The six-counties didn’t have to be a sectarian state. That was a choice, and it wasn’t made just by six-county unionists, it was a choice made in Westminster, and sustained by Westminster. And it was a choice made in Dublin and sustained through studied neglect by Dublin. Better a hegemonic conservative Catholic 26-county state than a 32-county state in which Protestants would have to be accommodated.

When the civil rights marchers were assaulted by the RUC and Loyalists at Burntollet Bridge in 1969, no surprise. When Sammy Devenney died as a result of a gratuitous beating from the RUC in Derry, no surprise. When Bombay Street in Belfast was burned to the ground in the same year by a Loyalist mob with RUC support and we had a refugee family living with us in a normal three-bedroomed house in Dublin, no surprise. When Harold Wilson sent in the British Army and it turned on the nationalist community, no surprise. When that army slaughtered civilians on Bloody Sunday in Derry, no surprise. When internment of nationalists, and torture, were carried out, no surprise. When the RUC, British Army and Loyalists colluded in the murders of nationalists, no surprise. When the Orange Order repeatedly paraded their bigotry on the Garvaghy Road and Drumcree Church year after year, without state sanction, no surprise.

When Martin McGuinness and others stood up to that repression having, of necessity, armed themselves to defend their people, no surprise.

And there is no surprise either in the brutality that ensued. That is war, wherever it occurs, and civilians always bear the brunt of it. The real crime is that it lasted for decades. That was the politics of failure. Or, more exactly, it was the politics of imperialist obduracy. Westminster was going to beat Irish nationalists back come hell or high water. Hell came and went, and high water too, but the republican movement was still standing its ground, still undefeated but without the possibility of fighting the sort of decisive battle that would drive the obdurate imperialists from Ireland. And even if that had been possible, full-blown civil war would have ensued, and the imperialists would have stoked that. They have form on this island in doing that.

Stalemate is not a solution. Achieving your ultimate ambition is a solution. For republicans, that ambition is the establishment of a true 32-county republic.

Every year republicans go to Bodenstown, to the grave of Wolfe Tone, one of the principal architects of Irish republicanism. They don’t go as a single body of republicans, but in separate groups because they have fallen out with one another. Internecine disputes become more important than realising the republican ambition.

Wolfe Tone, and the other Protestant men who founded the republican movement in Ireland, left a fundamental tenet of republicanism for us to follow. The constitution of the Society of United Irishmen stated in its first article its intent as “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”.

There is no other way to create a true republic encompassing all of this island than by following that tenet. No republican could over-ride the will of unionists by imposing a republic on them without their assent. No republican could even contemplate expelling the unionist population from the land so as to create a republic. If they did either of those things it would be self-defeating. It would not be a republic. It is therefore necessary to persuade unionists that they have nothing to fear from the sort of republic that their Protestant ancestors laid out in Belfast in 1791, but that they have much to gain from it.

That is the project that Martin McGuinness and the rest of the willing republican leadership and rank-and-file set out on over two decades ago. Others had and have a right to a different opinion and a right to resile from that decision. Many of us have had to swallow very hard when symbolic gestures were made by republicans that went against the grain, other than as part of an overall strategy of moving towards a ‘brotherhood of affection’, or to put it the other way a ’parity of esteem’.

As Sinn Féin engaged with the political process, the party was rightly criticised for not being sufficiently ‘of the left’. Republicanism is intrinsically of the left. James Connolly stated that to be republican was to be socialist and to be socialist was to be republican, that the two are the same in terms of the social, economic and political outcomes that they should produce if they are true to their doctrines.

But political progress depends on public support, and the fact is that on either side of the border the population is conservative in outlook and cautious in the face of change, the result of a century and more of exposure to right-wing, anti-republican, anti-socialist propaganda from church, state and press. Many of the social and economic problems that people on both sides of the border endure would be solved by the left, but still the left struggles for support.

One reason for that is the presence of often bitter internecine disputes across the left, between socialists and republicans but also within socialism and republicanism. The right unites to hold power, the left fractures all over the place to avoid power. Another crucial reason is the absence of any form of progressive national media, not just now but since the imposition of partition and the creation of two sectarian states. Solving the latter is probably far easier than solving the former.

Has progress been made north of the border over the past two decades? Have attitudes changed? Has sectarianism diminished? Have the two sides moved towards better accommodating one another? Has Brexit made a difference to the question of the border? Could Scottish independence play a part in moving the border question on? Would the English ditch the six-counties to concentrate on their own post-Brexit situation? Has the 26-county political class been forced to engage with the border question in a realistic way for the first time since 1922? Is it within the left’s capability, republican and socialist, to make significant political advances over the next five or ten years on either side of the ridiculous border? Is it more possible than it was twenty years ago to imagine that republican vision that Tone and the other Protestant republicans had, coming into being?

For me, the answer to each of these questions is yes.

Are we significantly closer to “forwarding a brotherhood of affection, a communion of rights, and an union of power among Irishmen of every religious persuasion”?


His detractors will not acknowledge Martin McGuinness’s contribution to that progress, but I do.

That snapshot I saw of a filthy sectarian six-county state in 1961, and the filthy sectarian 26-county state that I was going home to, are memories.

It is a very different country.

And I am grateful for that.

Work done, Martin McGuinness. Rest in peace.

Work to do, for the rest of us.

Buck US-EU trends – let’s shift Ireland leftwards

Driving home on Thursday, crossing that ridiculous border that divides this small island into two failed states, with my sterling in one pocket and my euros in another (another ridiculous division), it flashed into my mind that I had been in a concentration camp for 48 hours, but not the sort that we associate with that term.

I was very fortunate to have been included in a political school sponsored by Unite the Union with full participation by those other great and enlightened Right2Water unions, Mandate and the CWU, and superbly organised and delivered by Trademark Belfast.

Crammed into 48 hours was a series of presentations by specialists, mainly academics, on fundamentally important issues arising from neoliberalism that confront the people of this small island and the wider world. These were: Free Trade and Globalisation; the Future of Work; Sustainable Economies; Media, Hegemony and Ideology; A Broken Economy; Debt or Democracy – Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice; Commercialistation of the Public Sphere.

Each presentation was followed by full participation by the inmates of the concentration camp in teasing out these issues and possible solutions. That is where concentration was required, and no escaping it since we were voluntary prisoners on a small island in Lough Erne.

‘We’ included leaders and officials of those Right2Change trade unions, Independent for Change TDs and councillors, community activists, Trademark facilitators, academics, and, until they had to dash back to Dublin to deal with the aftermath of that perverse judicial decision on Apollo House, Brendan Ogle, Dean Scurry, Terry McMahon and Glenn Hansard of Home Sweet Home.

We had presentations and discussion, but of equal importance was the out-of-school democratic engagement/discussion by all on ‘where we are, where do we want to get to, and how do we get there?’. We know where we are – in the shit created by the political class, and where we want to get to – a republic of equals founded on fundamental rights and based on justice and equality and solidarity and ownership and control by the people. But how to get there?

The consensus was that the means to that end lies in encouraging and facilitating the bottom-up people’s movement that was brought into being by the Right2Water campaign and enhanced by the public response to the Home Sweet Home initiative with further progress likely to emerge from public campaigns on other serious issues that beset the people (other than the 20% political class).

What means could be used to make the necessary progress towards that end? Like James Connolly and Jim Larkin before them, the leaders of Unite, Mandate and the CWU, Jimmy Kelly, John Douglas and Steve Fizpatrick understand that the solution lies in the first place in political education and secondly in the provision of information to counteract a propagandist right-wing media hegemony that exists without real challenge by progressives. That understanding of the proper role of trade unions, which goes beyond the central task of representing workers and into the area of creating political change from rule by an ‘elite’ to rule by the people for the benefit of all, separates these and a few other trade unions from other less visionary and less progressive trade unions.

Neither Connolly nor Larkin were prepared to concede the media landscape to the right-wing capitalist class, and so they published their own left-wing newspapers. There is now serious intent to explore the creation of a new online newspaper with a progressive ethos and proper journalism to fill the vacuum of ideas and information necessary to create a genuine fourth estate. More on that later, hopefully of a positive nature!

In terms of political education, there was agreement by all on the necessity to continue the excellent work done during the Right2Water/Right2Change campaign by Trademark and the unions in providing very easily understood presentations to local groups across the island, so that anyone who attends one of these will be able to understand and gain a perspective on the forces at play in the world and on this island, and how we might defeat them and their nefarious ideology.

Over the past two years I have got the sense that the tide is turning, that more and more people are ready to embrace the chance of themselves forging real political change from which will flow economic and social change. I have waited a lifetime, like many others, for that to happen. It could just be that moment in our history when the crack that lets the light in widens. Remember the Berlin Wall moment in which, in a matter of days, a seemingly impregnable structure was torn down? These moments come, but they have to be fuelled and then seized upon.

That is what this 48-hour session seems to me to have been about. Let’s find ways to help people to change their lives for the better, and let’s do it by coalescing with each other and in doing that, as Rory Hearne wrote yesterday, “by keeping that common heart beating we will find a way forward”.

Much of the western world is turning sharply to the right. We have no need to go there since we have been stuck in that cul-de-sac since the foundation of the corporatist state in 1922. Our opportunity is to turn left and to correct the ills created by malign governments representing only political class-capitalist interests.

So let’s keep that common heart beating strongly, and don’t be diverted by fools or knaves who pretend to be on our side while trying to tear us down.

¡Adelante! Forward! Ar Aghaidh Linn!

Call for fixed-term government must be resisted

Following the change in the parliamentary landscape as a result of the general election results various suggestions have been thrown about by bewildered members of the political class – political parties, journalists, commentators, academics and so on – who seem unable to understand why their template for parliamentary stability and the preservation of their status-quo was not followed by the electorate.

Rather than face up to the shift in public opinion away from government by one monolithic party or the other, it is the system that is at fault, they say. Something has broken in the system and in order to get back to the old stability it is necessary to tinker with the system. That is in part where this talk of ‘reform’ comes from, although there are other good reasons to talk about reform of a parliamentary system that is anything but democratic, and in too many ways is dysfunctional.

The most worrying suggestion so far is that we need to move to a fixed-term election system – that governments should be able look to a full five year term other than in extraordinary circumstances such as, perhaps, a successful no-confidence motion although these have been exceedingly rare in the history of this State.

Any talk of fixed-term government must be scotched.

If this is a republic, and the evidence including the absence of a constitutional definition of Ireland as a republic does not support that claim, then power ultimately rests with the citizens. But the political class immediately tempers that with the claim that it is a representative democracy and that once the citizens have done their electoral duty and selected a set of TDs for each constituency power no longer resides with the citizens but with their representatives, the elected TDs. In other words, other than in the minute pressure that individual citizens may apply to a particular TD or set of TDs, the citizens are redundant to the exercise of power between elections.

That doesn’t sit well with Cicero’s assertion over two thousand years ago that the republic is owned by the people. Nether does it sit well with the assertion in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, the centenary of which we commemorate this year, which states “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible”.

One of the authors of the Proclamation was Patrick Pearse. In one of his most important political writings, The Sovereign People, written in 1916, Pearse had this to say “And I come back again to this: that the people are the nation; the whole people, all its men and women; and that laws made or acts done by anybody purporting to represent the people but not really authorised by the people, either expressly or impliedly, to represent them and to act for them do not bind the people; are a usurpation, an impertinence, a nullity”.

That is the nub of the argument against fixed-term government. It should go without saying, based on our experience, that most pre-election manifestos contain as much fiction as fact, and perhaps more of the former than of the latter. And we know from experience that much of what is included in policies legislated on by any government during its term emanate from sources outside government, including, as we also know, from EU institutions and from corporate lobbyists, and others. There is no shortage of evidence of this during the terms in office of the past two administrations, one Fianna Fáil led, the other Fine Gael led.

In a republic, if it is indeed a republic, the people must have the power to force a government from office when that government offends against the democratic wishes of a majority of citizens. Whether the people choose to exercise that power, and how, are separate issues, but that threat must exist in a democratic republic. It is the most solid bulwark against tyrannical rule. The notion of fixed-term government weakens that bulwark.

Far from trying to consolidate power in the hands of the political class, we should, if we really want to live in a republic, find ways to assert our position as the ‘sovereign’. We should have available to us the power to recall TDs who transgress against their mandate, and we should also have the power to bring down government when that is necessary, perhaps through petition or plebiscite, or through mass mobilisation of citizens. It can be done.

Democracy is that important. We should never hand it over to the political class for safe-keeping. Their interests are not our interests. We should have learned that by now.

We must resist the notion of fixed-term government. The Left must take the lead in that battle for more democratic control, not less.


Broad Left Policy Platform Essential – Now

We will have a General Election in the next few months, no later than April 2016 but very possibly before the end of this year. With signs of a dramatic shift in public attitudes that election represents the first opportunity since quasi-independence in 1922 to fundamentally change the politics and the ideological basis of government in this state, and to create a better society for all.

Instead of capitalising on that opportunity we are still, at this late stage, witnessing a war of words between socialists and republicans and within both socialist groups and republican groups.

For some in either camp it seems far more important to hurl abuse or to issue weasel words against prospective allies than to work assiduously on a set of ideas to present in common to the people in the hope that they will take the opportunity as rational autonomous citizens to radically transform the sort of society we live in for the better.

What ideas are there that should be capable of finding broad agreement on the political left among socialist groups and republican groups, and between socialists and republicans? As a socialist-republican straddling those categorisations, here are 15 policy areas that I think should be relatively noncontentious.

1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.

2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.

3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.

4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.

5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.

6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.

7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.

8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.

9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.

10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.

11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.

12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.

13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.

14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.

15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.

Written-up in a little over an hour, this list could be contracted to be a 10-point or 12-point plan, or expanded to include further ideas. Of course, it may be that socialists would take issue with some elements of the list, and republicans with others, although it is hard for me to see where that would apply. But that is what sober discussions should be able to tease out.

The upcoming election should not be about disputation between potential allies but about disputation between conflicting ideologies – on the one hand the over-arching ideology of the state’s ruling parties since 1922 and on the other an ideological alternative that is being demanded by upwards of 50% of prospective voters in the next General Election.

Meanwhile, on the ground, grassroots political activists and mobilised communities are developing their own ideas. Leftist parties of all stripes would do well to understand the price they will pay if they fail to reach agreement to provide an alternative to the hegemonic tyranny of the right by providing a different road-map that would make a better-functioning society possible.

As paragraph four of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic points out, the republic is not just about the prosperity of the people, but about their happiness too.

And who, other than the wealthy, is happy with the state we live in – the political state, and the psychological state?

Stop sniping, stop hurling insults, sit down and discuss. And show us the list. We want to be able to vote for something worthwhile.

Like the prospect of a decent future.

Another Time, Another Place – Alleviating The Housing Crisis

Providing adequate housing for all – a human right – is a problem in all capitalist societies where sensible solutions based on the notions of the common good and simple decency are discarded in the interest of speculators and landlords. Private wealth triumphs over human rights and higher human instincts, but more than that private wealth shoots itself in the foot, repeatedly.

Just as maintaining a numerically significant cohort in society in a state of permanent educational disadvantage and consequent inhibited development makes no economic sense at all, maintaining a significant number of individuals and families in a constantly precarious position with regard to housing makes no economic sense either.

With an ever-aging society where lower birth-rates do not provide a hedge against future demands for health-care or pensions, the idea that it makes sense to discard perhaps 20% of the population – potential earners – based on social class is simply insane. Further, stealing the potential happiness of men, women and children is simply naked brutality at play.

Homelessness brought about by repetitive capital-driven boom-bust is equally insane. It is impossible for those who are homeless to harbour any realistic ambition to seek and find satisfying and productive work or further education or training. Where they are eligible, decent human beings are forced to rely on social security payments or on the charity of strangers to survive. They are not allowed to advance their position, to be productive, to be healthy, to be even moderately happy, to contribute to the exchequer or to have dignity.

In 1970, living in a Notting Hill bedsit in London and with a baby due, my wife and I needed more suitable but affordable housing. Fortunately we lived within the Kensington Burrough Council area, and that council had an enlightened, pragmatic solution that worked.

It was relatively simple. Where a house lay unused, or where a landlord failed to maintain a house in proper order for existing tenants, the council had a procedure for taking control of those houses, carrying out any necessary refurbishment or repairs, letting the units to those on its housing list or to existing tenants, and using the rents to pay for the cost of any works necessary to render the buildings habitable and to a good standard. When the costs of works had been recouped the properties would revert to the owners.

The policy worked on a number of fronts. It provided additional quality housing to the council, it pressured landlords to maintain their buildings to a good standard and to ensure occupancy as opposed to dereliction, it enhanced the appearance of the urban environment, and it made use of existing housing assets to alleviate homelessness.

According to An Spréach housing action collective “…there are over 270,000 vacant houses, flats and apartments scattered around the country, and over 30,000 in Dublin alone”, and “There are over 90,000 people waiting on the social housing list in Ireland”.

There is a short-term solution. It was tried at another time, in another place, and it worked. It was not a permanent fix. One downside was the gentrification of the Notting Hill area a few years later – a boon for landlords and speculators. But there were some housing protections for tenants that made it more difficult for landlords to clear tenants out so as to profit from the property boom.

Adopting that solution runs up against an ideological problem of our own construction – the constitutional right to property. In this non-republic property rights trump human rights. But a creative approach could get around that issue pending a change in our constitution, preferably by scrapping it completely and offering the citizens a new constitution fit for a 21st century republic in which human rights trump property rights.

And it runs up against the problem of an institutionalised belief in local and central government and among the political class that capitalism rules, that no interference can be countenanced in the supremacy of capital to earn unencumbered profit regardless of social or human costs.

So, the homeless crisis is ideologically driven. Worse than that, it is fueled by a brutal indifference on the part of each of the three counter-revolutionary parties – Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil – to the suffering of a significant part of our population and to their under-development or, worse still, un-development.

That is why it is so vital to build a progressive alternative to brutish government dedicated to helping the disadvantaged to move towards not just prosperity, but also happiness, and dignity. Stable decent housing is a component of that.

It’s about humanity. It’s about society. And it’s even about the economy.

Create Alternative or Continue to Fail – Time for Dialogue

Although there are good reasons for optimism arising out of the protests that centre on water metering and billing at the moment – particularly the politicisation of so many who had been silent, the problem is getting past the widespread and mistaken belief on the part of most citizens that our only demonstrable power resides in our interaction with the ballot-box every four or five years.

Because of that, pressure must be maintained on those parties that are not FF, FG and Labour, and on independents – whether lone voices or representing groups, to atempt to overturn permanent misgovernment by any combination of those three parties and replacing that bad option with the option of a progressive alternative combination.

Let us admit from the off that the progressive alternative that we can construct in the short-term will not be perfect, but let us understand that we are capable of refining that initial model. ‘We’ does not indicate a top-down leadership but a bottom-up movement of politicised and increasingly better-informed autonomous citizens.

The most important result of the presentation to the people of an alternative is not necessarily electoral success this time but rather the process of breaking old bad habits of opting for the ‘safe’ haven of ‘the divil you know’. We have had 93 years to learn the hard lessons of that repeated foolishness, and we didn’t.

But the next time out at the polling stations in the General Election offers the opportunity to allow enough people to imagine, many for the first time, that there may be another better option. And if it worked (and it’s a long shot) and there was a government including SF, SP, SWP, other leftist parties and independents, but which didn’t ultimately measure up to our expectations, then we are not married to them either – a politically better informed and more adventurous electorate would be better positioned to move the pieces around the chessboard and less likely to accept failure.

There are real signs of a hunger for change and a willingness to leap into the unknown on the part of 40%-50% of likely voters. There are real signs of a growing active citizenry determined to have their say, to speak directly to existing power structures, and to make their demands for a place at the negotiating table.

Writing Sinn Féin out of that alternative equation, failing to pressure that party into moving further left, is to effectively run up the white flag and to consign the citizens to another five years of counter-revolutionary tyranny. There is currently no alternative that works without the numbers that Sinn Féin will provide which may well be closer to 30% than 20% by election-time. There are valid criticisms that can be made of that party, just as there are valid criticisms that can be made of the SP, SWP and other left groupings. Those criticisms should not trigger ostracisation but should trigger honest dialogue aimed at genuinely serving the citizens by creating a viable alternative.

There are those who will have to hold their nose so as to get over the potential mix of an alternative, some part of which they don’t like or don’t fully trust or about which they have misgivings. We all have to do that to a greater or lesser extent. The important thing is that we hold our nerve, dispel the idea that there can be a ‘pure’ revolution, and try to achieve an electoral payoff that lays the foundation for future transformational change if we don’t succeed this time – or even if we do. Light a fire in the imagination of citizens, and fan the flames. And then don’t be surprised if they start exercising some real control. Welcome it.

Meanwhile, and in parallel, all on the left should engage with the process of creating a new constitution for the sort of society (I call it the Irish Republic, but that’s my bias) that we think would work far better for all citizens, and for those who live among us, than the existing failed entity. Venezuelans and others have been able to do that, but for some strange reason we either believe it to be unimportant or that we are incapable of pulling it together. Without doing that work all we have to offer the people as we seek their support are broad principles, often fuzzy, rather than a clear outline of what the state that the citizens must own has to offer politically, socially and economically under that new constitutional regime over which the citizens must exercise ultimate authority.

Leaving the gate open for more of the same dreadful failure that we have consistently endured since 1922 is simply not an option for any genuine socialist or republican whose concern must be implementing immediate change to significantly alleviate the severe plight of many of our people, and whose goal must be the creation of a far better country in which to live, and not just exist.

First Principles Fundamental To Constitutional Reform

‘There needs to be real political reform’ was the mantra of all parties in the last General Election. Judging by the text of the Coalition’s Programme for Government constitutional reform can be taken to mean tinkering around with the existing Constitution. But this reform needs to go far deeper. Real change requires the scrapping of the 1937 Constitution – a flawed, misogynistic, sectarian, anti-egalitarian document which has institutionalised inequality and injustice under a range of headings, making it anti-republican in a country that claims to be a republic.

The tone of the current constitution is set in its  preamble which states:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,

We, the people of Éire,

Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,

Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,

And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,

Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

It is legitimate to argue that this preamble is inappropriate to today’s Ireland in which reside many citizens who worship a different version of ‘God’ to the Christian one, or who are non-believers, including Atheists. It is not for the State but for the citizen to pay homage to a ‘God’ or not to do so. There is a valid argument that the State should guarantee religious liberty while maintaining a strictly secular stance of not seeking to interfere in the personal beliefs or practices of the citizen with regard to religious or spiritual belief or lack of same.

A more appropriate preamble in the constitution of a republic would be one which lays out the founding principles and ethos of that republic, and names the republic, and that from this preamble all subsequent articles of the constitution and all legislation by parliament both past and present should flow in accordance with the principles and ethos of the republic. By way of comparison with the existing preamble here is one option:

The Irish Republic is a Sovereign Independent State and is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of all citizens. The Republic declares the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and all of its natural resources and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible, and will strive to achieve this in full by peaceful means. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights, respect and opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts.

This is of course a reconstructed synthesis of the key points of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic which takes into account  the political reality of partition and divided allegiances on the island now, and the need to redress these physical, cultural and psychological divisions through dialogue in parallel with the practical application of progressive enlightenment republicanism, and through this the construction of a State and society worthy of realising the ambition of the unification of the island and its people to the advantage of all.

It is worth using that proposed preamble as a way of gauging how any of the key issues that affect citizens would have to be determined either in the Constitution or through legislation. For instance, there are two words in that preamble that are significant in their own right – one is ‘happiness’, and the other is ‘all’ which is repeated a number of times. The use of ‘all’ with respect to citizens removes any qualification of or diminution of citizenship and fundamental rights by reason of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, social class, disability and so on. The use of ‘happiness’ has significance if it is applied to the State’s duty in providing for the fundamentals of life – sustenance, health, education, housing, care of children and the elderly, human respect and dignity, and so on. It is a word that is subversive to authoritarianism and corruption – the ‘happiness of the whole nation and of all of its parts’. What a great concept! It is time to make those words work for the citizens and by extension for the nation.

If we are to reform the Constitution then we must start at the beginning and define precisely what sort of Republic we want to have. That is what the signatories to the Proclamation intended, and left the template as their legacy to us.

It remains to us to live up to that legacy. The time is right to do it now. We, the citizens, must take control of reform away from the sectional interests of political parties, and must settle for nothing less than our full legacy.

Atlantean Irish in the Wider World

Ireland is virtually alone in the EU, with the exception of the Baltic States and Luxembourg, in not having an imperialist past, but rather, like the Baltic States, having experienced centuries of domination by an imperialist neighbour.

Since the first moves in the 1960s to apply for membership of what was then the European Economic Community, there has always been principled opposition in Ireland to immersing the nation in what was seen as a pan-European imperialist project and aligning itself with those countries which have wreaked a trail of destruction on nations and peoples around the world. It was believed by many opponents of the proposed Irish membership of the EEC that our proper place in the world was as part of that global collective of those victims of European imperialism known as the non-aligned movement.

The non-aligned movement is an organisation of 118 member states, and 18 states with ‘observer’ status. It was created as a ‘third way’, an alternative to alignment with either the West or the Soviet Union in that power-play that was the ‘Cold War’. It is largely made up of nations and peoples that are former colonies of European imperialist nations.

There is a set of requirements for membership of the organisation, which are:

  • Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
  • Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
  • Recognition of the movements for national independence.
  • Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations, large and small.
  • Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country.
  • Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself singly or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
  • Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country.
  • Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.
  • Promotion of mutual interests and co-operation.
  • Respect for justice and international obligations.

‘The purpose of the organisation as stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 is to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.” (Source – Wikipedia)

Contained in that Declaration are many of the issues that now confront Ireland, and which were identified by opponents to EEC membership from the 1960s on, but rubbished by the proponents of membership. Joining the non-aligned movement would see Ireland reclaim its independence and sovereignty, including its fiscal sovereignty with the reintroduction of its own currency and the consequent power to revalue that currency when conditions demanded that should be done in the interest of the nation – the nation being all of the people and not a wealthy minority.

What of the other members of the non-aligned movement and how would Ireland sit among them? It is a simple task to identify regimes with which we would have serious issues, but the same is the case with some member states of the EU. On the other side, there are very many members of the NAM that share significant elements of history with us (domination and colonialism by European states, and the difficulties of working through the post-colonial period). Many of the member states have had their borders artificially constructed or manipulated by the imperialists, and we share that experience. Like them, we have experienced the deliberate colonialist policies of destruction of our language and culture and the fostering of sectarian divisions with all of the long-term problems that have arisen as a result.

And what of the argument that by leaving the EU we would materially damage Ireland’s economy and therefore its capacity to maintain its independence? The quick answer to that is evidenced by the assault on our fiscal independence, and therefore our sovereignty, by the larger member states of the EU to protect their own banks, bond holders, etc. But the positive answer is to look at the trading opportunities – both material and intellectual – that would be available in a body of nations that not only includes super-economies such as India, China, Brazil, but also includes over half of the world’s population, about 80% of the world’s oil resources, and the vast bulk and variety of other precious metals and minerals – on which the EU is almost totally dependent.

Other beneficial considerations of our re-alignment would include the proper control and management of our very valuable fisheries, and of our (to be nationalised) oil and gas resources through a fair partnership with other non-aligned nations who have the technical expertise and equipment available. The opening up of global markets for value-added agricultural produce in a world which is experiencing food shortages is another enormous potential benefit.

Despite the damage done to Ireland which has come to a climax with the EU-IMF intervention in Black November 2010, there is little doubt that we are capable of successfully taking a different fork in the road that is the nation’s journey. There is much to gain from this new approach – not just in terms of independence and sovereignty and pride, or in terms of our economy and society, but more crucially there is a moral component to it in terms of our attitude to war and injustice and exploitation – all hallmarks of European and US policy towards the rest of the non-NATO world.

We are not Europeans as we have allowed  ourselves to be misled into thinking. As Bob Quinn suggests, we are the Atlantean Irish, with our gaze directed not just at Europe, but at the world at large. We have the twenty-twenty vision of a people at the periphery, once we remove the EU blindfold. Why would we limit the scope of our ambitions by aligning ourselves with imperialists with so much blood on their hands, and an ambition to expand their activities, when we can take our place among the non-aligned nations of the world as equals – nations who, unlike Europe and the US, and even ourselves, hold the Irish in some considerable regard.

It is time to open a real debate on our future, to stop limiting ourselves by surrendering to the demands of a union of unequal states, but instead to open our minds to the possibility that we can change ourselves and the world for the better. Time, as James Connolly wished, to build a sovereign republic that will act as a beacon of hope to the oppressed people of the world. We are most certainly capable of doing that.

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