The Matt Fitzpatrick Society Newtownbutler held a commemoration today (Sunday 12th February) on Derrykerrib island, Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. Proceedings were chaired by Eamonn McPhillips, Damian Johnson read out a list of Matt Fitzpatrick’s comrades. Bernadette Layden then read a poem. Dave Talbot read out the 1916 Proclamation. Wreaths were laid at Matt’s monument, this was followed by the lowering of the National flag accompanied by a lament by Caitlin McCabe. Prayers were then said by Bernadette. The guest speaker John Crawley made the main oration. Caitlin then ended proceedings with Amhrán na bhFiann.

John Crawley’s speech;

Commandant Matt Fitzpatrick of the 5th Northern Division Irish Republican Army was killed in action in what became known as the Clones Affray on February 11th, 1922. Four members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the B Specials) were also killed in the shootout at the Clones railway station.
A native of Killgarrow, Newtownbutler Matt, like many South Fermanagh IRA men, was attached to the Monaghan Brigade. An active and daring resistance fighter Matt led from the front and died leading his men.

At the time of his death, there was a lot of confusion around the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Dáil debates on the Treaty had only finished the previous month, and the Treaty had passed by a vote of 64 to 57. The Irish electorate in the 26-Counties had not yet voted on it.
Collins was still alive in February 1922 and speaking from both sides of his mouth. One side telling the Brits he’d honour the Treaty, and the other side telling his men he’d break it and pursue the Republic the first chance he got. Unfortunately, Michael Collins was killed before we could learn which side of his mouth was telling the truth.

The confusion of the republican movement of yesterday is mirrored somewhat by the disbelief of many republicans today who cannot accept that the Good Friday Agreement will lead to the achievement of a national republic.

One of the greatest crimes in the current political climate is to be perceived as opposing the British pacification strategy known as the Irish Peace Process. Few republicans oppose peace, but we are entitled, indeed duty bound, to be critical of a process that cannot lead to the objectives republicans fought for so long and sacrificed so much to achieve.

We must challenge the false narrative that the republican struggle was simply about ending partition. There was no partition in 1916 when the Irish republic was proclaimed in arms. Neither was there partition when the United Irishmen was formed in 1791. Unity for the Protestant founders of Irish republicanism meant national unity across the sectarian divide. That’s what it should continue to mean. Not territorial unity in exchange for enduring divisions that can only act to Britain’s benefit.
The so-called ‘New’ Ireland or ‘United’ Ireland envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement is neither new nor united. It is predicated on all the old divisions. It allows anyone born in the Six Counties to claim British citizenship into perpetuity. It retains the sectarian dynamic and the resulting British/Irish cleavage in national loyalties into any new constitutional arrangements. Thus, the political malignancy through which Britain historically manipulated and controlled Ireland will remain intact. Irish republicanism aims to break the connection with England and develop a united national citizenship that transcends ethnic, religious, and cultural allegiances.


The 1916 Proclamation called for us to be … ‘oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’ The signatories were not claiming those differences didn’t exist, nor were they saying they could be dismissed as irrelevant. What they were saying is those differences should not be used to shape the political architecture of Ireland.
In contrast, those who support the Good Friday Agreement are determined that those differences will be permanently embedded in our national fabric. That unionists will remain forever in Ireland but not of it. Wolfe Tone believed that British rule in Ireland was irreformable and that sectarianism could never be addressed by the system which promoted and maintained it. Republicans believe that still.
Unionists are pro-British, but they are not the British presence. The British presence is the presence of Britain’s jurisdictional claim to Ireland and the civil and military apparatus that gives that effect.
Ironically many Ulster Unionists, especially the Presbyterians, came late to the concept of Britishness, considering themselves Irish until well into the 19th century. The industrialisation of the northeast of Ireland tied them economically closer to the British Empire before the Home Rule crisis in 1885 polarised Ireland into Unionist and Nationalist camps. They embraced the term ‘British’ to emphasise their separate identity from an Irish nation many of their forebears had fought for in a republican rebellion in 1798. Not only did they come late to the concept of being ‘British,’ but the concept itself is conditional on Britain maintaining their sectarian supremacy. The Orange Order was set up in 1795 to support ‘the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy.’
Ulster Unionists say they will not be forced into a united Ireland. Yet, they lived in a united Ireland for hundreds of years. A united Ireland they were not forced into, but their ancestors forced themselves upon during the plantation of Ulster. An Ireland united in the sense that until the early 20th century England treated our country as a single political unit. Unionists never had an issue with a united Ireland per se. The Orange Order is an all-Ireland institution. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches are all-Ireland ministries. And, of course, the Church of Ireland is not the Church of Northern Ireland. Their real objection is becoming subject to the majority decision-making of an Irish national electorate. Britain partitioned Ireland to ensure this would not happen. That is why it is ridiculous to talk of ‘the consent principle.’ A principle Britain never granted Ireland as a whole. A principle the British only recognise when Ireland is gerrymandered in her favour.

Britain’s claim to be in Ireland to protect the democratic wishes of Six-County unionism is a feeble alibi. England’s conquest of Ireland began centuries before the Ulster plantations. There was no Union, and there were no unionists when England’s sword cut its first swathe through Ireland. What was their excuse, then? It was, of course, naked imperial ambition. A campaign of conquest and colonisation in which English brigands and adventurers came into this rich country poor men, and left this poor country rich men. Britain won no argument in Ireland. It achieved no mandate for its presence. In the words of Roger Casement, ‘conquest has no title.’

Every pretension to British sovereignty in Ireland is the result of confiscation, coercion, ethnic cleansing, or gerrymandering. Yet, every stakeholder in the Good Friday Agreement recognizes these pretensions as lawful and legitimate.

To believe former comrades when they tell us that the Good Friday Agreement will lead to the achievement of Irish republican objectives, we must believe the most incredible things.
We must believe John Hume when he said that the British government has no strategic interest in remaining in Ireland and that London stands neutral as an impartial referee between nationalism and unionism. Hume boasted we can’t eat a flag yet confidently expected us to swallow that.
We must believe former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn when he wrote of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998:

The key thrust of these changes is to reinforce the principle that in Ireland, North and South, it is the people who are sovereign. There is no longer any question of an absolute or territorial British claim to sovereignty, without reference to the wishes of the people. For the first time, a precise mechanism has been defined – and accepted by the British Government – by which a united Ireland can be put in place, by the consent of Irish people and that alone.

However, to believe Ahearn, we must disbelieve the Belfast High Court ruling in the Maguire judgement in October 2016 and the UK Supreme Court judgement in the Miller case in January 2017 when the courts confirmed that it is Westminster parliamentary supremacy and not the will of the Irish people, that takes precedence in the Six-Counties.

In order to believe we are on a republican trajectory, we must believe Gerry Adams when he said the repeal of the 1920 Government of Ireland Act under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 dealt the union a severe blow.

To believe Gerry, we must disbelieve the British politicians, academics, and law professors who tell us the repeal of the 1920 act is irrelevant because Britain’s claim to jurisdiction in Ireland is rooted in the 1801 Acts of Union and reiterated in section 5 (6) of the 1998 Act which allows Westminster to devolve powers to Stormont but declares that the act ‘…does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Northern Ireland…’

It is incredible what people will believe when they want to believe it or, better yet, are paid to believe it.
Ulster unionists are a distinct community who are confident that under British rule they are an exceptional community. There are no exceptional communities in a republic because everyone is equal under the law. That’s a significant problem for them.

Ulster unionists and their allies believe unionist exceptionalism not only grants them a veto over British constitutional decisions but pre-empts Irish decisions in a future united Ireland. Though 18% of the population of Ireland and only 2% of the population of the UK, unionists believe they have the right to say no to everything and everyone whenever it suits them. The logic of democracy doesn’t burden them. Britain ensures it doesn’t have to.

Just as unionists were awarded a veto on Irish unity in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act before the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks even began, there is a campaign to grant unionism a veto over the identity and symbols of a future united Ireland before it is even legislated for. These decisions should be left to the judgement of the Irish people as a whole, as it would be in any normal democracy. Unionism’s exceptional right to say no may include a veto over the Irish national flag and anthem and an insistence on re-joining the British Commonwealth. Far from breaking the connection with England, there are powerful and influential forces attempting to deconstruct the concept of Irish nationhood and lure the whole of Ireland more fully into a British orbit.

In 1585 the Elizabethan planter Edmund Spencer wrote that (the Irishman) ‘…will in time quite learn to forget his Irish nation’.

Today we hear the decommissioned mindset proving him true. They refer to Ireland as ‘this island’ instead of ‘our country.’ They talk of a ‘Shared Island’ where we share in Britain’s analysis of the nature of the conflict, we share in the colonial legacy of sectarian apartheid, and we share in the colonial project of divide and rule.

Republicans are told we must compromise. Republicanism is the compromise. A compromise first proposed by the Protestant founders of the United Irishmen. The proposition that Ireland should be an independent sovereign republic taking a citizen based view of Irishness as opposed to the divisive sectarian spin Britain placed on it. Our national flag is a compromise. Its colours of green, white, and orange denote peace and national unity across the sectarian divide.
Pádraig Pearse said of Wolfe Tone;

‘He has spoken for all time, and his voice resounds throughout Ireland, calling to us from this grave when we wander astray following other voices that ring less true.’

Today there are voices that ring less true, telling us that far from breaking the English connection, we must preserve aspects of it in any new constitutional arrangements. This includes an acknowledgment that the British royal family should play a continuing role in Ireland, providing an institutional point of reference for the loyalties of those citizens who cannot bring themselves to discard the symbolism of the British Crown, the entity which underwrote the twin pillars of plantation Protestantism – confiscation and sectarian supremacy. The British state is, at heart, a sectarian state. The British injected the sectarian dynamic into Irish politics by declaring a Protestant kingdom in which no Catholic could be head of state or marry the head of state. It made Protestantism the test for loyalty and patronage. The British are in no position to lecture the Irish on the constitutional model of a united Ireland based on liberty, equality, and social justice.

Despite the reactionary, racist, and sectarian mindset of settler colonialism, we must never forget that it was Irish Protestants inspired not by the plantations but by the enlightenment who were the founding fathers of Irish republicanism. That political DNA still exists in many Irish Protestants and can even be found among some ‘small u’ unionists.

The voices that ring less true insist that Irish republican objectives will be ultimately achieved through British legislation. That sectarianism, inequality, and partition will be tackled by the government that invented and harnessed them to achieve their imperial ends.

A republican voice must once again be heard. A voice that echoes the republican ideals of the United Irishmen. A voice that remembers who we are and what we represent – the breaking of the connection with England and the establishment of an Irish national democracy within an All-Ireland republic.