Sean Bresnahan of the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh discusses Sinn Fein’s emerging ‘Agreed Ireland’ proposal, its impact on the quest for an All-Ireland Republic and the continuation of British rule in Ireland post a nationalist majority in the Six Counties.

New Sinn Fein are moving away from the idea that once a vote in the North of Ireland mandates Irish reunification that national sovereignty will follow. They are saying now, albeit indirectly, not that Britain’s presence will end forthwith but that instead there will be a tripartite negotiation to agree new terms of reference. Why is that if they are intent on an Independent 32-County Republic? The short answer is obvious: they are no longer set on that position and have given up on the idea it can be achieved.

Where the latest line from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is headed, that he and his party are prepared to countenance new options other than a United Ireland, is not an Éire Nua-style arrangement as some are imagining but to somewhere else entirely – to an ‘Agreed Ireland’ that accounts for the clause in the British-Irish Agreement that London be the guarantor of the unionist community regardless the constitutional status of the Six Counties.

Sinn Fein then seek not a sovereign and independent all-Ireland republic – whether unitary, federal or otherwise – but a renegotiation of Good Friday that allows for the above proviso within any new constitutional set-up to follow a ‘Yes Vote’ in a border poll. This is what Adams means when he talks of ‘alternatives to a United Ireland’ and this is the height of change that can flow from his party’s proposal for a border poll.

Republicanism asserts that the Irish people should freely agree the terms and conditions of their own governance upon a full British withdrawal from our country. Constitutional nationalism, as embodied by New Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Free State establishment, asserts otherwise however, holding that the contracting parties to Good Friday should negotiate and agree any new Ireland that might emerge. The Ireland this process imagines will continue to include Britain.

Adams and Sinn Fein, with the wider Irish establishment, are not then on the path to the Irish Republic but to a revised constitutional arrangement where Britain plays a role in determining both its shape and structure and where Britain retains a role within the same. This has already been signed off on by all concerned during the Multi-Party Talks in 1998.

A discerning look at their emerging position makes clear they are not simply saying there should be rights for the national minority within a ‘New Republic’ and which no right-thinking republican would object to. Instead they now claim the ‘Britishness’ of the unionists must be guaranteed. But who will guarantee this if not London and how will they do so if Ireland is to be a national republic?

The answer of course is that Ireland, at least should this go forward, will never be such a republic but something else instead – an ‘Agreed Ireland’ where the British get to stay and the Irish agree to it, with the ‘Britishness’ of the unionists upheld by awarding London a permanent role in the internal affairs of our nation.

This is the endgame coming into sight, ‘the last wet dream of British imperialism’ as so aptly spoken of by John Crawley at a recent commemoration to the Loughgall Martyrs, where Ireland is settled ‘as a permanent British redoubt’. Not only is this far from what the Martyrs of Ireland laid down their lives for, it is also a complete about-turn on what the republican leadership promised when encouraging support for the Agreement, that the Irish Republic would immediately follow a nationalist majority in the north. Like every other position they’ve held – from the unionist veto to decommissioning to policing – that too now is gone.

But regardless the contortions of others, it remains for ourselves – the Irish people and none other – freely and without impediment – to determine the shape and structure of the All-Ireland Republic. The Irish people alone should determine our future and that remains our inalienable right. Britain should be afforded no role in determining or participating in any future all-Ireland arrangement. The rest is up for discussion but that is at the core of what it means to self-determine and must thus be fully non-negotiable.

In my own opinion – with all that in mind and regardless how Ireland be reunited – a Constituent Assembly along lines proposed by the late Daithi Ó Conaill should follow-on immediately. It is that process which should agree the new Ireland, allowing the Irish people to freely determine – of themselves and without impediment – an Ireland that upholds the rights to freedom and sovereignty laid down in the 1916 Proclamation; an Ireland that, no matter the scheming of Britain and her quislings, remains the birthright of our people.