‘BREXIT’ OPENS THE SPACE FOR THE IRISH REPUBLIC – SEAN BRESNAHAN

Speaking at a debate on ‘Brexit’ and the opportunities it affords Irish republicans, Sean Bresnahan of the Thomas Ashe Society in Omagh spoke on ‘Éire Nua’ as the way ahead at the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.

First-off, I’d like to thank the Seán Heuston Society for the opportunity to speak here this evening and intend using my contribution to discuss the fallout and new context ushered in by ‘Brexit’, to make mention of what in my view is the opportunity it affords us to craft a ‘New Ireland’, an Ireland to replace what is now without question the erroneous partition system, which now more than ever stands in the way of national advance across this country.

And just on a quick point of note at the outset, it’s worth stating that I was invited to speak here as an individual – as an independent republican and not on behalf of the 1916 Societies in an official capacity, despite my position on their Officer Board. As such then, all views are my own.

POLITICAL FALLOUT

To begin with I’d like to touch on the political fallout from the referendum itself. For ourselves as Irish republicans intent on constitutional change, the fallout from the Brexit referendum in Britain offers a useful view as to where power really lies in Ireland – useful because it is only when we realise what we are dealing with that we can respond accordingly and with appropriate measures.

What ‘Brexit’ reveals is that the interests of Ireland are of secondary import to the UK state. For republicans, of course, that is nothing new and an obvious reality. But what is important here is that this same point has now been revealed to the wider Irish people, many of whom can see now for the first time that the Good Friday peace accord runs contrary to the national interest, that its framework renders it incapable of meeting the needs of the people in this emergent situation.

The reason for this is simple. Brexit, having established an imperative that Irish Unity be given serious consideration and that preparations be made towards the same, has likewise exposed that even though the people of Ireland may want and indeed need reunification, even though it be in the national interest now and at this time and according to all but the unionist parties in the north, it cannot be brought into being due to the Good Friday Triple Lock and the veto over Irish Unity it affords the unionists and by extension of course the UK state.

Ireland post-Brexit then continues to see prospects for constitutional change pinned down under the weight of the Good Friday Agreement, which remains an enduring obstacle to the fulfilment of republican aspirations, presenting serious issue for the Irish republican project. Those who signed off on that Agreement created a situation where the necessary change at this time cannot go forward, being subject to a reactionary veto. If we are to succeed in fostering political change we must find means to dispose of that fundamental context.

HISTORICAL INJUSTICES CANNOT BE WISHED OR ‘WAITED ON’ AWAY

The existing constitutional arrangements as set out in 1998 are contrived to accord legitimacy to Britain’s continuing claims to sovereignty over a part of Ireland, deriving not from the will of the people but from a contrived process designed to exclude the will of the people, to ensure it has no impact or influence on outcomes. In reality, the will of the people was neither sought nor determined, with Britain instead creating a process with only one outcome which could then be sold as ‘war or peace or else’.

Those who genuinely wish to see the democratic will of the people adhered to should advocate that the people be free to determine what it is they want for Ireland, in an open process without preconditions. Brexit opens up new opportunities for that to go forward, regardless of those who yet assert that an artificial gerrymander has separate rights to self-determine, a position which derives from a historical injustice and bows to the politics of conquest. How long must injustice wait before freeing itself from that same charge of injustice?

It’s time instead for a new beginning and for a meaningful peace between our people. Whether unionism cares to admit it or not, the northern statelet is not a country or a state but a contrived gerrymander. It is a part of a country attached to another state for reasons of political expediency. Due to how it was created it has never known peace. And it can never know peace – for peace is about more than the absence of violence.

The Ulster Protestant tradition within our nation should consider a parliament for all Ulster within a ‘New Ireland’. Their political representatives have signed up to a Treaty, no matter our views as to its legitimacy, which holds that the Six Counties will only remain in the UK while a majority within continue to support that position. That majority won’t last forever and indeed could already be gone – with Brexit conceivably furthering its demise, thus creating a new imperative for a final settlement.

There will only be a full peace when we reach such a settlement. Good Friday did not and could not deliver on this because it was not agreed by the Irish people, being instead imposed as the price of peace through the Major Government’s Framework Document, which lead in turn to the Downing Street Declaration, the Multi-Party Talks and the agreement at Stormont itself.

Because it was crafted unilaterally by Britain, it was framed to meet the strategic needs of the British state and not those of the people of Ireland, whether north or south. Thus, it failed to deal with the root cause of the conflict and thus that conflict continues – albeit in the non-violent arena (for the most part). It is likewise incapable of meeting the needs of Ireland at this time, in the context of Brexit and its implications for our country.

ÉIRE NUA AND A NEW BEGINNING FOR ALL

Peace and a full reconciliation between our two traditions remains a great prize to aim towards. The Éire Nua policy of our colleagues in Republican Sinn Féin, born at the outset of the war in Ulster as a revolutionary alternative to the reactionary partition system, can deliver on as much and more. In the ‘New Ireland’ it imagines, the rights of the Irish to national freedom and sovereignty would be upheld while allowing Ulster, with its distinct identity and separate historical development, her own ability to self-determine in accord with the same.

Irish republicanism intends on a new political dynamic and a new set of political arrangements that meet the highest standards of democracy and independence. Éire Nua sets republicanism firmly within that mould and presents an anti-establishment, anti-imperialist vision for a republic worthy of our people. It offers a credible alternative to the existing political institutions on this island, within the framework of a federal system based on the historic Provinces of Ireland.

It imagines a participatory democratic polity, with decision-making devolved to the maximum, awarding communities a direct say in the issues that impact their lives. This is to include voluntary councils, where all have the right to audience, with local councils elected from there and so on up to Provincial Assemblies and a National Dáil, whose remit would be restricted to issues of a national concern.

Éire Nua proposes then a diffuse state, with power devolved to the margins in a political system defined by its commitment to decentralisation. But its advocates, myself among them, likewise envisage a parallel economic system, where the cooperative model is given preference without totally excluding private enterprise (which is, though, to be subordinate to the needs of the wider community). The workers, as such, are to have a share in the businesses they build and work in, cooperating in joint enterprise and with direct participation in the decision-making process protected as of right – all within and regulated by a wider political system with the same intent in mind.

For more information on these ideas it’s worth paying a visit to Republican Sinn Féin’s national website – RSF.ie – where a raft of useful documents on republicanism past and present are readily available.

Such ideas are immediately to hand and can be the future for our country. They represent a credible alternative to the rampant corruption of modern capitalist society, which has utterly failed the people of Ireland, whether north, south, east or west. For republicans, who at this time and in the aftermath of Brexit are searching for a policy to unite behind, it is certainly worth revisiting. It can be the unifying position that unites once more our fractured base, pushing forward with a republican solution to the constitutional conflict in our country.

The time has never been more right, a fact best-evidenced by the emergence of what we might term the ‘Eire Nua-lite’ initiative of New Sinn Fein – the ‘Agreed Ireland’ they have concocted to replace the 1916 Republic, where Britain’s sectarian gerrymander will continue-on post-reunification, in a ‘post-republican’ Ireland. No thanks. Éire Nua is a ready-made counter to this sham and should be embraced – if only until a better alternative can be brought forward.

Personally, I consider that a decentralising of state power to the advantage of community councils and other regional bodies would shatter the cosy arrangement for too long enjoyed by the privileged few in Ireland. Alongside a transition to a cooperative, progressive and ultimately resourced-based economy, it offers the Irish people a way forward in an Irish Republic which holds as highest priority their needs over those of profit.

HOW TO GET THERE

British rule in Ireland is a barrier to democracy and freedom and as such must be challenged and defeated. But equally we must find appropriate means to do so, relevant to Ireland in the 21st century, its position within the emerging global system and how we hope to relate to it going forward.

A sovereign and democratic republic, where the people come first and the people determine their own affairs to the greatest extent possible, can only be realised through empowering the citizens who make up its number, the ordinary people of Ireland – not at a mythical point in the future, following a ‘redeclaration’ of independence, but now and as part of efforts themselves to achieve such a declaration of itself. This must be the root on which all else grows if we are serious in our intent to succeed.

Through as much, resistance to British rule will spread and grow, which Britain cannot afford and has worked hard to prevent. They do not want republicanism to become again the mainstay of the people. The relation between the Republican Movement and the people then must be as that between the cow and its calf. The cow will give abundant milk for the benefit of the calf – and so likewise must republicanism, with those who adhere to its objects.

The path to a better future lies in establishing the democratic republic; the path to the democratic republic lies in solidarity among and between ourselves, working together on the common issues that are the site of struggle in our individual lives, both here at home and in societies as our own all across this world.

On that basis, we must work to make republicanism relevant to all engaged in struggle throughout Ireland – to open up the conversation, to demonstrate how republicanism, built as it is on the principle of mutual solidarity, offers a vehicle for everyone to band together and achieve a truly progressive society, a new democratic arrangement that wrestles power from imperialism and returns sovereignty to the Irish people, offering a better life and life prospects for us all. It is within our grasp if we believe in our own abilities.

The argument we have come to an end of a revolutionary cycle and must wait on events is a nonsense. The events are here and now and are happening all around us, in Ireland and beyond. That is surely the first lesson to be gleaned from Brexit. As republicans still badly impacted by the failures of recent years, we must believe this is not the end but the beginning – the beginning of a new cycle in the revolution and a new phase in the struggle for freedom.

Our task then is to build again the struggle for a national democracy, with the notion that the will of the people – freely expressed and without impediment – should prevail to the forefront of our analysis. Brexit gives us new opportunities but it is not enough to simply talk about them or write a good speech or have a discussion in a room. We need to get out of the room and go from here set firmly towards that end, on ramping up our activism within our communities and within the broader nation of itself. For when all’s said and done, it is ourselves alone who have the power to do so. The choice is our own to make.