Sean Bresnahan, National PRO 1916 Societies, discusses attitudes in Ireland towards the upcoming referendum in Scotland in an interview with Jamie Maxwell of the Scottish Sunday Mail
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Who are the 1916 Societies?
The 1916 Societies are an emerging political, cultural and historical movement in Ireland founded in 2009 to oppose the further running down of the republican struggle, with the specific remit of securing the legacy of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom and ensuring the preservation of the republican tradition on that basis. We are an Irish separatist movement who campaign for an all-Ireland referendum to resolve the partition of our country and its constitutional status and believe the Irish republic as declared in the 1916 Proclamation, later ratified in the 1918 General Election only to be usurped and partitioned by military force following a campaign of violence and repression by the occupying British government of the day, should be a sovereign independent state. We are committed to fostering and promoting Irish Unity in the belief that the Irish people have an inherent right to self-determination and that this basic right continues to be forcibly denied. Our strategy is to build support for an inclusive 32-County democratic plebiscite to determine the national aspirations of all the Irish people, free from external political interference and regardless of artificial lines of demarcation drawn by the British government in Ireland at the time of partition. Our movement, though relatively young, is already at an advanced stage and is the fastest growing of its kind in this country at present and has been for a considerable period of time. We are currently engaged in a wide range of work at the political, cultural and educational level and are already beginning to see dividends arise from our efforts. It is clear to us that an appetite for reunification does exist across this island and as the centenary of the 1916 Rising approaches we can only envisage this increasing in the period ahead. Ultimately our hope is that we can help channel the energies and will of the Irish people into and through a democratic process that can see those energies fulfil their potential and see the democratic will of the people realised in full.
What impact do you think a Yes vote would have on politics in NI?
A ‘Yes’ vote for Scotland would likely introduce a fresh dynamic into Irish politics around the issue of partition and the British sovereign claim to the six-counties. That’s certainly what the minimal hope of the 1916 Societies would be. Beyond that we believe a Scottish secession from the Union can set in train a process leading ultimately to a British withdrawal from Ireland and Irish reunification. And no doubt Wales would likely follow suit. We could very well be witnessing the end of a long period in history whereby the London government has exercised its domineering power to effectively subjugate and control those countries adjoining and adjacent to the borders of England, to bring them under the remit of the Crown and prevent them from controlling their own sovereign affairs.
Do you think the break-up of the Union will make a United Ireland more likely?
The breakup of the United Kingdom would of course make a United Ireland more likely, it would be a case of fast-forwarding what we see as the inevitable. In the past Britain has used both direct and covert military force, often intertwined, to suppress the Irish demand for democracy. This took the form of using military power to partition the country, ensuring at the time and in the period since a continuing British foothold against the express wishes of the Irish people for independence. But it has also been evident in more recent times with the assault on democracy and the civil rights movement that paved the way for the tragic events of the last forty plus years. The British state, the so-called motherland of democracy, does not like this democracy when it runs counter to its interests. But while the British presence in Ireland remains founded on the denial of democracy to the people of this country then in the long-term it is untenable. We would envisage a break-up of the Union speeding the process of a complete British withdrawal from Ireland, placing an incumbent need on the London government to observe and respect the democratic demand of the sovereign Irish people to determine their own affairs free from external impediment.
How do you view the SNP / Yes campaign?
Naturally we view the ‘Yes’ campaign as a positive development, fully endorse the notion that a country and its people have the right to self-determination and wish all those who have set this process in motion and contributed to taking the issue of Scottish independence to the world stage every success in the coming referendum. Admittedly we have strong reservations with the official campaign itself in that to our mind it doesn’t go far enough, its refusal to endorse a complete break with the Crown being the primary concern. From our perspective, come what may on 18th September, the struggle for a truly independent Scotland must begin again anew the following day. The referendum itself – and by dint the SNP campaign that drives it – cannot achieve on its own strength a measure of freedom consistent with our interpretation of the concept of sovereignty. The broad independence campaign though has been highly instructive with much to draw on as we attempt to set the wheels in motion for a similar democratic plebiscite here in Ireland. Indeed representatives from the James Connolly Society Scotland addressed a recent internal Spring Conference of ours with a view towards that end. We view the broad Scottish campaign with innate respect, feel it has shown remarkable ability in the face of the censorship and subtle intimidation of London and its proxies, and fervently hope the Scottish people grasp this opportunity to begin putting Scotland first, to begin the process of building a sovereign, independent Scotland that can be an example to the rest of the world of just what is possible if a people are allowed to determine their own destiny. Ultimately though, the vote on 18th September is only the start of such a process and regardless of the decision reached much will remain to be done either way.
How do you think Unionists and loyalists would deal with a Yes vote?
It’s difficult to determine or predict the Unionist response in the event of Scottish independence but the hope would be they realise Irish reunification is on the cards and recognise the need to negotiate a new all-Ireland constitution on that basis. As an organisation we take our cue from the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and feel that document can form the basic framework of a such a new constitutional reality. Its promises to cherish ‘all of the children equally regardless of differences carefully fostered by an alien government that has divided a minority from the majority in the past’ can be the building blocks of a new political arrangement in Ireland that brings to an end centuries of fear, division and manipulation. Our hope would be that a Yes vote in Scotland would transform attitudes in the Unionist community and impress the need to overcome our differences and build a republic capable of fulfilling all our wants, needs and desires. In the past Unionist political leaders have shown a willingness to countenance political arrangements outside the Union with Britain, of course modelled more-so on the idea of an independent Northern Ireland state but nevertheless outside the Union with Britain. A Scottish vote for independence should encourage a need for Unionism to revisit its position and as a result can perhaps provide a bridgehead between the respective communities in Ireland in the realisation that the Union is no longer a viable option and that new thinking is required. Our belief is that this should take the form of an all-Ireland democratic republic and if a Yes vote in Scotland helps break down hostility towards that end among Ireland’s Unionist community then that will be a most welcome development.
What do you think will happen to Scotland if there is a No vote?
Should Scotland vote No it would have to be seen as a missed opportunity for the country to distance itself from the controlling influence of London, who’s primary interest is a always London’s and not Scotland’s. Scotland is more than adequately equipped to form a successful sovereign state and for it to reject this precious opportunity to move towards that end would be disappointing. But at the end of the day it’s up to the Scots, it’s their decision. In the event of a No vote we can only hope the dynamic towards independence that has been built up to this point does not wane and the process of establishing an independent Scotland continues until such is achieved. The 1916 Societies will continue to support those who argue for an independent Scotland and who endeavour towards that end, a No vote would not be the end of the argument but merely a new challenge to be met with renewed determination. Scotland, like Ireland, will one day stand as a sovereign state among the nations of the world and that will prove the inevitable outworking of history.