Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Food for thought

Irish Republicanism - Good Friday and After by Daltún Ó Ceallaigh.
Published by Léirmheas. Price 6.

Since the early 1990s Daltún Ó Ceallaigh has published a number of books of political analysis, which mainly focus on the national question in Ireland and which seek to chart a way forward for nationalists and republicans. All have been coherent, significant and constructive contributions to progressive politics.

As the author points out, the Agreement is full of potential but will only have value if that potential is fulfilled. And we have a very long way to go
In this book Ó Ceallaigh attempts what he describes as ``an assessment of the contemporary meaning and future potential of Irish republicanism''. The attempt is successful and the result is thought provoking. He begins with a concise analysis of the background to the peace process and its roots in the failure of the British to defeat resurgent republicanism. This strikes a positive note for what follows.

Ó Ceallaigh gives a detailed analysis of the constitutional aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. This is a particularly useful section of the book and deals effectively with critics of the republican approach from several angles. The author is generally positive about what was achieved in the Agreement while recognising its many shortcomings.

On the key constitutional question of partition, British sovereignty and the unionist veto, there is clearly no real agreement - Good Friday represented an agreement to disagree. But the further erosion of the British government's constitutional commitment to the unionists represents a step forward. The equality agenda undermines the sectarian basis of the Six-County state. As the author points out, the Agreement is full of potential but will only have value if that potential is fulfilled. And we have a very long way to go.

Republicanism and the Left, a theme he covered in previous books, is revisited in a succinct and interesting chapter. There is still a need to refute the spurious arguments of those in the Labour Party and elsewhere who refuse to follow the true tradition of James Connolly and who try to portray Irish nationalism as reactionary. Ó Ceallaigh points out correctly that ``the real antithesis of internationalism'' is not nationalism but imperialism to which nationalism, as the expression of the freedom of nations, is hostile.

There is a great need for analysis and debate on the changing nature of social classes in Ireland. This has obvious implications for politics and involves such questions as what is the working class now, who represents them, and how can people be radicalised in this new climate. Ó Ceallaigh's chapter on these subjects is a good beginning to a debate we need to have.

Two chapters focus on international affairs - one on our place in the world generally and the other on the origins and development of Irish neutrality. The latter is very useful and shows the real historic basis of neutrality which anti-national and pro-NATO elements so often try to portray as a non-policy. The chapter on the international context is perhaps less focused. It does not really tackle the vital issue of the globalisation of capital and the huge implications of this for the nation-state and for socialists.

Global capital, the increasingly individualised nature of capitalist society and the destruction of the environment are factors which republicans must take into account in a more serious way than before. It is too much to expect the author to cover such a wide range but a start has been made and perhaps these themes might form the basis of a future work.

Many who read this book will focus on the author's view of what Sinn Fein should do about the `Coalition option'. ``If concessions on the right policies can be secured and implemented, and it is perceived that Sinn Féin is responsible for them, then there is no reason why coalition should not be entered into and why it should not benefit the party'' he argues. Food for thought and further debate.

We need more publications like this and more debate among republicans on `the big issues'. The development of the peace process necessitated much political debate among republicans but this has waned. There is a real danger now that we could slip into pure electoralism. Sinn Féin is a party of ideas and action. If the two are not in tandem then we are on the road to nowhere.

By Mícheál MacDonncha.

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