New republic not possible without a united island

Both North and South have failed miserably as separate entities. The best way forward is to avoid the wastes and inequalities of partition, writes Gerry Adams.

Citizens of this island need to build a new republic - a truly national republic - encompassing all of the people of this country, as envisaged in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916.

The Proclamation is as relevant today for a republic of the 21st century as it was almost 100 years ago; it guarantees religious and civil liberty; equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens; and a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

These words are a solemn pledge to every Irish citizen that she and he can share in the dignity of humankind, as equals with equal opportunity; that we can enjoy freedom, educate our children, provide for our families and live together with tolerance and respect for each other.

The two states imposed by the partition of Ireland have failed to deliver these principles. Both have been characterised by economic failure, by emigration, by backwardness on social issues, by inequality and by the failure to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Those who built the State turned their backs on the North. They turned their backs also on the ideals of independence and a genuine republic. As James Connolly predicted, a carnival of reaction followed partition.

The southern state that developed was in hock to the Catholic hierarchy while the six counties became a “Protestant state for a Protestant people”. Two conservative states ruled by two conservative elites.

If the republic we want to build for the 21st century is to be real and meaningful then it must be truly a national republic. Uniting the people of Ireland makes sense.

In the face of grave economic difficulties, more and more people understand the need for an all-Ireland economy. The waste that arises from the duplication of public services because of partition must be eliminated. Together is better.

Many of the social and economic problems now faced by citizens north and south are symptoms of partition.

Towns along the Border remained economically depressed even during the Celtic Tiger era as a result of being cut off from their natural hinterlands.

The political establishments which emerged in the aftermath of the partition of Ireland - the senior civil servants, the judges, the politicians of Cumann na Gael, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and the Ulster Unionist Party, created systems that entrenched their own privilege. In the South, the idealism of the aborted revolution waned as they put their own interests first and prospered at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Laws which have their foundation in the outdated 1937 Constitution do not protect the rights of children nor the socio-economic rights of any of our citizens.

They would not pass the Good Friday test.

The system of economic and political apartheid in the North and the scandals of backhanders and brown envelopes and of financial institutions and developers in the South exemplify how these elites lined their own pockets and how ordinary workers are now expected to carry the can.

It was the same atmosphere that allowed Section 31 censorship to continue for so long, that excluded women from the workplace and public life, and that denied gay and lesbian citizens equality under the law.

Ireland can be changed. But citizens need to be clear about the kind of Ireland that we are seeking to create. That needs a national debate.

Many of the contributions to this series are Dublin-centric. A national vision of the future needs to be broader than that.

Many people are looking again at our country - its good points and its bad and how it can be changed for the better.

This is good.

But redrafting the 1937 Constitution is not enough, especially if it is done within - and to accommodate - the existing partitionist system.

Instead, a more practical proposal is for An Taoiseach to commission a Green Paper on Irish unity to be completed within one year.

This should address all aspects of this national and democratic project, including its political, social, economic, cultural, legal, administrative and international dimensions.

The aim should be to identify steps and measures which can promote and assist a successful transition to a united Ireland and to develop detailed planning for a new state and a new society that all Irish people can share. All stakeholders in society on this island must be given an opportunity to take ownership of the debate and the process it initiates.

A Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on Irish Unity to monitor, assess and report progress on implementation should be established.

A Minister of State should be appointed by the Government with the dedicated and specific responsibility of driving forward and developing policy options and strategies to advance the outcomes of the Green Paper and to direct and co-ordinate the Government’s all-Ireland policies.

A republic - a real one - is based on citizenship and citizens’ rights, so we also need to discuss the type of rights and responsibilities we would expect for citizens in the new republic. But the realisation of these rights cannot wait until then.

Legislative rights should be introduced now.

Also, why not introduce more representative electoral processes, such as the introduction of list systems and the radical reform of political institutions which Sinn Fein and others have long advocated?

Cronyism and privilege must be ended and the emergence of new elites has to be prevented. That means accountability, transparency and an active participatory democracy.

While we have to deal with all of the legacies of two dysfunctional states, we also have to deal with the immediate disaster of Government policies which encouraged over-borrowing by homeowners, and increased unemployment and cuts and threatened cuts to public services.

We need to rebuild our economy, using a stimulus package to create jobs for the unemployed and effectively supporting those sectors that will tap into the skills and ability of our young and highly educated workforce.

Society also needs to cushion the most vulnerable citizens from economic disadvantage. Equality is for everyone.

A new republic must include rural Ireland and the protection of the uniquely rural way of life which is compatible with a new green environmentally sustainable way of living.

That also means ensuring Gaeltacht communities thrive and the Irish language has the support required to flourish as a spoken language in future generations.

Real social, economic and political change is not easily achieved but all those who have a genuine commitment towards building an Irish republic worthy of the name must work together towards that end. That work must start now.

Some will say this is not possible. Bunkum. Everything is possible. The peace process if proof of that.

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