Brexit, demographic change and a ‘New Republic’ for all

By Sean Bresnahan

With Brexit looming and unionism fast becoming not only a national minority but one within its own gerrymandered statelet, what is now required is a national dialogue, inclusive of all stakeholders in society, that moves to agree - freely and without impediment - proposals for an independent all-Ireland republic.

An elected Constituent Assembly is arguably best-placed to speed that function and should proceed at the earliest opportunity.

Such a ‘new Ireland’ requires a modern, pluralist political arrangement, where the identity of all is secured and upheld regardless their class, tradition or creed. Republicans must prepare a solid proposal that puts substance to that vision, giving form to a new and vibrant democracy in tune with the needs of today. Our initiative must speed an advanced proposal towards that end, offering a new beginning for Ireland and her people as is their democratic entitlement.

If there is to be such a ‘new Ireland’ - spoken of increasingly by many and which no doubt will come to pass given changing demographics - then republicans must influence its form and appearance, ensuring to the greatest extent practical that it is bound by our rights to national freedom and sovereignty. Our banner is the Irish Republic and we must position to ensure that when constitutional change arrives that republican objectives are achieved.

The revisionist concept of an Agreed Ireland is out of sync with traditional notions of a full republic. It is instead yet another compromise with the occupation. Britain should not be allowed to negotiate the terms of her withdrawal, the shape and structure of the new Ireland with it, and should not be facilitated in so doing in the event of Irish reunification. That is what the ‘Agreed Ireland’ project is really about and it must not go forward unchallenged.

If a United Ireland should come to be then as a people and as a nation it will be for us - ourselves alone - to determine its constitutional form. By agreement among and between our people, yes; inclusive of their number entire. But the link with Britain, fully and in its totality, must go and without equivocation.

Key here is that a United Ireland must be an Irish Republic. Indeed it is arguable it should be The Irish Republic - the Republic of 1916. It is there in that Republic where our rights to freedom and sovereignty reside. As such it should be restored to the people, albeit in newly-agreed form where the requirements of society, in all its diversity, can be accounted for as they must in the Ireland of today.

Post-Irish Unity, allowances for Ulster’s Protestants - their culture, identity, traditions and fears - should only be accounted for under the constitution of a united and sovereign republic. The ‘Agreed Ireland’ notion of ‘enhanced ethnic status’ for unionists, encompassing a constitutional recognition of their attachment to the Crown, is an anathema to the idea of a republic. Constitutional protections should be afforded all citizens, not a group within their number, if sectarian division is to be consigned to the past. If there is to be Irish Unity then contrived divisions, fostered by colonial rule, must not carry through into a new beginning.

The republican position is simple: British rule derives from conquest and is without legitimate title. Accordingly, Britain should leave Ireland and allow her people to determine their own future, freely and of themselves. It does not and should not require a vote, of any description, to see this made good - not even an all-Ireland referendum. Nevertheless a vote could prove useful in the face of Britain’s refusal to leave. Indeed, given that one such vote has already been signed-off for under the British-Irish Agreement and given also and in turn the shifting demographics exposed by the last election, republicans would ignore this at their peril.

With that in mind, republicans should be conscious of the emerging dynamics, laying out in turn that constitutional change - regardless how it comes to pass - must deliver, in full, Irish Unity. There is no reason we can’t hold that Britain should leave Ireland - no matter of any poll and on the basis that she has no right here - while taking stock of emerging realities, factoring them in as we proceed on a nuanced basis, exploiting them where we can and at the ready. It seems at times as though republicans are good at saying what we’re against but not so strong regards what we’re for.

The real task before us is to contest the narrative of what should happen should constitutional change unfold - to ‘steer the bus’ towards destination Irish Republic rather than the emerging consensus that a role reversal, within the Good Friday set-up, should follow a nationalist majority. Why should it? We have waited long enough. Britain has outlined her terms for leaving and should they be met - regardless whether we consider them legitimate or otherwise - then out must mean out.

As much has been codified in the British Irish Agreement - an international and binding Treaty between two sovereign states registered at the United Nations - which allows only for ‘continued Union with Britain’ or a ‘sovereign United Ireland’, depending on unionism’s ability to retain its majority internal to the north. Should that majority be eclipsed by a rising nationalist population within the northern gerrymander then Britain’s feet should be held to the fire: full Irish Unity should proceed without delay and as agreed.

On that basis, Irish republicans need to forward a detailed plan as to what should happen, from our perspective, in the event of Irish Unity. With the British Government’s triggering of Article 50, this is now a matter of urgency. Republicans must get their heads around the game-changer ‘Brexit’ will prove. Its implications for Ireland are massive. The time to get this moving is now, with immediate effect. Slogans and rhetoric, while useful to an extent, will not carry the day and will simply bounce off the establishment’s narrative.

The establishment cannot be allowed to frame the agenda unhindered but to challenge it, as we must, requires something more comprehensive - a solid proposal, with substance behind it, that all can lend their weight to. It remains to be seen how far we are capable of putting this together but it stands as the task now before us.

Ultimately, how Irish Unity is to be achieved - whether by national referendum, six-county border poll, a declaration of intent or some other means - is secondary to the form it will take. Brexit and demographic change are set to bring forward that day and so we must get our house in order. The time to put this together is now. A Constituent Assembly as spoken of above, its remit to determine the form and specifics of a new all-Ireland republic, is arguably where our weight needs applied. It is here and here alone where the new Ireland should be agreed.

In such an initiative lies new opportunity to reconnect republicanism, and the notion of the Republic, with the broad mass of the people - without whom constitutional change is a near-impossibility. As much is the task before us and we cannot afford to wait. We must set forward our proposals now, placing the Irish Republic at the centre of the debate as a viable alternative to the failed status quo.

Onwards to the Republic - An Phoblacht Abu.

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