Sean Bresnahan, Chair of the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh, argues that the Eire Nua initiative for a Federal All-Ireland Republic, developed by Sinn Fein in the 1970s and still supported by Republican Sinn Fein, can best advance a new beginning for all of the Irish people.
Irish republicanism sets toward new political arrangements in Ireland where the highest standards of democracy and independence are reflected in the institutions of the republic. The ‘Eire Nua’ policy, developed in the early 1970s as an alternative to the partition system, can deliver on this and more, setting republicanism within the parameters of anti-establishment politics - where it has always belonged - while presenting a vision for a ‘New Ireland’ worthy of our people and befitting their needs today.
Eire Nua proposes a federal republic based on the historic Provinces of Ireland, where the power of the state is broken down through commitment to decentralised governance. It imagines a participatory democratic polity, where decision-making processes are devolved to the maximum, with communities awarded a real 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 Dail, whose remit would be restricted to issues such as monetary policy, energy regulation and other such matters of a similar concern.
Overly-centralised government is the common experience in Ireland, whether in the South - among the most centralised polities in the West - or in the Six Counties - where only the illusion of devolved decision-making exists and where policy is really decided at Whitehall. The negatives of such in mind, the structures envisaged by Eire Nua - by its plans for regional federation and strengthening of local government - carry ever-greater appeal among those intent on new ways of ‘doing politics’. While they might not realise it, many of their ideas have long been a feature of this initiative - most likely because it has been subject to massive censorship, given its threat to the existing establishment.
Post-Brexit and as Ireland moves to reconcile tensions unleashed with those already in play, Eire Nua presents a viable platform to build on. The proposals it contains can be the building blocks of a re-born Irish Republic - one deserving of our people; one they need now more than ever: a republic that can unite all Irish people, in their diversity and differences, in a constitutional order where all have influence, all have protection and all have a role within the affairs of the nation.
Its obvious strong-point lies in its ability to reconcile our respective traditions within an all-Ireland republic. But its intent is also, at a more fundamental level, that a much-increased role in the affairs of the republic be awarded to ALL citizens - regardless their identity or tradition - increasing the scope of democracy and the commitment of our people to the would-be institutions of that republic. Reconciling our people and safeguarding minority interests is an outworking of that process, rather than its guiding intent of itself. It should then in no way be mislabeled as a ‘sop to unionism’, as has been charged by those who undermined the policy en route to their signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
As Irish republicans intent on change, rebuilding the idea of a ‘New Ireland’, one where egalitarian and democratic institutions help empower the people and protect their interests, is an immediate option to hand. Towards as much, Eire Nua brings advanced, though achievable, options to the table, options we can set in train without creating unnecessary and potentially damaging political and economic instability - the fear of which, among ordinary people, is the most significant force ranged against the argument for change today.
Daithi O Conaill, a key architect of the policy, once described Eire Nua as ‘the hand of friendship’ to the Ulster Protestant tradition in our country, arguing also that in the same instance it would advance a democratic process that would benefit all constituent parts of Irish society. The Ireland he imagined, still and to this day, can not only realise a lasting peace between our people but with it a complete transformation of democratic practices for the benefit of all.
These ideas are workable and can be the future for our country. They represent a credible alternative to the unchecked corruption of modern government in Ireland, which has utterly failed our people - be they from Belfast or Dublin, Kerry or Tyrone, whether north, south, east or west. Decentralised power would shatter the privilege for too long enjoyed by the few, offering the Irish people a new way forward in a democratic republic for all. Such a republic is surely their right. The work before us at this time is to see it achieved.