The following address was delivered by Sean Bresnahan of the 1916 Societies to the Ruairi O Bradaigh Memorial School in Roscommon.
First of all, may I begin by thanking the organisers for the opportunity to speak here this afternoon. It is a privilege to do so, given who this event stands to commemorate. Though he has gone, Ruairi O Bradaigh remains an inspiration to Irish Republicans, the ideas he stood over remaining, for us, the footing and template on which to advocate continuing Republican struggle, on and into the future.
As Ruairi knew well, Irish Republicanism sets towards a 32-county republic in Ireland, premised on the line and image of the 1916 Proclamation. For ourselves as Irish Republicans, then, any future United Ireland to emerge must be mounted on the same, with the Proclamation to be upheld as its constitutional basis.
We are out for the Irish Republic -- the Republic of 1916. While its governmental structure has yet to be determined, its political line, as O Bradaigh stood over throughout the entirety of his political life, has already been carved in stone.
But with Brexit and demographic change in the North speeding new and unheralded political realities, Irish Republicanism, while having much on paper to offer the ‘change process’, finds itself outside the loop. By no means has this been arrived at by happenstance.
For on the back of a disorganised Republicanism -- splintered and with no clear sense of its purpose in the Ireland of 2018 -- revisionist forces, intent on limiting the scope and extent of any future all-Ireland state, find the task of restricting the parameters of change much easier than ought to be the case. This is a failing on all of our parts and is the primary challenge faced by Republicanism at this key time in Ireland’s political development.
The task at hand, in the context of the above, is for Republicans to forward a political strategy relevant to 2018, though without being absorbed by revisionism. In particular, with broader nationalism focused on a United Ireland to be achieved via Good Friday’s border poll, we must ensure not to internalise that vehicle -- not because it would signal that we were wrong, while others where right, but because that mechanism contrives towards a revised continuum of the Good Friday Agreement, not the Irish Republic.
As O Bradaigh himself said in 1986, when the Provisional Movement embraced a political shift that would shunt it into constitutionalism, ‘we have not been wrong -- we have been right’. But being right is not enough on its own, as many here can attest to.
With that in mind, building on the foundation that correct political theory affords, the Republican function must be to embed in the public mind that the Irish Republic should constitute the ‘new Ireland’. We must gain support for same through hard work on the ground -- hard work married to a clear political charter formed upon clear political theory. That is what Republicanism still has to offer and that is what we now must be about. We must be of and about a political campaign with the Irish Republic as its masthead.
The Good Friday Agreement has as its core concern the containment of Irish Republicanism. It was designed to bring Irish Republicans into a political process which had as its parameters the acceptance of British rule, while at the same time excluding Republicanism.
It could do so by holding out the prospect of change, should certain conditions be arrived at, while in reality serving as an instrument to ensure the permanence of Britain’s hold on Ireland, in particular of its political theory. While this arrangement has served British power for the best part of 20 years, more recent times have seen it run aground, due to the impact of Brexit coupled with shifting demographics in the still-occupied Six Counties.
The creates new opportunities which Republicanism must avail of. While, rightly, we must guard against encroaching revisionism, which seeks out our embrace of British constitutional constraints and our acceding to their line of legitimacy, we must still have more to offer than the politics of mere ‘rejectionism’.
The core of our programme in this regard should centre on the constituent assembly -- a longstanding plank of Republican theory going back to the times of the revolution. For Irish Republicans it is automatic that, should Ireland be reunited, British withdrawal from the North should be coupled with the restoration of Dail Eireann, a position worth holding to with political change now upon us.
The starting point for ourselves, here, is that the substance of a ‘new Ireland’ is a matter alone for the Irish people, in all their diversity and no matter their differences. Britain, with her line of theory, should be afforded no role in determining or participating in any future all-Ireland arrangement. While the rest is up for discussion, that is at the core of what it means to self-determine and must be fully non-negotiable.
An all-Ireland constituent assembly should thus deliberate on the form and structure of any future United Ireland, for only such an entity has the democratic right and qualification to undertake such a task. All and every citizen, party or interest group will have the same option and the same opportunity to either stand for election to this body or, at the very least, to present a submission for its consideration.
It is that process which should agree the new Ireland -- one that upholds the rights to freedom and sovereignty laid down under the Proclamation; an Ireland, no matter the scheming of Britain and her quislings, that remains the birthright of our people.
A functional constituent assembly, rather than a mere consultative body among our own, would be a legally-established entity vested with the full authority of the Irish Republic. What we are talking about here is a Third All-Ireland Dail, sitting as a constituent assembly, its sole remit to draw up a new constitution for the Republic -- which would at that point have been reconstituted upon full British withdrawal from Ireland.
An all-Ireland election is the only mechanism that can unlock such a forum. Republican policy must set this in stone and then work to have those who hold power in Ireland commit or bend to this position, holding that this must proceed should constitutional change become a reality -- no matter what ‘vehicle’ sets such in motion.
What we should work toward and look to set in place here is some form of ‘white paper’ on Irish Unity. This should encompass a renewed demand for a full British withdrawal alongside a structured proposal as to what should happen in that event. ‘Towards A Peaceful Ireland’ has the broad framework in place. With that as our base and guide, what is needed is to bring things up to speed and present its ideas in the context of today.
As the British ‘solution’ to her Irish problem comes apart at the seams, mired in the quicksand of sectarianism and its poisonous role in upholding continuing British rule here, the time is now for Republicans to forward a bold approach, to set out our own brand of politics as the alternative to the ongoing farce at both Stormont and Leinster House.
It’s time for new ideas and the people want new ideas. It’s time for a workable constitutional arrangement that serves Ireland and her people, which respects and upholds the rights of both, rather than the interests of those who obstruct democracy in this country. All of such demands the redundant strategies and tactics of the past make way for something fresh -- for a campaign that people can support and believe in.
The call for a constituent assembly, as part of a wider initiative for a new Ireland, can fulfil that end, capturing the national imagination if we forward a confident proposal, backed by a confident team of hardworking Irishmen and women, who are never in short supply. We can always do with more, though, and as such this campaign needs opened out to include all. We need to look outward and not in.
Our work is to advocate for a ‘new republic’ that sweeps aside the failures of the past, which presents a fair and just society as the roadmap to a meaningful peace. The people of Ireland deserve nothing less. Ireland and the Republic deserve, of us, that we establish the unity of purpose required to make good on the same.
Towards that endeavour, in the context of demographic change ongoing, a clear line is now required -- one that states, without equivocation, that should Britain’s imposed terms for leaving be met that obligations incumbent must be acceded to, in full. Further negotiations or agreements with Britain should not from there be countenanced -- other than to insist that she leave our country.
This need not attach any legitimacy to Britain’s conditions. It need neither demand an acceptance from us of her border poll as a legitimate constitutional vehicle. What it must, though, provide is a clear understanding of what should proceed in the event that one should pass -- just as it should in any event, regardless how Irish Unity is arrived upon.
Through all of this, we must be clear that when we speak of Irish Unity we are talking about restoring the Irish Republic -- that same Republic born of the Proclamation and the Declaration of Irish Independence. The sovereignty and unity of the Irish Republic must be the basis of a United Ireland. We might negotiate and agree new political structures but that fundamental is beyond revision. It is the Irish Republic we seek and no less. As the General Liam Lynch rightly declared, ‘we will live under no other law’.
While it is not a panacea and should not be mistaken for such, a national constituent assembly, elected by popular suffrage by all of the Irish people -- acting as one unit -- offers a practical means through which this can be achieved. It would provide us the means to build a true Republic, where all of the children of this great nation are finally cherished as they ought to be. Great things could lie ahead if we realise the opportunities before us. A ‘new republic’ for all is the outcome we now must reach for.