The new all-Ireland political party being led by Peadar Tóibín this week revealed its new name as Aontú, the Irish for unity or consent. In this statement written for the centenary of the First Dáil in 1919, Mr Tóibín set out his republican vision for the party.
On 21st January 1919, the elected representatives of the Irish people met to enact the democratic will of the Irish people. This simple act of democracy was the culmination of centuries of struggle and sacrifice. In every generation for hundreds of years democracy was prevented by the British state by violence or the threat of violence. Indeed the new All Ireland democratic assembly would soon become outlawed and suppressed by the most powerful empire ever known.
The purpose of the first Dáil was to bring to fruition the legacy of the 1916 Rising, the United Irishmen and the Young Irelanders, and make a reality of the Irish people’s inalienable right to national freedom. The first Dáil was secured by a colossal victory in the 1918 General Election. 73 out of 105 seats were won by Irish republicans. The Irish people mandated the ratification of the Irish Republic, All Ireland independence and a functioning, self-governing nation.
100 years on its easy to underestimate the magnitude of their achievement. This was one of the weakest generations that Ireland had ever seen. They came not long after the famine where 1.5 million Irish people lost their lives and 1.5 million people were forced to emigrate.
They learned a hard lesson that if decisions were made in London for any part of Ireland that those decisions would never me made on our behalf. They would never be made for our best interests and indeed they would at times lead to the destruction of our people.
The Union Jack flew over every town in Ireland. It had flown in some iteration in these towns for more than 500 years. It stood for the largest empire the world had ever seen. Yet these men and women, the weakest generation for hundreds of years, risked life and limb to challenge that empire to seek our freedom and self-determination.
And for a significant part of our country their actions led to self-determination. However it’s hard to believe that 100 years later, our economy, our lives, our ability to progress as a nation is still determined by the whims and egos of the Tory Party in London.
The Tory Party know nothing of our country and they care even less. A couple of years ago the people of the north democratically decided to remain in the EU. Yet that determination has been pegged in the bin by the Tories. We were told that consent is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace on our island. Yet 100 years after the first Dáil, that consent, that self determination still means nothing to the Tories in London.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the first military action by the IRA at Soloheadbeg, Tipperary where the Volunteers ambushed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers who were escorting a consignment of gelignite explosive. The two RIC officers lost their lives in that action. All loss of life is a human tragedy and the families of those who lost their lives on both sides of the Tan War/War of Independence have a right to remember their loved ones in their own way.
However its important to be clear, there is no equivalence between the British Military in 1919 who imposed oppression and suppressed democracy through violence or the threat of violence and those Irish Volunteers who struggled and risked everything for Irish freedom and self-determination.
This type of equivocation has become the narrative of the new Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leadership. Indeed Lisa Chambers stated this weekend that Fianna Fáil are “not celebrating” the momentous actions of 100 years ago, that “we need to be fair to all sides”. It always amazes me that that those who want to be Ministers in Ireland seek to downgrade those who fought for their right to be Ministers in an Irish Government.
It’s a struggle to think of other countries where the dominant political view among the political elites is that their country’s freedom and the necessary sacrifice that was made to achieve it was an ambiguous thing.
In which other country is equal respect given to the actions of those who fought for freedom and the colonisers and the foreign occupation forces. In which other country is this view considered a politically beneficial position to hold.
There are three political traditions living in Ireland north and south. One seeks to achieve full Irish Independence and one seeks to maintain the union of the north with Britain. We need to reach out to and engage with people of a Unionist tradition. I believe in this 100%. We need to engage respectfully and set out our stall highlighting out full Irish Independence will benefit their needs and objectives.
Brexit has radically accelerated this process. Many people of the traditional unionist community in the north are reappraising their loyalty to London given the Tories clear disdain for their democratic wishes. The economic cliff that is Brexit has also awoken amongst many from the traditionally unionist community the needs for self-determination.
Brexit and the cost of the border has also awoken many in the south of Ireland to the cost of the border. Many in the south recognize the serious risk that exists leaving our ability to trade, do business, travel and farm on the island of Ireland to be significantly influenced by Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Reaching out to other people does not mean denying who you are yourself or denying your past. Real reconciliation happens when people are true to themselves and their own identity and agree to make space for each other’s identity.
Republicanism is a pluralist political objective. Pluralism is not about forced convergence or uniformity. The Irish Republic should not be about deleting difference and diversity. It should be about allowing that diversity to flourish without fear or favour. The Republicanism of 1798, of 1916 and 1918 is about the unity of differences, the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.
A central objective of our new All Ireland Movement is the peaceful unity of the Irish people, the peaceful unity of the Green and the Orange.
I said that there are three political traditions in Ireland. The third is that of the political establishment. Many parties in the south will talk the talk about the objectives and the ideals of the First Dáil. They will sidle up for the photos and make very serious speeches.
But FF and FG will not do anything ever to dilute their power. In many ways they rely on the border for their own political power. If the border were to be removed today they would change from parties of power and government to small regional parties. They will do their best to prevent this.
Let us proudly celebrate the heroic efforts of those who founded and built our national democratic first Dáil and remember that true commemoration is the completion of its objectives.