31 March 2005 Edition

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Irish Unity - Fianna Fáil says 'yes... but'

BY Justin Moran

The confusion within Fianna Fáil about how to respond to Sinn Féin's campaign for a Green Paper on Irish Unity was starkly exposed at the second annual James Connolly Memorial Lecture in Dublin last week, one of the events organised as part of Dublin's Easter commemorative programme.

Speaking to the subject, The Search for A Republic: Visionary or Criminal, Fianna Fáil Senator Martin Mansergh told a packed audience of over a hundred people that "if one accepts that it is neither by military nor political pressure that the British will be forced out of Ireland and unionists to fall into line with a united Ireland, then it must be through persuasion.

"It is up to those of us who believe in a united Ireland to make that case and persuade those people who do not."

Despite this, the Senator refused to support the creation of a Green Paper on Irish Unity. He attempted to claim that Fianna Fáil was still focused on pursuing a united Ireland and yet was opposed to a Green Paper to make the persuasive case for unification.

The lecture was organised by the Dublin Republican Commemoration Committee and, as well as Senator Mansergh, author and historian Dr Ruan O'Donnell and Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh addressed the crowd.

O'Donnell pointed out that where a State is undemocratic or tyrannical, there may be a duty on people to break the law and stand up against it.

Describing the 1916 Proclamation as a document with a radical vision, he said that republicans must "constantly assess what they say and what they do by reference back to the founding principles of modern Irish republicanism contained in that document and whether their actions are bringing the Proclamation any closer to a reality".

He also pointed to the emergence of a new political phenomenon after the Tan War, that of an Irish nationalist establishment composed of the middle and business classes, the Catholic Church and all those who had decided the limited freedoms of the Treaty had preserved their interests.

"In essence, the Civil War could be viewed as a counter-revolution, where the Free State forces defeated what they would see as reckless dissidents who opposed the will of the establishment," said O'Donnell.

Ó Snodaigh addressed the current onslaught from the political and media establishment against Sinn Féin. He placed the attacks in the context of an attempt to criminalise republican struggle in much the same manner as Margaret Thatcher had done.

He criticised recent statements from Dublin Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern dismissing the notion of a Green Paper, saying: "It is very disturbing when a Minister of the largest 'republican' party in Ireland is saying the debate on Irish unity is irrelevant."

Ó Snodaigh also addressed the different definitions of criminal action.

"By its very nature, revolution breaks the law," he pointed out. "What was the First Dáil but a gathering of criminals in revolt against the State and breaking the law declaring an independent republic? Was Tone a criminal? Were the Fenians criminals? What about Seán Russell, Seán Sabhat, Fergal O'Hanlon, even Proinsias De Rossa?"

Senator Mansergh came in for aggressive questioning from the largely republican audience. One speaker made the point that while Fianna Fáil had not created the IRA in 1969 as some had suggested, by its inaction and its abandonment of nationalists in the North, it had created the need for the IRA.

Other speakers questioned whether Fianna Fáil's commitment to independence was, or had ever been, anything other than rhetorical. Mansergh defended his opposition to the Green Paper, saying that the conditions do not exist for such a debate and without them, it would be premature to begin that process.

When pressed from the floor, the Senator was unable to coherently define exactly what conditions he was referring to and how the people would be able to judge whether they had been met or not.

Under pressure from republicans for Fianna Fáil's position on some of the more outrageous media allegations, Mansergh admitted he was "nauseated by people who had always hated the Peace Process jumping all over it".

Regrettably though, the sense of his remarks, if accurately reflecting the position of Fianna Fáil, suggest their response to the question of whether they support a united Ireland is "Yes, but..."

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