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8 May 2008 Edition

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Ireland Institute Public Meetings: The State of the Nation

Ireland Institute meeting : Pat Doherty, Robert Ballagh (chair) and Daltún Ó Ceallaigh

Ireland Institute meeting : Pat Doherty, Robert Ballagh (chair) and Daltún Ó Ceallaigh







In transition to a united Ireland

By Ella O’Dwyer

‘THE State of the Nation’ came under scrutiny in the first of two public meetings at the Ireland Institute in Dublin last Thursday, 1 May (the second is this Thursday, 8 May), as the writer on historical and political affairs, Daltún Ó Ceallaigh, and Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty outlined their analyses of political developments in this country in the lead-up to and aftermath of the re-establishment of the Executive in Stormont.
The meeting was chaired by acclaimed Irish artist Robert Ballagh. 
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh addressed three broad areas: the Good Friday Agreement, partition today and his own perspective on possible formats that a united Ireland could take.
He based his very thorough analysis on the fundamentals of any political context – the “constitutional base”. In a rigorous overview of various constitutional Acts going back to 1920, Ó Ceallaigh outlined the course of a gradual diminution of England’s authority over Ireland, in particular pointing out that the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 repealed any remaining remnants of the Government of Ireland Act, including Section 75, a key section in the rubber-stamping of British occupation in this country.
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh went on to thoroughly trash the notion of the Good Friday Agreement as ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’:
“Sunningdale for slow learners was really an expression of bitterness on the part of some elements in the SDLP at the rise of Sinn Féin,” Ó Ceallaigh said, adding that it is also “historically, politically and legally inaccurate” because in 1998, for the first time, provision was made in British law for the secession of the Six Counties from England and their incorporation into Ireland if a majority voted for it in the North. And, as Ó Ceallaigh reminds us, we only need a majority of 50 per cent plus one. In other words, we don’t need a majority of the people, which would have to include those below voting age. We only need a majority of those actually voting.
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh also spoke of the provisions made in The Good Friday Agreement for an all-Ireland Ministerial Council and all-Ireland Implementation Bodies which, he said, “have the effect of diminishing, although obviously not eliminating, British rule over the Six Counties”.
These bodies, he argues, can be seen as a dilution of the Union in that the two governments will oversee these bodies, which is a major constitutional shift. As Ó Ceallaigh said:
“To devolve power within a state is one thing, while to cede powers over a state or part of it to institutions beyond the state is quite another.”  These bodies, he said, have “established the principle of all-Ireland government”, diluting the impact of the border.
He quoted the DUP’s Nigel Dodds in 1998: “This is Northern Ireland in transition to a united Ireland.”
Pointing to another very significant feature of the Good Friday Agreement, he said the 1998 agreement only made provision for the secession of the Six Counties from England to “take place in favour of a united Ireland” as opposed to any other outcome like independence for the North. On the significance of that provision, Ó Ceallaigh said: “I know of no other state in the world that has written into its constitution a provision for the secession of part of its territory and integration into another state.”
On possible formats that a united Ireland might take, Ó Ceallaigh has his own takes. One possible outcome, Ó Ceallaigh says, could be “the evolution of a federal or confederal Irish state of two component parts”, the Six and the 26 Counties with the Six Counties maintaining power sharing. Such an arrangement, he says, “need not be regarded as permanent” and could be viewed as transitional – “a united Ireland Mark One.”
HISTORIC: Martin McGuinness and Ian PaisleySinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty noted that we are approaching the first anniversary of the establishment of the power-sharing and all-Ireland institutions and went on to reflect on the series of events that led to that political context.
Doherty pointed out that this is also the 40th anniversary of the initiation of the Civil Rights movement in the North.
“In the North, the first chinks in the armour of the sectarian state were beginning to be exposed. The spotlight was, for the first time, being shone on the Stormont regime. Its response to demands for basic civil rights would change the course of Irish history forever.”  The civil rights struggle was met with “violent state reaction”. The IRA rearmed and engaged in a “prolonged and protracted guerrilla war” for over three decades.  One-party unionist rule in the North was contested from 1969 and politicians in the South were under pressure. As Doherty put it: “They [in the South] could stand by the beleaguered nationalist communities or they could continue to pay lip service.”
He reflected on early documents leading to the Good Friday Agreement, documents like Towards a Lasting Peace, saying that that document set out a context in which an end to war on this island could be established and republicans could “address in a peaceful way the causes of the conflict”.
On the aftermath and progress of the Good Friday Agreement, Doherty said:
“In the 20 years since we first published an outline of the Irish Peace Process, life on this island has been transformed for the better.”
And Doherty wasn’t just talking about the absence of conflict. “Over a year ago we reached an historical deal with Ian Paisley. It was a deal that few would have predicted. It was a deal which our opponents claimed would never last. Well it has lasted.”
The transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London “for us, is more than simply a commitment already agreed at St Andrews” but a vital component in the creation of  “a representative and accountable police force” in the North.
Pat Doherty invited all strands of Irish society to get involved in the march to a united Ireland: “Sinn Féin are not strong enough to deliver a united Ireland on our own.”
The movement for change in Ireland cannot be exclusive, he said:
“There is a great movement for change taking place in Ireland and it cannot be exclusive. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, a united Ireland must become a political priority around the Cabinet table in Dublin.”

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