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21 January 2010 Edition

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Another View by Eoin Ó Broin

Liam Mellows’ Republic

Liam Mellows led an extraordinary life. He was born in 1895 and executed by the Free State Army in 1922. During his short 27 years he was an IRB member, na Fianna organiser and a republican volunteer. He was a veteran of 1916, the Tan War and the Civil War, and was imprisoned in Britain, the United States and Ireland
But Mellows was not just a military organiser and activist. He had an acute sense of the political and social dimensions of republicanism. He was one of the 57 TDs who rejected the Treaty during the Dáil debates on 6 January 1922 and he led the anti-Treaty forces into the Four Courts.
After his arrest, and reflecting on the war of independence and the subsequent victory of the pro-Treaty forces, Mellows wrote what remains his most important contribution to Irish republicanism, the ‘Jail Notes’.
His conclusion was that “Ireland does not want a change of master. It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands, therefore, for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class.
“Ireland, if her industries and banks were controlled by foreign capital, would be at the mercy of every breeze that ruffled the surface of the world’s money-markets. If social capitalism flourished, a social war such as now threatens practically every country in Europe would ensue. Ireland, therefore, must start with a clean slate. The Irish Republic is the People’s Republic.
“In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone  – which is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country people’ were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it – until it wins! We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding of those who have always borne Ireland’s fight.”
For Mellows, the political, social and economic dimensions of the republican struggle must be intertwined
The failure of the war of independence to create a real republic was, in Mellows’ view, a consequence of a failure on the part of republicans to adequately integrate the socio-economic and political dimensions of struggle into a coherent programme that spoke to the needs and aspirations of the Irish people
Sinn Féin today must continue to learn from Mellows. We must at all times combine the political demand for an Irish republic with a coherent social and economic programme that seeks to end inequality and poverty; produce and redistribute wealth; and provide every citizen and every resident with the means to live a full and prosperous life.
How can a people be politically independent if they are denied the social and economic means to fully and equally participate in society?
For Mellows, the only republic worth struggling for was one that establishes the ownership of Ireland for all of the people of Ireland. Mellows called this a people’s republic. Today we call it a democratic socialist republic. 

Liam Mellows commemoration in Wexford where Eoin Ó Broin was the main speaker 


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