Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

16 December 1999 Edition

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Establishing the Republic


We approach the new millennium undefeated and undeterred. We have grown wise in the ways of struggle
When this century began Britain had an Empire. As Empires go it could swagger about the planet as well or better than most other Empires. Now it swaggers no longer. The Empire is finished.

The first real blow against imperialism this centiry was struck in ireland when the children of the famine, especially those survivors who fled to the USA, built for revolution in Ireland. Great movements were built from within the Dublin workers, the ruiral peasants, the language enthusiasts, intellectuals and a range of radicals. Their agitationary efforts were trumped by unionists led by a Dublin barrister and supported by English Tories.

But in 1916 they had their day. An Irish Republic was declared. The proclamation of that republic equals any of the great Addresses or Proclamations in modern history. It was egalitarian, democratic, and visionary. It was also deemed to be unlawful and seditious. The British suppressed the 1916 Rising with great brutality. The rest is history.

The execution of the leaders robbed the revolution of its social and republican thinkers and strategists. It also created the momentum for the growth of Irish republicanism and the IRA and for the endorsement for the Sinn Féin position and the ratification of the proclamation in the 1918 elections. But in politics every positive has a negative and Irish unionism was in the ascendency also. So that in 1921, when the British were defeated militarily, they regrouped behind the partition of the island, consolidated their control in the north east and continued to exert their influence everywhere else. They also succeeded in dividing the revolutionary forces, in halting a national struggle and aborting its social dimension.

There are numerous lessons for An Phoblacht readers in all of this. These are lessons which were learned by people in struggle throughout the rest of the Empire. We Irish must have been doing something wrong for all the years of the conquest because others throughout the colonies moved to the point where they won their independence much quicker than us. Or maybe it's a matter of geography. Maybe we had the misfortune of being too close to the Imperial power. Not that that matters much nowadays because the Imperial power is no more. The Empire has gone except in the minds of the Little Englanders who think they still have an Empire. And we're it!

The big lesson for those of us who are part of the reconquest of Ireland is that it can only be accomplished by the people of the island. It is our historic task to create the conditions in which this can be achieved
In an interview about a book which spanned this century, I heard the RTE broadcaster Marian Finucane reflect with some feeling her reaction on being reminded that Dublin was under British rule for the first 20 years of this century. That is something of which nationalists from the north are always conscious. I dare say that is a feeling which the unionists share with us. But for different and opposite reasons.

1916 was also part of the international movement that ran totally contrary to the imperial wars. But the defeat of that time and the awful legacy of the Irish civil wars, south and north, killed any real progressive effort for decades. Emigration ruled in the south, while unionist domination did its bit in the north. And two conservative states grew up on the island, each in their own ugly way the exact opposite of the 1916 Proclamation. Of course, there was progress and there were movements to improve social and economic conditions, and there were also constitutional changes in the south, but all within the context of partition.

It is impossible to understand anything about the Irish in Ireland, north or south or scattered throughout the globe, unless we understand ourselves in the context of the colonisation of this small island and of the conquest of Ireland by the English. Shameful things, which disgraced humanity, occurred here. Of course they are but a shadow of the awfulness which occurred on a global scale throughoput this century, for example, in the second Great War. But revelations this decade of child abuse, of the existence of such obscenities as the Magdalene Laundries, and the perpetuation of poverty and disadvantage on a nationwide scale is evidence of the power and the control of conservative elites in church and state.

The end of the century closes on a more promising note. There are still huge things wrong on this planet. The rich continue to shaft the poor and wars and famines, from Kosovo to Sudan, continue unchallenged. The official Irish worldview apes that of the big powers. The reconquest of Ireland has yet to affect those in high places. Not yet. But changes are coming. Unionism as we have known it is finished. The face of Britain's involvement in ireland as we have known it is finished also. Whether these changes amount to no more than the modernising of British rule and as a consequence the modernising of unionism is entirely dependent on whether we, An Phoblacht readers and others, are up to the challenges that are coming.

In the last 30 years worldwide, there have been huge changes, from the fall of the USSR, the reunification of Germany and the liberation of South Africa. Irish republicans have been part of these phenomena. We approach the new millennium undefeated and undeterred. We have grown wise in the ways of struggle. Through civil rights, demonstrations, street campaigns, prison struggles, armed struggle and hunger strikes, we have learne dmany lessons and we have grown in our knowledge of the machinations of our opponents, particularly those who used to have an Empire.

The Good Friday Agreement is the biggest development in Ireland since partition. It marks an important and transitional phase in our struggle. It could and would have been a more decisive phase had we greater political strength north and south. That is the big lesson for those of us who are part of the reconquest. A real reconquest of Ireland can only be accomplished by the people of the island. It is our historic task to create the conditions in which this can be achieved.

So the century ends on a more hopeful note than it began. A hundred years is a big deal for we mere mortals. But it is only a blink of an eyelid in the history of humanity. Yet this last few months alone I have talked to five people who are well over a hundred years old. They have survived all of this history. They are also all women but that's another story. The test for the rest of us is whether we can establish in the opening decades of the next century the republic which was proclaimed at the beginning of this one. I think we can. I believe we can.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1