Dr John Coulter is a Radical Unionist commentator and a former columnist with The Blanket. He is currently writing an e-book about republicanism as an outsider looking in. The e-book is entitled ‘An Saise Glas (The Green Sash) The Road to National Republicanism.’ The chapters are being published exclusively on The Pensive Quill. In this latest chapter, ‘Participating with the PUL Community’, Dr Coulter examines how National Republicans would build a new relationship with the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community on the island of Ireland.
National Republicanism is not about the politics of surrender or violence. It seeks to bridge the gap between Easter Rising commemoration republicanism and 2006 St Andrews Agreement republicanism, which created the Stormont power-sharing Executive between the Democratic Unionists and Provisional Sinn Fein.
National Republicanism clearly recognizes that there is no longer a military solution to creating an all-island agenda and that Irish republicanism will have to work with, not eradicate, the so-called Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) community.
The collapse of the economic Celtic Tiger during this current decade is proof positive that the traditional Southern Irish-based parties have failed to make the concept of an independent republic a viable political experiment.
Republicans will have to swallow the bitter medicine that the failure of the Southern economy now means they can no longer offer the PUL community in the North a viable alternative to the Union.
Indeed, given the growing economic crisis within the Eurozone, the only chance of an independent island is for the current Irish Republic to leave the European Union and negotiate a new relationship with what remains of the United Kingdom after the Scottish independence referendum.
National Republicanism would take Ireland back to the original separatist concept as held by the founder of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith, in 1905. His ideal of separation was more akin to dominion status rather than a full-blown, all-island republic.
A key aspect which National Republicanism will have to address practically it how it participates effectively and constructively with the PUL community so that the republican strategy is not dismissed as mere empty rhetoric or propaganda stunts.
For many in the PUL community, republicanism is about the physical ethnic cleansing and cultural extermination of anything and anyone who is pro-Union.
National Republicanism forces republicans to finally come to terms with the reality that they are not living in 1966 – the 50th anniversary of the failed Easter Rising.
In that year, too, the Vietnam War was escalating and increasing numbers of American troops were being deployed in South Vietnam to combat the threat posed by the communist Viet Cong terrorists operating mainly from communist North Vietnam.
Almost a decade later, who can forget the humiliating scenes as the last US helicopters evacuated people from the South Vietnamese capital Saigon as it was then known, while the VC terrorists shot at those helicopters.
Regretfully, there are those who are now classified by the media as being dissident republicans who now have a romantic notion – probably based on the blood sacrifice of Easter 1916 – of New IRA terrorists blazing away with their AK47 assault rifles as British Royal Air Force helicopters evacuate large numbers of the PUL community from Belfast International and George Best Belfast City airports.
That image of the so-called ‘VC Solution’ is a non-starter. For the first time since the bloody 1641 rebellion in Ireland which prompted Oliver Cromwell to come to the island and implement his military scorched earth policy against the native Irish, republicanism will only gain its political credibility by abandoning a military solution.
Every military campaign since 1641 to remove the English colonialist from Ireland has been a disastrous failure, no matter how credibly republicans try to dress up their ‘achievements’.
National Republicanism recognizes that to convince the PUL community to become enthusiastic about an all-island scenario, republicanism must devise an ideology and brand which the PUL community can work with as equals.
Partition is just a politically ‘dirty word’ with many in the PUL community as it is to republicans. Many Unionists felt Co Donegal should have been part of the new Northern Ireland.
And what about the tens of thousands of Southern-based Unionists and Protestants who were abandoned to their fate in the new Free State after partition? Northern Unionists once they had militarily secured their ‘new Ulster’ adopted an ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude rather than attempting to address the growing plight of their Southern-trapped Unionist brethren and sisters.
Carson and Craig should have had the political guts to have invaded the Free State in the months after partition.
Similarly, republicans cannot simply utter pious words about wanting equality with their Unionist brethren. For many in the PUL community, the republican terror campaign of whatever group was viewed as an emphatic form of slaughter as witnessed in the civil war in the Balkans which tore apart the old Yugoslavia.
If the republican community is to effectively engage with the PUL community, the former must allay the latter’s suspicions that any ‘reaching out’ is not another ploy to undermine PUL heritage and culture.
The Union flag crisis which erupted in December 2012 was not primarily about a flag at Belfast City Hall, or a campaign to de-stabilize Alliance’s Naomi Long’s East Belfast Westminster seat in the hope it returns to the DUP at the next Commons General Election.
The key concern is that the PUL community, especially working class loyalists, feel their political representatives in mainstream Unionism have either been unable, or are unwilling to reap the benefits of the peace process in the same ways in which Provisional Sinn Fein, and even to a lesser extent, the SDLP, has gained for the Catholic working class community.
Indeed, many working class Protestants actually believe that the main Unionist parties, the UUP and DUP, are more interested in cavorting with middle class Protestants, liberal Unionists and even the pro-Union Catholic community rather than securing major financial benefits for the PUL working class.
National Republicanism would encourage republicans to reach out a practical hand of friendship and demonstrate to them how working class Protestants can gain educationally and in terms of financial benefits from the St Andrews Agreement peace process.
National Republicanism recognizes that while the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was a political victory for the UUP and SDLP, the 2006 St Andrews Agreement reaped political benefits for the DUP and Provisional Sinn Fein.
National Republicanism will devise a series of social action channels to the PUL community to assist in this process. Republicans must not indulge in the meaningless rhetoric of apologies for the terror campaign as the PUL community will simply not believe them.
National Republicanism has identified a series of initial issues which republicans and the PUL community can share a common interest, and could work on a common platform.
These include post-primary education as there is a vastly increasing number of young working class Protestants who are leaving full-time education with very few – if any – relevant qualifications. For the PUL community, the ‘brain drain’ has taken on a whole new meaning.
For the republican community, the ‘brain drain’ represents the equally vast number of young Catholics who are leaving the island to find work or careers in Australia, America and Canada.
National Republicans can influence the PUL community on the educational front. The situation goes back to the conflict and the attitude of republican and PUL prisoners in the various jails. Generally speaking, republicans largely focused on using their time in prison to gain an education and qualifications, while at the same time – generally speaking – the PUL community spent their days, weeks and years in the jail gyms.
Likewise, in both urban and rural areas, rather than focus on aiming towards a university education, from the 1960s onwards, PUL sons followed their fathers into trades in Shorts and Harland and Wolff. In rural areas, the PUL sons followed their dads into the farming industry.
The republican communities took the ‘long war’ view and encouraged more and more Catholics to go to university and gain degrees. The net result of this policy, especially in the post 1998 Good Friday Agreement era, was to produce a generation of republicans who rather than a ‘ballot paper and Armalite’ strategy, instead focused on a ‘ballot paper and honours degree’ tactic.
Not only are more Catholics voting compared to Protestants, but the number of well-qualified (university educated) republicans is vastly out-numbering their PUL counterparts.
National Republicans can, therefore, urge their PUL counterparts to pursue higher level qualifications.
There are other issues where National Republicans can reach a common agenda. These include; abortion, combating austerity cuts, and attracting tourism.
National Republicanism has got to avoid the twin-track approach to austerity which Provisional Sinn Fein has adopted – championing the cause against austerity cuts in the Dail under Gerry Adams, the Louth TD, but having to implement such cuts as part of the Stormont government under Mid Ulster MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
There are other areas where National Republicans can encourage a common front with the PUL community. A major area is in international relations, especially in the crisis in Africa regarding the hunger and thirst dilemma facing many nations.
National Republicans and the PUL community can campaign for the re-colonization of the African continent. The only way that Africa can be saved from internal destruction is for the former imperial powers to go back into their former colonies and rescue those nations from tribal genocide.
While there was no such concept of the Irish empire in Africa, an unofficial empire existed through the various Christian missionary movements which saw Catholicism and Protestantism send dozens of Irish missionaries to Africa.
Surely National Republicans and the PUL community could agree a series of joint campaigns in Africa in conjunction with the Irish Churches, given that a central concept of National Republicanism is to re-introduce the teachings of Jesus Christ back into the republican mind set?
During the Great War and World War Two, republicans and the PUL community joined the various British and Commonwealth regiments, fighting and dying together. Many are buried together in war cemeteries across Europe and beyond.
And given the looming crisis in Syria, Iran and especially North Korea, there is the strong possibility that National Republicans and the PUL community could be serving together as part of a United Nations peace keeping force.
The only way this island can have true independence is to regain its national sovereignty back from the rapidly disintegrating European Union. The island, both north and south, has a vibrant Eurosceptic tradition.
The June 2014 European poll is an odds-on certainty to see a massive increase in support in Britain – and possibly Northern Ireland – for the vehemently Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
While there is little chance of UKIP organizing in the Republic, National Republicans could revamp the former Irish Independence Party as a mirror image of UKIP. The European cash cow has been milked dry, and the bitter medicine is that it is now time for both the UK and the Republic to leave the EU.
In its heyday, the Irish punt was a strong and credible currency. National Republicans and the PUL community can work together, not just to create a situation where both sovereign states can leave the EU, but develop an economic climate where the pound sterling can be established as the common financial currency in both jurisdictions.
National Republicanism is an overtly religious ideology, putting true Biblical Christianity back into republican politics. National Republicanism is most certainly NOT about restoring Irish Catholic litany so that the Irish Catholic Church can regain its reputation among the people of Ireland following the sexual and physical abuse scandals.
Irish Catholicism has its religious holy orders, such as the Jesuits, Passionists and Opus Dei; Protestantism has its own exclusively Loyal Orders, such as the Orange Order, Royal Black Institution, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and the Independent Orange Order.
National Republicanism would attempt to have Catholics and Protestants working together to ensure an 1859-style Christian spiritual revival across Ireland. The so-called ecumenical movement will be ignored as simply a religious publicity stunt.
In this respect, National Republicanism would promote the concept of the Freemasons as an organization which could campaign for a common spiritual unity between republicans and the PUL community. Irish Freemasonry has been able to attract both Catholics and Protestants into its ranks, rather than simply being exclusion to one or other religious communities.
Pluralism or secularism is not the basis of National Republicans and the PUL community working together. Neither is it an attempt to re-create the extreme socialist talks between elements of the UVF and the Official IRA in the jails.
National Republicanism will force republicanism to recognize that it is operating in a new era of Anglo-Irish relations; an era where violent republicanism can no longer rely on the 26 Counties of the South as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on the North.
For the first time since the 1641 rebellion, republicanism must operate on a purely democratic path if it is to be taken seriously. Purely democratic means are the central cores of National Republicanism.
The South now has much less sympathetic approach to violent republicanism. So-called dissident republicans who still believe they can use the Viet Cong terror method of forcing the British and PUL community to leave Ireland should remember their history.
The pro-Treaty Free State forces executed more anti-Treaty IRA members during the Irish Civil War than the IRA lost to the Black and Tans during the War of Independence.
While there may be no stomach or resources for a sustained ‘long war’ terror campaign against the British and PUL community from dissident republicans, National Republicanism will emphasize to all republicans that there is a significant mood swing against violence in the Republic.
National Republicanism will seek to rekindle the spirit of the radical 1798 Irish Presbyterians as a means to build a working relationship between republicans and the PUL community.
In the next chapter of As Saise Glas (The Green Sash) The Road to National Republicanism, I will be examining how republicanism can build a new international basis to its ideology rather than simply the old, out-dated concept of raising funds to buy guns and explosives. The chapter is entitled ‘National Republicanism and the International Stage’ and will develop the concept of a pro-active foreign policy for republicanism.