- On a recent trip to the United States of America on behalf of the 1916 Societies, Patrick Donahoe, Sean Heuston Society Dublin, addressed a number of public meetings in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Below is a transcript of his speech in Philadelphia.
Today, while that enemy is not as visible, it’s still there and it’s still wrong. Due to this colonial presence we’ve seen our society become more and more polorised with walls keeping working class communities apart – and all the while Britain has portrayed themselves, and still do, as honest brokers in the situation, merely keeping two warring factions apart. Since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement we’ve seen those walls separating communities get bigger and child poverty in areas like West Belfast increase. It’s worth noting that 16 of the top 20 most deprived areas in the six-counties are nationalist. In the absence of sustained violence there is still a large disparity in the socio-economic conditions faced by nationalists in the occupied part of Ireland.
There can be no mistaking the organisation I belong to, the 1916 Societies, born out of a frustration at the direction of the Provisional movement. But coming from a position of seeing, at close quarters, where republicanism went wrong, we’re in a strong position to hopefully put it right. We’re an organisation with a diffuse leadership and are based around the principles of organising in the spirit of putting the interests of republicanism ahead of that of the individual. No one person can hold a position for any longer than three years to prevent the domination of individuals within republicanism and all members of the 1916 Societies are on an equal footing to the next.
We see the value of education, as we see not the need for a charismatic leadership but a charismatic movement, with a politically astute and educated grassroots. The youth who find their way to ourselves have to be educated in such a way so they can formulate their own opinions and be encouraged to be free-thinkers who can adapt to changing conditions as they see it, and not how someone else tells them to see it. The organisation they belong to must be organised in a fashion that is conducive to people, be they young or not-so-young, developing and progressing as republicans and people. I believe we offer that progressive outlet for republicans to do just that.
I strongly believe the 1916 Societies are the right movement at the right time. In a period where there is an anti-political party feel across the societal sphere, we’ve come along at a time when our organisational structure is appealing to a wider constituency than anyone else. From one to forty Societies, now covering all four of Ireland’s provinces, in four short years. The One Ireland One Vote campaign for an all-Ireland referendum on Irish Unity is also the right campaign at the right time, with similar strategies being utilised to great effect around Europe; most notably in Scotland and Catalonia.
What One Ireland One Vote offers us is the perfect conduit to highlight the democratic deficit created within the Good Friday Agreement and is a means from which we can shine a light on the denial of democracy in Ireland. We have it put down our throats that republicans are anti-democratic; we’re turning the table with the call for an all-Ireland referendum and not a six-county border poll that gives credence to a sectarian head-count.
We also need a broadening of the debate and we can do that by highlighting the many deficiencies of the present Agreement. Simply shouting ‘Brits Out’ won’t suffice as much as we’d like it to – we need to take ourselves out of our self-imposed ideological ivory towers and start a period of direct engagement so we can build some degree of popular support before we can push the strategy forward. Too often we have put the cart before the horse and tried to implement a strategy in an isolationist manner and this will always, always fail.
Many of us will have seen the great strides made in Scotland and they can be the inspiration we can look toward. Despite a hostile media, a strong unified grassroots campaign took its message to the people with a vibrancy and positivity that is a lesson to Irish republicans. We though have a tendency to tell the people what we’re against and not so much what we’re for. We don’t need a political party movement, we need an independence movement just as we see evolving in Scotland now as we speak. They’re setting the agenda; they dictated the referendum would happen; they dictated the wording of the question; to also who could vote, and who couldn’t. They dictated the agenda because they built the strength in support and this, quite simply, needs to be replicated in Ireland.
While we see democracy in action in Scotland, we view the GFA as an affront to the democratic nature of republicanism. The GFA is a reincarnation of British 1970s doctrine and this needs to be highlighted to the fullest. The so-called ‘principle of consent’ was first penned following the Darlington Conference of 1972, which spawned the ‘Darlington Principles’, which enshrined the ‘Principle of Consent’ as British policy; so only when a majority within the Northern State consented could there be constitutional change that would see a re-unified Ireland.
We’ve seen two subsequent agreements – the Saint Andrew’s Agreement and Weston Park Accord – which were voted on by nobody – both of which superseded the Good Friday Agreement. So when they say the Agreement is binding and can’t be changed it can – they’ve already done it twice themselves. It’s why an anti-Agreement party, the Democratic Unionist Party, agreed to go into government, because the Agreement was altered to suit them – just as the very border was drawn to placate the demands of the minority in Ireland, and not the majority.
We’re told also in this new age of equality we have a new accountable police force in the six-counties and have entered a new dispensation for community policing. But thanks to one of these subsequent agreements, proceeding the GFA, we now have MI5 being assigned an official role in policing in the North. They are accountable to absolutely nobody, cannot be investigated by anybody, and, bizarrely, the so-called nationalist parties have rubber stamped this. MI5 have also been heavily involved in having Irish republicans interned and imprisoned without evidence for long periods of time because some British spook in the shadows has deemed them undesirable. These same spooks in the shadows have spent 100 million British pounds building a new base in County Down in Ireland, which is a clear sign the Brits, and their spooks, are going nowhere.
So where does this all leave us now? We’re approaching 2016 with the republican family fractured and sometimes pulling in different directions, but there are green shoots of recovery. We’re seeing a greater mobilisation of republicans on the streets, especially in the case against Britain’s internment of Irish republicans. We can take inspiration from the anti-internment march last year, where despite repeated and sustained attacks from loyalists and the march taking five hours to complete – in darkness such was the lateness of it finishing – finish it we did. That alone sent out a statement that as we head towards the centenary of the Rising the days of republicans cow-towing down and being beaten off our own streets are long, long over.
Our numbers are also increasing – while not enough to advance things as we would like there is encouragement there. Terence MacSwiney once said that ‘if but a few are faithful found they must be all the more faithful for being but a few’. I’d echo those sentiments here today and assert that support isn’t a barometer of whether you’re right or wrong. The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis of 1938 had a grand total of 40 delegates present – there are more here now in this room and while they were few in number then, they were right to oppose British rule. In 2014 we’re right to do the very same and granted we’ve had dark days. The fact MI5 concentrate 30 percent of their budget to take on Irish republicanism shows the Brits know republicanism is not dead and is an indestructible force and that’s one aspect of things I do agree with them on and they’re right – republicanism is an indestructible force.
We’re indestructible because we’re experienced in the art of struggle. We’re a part of the republican struggle. It’s called that because that’s what it is – a struggle. We serve that struggle and it’s an honour to serve it. But while it’s an honour and you gain great friendships and a comradeship like nothing else, it can never be seen as a means to gain social status or monetary or material gain – we need a coming together of minds, not egos or puffed out chests. Republicanism is going on a journey and is entering a new dispensation based on political thinking and strategy and with that we need to leave behind those who hamper the struggle. There are those who claim to be the republican movement yet aren’t moving. Some aren’t moving because they’re looking sideways and backwards at others.
The Good Friday Agreement was signed twenty years ago and while the situation could be better for republicans, the situation we find ourselves in is ours and we have to claim ownership of it for it to ever improve. The blaming of everyone from Sinn Féin and the Free State government has to come to an end – nobody is buying it anymore and people are looking for alternatives and are asking what we’re doing and what are we offering. So we need to enter a period of re-examination of where we’re going. 2016 is a momentous year for us as republicans. We have to face it looking forward – not back – to formulate a constructive way forward knowing that events can change and we have to be ready to face those changing challenges that will bring head-on.
To conclude, it’s truly heartwarming to see so many of you here today – when you could be out playing golf, spending time with your families and a whole array of other things – but you’re here to listen and talk about the future direction of Irish republicanism. That in itself should give hope to anyone. I have huge hope for the 1916 Societies and I have hope that we have a future here and our model is the model that can rejuvenate republicanism here and back home in Ireland coming up to 2016 and beyond. If you look at republicanism in the context of going on a journey. The more of us who go on that journey together, the quicker we can get to our final destination.
That final destination will be a new unified Ireland, where the fourth paragraph of the 1916 Proclamation is put into practice at last and all our children are cherished equally and we build a Republic for the people so if a corporation wants a say in the political affairs of our country they can line up for the ballot box with the rest of us.
The 1916 Societies see One Ireland One Vote, our campaign for an all-Ireland referendum on Irish Unity, as a means to an end and make no mistake that end game is an end to British rule in Ireland. We’ve started our journey to make that a living reality. We’ve commenced it from across the four corners of Ireland and we hope our friends in the Irish Diaspora here will join us on that journey to make sure that while Ireland long a province be, we will, indeed, be, a nation once again.