In a recent interview with Paul Wyatt of The Scoop News, an online radio/website that discusses current affairs on campus at Queen’s University Belfast, Patrick Roche, Nicole Clinton and Gerard Downey, three of those involved in our campaign to establish 1916 Societies at Queen’s itself, set out their position on a range of issues in the hope of clarifying the nature of our organisation and its democratic bona fides. Full interview carried below.
* * *
SN: What is the aim of the 1916 Societies?
1916 QUB: We believe the aspirations of the Irish people to exercise self-determination, in the form of a 32-county sovereign and democratic republic, are entirely legitimate and can no longer be ignored.
The situation in Ireland today is we have two failed states unable to deliver meaningful progress for the Irish people, with both subservient to external imperial interests, whether in the form of the EU, the British presence in the North, or the wider free-market, neo-liberal consensus that dictates the socio-economic condition in much of today’s world.
The record of partition is a record of failure and the austerity agenda currently being hammered into the Irish people, North and South, whether they live in Ardoyne or Finglas, Derry or Mayo, is there for all to see and bears testament to that failure.
With that in mind it’s clear to us an appetite for meaningful political change exists across this island and on that basis we seek a realignment of progressive forces in Irish society today, towards the concept of establishing a new republic in Ireland to replace the failed two-state constitutional arrangements that currently exist.
Ultimately our hope is that we can help channel the energies and will of the Irish people into and through a democratic process that can see those energies fulfill their potential and the democratic will of the people, free from external impediment and unbound by parameters set by anyone outside the Irish body politic itself, realised in full.
Our hope then is to empower the Irish people and secure what is their sovereign destiny, an independent 32-County Irish republic founded on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation, a republic worthy of the name.
SN: Are the 1916 Societies seeking to be an official society at QUB Students’ Union and if so, why?
1916 QUB: The 1916 Societies have already begun the process of establishing a Cumann within the Union body at Queen’s University and held a successful information night on 12th November at ‘An Realta Civic and Social Space’ in the city centre.
Unfortunately, in behaviour more akin to the restrictive practices of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing Tory regime than what most would expect from a supposedly open-minded body such as Queen’s Student Union, original plans to meet in the Union itself were scuppered by a last-ditch decision to ban our organisation from the building – paradoxically on the grounds of meeting equality obligations.
Such censorship has the clear intent of excluding a legitimate political message while impacting on the ability of those within the Union who wish to promote the 1916 Societies and our call for an all-Ireland referendum on Irish Unity. It begs the question what is there to fear from democratic debate and a democratic campaign to promote our nation’s reunification?
Regardless, we are committed to organising at Queen’s and intend on a campaign that gives our membership at the university equal access to the same facilities and privileges enjoyed by all other manner of political groupings within the Union, should such be further denied. That is the real equality those controlling the decision-making process at Queen’s Student Union should concern themselves with in 2015.
A core nucleus is now in place to progress that campaign and move things further along. We look forward to finalising our first Cumann within university structures in the weeks ahead and to working with the student base at QUB towards securing an all-Ireland referendum on the reunification of our country and an end to Britain’s occupation of the Six Counties.
SN: Why do the 1916 Societies feel that Sinn Fein is not an adequate body to further the Irish republican cause?
1916 QUB: We are an independent organisation and would not overly concern ourselves with how Sinn Fein, or any other individual political party for that matter, approach the current constitutional situation in Ireland or what strategies they may have to securing political change in regards the same. That’s their own concern not ours.
With all that said, over two decades on from the historic IRA ceasefire of August 1994 and the tenuous hopes in the republican community at that time of securing genuine movement towards the reunification of Ireland, any such movement has been sparse on the ground, with Irish Unity arguably as far away as ever.
Promises of a new and final phase of struggle to secure a United Ireland have failed to materialise, with the energies of Irish republicanism pinned down under the weight of the 1998 British-Irish Agreement and its ability to deliver, if nothing else, a degree of peace to the long-troubled Six Counties, while preserving the strategic interests of the British state in Ireland.
The problem for republicanism is that this same Agreement, while capable of sustaining this peace of sorts, copper-fastens partition via the ‘triple lock’, acting as a rigid barrier to further constitutional change. In hindsight it should never have been accepted, or more accurately those who committed republicanism to this process, hinting at a back-door deal while appealing for a united front and trust in the leadership, should simply not have been given such free reign.
There is now a pressing need for republicanism to provide a credible alternative to this new status quo, to provide practical and principled solutions capable of attracting the support we need to impact on the political process and create change. It is then incumbent at this time to learn from the mistakes of the past and to reconcile a need to develop new strategies towards securing an end to partition with the desire of the people in Ireland to live in peace where possible.
With that in mind the 1916 Societies believe our ‘One Ireland-One Vote’ campaign can create a new set of political dynamics, at home and abroad, capable of by-passing the limitations of the 1998 Agreement, spearheading a democratic and peaceful transition to Irish Unity.
SN: Do the 1916 Societies support the operation of the PSNI in Northern Ireland, do they accept the legitimacy of the PSNI, and do the 1916 Societies feel that refusing membership to those who ‘endorse British rule and accept the crown forces as a legitimate force in Ireland’ would comply with the Students’ Union constitution?
1916 QUB: Anyone watching the recent Spotlight investigation into the PSNI, and abuses it has carried out, no doubt found the programme a disturbing insight into continuing policing malpractice across the Six Counties. Images of police officers using brute violence against ordinary nationalists going about their business surely puts pay to the notion of a ‘new beginning to policing’ as championed by the SDLP and Sinn Fein, demonstrating the futility of their so-called ‘critical engagement’ with what remains in effect an unreformed RUC.
At a broader level collusion with loyalist death squads continues to dominate discussion around policing, most notably with the shocking revelation that PSNI has actively obstructed the Six-County Police Ombudsman’s investigations into the murder of up to 60 nationalist civilians and counting during the Troubles. For us this in itself is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Their role in assisting and covering for the activities of the notorious ‘Glenanne Gang’, a pungent mix of loyalist paramilitaries, RUC officers and members of the infamous UDR connected to the murder of 120 innocent Catholic civilians during the recent Troubles, has also dominated headlines and editorials in the mainstream media in the week just past. These of themselves are not isolated incidents and point to a far wider and systemic state strategy to manipulate the function of the police in order to terrorise the nationalist community into submission.
The idea all of this should be swept under the carpet is preposterous. The fact it’s the PSNI being pursued through the courts by families seeking truth and justice in these instances, rather than the old RUC itself, demonstrates the lineal relationship between the two and just who the PSNI really are. All of that surely has people wondering just what has really changed when you scratch the surface, when you separate image from what’s real.
What’s real is that PSNI were shown battering young nationalists off the streets of Omagh, what’s real is that PSNI continues to obstruct justice and cover for the criminal involvement of its predecessor in murder, what’s real is that PSNI remains alienated from a sizeable section of the community in the Six Counties with its reputation in tatters. These are not matters of opinion but fact.
Critical elements within PSNI remain under the control of British Military Intelligence and beyond the accountability mechanisms contained in the Patten reforms. Likewise the C3 intelligence apparatus of PSNI itself, units of the same make-up as the supposedly disbanded RUC Special Branch, are not accountable to the Policing Board, the Stormont Assembly, or indeed anyone other than the British Secretary of State. The PSNI has next to zero credibility at this point and with that in mind the least we can do is ensure we do not give succour and legitimacy to this discredited organisation, what is in effect a repackaged RUC, with a new cap and badge, in the forlorn belief it can be changed from within.
We in the 1916 Societies will rightly play no part in any such process that seeks to whitewash the grievous and heinous crimes of this organisation, crimes for which it is still subject to ongoing investigation. On that basis alone we would be extremely uncomfortable with the idea a Student body in a position of public trust, such as Queen’s Student Union, might attempt to dictate to those it has a duty of care towards that they are required to whitewash and excuse the murder of innocent civilians and their cover-up in order to comply with its constitution.
If such a scenario were to eventuate we would be compelled to challenge this as a fundamental breach of equality and of our democratic rights – notions and principles surely above politically-biased and loaded attempts to decide for others how they must judge the record of the murderous Six-County police. The very principles of truth and justice are at stake here and political expediency just will not do.
SN: It has been claimed that the 1916 Societies are potentially linked to dissident republican activity. Is this the case?
1916 QUB: It could equally be claimed the 1916 Societies are ‘potentially linked’ to efforts to establish Lapland as the capital of Ireland, the above question is really that absurd. So vague is the way it has been framed it barely warrants answering but nevertheless it raises an important issue which others use to smear and discredit those who pose a perceived threat to their dominance and control of the narrative about and within republicanism.
The 1916 Societies are an emerging political, cultural and historical movement based in Ireland and founded in 2009 – our development following a realignment of republicanism beginning in East Tyrone and since spreading through much of the rest of Ireland and indeed further afield.
We are an Irish separatist movement who believe the Irish Republic should be an independent and democratic state as set out in the 1916 Proclamation and that the people of Ireland, free from external impediment, have the undivided right to determine the future of this island and their own destiny.
As has already been made clear, we believe the will exists among the people of this country to move to a United Ireland arrangement and on that basis we seek a realignment of progressive forces in Irish society towards such an end. We hope to test that will in a democratic referendum that gives every Irish citizen an equal say on the issue of partition. It is our democratic right to pursue such a worthy agenda and it begs the question what could upset anyone about a call for a democratic referendum on Irish reunification.
The 1916 Societies are simply republicans and there’s no other label that can or should be attached to them. We are a non-violent political movement who refuse the right of Britain to remain in this country against the democratic wishes of the Irish people – that’s all there is to it. We have no military analysis or strategy and instead concentrate our efforts on mounting a political campaign to bring about an all-Ireland referendum as spoken of.
How this can be framed as ‘linked to dissident republican activity’ beggars belief and is simply a disingenuous attempt to discredit what we’re about by linking it to the violence of groups who we’ve no more association with than have Sinn Fein, Fianna Fáil or their like. We certainly do not oppose peace but for sure we refuse to endorse implementing British policy in Ireland and normalising what remains the occupation of our country.
Those who would spread such black propaganda most likely can’t handle the emergence and indeed the rapid growth of a credible alternative to their political approach. Regardless, our message is simple, to the point and does not attach to anything beyond what it says on the page itself. ‘One Ireland One Vote: Let the Irish people decide’ – what could ever be considered wrong with that?