Updated: May 3
Main oration by Francie Mackey, chairman of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement:
This year, at Volunteer Ronan McLoughlin’s commemoration, we are witness to a convergence of historical events of telling political significance.
This week, one hundred years ago, the violence of partition was inflicted on our country. The prophetic wisdom of Tone and Pearse was ignored by the Home Rule mindset, whose agreement with the British to divide our country, set in place a counter democratic political system which continues to this day.
Tone and Pearse adjured us that peace in Ireland was wholly conditional on an end to Westminster’s violation of our sovereignty and that reconciliation amongst our people can only come to pass in a sovereign republic.
Partition is the embodiment of the carefully fostered differences that the British manipulated to secure their interests in Ireland. The welfare of the Irish people is secondary to those interests, even of those who claim loyalty to the Crown.
Edward Carson recognised this just as Arlene Foster now recognises Boris Johnson’s duplicity over unionist concerns regarding Brexit. Are they now to believe him when he states that a Border Poll is in the very distant future?
This inherent distrust of the establishment they pledge loyalty to explains why, one hundred years after partition, loyalists are still rioting in the statelet that was gerrymandered for them.
There is no democratic redemption for partition. Republicans cannot condone any instrument which claims to seek constitutional change whilst giving credence to the implication that the constitutional status quo is democratically maintained.
Appeasing partition perpetuates British violence in Ireland. When Pearse told us Ireland unfree shall never be at peace that included the absence of peace within the Irish unionist community also. One hundred years of rioting does not deserve to be celebrated.
Four decades ago ten Irish republicans died on hunger strike in the H Blocks. It was a watershed event in the republican struggle because it universally defeated the British policy of criminalising not just Irish republicans but the objectives for which we struggle.
The struggle in the prison system is on a par with all the great events in our history which generations of republicans derive inspiration and legitimacy from. And that is the great strength of the Hunger Strikes in that they too confer a legitimacy upon the current phase of struggle.
But they also bring a clarity to the political and military theatre that allows us to see which strategies are permissible and which outcomes are unacceptable. That such a high price was paid by the hunger strikers to succeed in winning that legitimacy demands a potent price to invoke it.
Any strategy or position which undermines that legitimacy not only demeans their sacrifice, it will also fail. Promoting a so-called Border Poll is proof of that. But claiming a position without a strategy is equally demeaning and equally doomed to failure. Like history itself, if we reduce events like the hunger strikes to a series of slogans then we fail to understand their significance.
Twenty-three years ago IRA Volunteer Ronan McLoughlin died on active service in County Wicklow. He too was a victim of British violence in Ireland. The significance of Ronan’s sacrifice is in his analysis of how the so-called peace process would play out. There is no peace. There is no constitutional change. There is no unstoppable political momentum driving us towards a sovereign Ireland.
Instead we have the aimless jargon of a Border Poll; a device wholly determined by British legislative control. Such control determines the timing of its holding, the question or questions posed, the conditions required to ‘win’ such a poll and finally parliamentary approval over the outcome.
But at its heart is the notion that the democratic future of the Irish people should be made subservient to the political whims of a democratically unaccountable British Minister in Ireland. Did Ronan and the hunger strikers give their lives for this? Did we confront the British war machine in our country to sanitise this? There is no strategic reasoning that can justify the surrender to any degree of the legitimacy of our national sovereignty.
But strategic reasoning is what Irish republicanism requires now to chart our way through political waters dominated by our opponents. We cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in the false dichotomy of being for or against a Border Poll, that merely allows that topic to dominate the national narrative.
The conversations that republicans must have is how we can develop and progress the democratic integrity of our analysis that a sovereign Ireland is the only source for peace and stability in our country.
There is no place for emotional rhetoric in the task ahead. The lessons of history make for cold hard reading. The sacrifice of Ronan and the hunger strikers have set the bar high.
We have to address the political realities of the present day. We are confronted by a contemporary push from both British and Irish political interests to direct the constitutional debate for the next generation away from a resolution based on sovereign rights and towards a flawed concept of reconciliation that will be manipulated to ensure those sovereign rights remain unsettled.
The strength of the republican argument in present circumstances is its democratic integrity. This is what we need to collectively articulate in a language which the clarity of the hunger strikes demands of us. It must resonate with our people both in terms of what we can achieve and the logic for them to help us achieve it.
Our language must make us distinct. We cannot be subsumed in the aimless and empty rhetoric of broad stroke slogans. A decisive narrative is what Irish republicanism urgently requires.