Presidents, Queens and Deputies

Cad é mar atá sibh an tseachtain seo, a chairde? How are you all keeping this week, folks? Tá aimsir an earraigh againn an tseachtain seo, we have some Spring weather this week (although it’s only Monday so that can deteriorate quickly!). Bhí seachtain iontach suimiúil againn ansin ar na mallaibh, we had a very interesting week there recently, politically speaking.

Thug Uachtarán na hÉireann cuairt oifigiúil ar an Bhreatain, the President of Ireland had his official state visit to Britain. Buckingham Palace issued a couple of tweets ‘as Gaeilge’ in the Irish language to welcome him over, ‘agus bhí Máirtín Mag Aonghusa, An Leas-Phríomhaire ar na Sé Chontae, i láthair chomh maith’ and Martin McGuinness also attended in his capacity as Deputy First Minister for the north. Although the media tried hard to keep the focus on Mícheál D Ó hUiginn, I think the meatier , more interesting and more challenging event was Martin McGuinness’ attendance, ‘an chulaith bhreá’ the formal coats and tails (he has my full sympathy in having to put that stuff on), ‘ag seasamh d’amhrán náisiúnta na Breataine’ standing for the British national anthem (although I do think the Irish national anthem got played as well), ‘agus an gloine san aer don Bhanríon Eilis’ and raising the glass to toast Queen Elizabeth of England.

I dont know about any of the rest of you, ‘ach beidh mé ionraic’ but I will be honest and say that I never ever thought ‘go bhfeicfinn lá mar seo’ that I would ever live to see a day like this. Mar phoblachtánach mé féin, as a person with an Irish republican outlook myself, well down the pecking order when compared to Martin McGuinness, I am totally divided in my own mind. On the one hand, I think back to all the people we have castigated, scoffed and criticised for rubbing shoulders with ‘monarcacht na Breataine’ the British monarchy; poor old Gerry Fitt, Margaret Ritchie, and others who embraced their OBEs and MBEs and such. They, too, did it ‘ar son an athmhuintearais’ for the sake of reconciliation. Was it just their timing that was wrong? Or was it just who they were?

To me, the very term ‘poblachtánachas’ or ‘republicanism’ is the opposite to the concept of ‘monarcacht’ monarchy. Tá siad go huile is go hiomlán i gcoinne a chéile, they are totally irreconcilable. To me, Republicanism means rule “of, by and for all the people”, whereas monarchy represents rule by an elite. In the north this is not even an indigenous elite, but an external, foreign elite (from an Irish republican point of view, of course). This elite still claims ‘cumhacht agus údarás’ jurisdiction and authority over the piece of territory that Martin McGuinness electorally represents. With all due respect, it’s not a meeting of equals, in terms of political power. Interestingly, when Sinn Féin was founded by Arthur Griffiths in 1905 it wasn’t a republican party, as he actually proposed Irish parliamentary independence within a dual monarchy; we’d have our own parliament, but we’d share the same monarchy with Britain. This impulse is nothing new, then. ‘Ach tá sé intuigthe cad chuige nach mbeadh roinnt poblachtánach in ann glacadh leis seo, go síochánta agus go daonlathach’ but it is perfectly understandable why some republicans would peacefully and democratically just not be able to accept this. In the fullness of time, that outlook will regain ground, in my view.

‘Ach ar an taobh eile den scéal’ but on the other hand, there’s a part of me that understands and appreciates what Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin did, and are seeking to do. Is in onóir d’Uachtarán na hÉireann a bhí an dinnéar, the big dinner was actually in honour of the Irish President, and not specifically the British monarchy. Snubbing the dinner would be like snubbing the three quarters of Irish people who are democratically entitled to elect our President (‘go dtí seo’ so far). This partial, but very very significant part of the Irish electorate, want to have normal healthy relations ‘lenár gcomharsana béal dorais’ with our nextdoor neighbours. Away back at the start of ‘an próiseas síochána’ the peace process, Sinn Féin appealed to the Irish Government, the British Government and other international governments to become ‘persuaders for Irish unity’. ‘Níor tharla sin’ that did not happen. Sinn Féin have therefore sought to build their electoral support both north and south, and are seeking to democratically draw as many voters as possible to their view, and they themselves wish to become a major player as a ‘persuader for Irish unity’. Part of this means appealing to the majority of Irish voters who really don’t want ‘an diúltachas, an tsíorchoimhlint agus bagairt an fhoréigin’ negativity and perpetual conflict and the threat of physical force. Part of it also means demonstrating to ‘na gnáth-aontachtóirí’ordinary unionists, who have an attachment to the British monarchy and British identity, that their views will be fully respected in any new Ireland, even if that means republicans having to do things that would previously have been regarded as excruciatingly uncomfortable, if not unimaginable. However, the playing of the Irish National Anthem within the bastion of British power, the tweets in the Irish language from Buckingham Palace and the flying of the Irish national flag side by side with all the symbols of Britishness also sends a message out to unionism how they should learn to respect the Irish identity within the north.

Apart from sitting on the Executive and turning up for a GAA event, it’s hard for me to point to much else that Peter Robinson or the DUP have done that would suggest that they are yet prepared to reconcile themselves to any sort of ‘cothromaíocht nó comhionannas’ parity or equality for the Irish national identity within the Six Counties. Níl aon tacaíocht ann le haghaidh Acht Gaeilge, there is no support for an Irish Language Act, and I was delighted to march with around 6 or 7 thousand people on this point in Belfast last Saturday. Níl aon aitheantas oifigiúil ann do Bhratach na hÉireann, there is no official recognition for the flying of the Irish national flag. There is no attempt to agree to disagree on the past; it seems that if the singular British and unionist interpretation is not accepted hook, line and sinker, then they wont sign any compromise agreements, such as the Haas Proposals (which were actually further from the republican position than they were from the British or unionist position).

As for republicanism, ‘tá dhá chineál poblachtánachais ann anois’, there are now two modern forms of Irish republicanism, ‘an poblachtánachas bunreachtúil’ constitutional republicanism which is the path being taken by Sinn Féin and is focussed on using all elements of the democratic process and institutions to work towards their goal, ‘agus an poblachtánachas scarúnaíochta’ and separatist more traditional republicanism, which remains fragmented, marginalised, and outside the corridors of power, holding to its traditional view that we shouldn’t be assisting and rubbing shoulders with those in power who are opposed to the establishment of the Ireland envisaged by Pearse and Tone and Connolly. Tá mé féin idir dhá cheann na meá, there’s a bit of both of them inside myself.

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