BY FRA HUGHES
IRELAND has been partitioned North from South for nearly 100 years. 2021 will mark the centenary of the formation of the Northern Ireland State.
While Unionists and Loyalists may be celebrating another 100 years of British colonial occupation of Ireland, the Irish will be monitoring the continued changes in demographics and voting patterns that will soon lead to a reunited Ireland.
For many, it is simply a matter of time and a matter of timing.
The conversation being held is a reflection on how this new reality will look, not when it will occur.
Ireland until 1921 had been under British imperialist colonial and military occupation for nearly 800 years.
The indigenous people had risen up on numerous occasions unsuccessfully trying to reclaim their freedom. After the failed but inspiring insurrection of 1916, a national war of independence erupted in Ireland from 1919 to 1921. The British finally accepted defeat.
Yet they were determined to control Irish politics by partitioning Ireland through the ‘Anglo-Irish Agreement’ and under the threat of immediate and terrible war.
The British government managed to seduce some of the Irish people, some of their guerrilla liberation army and some of its politicians to accept the de facto partition of Ireland into two separate states, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland now called the Irish Free State.
Ireland, now partitioned, stayed within the British Empire and members of the new Free State government had to swear the following oath
‘I … do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to His Majesty King George V, his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of nations.’
This led to several different outcomes.
Firstly, the newly created State of Northern Ireland was a gerrymandered construct allowing a British colonial minority in Ireland to become a British colonial majority in Northern Ireland with its own Parliament, submissive to the British Crown and British business interests in Ireland and maintaining the link with Westminster the British Parliament.
It created a one-party Unionist state where the Irish people who lived there were treated as second class citizens. Institutional sectarianism and discrimination became embedded in the new government and state structures like the civil service, judiciary and police.
Southern Ireland, the Irish Free State, on the other hand, was in turmoil. While the Irish had fought together in a national war of liberation there was now discord and enmity.
Those who had voted in favour of the partition of their country claimed it was a short-term measure to allow the consolidation of new won freedom, with a view to the future liberation of the north.
Others, however, saw partition as a betrayal of the Irish nation, the abandonment of a sizeable section of the Irish people into a newly created sectarian state and a subversion of the war of liberation.
This bitter divide, foisted upon the island of Ireland by the British state, left rancour and deep-seated bitterness between those who had won the civil war in Ireland, the ‘Free Staters’, and those who ultimately lost the civil war the ‘Republicans’.
As the embers of the civil war continued to smoulder two political parties eventually grew out of the ashes – Fine Gael and Fianna Fail: one pro-treaty and pro-partition and one anti-treaty and anti-partition. While they may have disagreed on many things and alternately shared power, they were to many observers two parties hewn from the one rock.
In rural Ireland, in the 1930s-40s-50s, the church and state had a very cosy relationship.
In many ways, the Irish Free State, then to become the Republic of Ireland in 1949 was conservative by nature and by doctrine.
This was either led by or reflected by the two opposing parties. In reality, there was no radical left in power, no left-right politics in the body politic, just two versions and two reflections of Conservatism.
Perhaps the outcome of the civil war was a delay in society in Ireland, from reaching real left-right politics as it continued to fight its old battles politically? This then manifested itself into the politics of corporate capitalism, the banks, the church and the establishment.
Many who fought and died for the socialist Irish Republic died in vain as did those who fought and died for Irish self-determination, not for partial liberation and certainly not to have part of Ireland remain under foreign colonial rule through a proxy government held in place by a locally raised militia in Northern Ireland.
Until this last decade, both these civil war parties Fine Gael, ‘some of whose members fought for Franco in the Spanish civil war’, and Fianna Fail have taken turns in administering power as the government of the day. When one party failed the people, while in office, the other would then be elected to, in turn, fail the people again.
Through years of austerity and neoliberal privatisations, while the people suffered, the parties gorged themselves on the public purse. Then the Irish, like many European voters, began to look for change.
In Greece, they found Syriza, in Spain Podemos and a few brave souls here began to look for an Irish alternative.
In Ireland, Sinn Fein had been a small exclusively Nationalist Republican party whose main aim was the reunification of Ireland.
In the North, through the campaign of civil disobedience, civil rights and finally armed insurrection, Sinn Fein found itself at the negotiating table with Unionism and the British establishment as they embraced constitutional politics as their preferred vehicle for Irish unification.
In the North, they joined a power-sharing assembly encompassing both the Irish and British identities and began to administer power through the government. In the South, they built a platform on the Republican base and then began to reach out to wider society.
Finally, this year it appeared they had broken the Duopoly of Irish politics held for nearly a century by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
Perhaps it is most fitting in the centennial year of 2021 that we might yet see Sinn Fein in government in the Republic of Ireland. A fitting tribute to those who died to free Ireland from British colonial rule.
Yet we must ask, what might be their legacy? There has not been a sudden resurgence of Nationalist-Republican ideology nor a popular uprising demanding reunification.
We are witnessing a shift politically from those who have failed to deliver to those who have not yet been given the opportunity to fail to deliver?
This is what traditionally happens when voters become disillusioned with those in power.
They seek an alternative.
That alternative in the Republic of Ireland at this time is centre and centre-left politics, the ground upon which Sinn Fein now stands.
Is Sinn Fein a left-wing political party?
I would say no.
Are they being populist to get elected?
I would say yes.
Will they be elected to government?
The fracturing of the vote in Ireland in the February election of 2020 has led to a new coalition of the old parties of Fine Fail and Fine Gael supported by the Greens. It will undoubtedly fall. The duopoly will be broken. Many claim it has been broken.
The great hope for progressive socialist change by Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece was strangled by the International Monetary fund and The European Central Bank.
Will Ireland witness a socialist revolution with Sinn Fein being swept to power? I think not.
We will have national reunification. We will have ended possibly forever the stranglehold of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in power.
Will we notice any real difference?
I fear not.
As James Connolly, Commandant of the Irish Citizens Army, a socialist and a soldier proclaimed:
‘If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic, your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.’
James Connolly was murdered by a British firing squad while strapped to a chair on 12 May 1916 in Kilmainham Jail Dublin. He sustained a leg wound as Commander of the Irish Citizens Army defending his position at the General Post Office Dublin, during the 1916 Easter Rising. Did he die in vain?
If we have Irish reunification with a Sinn Fein government but a continuance of neo-liberal austerity, corporate finance and bank deregulation – then yes, he did.
We will have a new unified Ireland but I fear that new shared island will continue with its old failures. Time will tell?