Just where is Irish Republicanism at these days?

Many claim it – from Sinn Féin to Fianna Fail to the SDLP and a wealth of smaller groups including RSF, IRSP, Workers Party, éirígí and the 32CSM (sorry if I left you out). To address the question requires a definition of what Republicanism is and that isn’t something easily agreed on.

It used to be reasonably easy to define – primarily those demanding complete independence from Britain and the establishment of a Republican government. After that various elements had differing significance for various parties:

· Socialism – pretty much a perquisite
· Secularism
· The 1916 Proclamation
· The 1919 Democratic Programme
· Articles 2 & 3

After the GFA the definitions altered for many with FF overseeing the removal of Articles 2 & 3 from the 26 county constitution, previously the foundations of state Republicanism; SF accepting and enthusiastically promoting an ‘Agreement’ based on partition and enshrining the ‘consent principle’ (Unionist veto) as the way forward, now for them the only way to unity despite often declaring it ‘not a Republican document’.

Did the nature of Republicanism suddenly change when the ‘Agreement’ came about? Has Republicanism changed from outright rejection of British influence in Ireland to working within,or supporting from outside, partitioned structures in the north of Ireland and no guarantee of future unity never mind the Socialist Republic? Has constitutional Nationalism become Republicanism? Or has traditional Republicanism ceased to exist for many and been sidelined?

These are not unique Irish questions in modern politics as the meanings of ‘Left’ and ‘Socialism’ are facing attempted redefinition in popular consciousness. Topics on Splintered Sunrise raised this as an
attempt by those in certain movements, who had always been opposed to Socialism, attempting to set acceptable limits on where political discourse lies by defining themselves as the ideology and more traditional views as beyond the pale.

Is similar occurring within Republicanism? Is the claim to ownership from FF, SF and the SDLP from positions closer to those normally viewed as constitutional nationalism trying to limit where acceptable discourse on Irish politics can be held? Is there a move to the centre and a fire walling of the approved limits for debate? Is the traditional view on Republicanism being treated as abnormal?

As Socialism, also claimed by FF, SF and the SDLP, takes a backseat in the policies and actions of government in Ireland and those declaring it involve themselves in privatisation, strike-breaking, non-unionised labour promotion and other policies more often associated with the right have the twin and interlinked foundations of Republicanism/Socialism been distorted into something else?

Of course there are other smaller groups still proclaiming to be truly Republican, like those proclaiming true Socialism elsewhere but is their form of Republicanism and Socialism a thing of the past? Can ideologies really alter through time? Can definitions change? Or are some not facing the fact they have changed while the ideology remains unaltered?

So where is Republicanism in modern Ireland? Certainly not where it was before.

  • jackdutch

    you are making the basic mistake of regarding the provos as republicans. they never were. they were catholic defenders. accept that interpretation and it becomes very easy to see how they accepted GFA and everything that accompanies it.

  • dublinsfsupporter

    I think it is fair to say that Irish Republicanism is located in Sinn Féin and has been for some time.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Tugann sin uilig tinneas cinn domhsa. Tá morán staidéir de dhith.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    ……… ach aontaím le jackdutch.

  • I think it’s fair to say that militant republicanism is just a disease of the mind that afflicts the shallow, cold and antichristian.

    It has more in common with George Bush than Jesus Christ.

  • RepublicanStones

    There are 12 letters in your name John, is that one for every Apostle?

  • citizen perry

    So by accepting the principle of consent Sinn Fein forfeit the right to describe themselves as Republicans and prove they were only after equality all the time?

    Why did the United Irishmen advocate republicism rather than (for example) a restored Irish monarchy? Was it because they recognized that only the absence of monarchy could allow true equality to all religious and secular traditions in Ireland. How come “true” republicans now get to define themselves by their obliviousness to the position of unionists or their willingness to violently suppress it.

    “Socialism – pretty much a perquisite”

    How so? Can Republicanism not be bourgeois or even christian democratic. Plenty of secular republics across Europe seem to be. Why shouldn’t Republicanism be about personal autonomy and reponsibility as well as the right to participation. Why shouldn’t a republican economic policy be about the encouragement (by of worker participation through shareholding and the reduction of external unaccountable capital (by treating interest as a distribution of profit rather than an expense for example), or about rights of worker participation through corporate boards (maybe not a bad thing if you’re trying to keep wage claims relatistic as demand disappears). These aren’t neccessarily socialist. They may even be Thatcherite. I’m not sure how the infantilising and disempowering effects of nationalisation and municipal socialism neccessarily denote republicanism.

    Isn’t Republicanism strongest where the demand for democratic involvement and accountability is strongest.

  • Republican Stones

    You’re way out if you think that Christ in our context would have twelve apostles. That wouldn’t be scripturally accurate at all.

    But you describe the republican well: all pervading knowledge about nothing like the Satanic God of the Old Testament. Funny how Gerry Adams has that Adam in his name.

  • I think an important turning point was the Civil War, after which the republican label became increasingly identified with an idea of legitimacy through continuity that was at odds with the idea of popular sovereignty that supposedly underlay it.

    That kind of ‘traditional republicanism’ was a dead end. By comparison, the pro-agreement position of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the SDLP has the huge republican merit of having the support of the Irish people.

  • It’s not really complicated

    Irish Republicans murder people whose political opinions they disagree with, then lie about having done that.

  • percy

    Republicans have to get back to that spirit of the United Irishmen, which ironically was led by protestants.

  • Ann

    Percy for our leader!

  • aquifer

    Surely republicanism is what people do without Lizzie Windsor herself interfering? I don’t see her or her majestic government showing much real interest.

    Or is local ‘Republicanism’ now just short for catholic gaelic separatism with attitude? Or a pretentious way of saying prods go home? Cultural cleansing with an enlightenment mask on? The trouble with the word on its own is that it need not respect human rights very much at all.

    I think that the squabbles at the assembly is all there is. Irish men and women having to trust those associated with bigotry and murder enough to do democratic politics, that very republican thing.

    Would we really be doing SF any favours to give them a justice ministry and have them have to prosecute former IRA members. Could they, would they? Or jail loyalist paramilitaries?

    All citizens should respect the state, you see.

    Peter Robinson may be doing more for Irish Republicanism than the Gerries.

  • percy

    Thank you Ann,
    I’m 1/2 apple 1/2 orange, so I might be your huckleberry.

  • joeCanuck

    The Dail always was and still is a democratic institution.
    DeValera and his supporters couldn’t (well, wouldn’t) accept the democratic decision to ratify the Treaty and launched a bloody civil war wherein great men from both sides perished. DeValera belatedly accepted democratic principles.
    Republicanism, true republicanism, with acceptance of democratic values is to be found in the Dail.

  • p

    joeCanuck, if you hold down Alt Gr while pressing the vowel you get a síneadh fada on the vowel. Mar shampla – Dáil

  • Pancho’s Horse

    To digress slightly. Do any of you McCooeys know where ‘Church of The sacred Heart, Belfast Urban 10’ is?

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks, p. I went through this sometime ago with someone else. But it no longer works (N.A. keyboards are slightly different). I’ll have to fiddle again to make it work.

  • Pancho’s Horse

    Thanks for trying, joe. Respect,man.


    I know I bang on about this but I’m a unionist and a republican.
    I just wish someone was offering me a genuine republic instead of some petty little fenian fiefdom, I’d vote for the real deal.

    Here’s something else I have never figured out about the shinners.
    This is a party that alone amongst all the other parties in the Uk is elected to stand on a republican platform, and yet they meekly accept their disenfranchisement from the political establishment for refusing to take an oath to the monarch.
    Surely this ban on them participating in the Commons chamber is a clear breach of human rights since they get elected as republicans?
    They could only win a massive propaganda victory by challenging this ban but they don’t do so.
    So how republican are they really?


    There’s an interesting passage in Owen McGee’s book on the IRB, that suggests they were interested in working with English republicans on a federal basis at one time, but gave up on the idea because they recognised the strength of the status quo in Britain.

    Unionism and monarchism are two sides of the same early modern British settlement, and nationalism and republicanism are two sides of the same post-French revolution challenge to it.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Slightly off topic, but do you think the left will be able to take serious advantage of the current economic turmoil? Or is it a case of the status quo, enduring recession and reform of financial institutions?

  • Ri Na Deise

    I think the militancy of the last 40 years(while understandable and it did serve a purpose) has broken down any hopes of a United Irishmen style approach for a while yet. But I do feel the way forward is through true republicanism and socialism and cultivating a genuine affinity between the working class of every sect. Only when this is being actively promoted will we be on our way to a true Irish Republic.

  • percy

    “I just wish someone was offering me a genuine republic instead of some petty little fenian fiefdom, I’d vote for the real deal. ”

    Good for you TAF, sadly there’s too much “Brits Out” in Republicanism, and not enough “Prods in”.
    The old war mentality needs to become a peace mentality.
    Some of us are on to it buddy 😉

  • Dave

    Given that there were more handlers employed in the various British intelligence services in NI than there were active members of PIRA to ‘handle’ at any one time (400), with the British Army’s FRU alone employing 100+ handlers, you can be sure that where ‘republicanism’ is north of the border is exactly where the British intelligence services want it to be, i.e. renouncing the principle of self-determination for those who are Irish and renouncing their right to live in an Irish nation-state, accepting the legitimacy of British rule, and undermining Irish nationalism in order to promote British nationalism under the guise of ‘parity of esteem.’ Insofar as there is even a slight risk of Irish unity occurring as a result of the GFA, the contingency has been provided for by the de facto extension of political ‘constitution’ that underpins that pro-British enclave to cover all of the island (and good luck with that), reuniting the island not as an Irish nation-state but as joint British-Irish entity that ‘republicans’ are to be mobilised by their controllers to sell as being the new republican ideal. It’s true that you can kill the man but not the idea, so the new black is to grant ownership of the idea to a particular bunch of puppets and then remodel the idea so it is the total opposite of the old idea. Obfuscating ends with means, you make them believe that removing the border is the end in itself rather than the means to an end so that it the old end was a 32-county Irish nation state and the means to that end is removing the border, the new end becomes removing the border and the means becomes accepting a joint British-Irish dominion. Much like Irish history was censored as policy lest the nation be encouraged to support PIRA, now that PIRA is defunct, that policy continues with the new bogus justification for the censorship being a desire not to offend unionists who now have the PoC to vote against unity with those who offend them. ‘Republicans’ in NI are just puppets of British intelligence, utter quislings.

  • George

    Michael McDowell considers himself a committed Irish Republican and who am I to say he isn’t.

    The Irish Republic is there for one and all, not just Socialists, 1916 devotees, all-islanders and the rest.

    To be honest, when I think of what it means to be a “Republican” right now I think of Brian Lenihan’s budget speech next week and all the pain that it will entail.

    Sure I think about what sort of Republic I want but I don’t waste any time wondering whether somebody does or does not “qualify” as a Republican.

    Joe Southerner

  • I just don’t like protestants

    I think where we read republicanism we should imply “irish republicianism”, rather than engage in petty nitpicking.

    It’s certainly a difficult subject to pin down. I don’t believe anyone group can claim to own the idealogy but it rests in the heart of ever irish woman and man longing to be free.

    Secularism is a large part of it surely. A peaceful and free nation free from religious intolerance is a core component of republicanism.

    But the socialism? That is not central, certainly ireland has drifted rightwards economically, although become much more liberal socially. However I do not believe that this fair calling should be tied to any specific coordinates on the political compass. The isle of tolerance and freedom should encompass the political beliefs of all, encouraging healthy debate discussion.

  • IJP

    Secularism? Remind me what happens at 6pm on RTÉ?

    This is a very interesting post, but again it lacks an acceptance of the reality that really the campaign for all-Ireland indepdence has been, with only minimal (and decreasing) exceptions, rooted in Gaeldom and Catholicism. Is that not the crux of the problem?

    (And those of you thinking “that ‘unionist’/Protestant would say that, wouldn’t he?” are just proving my point…)

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    Ah, mainstream Irish Republicanism has become way too middle class, too ‘bourgeois’ north and south, it has lost touch with the working classes and the core values of the 1798ers! Too much wrapped up in their cosy homes, foreign holidays, 4×4’s, Mercedes, etc… Guilty are FF, FG, Labour, SDLP, and the Sinners in a way! (James Connolly is rolling in his grave too).
    The Working Classes have been somewhat abandoned while the more Militant Socialist Republicans prey on their sensibilities. Guilty of exploiting the people are RSF, IRSP, Workers Party, éirígí , 32CSM and the Sinners in a way! The hard militant stance of such parties is very off putting no doubt to most folk who are moderate.

    Maybe these credit crunch times might have a sobering effect on sincere Irish Republicans who might rediscover the ethos of the 1798 radicals. I don’t mean have another rebellion, but the grasp the very ideology of inclusiveness and fair play. Probably nothing more noble than the Presbyterians, Protestants, Catholics and Disenters of the United Irishmen who made a stand for the Irish Nation and the rights of all her people in 1798. Republicans today should go back to basics. Take a lead form the American founding fathers too as what Tone, Drennan, McCraken & Co did. (BTW The USA today has lost it’s way too!)

  • Yee gods, not more of the ‘spirit of 98’ crap. The United Irishmen is a myth, or at best a failed project.

    Republicanism in Ireland has always been taited by a significant element of sectarianism; or were the 1798 Wexford atrocities a ‘mistake’ like the more recent examples, La Mon, Enniskillen etc?

    My family arrived in Ireland in the early 1600s, yet republicanism would still demand that I ‘go home’. To them I am a planter, a foreigner and a brit.

    Until republicans realise what their message of ‘brits out’ means to those who share this space republicanism will continue to divide; and an ‘Ireland of Equals’ will remain a falsehood.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘My family arrived in Ireland in the early 1600s, yet republicanism would still demand that I ‘go home’. To them I am a planter, a foreigner and a brit.’

    Sorry but thats utter shite. Seeking an end to British governance over part of your country does not mean seeking the removal of those who describe themselves as british. The term planter, brit etc etc are just the other side of the fenian,taig coin which everyone has been guilty of at least once in their life. Through continually spouting this mistaken belief you show how ignorant you are, nevermind forgetting the thousands of people from Britain living in the republic quite happily.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    Slievenanee –
    Obviously you don’t understand the ideals of the United Irishmen! Given your Anglocentric education……Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter united etc …is well lost on you!
    Besides, folk in NI who are haughtily proud of their planter history, the conquest and submission of Ireland by Old Blighty, who publically demonstrate this pride every year at the likes of the 12th, have no will at all to share in the Irish Nation, for their loyalty lies with England and Britain. Any words of a United Ireland is well lost on them and you too!
    Since partition, an Northern ‘Ireland of Equals’ was non existant when the British Unionists held the reigns of power!

  • the campaign for all-Ireland indepedence has been, with only minimal (and decreasing) exceptions, rooted in Gaeldom and Catholicism. Is that not the crux of the problem?

    I think your under-estimating the importance of the Protestant contribution to republicanism. A list of significant Protestant republicans would be a very long one, especially under the broad definition that Mark uses (I think rightly) at the start of this thread.

    I think that contribution has been fundamental, so much so that it’s hard to imagine what Ireland would be like without it.

    Republicanism may have been tainted by sectarianism as Slievenanee says, but sectarianism was fundamental to the 18th century political settlement of which unionism is a defence.

    Given that Britain is a much more secular society than either part of Ireland, its remarkable the extent to which it has been unable to move beyond that political settlement.

    Ireland is a more secular society than it would be without republicanism, the UK is a less secular society than it would be without unionism.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    “Ireland is a more secular society than it would be without republicanism”

    …..and here’s to that!

  • IJP


    Frankly, that’s like saying that the contribution of Catholics to Unionism “should not be underestimated” because the first Lord Chief Justice of NI was Catholic, or because there was a Catholic Chief Constable, or whatever.

    If the role is “fundamental”, can you explain why scarcely a solitary elected Protestant in contemporary NI is an “Irish Republican” (any definition)?

  • Kensei


    No, that’s mindless whataboutery. Protestants have not just been Republicans, not just within the system it produced – they’ve been at the absolute centre of it, providing much of the intellectual drive, way, way out of proportion to overall numbers. To that extent, the loss of any significant Protestant input over the past 30 years is a key loss to Republicanism, and it shows.

    I what to touch on some similar sort of themes to this in a slightly longer format, so will keep my powder dry to then. Suffice to say, Mark is almost totally wrong in his definition of what it means to be Republican.

  • So RepublicanStones, its not actually ‘brits out’, we can stay as long as we stop being brits. Thanks for that.

    Greagoir, although I am a mere amoeba compared to your towering intellect, I do grasp the ideals of the United Irishmen. However ideals are only as good as they play out in the real world. Or do you believe that Wexford was an idealistic action?

    By the way I was mostly educated in the French system and I can’t recall it being overly anglocentric.

  • Irish republicanism – or republicanism in Ireland? This seems to me to be something that we should keep when discussing this topic.

    It seems that those who define themelves as Irish republicans tend to be more focused on the specifically Irish context, and to be more likely to be guilty of the narrow thinking regarding nationalism and sometimes religion. This is of course not true of all who think that way. There is I think a mistaken assumption that republicanism has been the attitude of the majority of Irish people, when it fact it has been much more about the position of Ireland, and often Irish Catholics, within the British Empire. This is true especially of the period from O’Connell to the 1918 election. At that point, after the Easter Rising executions and the attempt at conscription, many people became separatists, but kept the insular attitudes associated with the Catholic interest politics that dominated the C19th. And unfortunately, that was the attitude that prevailed at the time of the Tan War. It is also the attitude of the majority of those who call themselves republicans in NI today.

    Yet this politics owes little to the how the international republican tradition has expressed itself in Ireland. Republicanism is a secular, progressive, political philosophy, centred round the sovereignty of the people and equality among citizens. This is the tradition in which Tone, Lalor, Davitt, Connolly and Pearse stand. And despite what people like to think, it has by and large been the minority position, at least after the time of the United Irishmen. It is the revolutionary tradition in all countries, and has the potential to develop into a programme of social equality – from Jacobinism to Socialism. This is my understanding of republicanism.

    But as is clear from home and abroad, republicanism also has the possibility to stagnate, to become the fig leaf for naked class interest, hatred, and bigotry. Unfortunately this is what happened in the United States, and in southern Ireland. It is also what has happened in NI since the Troubles broke out.

    I’ve always been a 1798 person rather than a 1916 one myself, though the progressive aspects of the Proclamation are often overlooked. Slievenanee points to incidents of sectarianism in Wexford in 1798. That does not invalidate the republican tradition, nor the aim of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. It is the only solution to our problems. Those who seek to represent one sectarian bloc or the other cannot be republican – they represent not the tradition of Tone, or Pearse, or Connolly, but the tradition of O’Connell and Roaring Hanna. One of the many tragedies of the Troubles has been the bastardising of republicanism.

  • Well said Garibaldy. You do your namesake proud.

    There has been a strong Jacobite tradition in my family and a strong relationship with France.

    It is the (seemingly) required link between Irish and republican, with a very narrow definition of what it means to be Irish, that I have found distaseful.

    It seems that in this part of the world one had to qualify as gaelic irish before being allowed to proceed with being a republican.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘…we can stay as long as we stop being brits. Thanks for that.’

    Wow, missed the point by the proverbial mile. Tell me, are the brits living in the republic no longer british? Who said you had to ‘stop being brits’?
    I suppose a german living in france is no longer a german by your line of thinking?

  • slug

    “are the brits living in the republic no longer british?”

    What brits in the republic?

  • Kensei


    What brits in the republic?

    Check the immigration figures.

  • slug

    So he means British people who moved to the Repubilc?

  • IJP,

    I think Kensei’s response about covers it. The Protestant contribution was fundamental in the sense that the republican tradition would not exist in the same form without it, whereas I don’t think there are any Catholics who have played a similarly decisive role in the history of unionism, at least in Ireland.

    If you simply equate republicanism with Catholicism, you miss the deep tensions that have often existed between the republican and Catholic strands of Irish nationalism.

    Obviously the impact of the Troubles is a major factor in explaining why there are so few Protestant representatives in republican parties. Violent conflict always reinforces communal divisions.

    One benefit of the Good Friday Agreement from a republican point of view is that it offers the political opportunity to change that, if it is used wisely.

  • slug

    “One benefit of the Good Friday Agreement from a republican point of view is that it offers the political opportunity to change that, if it is used wisely.”

    Problem is that Sinn Féin are absolutely the wrong peole to do it.

  • Nathan

    If you’re making reference to the united Ireland strand of Republicanism then its probably in the slow lane at the moment, I don’t believe for a second that it will actually ever transpire in the 1916 sense.

    If on the other hand you’re making reference to real-life Republicanism of the Irish State then its obviously gathered a lot of traction and momentum since 1922/23, it is now in its advanced stages where most if not all citizens feel included and valued.

    Going forwards I think it would be great to have more active participation of northern ireland residents in Irish civic life, perhaps some seats should be reserved for them in the upper house at some point in the future.

  • Henry94

    If you hold that the people of Ireland should elect their own government then you are an Irish republican. It is not necessary to support either violence nor socialism. in fact a socialist republic is a contradiction in terms because it implies the Irish people are not free to say no thanks to socialism.

    There is of course a debate about violence because the denial of the republic rests entirely on British violence. Irish people have the right to oppose the British in arms. But that does not mean it is either right or smart in a particular situation.

  • Reader

    Henry94: There is of course a debate about violence because the denial of the republic rests entirely on British violence.
    Surely you mean *hypothetical* British violence. After all, now that Articles 2 & 3 of your constitution have been revised, there is no realistic scenario where the RoI and the UK will be violently at odds over the future of the 6 counties.

  • Mr Bananas

    Some basic political science, folks:

    Republicanism is a form of government wherein sovereignty is recognized as residing in the will of the people. (Ireland is a republic.)

    Monarchism is a form of government wherein sovereignty is recognized as residing in the person of the monarch. (The United Kingdom is a monarchy.)

    Don’t allow all the “isms” (like sectarianism, socialism, Catholicism, Protestantism, unionism, et cetera) to let you lose sight of what it means to be a republican. Want to understand republicanism? Read a biography of George Washington.

  • Henry94


    there is no realistic scenario where the RoI and the UK will be violently at odds over the future of the 6 counties.

    There never was. Governments in Dublin are formed from parties which reject violence as a means of ending partition. Clearly such a prospect is unrealistic under current or foreseeable circumstances.

    But there are other things that could be none to support and vindicate the rights of Irish people living in the north. Representation in Dail Eireann is the obvious one. The right to vote in presidential elections is another.

    Violence spooks the majority in the south. In its absence an effective national movement can be built. And Sinn Fein are the only viable political leadership for such a movement.

    Fianna Fail have shown they were bluffing about becoming a 32-county political force. The dissidents have nothing to offer but violence more or less for the sake of it. it’s Sinn Fein or nothing now for anyone who is serious about republicanism.

  • Mr Bananas


    Hear hear. One of Biffo’s first acts as taoiseach was to distance himself from Bertie’s (exciting) announcement that FF intended to organise on an all-Ireland basis. (Of course, the FF response would be that they couldn’t possibly play the role of a neutral arbitrator in the North if they were actively contesting elections there as well.)

    Also agreed that Northerners should be allowed to participate in the democratic institutions of the Republic, even if it is technically on an extra-territorial basis. (There is precedent for this in international law. For example, Mexican citizens residing in the United States, even ones who have been there for decades, are permitted to vote in Mexican presidential elections at their local consulates in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, et cetera.) But then, shouldn’t Irish citizens throughout he EU, and indeed throughout the world be allowed to vote in national elections?

    It would be a harder case to create Dail constituencies for the North. Sorry, the revocation of articles 2&3;leaves little constitutional basis for such a move.

  • Henry,

    I’m not sure how sectarian politics as practised by the Provos makes them republicans. Either in the Irish sense of the word, or internationally.