So for me (as I noted in this morning’s SluggerReport) the most interesting event of the weekend was Micheal Martin’s speech at Bodenstown (not Ballyboden as I said this morning) commemorating Wolf Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism.
It’s something I’ve been keeping an eye over the last few years because I think Martin has been using this annual occasion to sharpen some of his thinking on north south relations, but more particularly his party’s response to the Sinn Fein challenge in the south.
As Gerry Adams said in his response to Martin “again used the event to attack Sinn Féin”. In fact I’d say it went a lot further than that.
This was a full blooded argument about what the nature of the Republican cause is in Ireland, from Tone to the modern day, and one he’s been developing iteratively over time. There are some domestic southern references, but this was a full blooded pitch for the heart of Irish Republicanism:
Theobald Wolfe Tone is not some irrelevant and distant figure in Irish history. The events which he participated in were a noble demonstration of the Irish people’s wish to be free, but he is much more than simply a representative of those times. With his colleagues, he began a tradition which continues to offer us inspiration and guidance today.
The republicanism of Tone is a generous ideal – one driven by trying to unite people rather than divide them.
The Society of United Irishmen which he helped to form was a revolutionary movement distinguished by its absolute commitment to overcoming sectarian boundaries.
Their republicanism, the republicanism of their greatest leader, was defined by its struggle not to win power for a small group but to extend it others. They did not see their opponents as enemies to be destroyed – they saw them as people who should remain and be part of a more inclusive society.
Real Irish republicanism is founded on this generous, anti-sectarian and international idealism. It is unusual in the liberation movements of Europe during the last two centuries as it did not try to assert superiority. Instead it saw a united and diverse Irish people who belonged to a community of nations. Its measure of success was always the building of an inclusive society.
He goes on…
The Kenny and Cameron governments came to office following administrations which had worked tirelessly for peace. Securing and then embedding the peace settlement was an absolute priority for their predecessors.
In contrast they stepped-back and adopted an explicit policy of leaving everything to Sinn Fein and the DUP. Kenny and Cameron often gave it lip service, but never anything more.
Even worse, our own government agreed to be effectively side-lined from discussions which Dublin had previously always asserted its right to be a full participant in.
The exclusion of Dublin from even a discussion of the economic blueprint for the North of this shared island was and remains a disgrace.
And finally on to Northern Ireland…
The inevitable result of government disengagement has been that Sinn Fein and the DUP have driven the institutions into a deep crisis and undermined hard-won public support.
These two parties have constantly manoeuvred for partisan advantage. The only thing they have always agreed on is the exclusion of others. They have directly enabled a dangerous escalation in sectarianism.
They have undermined the growing trust between communities which was measured before they took complete control of Stormont and their focus continues to be on the next election rather than the next generation.
Both parties continue to show an equivocal commitment to independent institutions. Every time one of their own is arrested or accused of something their first reaction is to condemn whoever is taking action.
For all of its posturing about building bridges, Sinn Fein has increasingly been playing a sectarian card to try and build its support.
One of its Ministers was held by the High Court to have made a major appointment in a sectarian way. This year one of its most senior politicians actually put up posters telling people to vote Sinn Fein to get one over on the Protestants.
Gerry Adams himself addressed a meeting recently where he said about unionists that he intended to “break the bastards” and that “the equality agenda is the Trojan Horse of the republican agenda”.
Sinn Fein has also been exposed for serious funding irregularities such as having councillors’ social security claims paid directly to the party and channelling hundreds of thousands through suspect fronts. Unfortunately the hard journalism behind these stories has largely been ignored in Dublin.
The people of this island North and South gave an overwhelming endorsement to the idea of peace and reconciliation between all groups on our island. We cannot allow the breach of faith which has been seen in recent years.
The potential economic and social benefits from a renewed commitment to peace and reconciliation are huge. Communities on both sides of the Border continue to suffer from the long-term effects of the illegitimate campaign of violence and the misgovernment of past decades.
A failure to re-engage and to give a priority to the unfinished business of peace and reconciliation is not just wasting an opportunity it could become a great historical error.
Much of this we’ve heard before (although that doesn’t make it any less true). The real crescendo of the speech touches on a core argument over the basic nature of Republicanism that Martin has been consistently developing.
Critically it seeks to define Fianna Fail as pro Republican state and its culture of democratic accountability, against Sinn Fein’s state-in-waiting and self preservational ‘coming man’ culture:
We in Fianna Fáil are deeply proud of our direct connection to 1916. Markiewicz, de Valera, Lemass and many others of our founders risked all for their country during Easter Week.
However we have said from the very beginning that 1916 belongs to no party or group – it is the inheritance of this nation and its commemoration must be inclusive.
The party which today uses the name Sinn Fein has no right to claim that it represents the men and women of 1916. Founded less than 50 years ago, the Provisional movement waged a campaign in the face of the overwhelming and constantly reaffirmed opposition of the Irish people. It used methods which dishonoured the Republic and its first loyalty has always been to its own and not the Irish people.
Gerry Adams statement last month that Provisional Sinn Fein is “the only republican movement in this island” shows how these people think. Theirs is not the ideology of 1798 and 1916 – it is a mafia-like organisation which is incapable of respecting anyone outside of its own ranks.
How dare they claim to own Irish republicanism.[Emphasis is mine]
The choice of Bobby Storey’s own terms from the time of Adams’ arrest and questioning by the PSNI was presumably intended to give colour to a substantial divergence in the two parties’ notions of ‘Republic’. He goes on to illustrate further:
No organisation which fails to expose child abusers, racketeers and murderers can call itself republican.
And let’s not forget that last month they also said that they could guarantee that the Provisional IRA didn’t exist because they know everything that happens in republican communities in the North.
Yet the people who savagely beat Robert McCartney to death in front of dozens of Sinn Fein member’s years after the peace settlement remain untouched. The people who covered up widespread child abuse continue to benefit from the silence of their movement.
Sinn Fein calls for people to cooperate with the authorities, but no one ever does.
And finally back to the core of Martin’s civic Republicanism in which is merely a constituent part, in contrast to Sinn Fein’s proprietary ownership model:
True Irish republicanism belongs to no party or sect it belongs to the Irish people. It serves their interests alone.
At its best it embodies the ideals of a man of status who served the men of no property.
Irish republicanism is a generous, evolving and outward looking ideal, never afraid to learn from mistakes and always focused on the future.
An Ireland which is for all its people that is the spirit to which we again commit ourselves and which we will work tirelessly for.
You can get my own commentary from this morning’s #SluggerReport below:
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty