Republicanism needs to find its own civic core and make an appeal outside terms of religion.

This interesting discussion on Talkback featuring our own David McCann was sparked by Graham Gudgin’s impassioned OpEd plea in the Irish Times yesterday. Here’s the pinch-point:

If I was to ask a woman to begin a relationship and then refuse to take no for an answer, week after week, year after year, it would of course count as harassment. Article after article on Irish unity, when the answer is always the same, should be seen in the same light.

The 2016 Life and Times Survey, taken after the Brexit referendum, showed a four to one majority in Northern Ireland for staying in the UK, including a two to one majority among Catholics. What is it about “no” that is so difficult for opinion in the Republic to understand?

Sometimes it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. One suggestion, apparently without irony, is that the UK may wish to pay the Republic €10 billion a year to fund Northern Ireland within a unified Ireland.

It ignores the fact that UK voters have recently taken the drastic step of voting to leave the EU, in large part to save exactly this sum of money flowing to Brussels.

David deals with most of this with civility and detail on some of the poorly reported/understood aspects of life in the Republic. However, I think Graham’s strongest point – in both the interview and the oped – is this:

A harsh wind blowing from Dublin just makes northern unionists huddle more tightly together around the DUP. Better instead to do what was promised in the Belfast Agreement and continue to build the best of good neighbourly relations.

The current northern Republican leadership propensity to turn drama into crisis exaggerates this effect, and some of SF (and SDLP) positions over welfare reform actively increase dependence on UK state subsidy (locking in rather than moving out).

David also makes the point that state mendicancy arguments are making its way into mainstream unionist thinking too. It’s a useful presentation of what we might call a civic Republicanism that’s been long awaited, and much needed.

These conversations almost always come to the fore in the vacuum of a crisis, which in themselves occur because of the lack of ambition on the part of unionism and nationalism. One caller suggests the retreat to the big picture is a post Brexit panic.

He may have a point. But, if he is correct, and if Irish Republicanism is to have any influence on NI’s future, it needs to stop panicking and start to develop its own serious asks in the face of such large constitutional change.

The emergence of a calmer more serious form of civic Republicanism (that doesn’t need the constant reassurance of asking for a border poll every five minutes) could be a start.

Do listen to the whole thing.


  • sparrow

    Paramilitarism is a symptom of the disease here, not the sickness itself. And again, if you’d read John’s comments, you’d see that his case against the union applies to Scotland and Wales too, neither of which is afflicted by the scourge of paramilitarism.

  • Barneyt

    If only the health argument was irrefutable however the NHS as we knew it has gone. The one we presently know won’t survive another Tory administration. The obvious uk incentive is disappearing which does place me in conflict.

  • Barneyt

    Unionism perhaps does not regard the economics. I expect its cultural more than anything. That nationalist pull, be it British or Irish has the power to collide with logic.

  • Damien Mullan

    I’ve a personal story to tell here.

    My brother recently contracted pneumonia, and was rendered unconscious at our second home just cross the border in Muff, Donegal. We attempted to get him into the car to travel to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, a city we were both born and raised in, own a residence and both work and pay taxes in. I’m an Irish citizen as a passport holder and he has a British passport only. Yet when the ambulance service arrived from Carndonagh, in only tens minutes, they never requested to see a record of citizenship or insurance. They took him straight to Letterkenny Hospital, where he was placed in Intensive Care for a few days, before finally coming around and recovering, being discharged a week later, he spent his period of recuperation after leaving ICU, in the High Dependency ward, in a single ensuite room, in the newly developed portion of Letterkenny Hosptial. Not a single penny was given for any of the care he received. We reside both in the north and the south, mostly in the south, yet we work and pay tax from employment in the north, property tax and TV licence are the only social charges we pay into the system in the Republic, yet my brother received fantastic healthcare.

    I seen myself the Emergency Department of Letterkenny hospital for a full week, it was the essence of efficiency and management, nothing like the regularity of inefficient and understaffed vistas I have seen so often at Altnagelvin Hospital. Which was forced in the same week that my brother was taken ill to close portions of 5 wards totaling 25 beds altogether.

    Undoubtedly I would have bought the myth purported by people who have never come into contact with the Health Services in the Republic, but my intimate and personal experience has convinced me, that while undoubtedly issues of staffing and resources are a problem, a problem in every developed western society, the Health Services in the Republic are not in anyway deficient than those in the north, and with my experience of Letterkenny, superior than those in my home city of Derry. Not for the want of effort and dedication by the staff at Altnagelvin Hospital, but they have been sorely let down by management and government alike.

    I had my eyes truly opened this summer on the health disparity north and south, and it’s not looking good for the north in that comparison. The staff levels in Letterkenny blew away my preconceptions entirely, many of them foreigners from the Asian subcontinent, a massive positive in my book, and a change that is noticeable when you take a dander down into Letterkenny town itself.

    If I get sick, i’ll not be been as keen as I was a few weeks ago, to get into a car and travel to experience the NHS, i’ll wait where I am and give the ambulance service in Donegal a ring, and be truly happy if I receive only half the outstanding treatment and care my brother received.

  • babyface finlayson

    “they were getting a bloody nose from Unioinists on the Maize and other issues”

    Perhaps so, but now the days of crops lying down are over!

  • tmitch57

    The biggest problem for republicans is swallowing the ironic paradox that to attract any significant amount of Protestant defection and even keep Catholic defection (from the nationalist cause) to a minimum they must first cooperate to make NI work within its present constitutional status. Only then will Protestants trust them in any significant numbers and cease to be unionists. Instead they are stuck on the idea that proving that NI is ungovernable by refusing to cooperate will make it go away. For this to occur republicans have to give up the idea that demography is destiny.

  • mickfealty

    I get the impression the HSE in the south is less burdened with management complexity. Also, Letterkenny was largely refurbished a few years back after a flooding episode.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Economics be hanged.

    It was the main argument for the union when the north was economically stronger and its the main argument now that the north is a basket case.

    So, what is it then?

  • Nevin

    A snippet from The United Irishmen – Their Lives and Times by R R Madden MD:

    On the 15th of February, 1793, the delegates from the several northern counties assembled at Dungannon, (Wm. Sharman in the chair, Henry Joy and William Armstrong secretaries,) “being fully acquated with the sentiments of their particular districts, declared the sense of the people “in a series of resolutions expressive of “their attachment to the form and original principles of the British Constitution;” “of their disapproval of republican forms of government, as applied to this kingdom, and of principles which have a tendency to dissolve all government, and destroy distinctions in society;” “of the necessity of a complete parliamentary reform, as essential to the peace, liberty, and happiness of the people,” and “of immediate and entire emancipation of the Roman Catholics as a measure indispensably necessary to the safety of the country.”

    If I recall correctly, there were no Armagh delegates at this 1793 Ulster Volunteer Convention. The general sentiment appears to have been reform, not revolution, and anti-republican.

  • mickfealty

    It will, sooner or later give up on them.

  • Skibo

    James for decades there was little to no IRA violence but the Northern society was not created to treat it’s citizens as equal and they lays the issue with Northern Ireland. It was a Protestant state for a Protestant people.
    The DUP and UUP still believe that Unionism should not be dictated to by Nationalists and that Unionism is what Northern Ireland is all about.
    They do not accept the equal right to be Irish or to be Gay.

  • Skibo

    TEL, just how far did the marching bands travel?
    As for militaristic structures, have you looked at the marching bands and the Loyal orders? Just how much more militaristic can you get?

  • james

    “James for decades there was little to no IRA violence”

    Really? When was that? Which decade?

    “It was a Protestant state for a Protestant people.”

    This slogan is an article of faith for the ignorant. As has previously been pointed out on this site, this phrase was used in response to the stated goal of an Irish politician to make the Irish Free State ‘a Catholic state for a Catholic people. If you are going to use the quote then you must also put the context – since it explains both the statement and why partition was a necessary step in the first place.

    ‘The DUP and UUP still believe that Unionism should not be dictated to by Nationalists”

    No, people generally believe that we as a UK region should not be dictated to by a small rump of chronically self-pitying Irish Republicans. Quite reasonably so.

    “They do not accept the equal right to be Irish or to be Gay”

    We do lag behind on equal rights for gay people – but that is a problem across all communities. Equal right to be Irish?? What rights are you being denied?

  • Damien Mullan

    It’s a wonderful addition the new extension to Letterkenny Hospital, it still needs more of it, but that’s no different than the original portions of Altnagelvin, Belfast City, or Royal Victoria. Those largely 1950’s and 60’s buildings are all reaching the end of their practical and structural lifespan.

    I think the major issue in the Republic in relation to Healthcare is the lack of political will to bite the bullet on rationalization and mergers. The effect of trying to spread staff and resources over too many facilities. The still largely rural and disparate distribution of the Irish population has created a barrier to providing centers of excellence, fewer hospitals but with more concentrated expertise and facilities. It’s been an unconvincing sell by many past administrations, largely because they have failed to roll out a convincing primary care strategy to ally the fears and concerns of people in the event that their nearest tertiary care facility is earmarked for merger or rationalization, in favour of a tertiary care facility somewhat further away.

    Previous Irish governments have outlined these plans often enough, I know there were several during the Ahern years, less so during Kenny, given their plan was a coordinated roll out of medical cards to various age groups over the period of two parliament terms, but this ceased after those aged 5 and below were covered, due to the increasing costs sighted by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

    There is a job and task to be done, and only a political leader with a command of the issue and a flare for risk taking, would be in with a shout to pull off what has hitherto confounded the best efforts and plans of every Irish leader in the past. To adopt and advocate for a national primary, secondary, and tertiary strategy, that can command the support of a government, particularly from those on the backbenches from rural constituencies who have always held the balance of power on this issue. One can hardly fault Leo Varadkar or assess his ability on this issue, thus far at least, given the arithmetic he inherited in the Dail, but should he after the next election form a majority government, then like all his predecessors, the judgement will be made as to his courage, or lack thereof, in dealing with what has been an intractable political problem for many decades.

  • Skibo

    There was an IRA campaign in the 1940s and again from 56 to 62. Neither as of the scale of the Troubles and was not supported by the vast majority of the Nationalist community.

    Are you telling me that the quote by Bazil Brooke not to employ Catholics was wrong? What about the Craig statement of a “Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”

    As for being dictated to by a small rump, Sinn Fein now represent nearly 30% of the vote, hardly a rump. The rules of the GFA mean that their mandate is as equal as that of Unionist parties.

    James if you are trying to tell me that Unionism accepts Irish as equal to British, you are severely deluded.
    The simplest example of this is the fact that both Unionist parties are prepared to block an Irish Language Act that has been set in British law to the extent that they will prevent the Assembly reforming.
    By the way it is legal to have a court case held in English, Scottish or Welsh but not allowed in Irish.
    There are Language Acts in Scotland and in Wales but not in Northern Ireland.

  • Skibo

    Can you post a quote to the reference to the Catholic state for a Catholic people?

  • Skibo

    Mick, tmitch’s comment that Republicans refusing to cooperate as a sign of the North’s ungovernability is incorrect. They did cooperate and negotiate in 1998 and the GFA was the result, again in 2006 and the SAA was the result of it. Each time Unionism were unable to fulfil the agreements. The POG that included the Maze complex was also agreed and again Unionism failed to keep up their end of the negotiations.
    i believe what is happening this time is SF are not accepting open ended promises.
    There needs to be a time set process where each part has to be completed before we move on is agreed. The words of British legislation are not worth the vellum they are printed on.

  • Skibo

    I would suggest to you that the reunification project has never been able to be debated as Unionism are too insecure to allow that debate to begin.

  • Skibo

    Have you any evidence of factual funding that will arise from Brexit that could be drawn down for cross border projects?
    I find the British Government full of promises and lacking in substantiation.

  • Skibo

    Republicanism does not require to go back as far as the sixteenth century. You only have to go back to pre partition when the country should have been treated as one.

  • james

    There was no Irish Republican violence prior to Partition??

    Either way, so you personally just want to turn the clocks back by a century?

  • mickfealty

    Don’t ask, it won’t happen.

  • james
  • Hugh Davison

    Nice they wanted emancipation of Catholics, given that was most of the population. Short shrift with that one. But God bless us, none of that French malarkey.

  • Hugh Davison

    Can’t find it in the text. Sorry.

  • Hugh Davison

    Here we stand. We can do no other.

  • Hugh Davison

    Brian, what does it actually mean to you to be British? Is it not something that you got by being born (I was born in Belfast, British as you can get)? That superiority over all that lives on this planet. Many people struggle all their lives to relinquish their Britishness. Like racism, we are all stuck with it and spend our lives trying to shake it off.
    For many people in this part of Ireland, Britishness is a wound. You get it in school, on the TV, in the triumphalist marches and flags, but it permeates and can’t be shaken off. We are British, ugh.

  • Hugh Davison

    Just repealed last year:
    A 1618 proclamation ordering the Irish to depart with all their belongings from lands given to planters during the Plantation of Ulster has also been revoked, as part of an overhaul of Irish laws that began 13 years ago.

  • james

    Interesting. And when was it last enforced? About 400 years ago?

  • Hugh Davison

    As you said: An underpopulated Ulster.

  • Gavin Crowley

    I accept your point. It’s well made.

    It’s an old thread now, but out of interest what kinds of tourism promotion would you see working under Strand3? Perhsps in developing tourism markets like China where the brand recognition is starting from a low base, and where there’s a common visa?

  • Nevin

    I have some experience and expertise in genealogy and so I think gentourism would be an interesting area to develop in Strand 3.

    Take my newish Canadian friend, Marian, who’s 85 today; she last saw her mother when she was a few months old. The mother wasn’t allowed to stay in Canada and I tracked her back to Ballycastle in north Antrim and later to Glasgow; I also linked Marian and her granddaughter with distant relations in Ballycastle via modern media. I can imagine that at some point Marian’s family would wish to visit Ballycastle and Glasgow. However, those who promote tourism tend to focus on the products they have to offer rather than on the desires and needs of tourists.

  • james

    Hmm…. so literally hundreds of years ago, when Shakespeare was in short pantaloons. And yet you add it to an argument in the 21st century with a sense of bitter vindication?

  • james

    Again, when was that last actually enforced?

  • Skibo

    James you are mixing two issues. I believe De Valera, on a visit to Rome described Ireland as a Catholic state. As what the British had left to the Irish was 90% Catholic, it was a fair analysis.
    What Lord Craigavon said was a Protestant Government for a Protestant people. if you read that the way he said it, you can see that he states that the government is only there to serve the Protestant people. De Valera never made any such claim of the government of Ireland.

  • james

    I read what Craigavon said as very much a reaction to conditions in the overwhelmngly Catholic (in numbers and ethos) Ireland. Since Ireland was then, a bitterly cold house for Protestants his point was that Protestants would be able to live free of religious persecution in NI.

  • Hugh Davison

    Your words: “waves of immigration from lowland Scotland came across to settle in an under-populated Ulster”.
    James I: “ordering the Irish to depart with all their belongings from lands given to planters during the Plantation of Ulster”.
    See any connection between “under-populated” and “evicted”?