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Do Irish people instinctively understand that Irish unity, independence and sovereignty is in their vital interest? July 9, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left.
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revolutionaryprogramme asks an interesting question here in relation to a comment earlier on that thread.

As someone who is a relatively recent arrival in the Republic (6 1/2 years) I had expected to find a much higher degree of support among working people for national unity than has proved to be the case. The subject only seems to be of interest to the small layer of consciously self-describing republicans – primarily those identifying with Sinn Fein. For most working people I interact with (both those overtly involved in political campaigns and those not) this supposed “instinctive” understanding seems to be more-or-less totally missing, or at least is extremely deeply submerged.
But perhaps my experience is not typical and I would be interested to hear what about the experience of others on this blog in this regard.

I think it’s worth considering, not least because the North as an issue is vastly less prominent as an issue than it once was in Irish left politics. So what of further afield?

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1. Jim Monaghan - July 9, 2013

Not a detailed response.
I regard it as being important. I do think that the stupidities of the Provo campaign alienated many. Or left people will a feeling of helplessness about it. It was in spite of the atrocities I got involved in say the H-Block struggle and similar campaigns before and after.
Above being about the struggle for unity. On a 32 county basis I think nationalism is a backdrop to the feeling of national betrayal over the Troika deal.
The SF vote is important. Without a republican heritage, I think they would be much weaker.
There is a 26 county ersatz nationalism. This hit it’s peak with the tiger. Our elites have had no interest in national unity for decades. I remember Haughey removing the 6 banners for the 6 lost counties way back when he and others got rid of the pretence that it was anything but a patronage machine.
There are many changes in Irish society North and South. Small farmers do not have anything like the same social weight. The traditional workingclass has disappeared to a degree. Shipbuilding in the North etc. Old major employers like Guinness do not employ a tenth of what they did. Many of these changes mirror what has happened across Europe some are a little different here.Trade Unions are now far more public service and have failed to get into the new major employments such as Intel.
I would say on balance the national struggle is important. I think it has morphed. I think the implantation of SF in workingclass areas is in large part due to it (helped by the ending of the armed campaign which their potential support regarded as a waste). I think the existence of say Eirigi is another indication.
In the North I think the agreement could fall apart.We will see.
But where it is in a revolutionary program and how it might be expressed, there we can and should have a debate.
I am trying to avoid the trap of quoting Connolly as if nothing has changed since 1916

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2. ivorthorne - July 9, 2013

Jim is right. The Provos’ actions in the name of independence ultimately damaged support for the movement.

I think that people from the Southern half of the country tend to view the North as something a little foreign. It’s a can of worms they don’t care to open.

As important as national unity is, we don’t have the proper foundations for the project to proceed and given the state of southern politics – let alone Northern politics – I can’t see us being ready for unity any time soon.

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3. sonofstan - July 9, 2013

I think that people from the Southern half of the country tend to view the North as something a little foreign.

That’s true. I’m always amazed at how many people from ‘the south’ have never been to Belfast/ Derry/ anywhere else in NI.

Much as most people in Britain couldn’t care less about those who claim allegiance to the Crown in the North, many (most?) people in the republic have no particular regard for nationalists ‘up there’.

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4. WorldbyStorm - July 9, 2013

I’d consider myself a Republican, but I don’t think a simple UI would be possible and that a dispensation beyond the GFA/BA would involve significant linkages North/South and East/West (from NI to the UK), a sort of shared/joint sovereignty/representation plus which would exist perhaps long long into the future ie centuries.

But just going to the three points made, I think Irish people in the South do actually value independence and sovereignty and instinctively so. Just the majority aren’t as attached to unity.

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5. John Goodwillie - July 9, 2013

It might be more useful to answer the title question “No”, and go on to consider the question “Should they?” before complaining about lack of interest.

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pangur ban - July 9, 2013

+1
The years of the struggle left people in the south tired of ‘up there’, you see it in many little ways not least how people sneer at Gerry Adams (admittedly excruciating) attempts at an gaeilge,
You would think he would have put in a bit more effort when he was inside, other internees were in the iraand presumably had other work to do

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WorldbyStorm - July 9, 2013

In fairness some just find the language tricky to master. I use it quite bit in conversation but I’ve never been comfortable with my pronunciation.

Good point JG. Though again, I’d still argue independence and sovereignty in the South would garner more, much more, support.

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6. doctorfive - July 9, 2013

Instinctively I think the Irish don’t know what they want tbh but before lumping everything on the provos that alienation suits a lot of people and they play as much a part in the drift as any of the Northern actors.

For years growing up I thought Republicanism was three lads walking around the woods in balaclavas thanks to that clip RTÉ played every other week and I think building associations like that was useful to both politicians paying lip service and others it doesn’t suit to have such ideals catching on.

Aside from the physical force variety it’s useful to let the end goal of a united Ireland become synonymous and all that egalitarian business fall away. High rhetoric about unity & nationalism is enough to make a great republican while you side step the wretchedness in your own back yard. Isn’t it the same story since the start.

The untangling of republicanism (and the rest) from nationalism is probably paradoxically the only route. What does it say for our chances when people are still let away with the 19th C mindset of expecting everything else to fall into place post unity.

Nowadays, and popular conception from what we’re fed. Phoenix, Lookleft & An Phoblacht, with various axes to grind, are probably the only publications covering events. (I have no channels beyond the four Irish ones) Everything else nationally is occasional features around the national question and the usual diet of dissidents, sectarianism etc etc etc

Putting the Alison O’Connor style hostility to one side. Compare the interest in news from Washington, Westminster or anywhere to an hour up the road. People who write books on US Presidents couldn’t name ten MLA.

I would love to see a study of Northern coverage in the Southern press. What does make the papers is through a lens that seeks to present the North as stuck but to me suggests the South has equality difficulty (resistance?) in moving on.

When was the last time you heard a TD south of Longford mention the without being a stick to beat SF?

Enda has his non sequitur with Clare Daly the other week about “doing down the peace process” but it’s his Cabinet for two years who can’t answer a question without the IRA. This is always in contrast to a remarkable seriousness that comes over the chamber when the North past & present is actually on the agenda.

I’ve said it before but Kenny, Martin & Adams are often the only three in there and work in a way not seen on any other matter in Irish politics. Usually directly after leaders questions too which only further highlights the game everyone of them are involved in.

(Though there was a rare scrap today with Boston tapes on the agenda and Gerry able quote Micheál’s calls last week to “not exploit the past” and other tapes….)

Worth a watch while we’re here.

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WorldbyStorm - July 10, 2013

Fantastic comment doctorfive, it’s late so I won’t address it now but a lot to think about there.

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Jim Monaghan - July 10, 2013

The MLA point is true. But in a globalised world we look to Hollywood. Pragmatically you could say that people regard both ” governments” as glorified county councils. The real decisions are taken in the HQs of the allied empires, Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington. Even our mantra of an end of austerity can only happen if these places agree.Oh and our parochial TDs are only worried about constituency matters. Eg Close the hospital somewhere else.
On a general point between JCs time and say the year 300 most of western Europe became Latin speakers. Even now the languages are derived from Latin. Now with TV, Internet etc. a process like this seems to be accelerating. We are being homogenised. We watch the same TV, listen to the same rock stars and watch (not play soccer). But still minority languages and cultures still survive.
My main point is that Republicanism is not and even more so just the 6 counties. It is a struggle for an independent identity in a globalised world. Hence the polls showing support for the language, the growth of Gaelscoileanna, etc.
The official discourse ( I hate this word) negates this. It is fashionable to be cosmopolitan and backward to like say trad. music. I would remind people that nationalism had been replaced we are told in the former USSR by a brotherhood of peoples led by the glorious Russian people. And the reality was somewhat different.

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ceist - July 11, 2013

‘My main point is that Republicanism is not and even more so just the 6 counties. It is a struggle for an independent identity in a globalised world. ‘

In the globalised word to believe that countries might have independent identities is to fall foul of the cosmopolitan fashion. If you go about arguing Jim that Ireland should have an independent cultural identity then how are you going to reconcile that with the idea that your personal definition of being Irish (Irish language, culture, etc) is only one valid expression of Irish identity among possibly hundreds all of which are equal to yours and if you argue otherwise you’ll get pulled up quick and hard.

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7. Gearóid - July 9, 2013

I remember reading Eamonn McCann’s argument that the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday was the highpoint of ’32-county nationalism’ in the South in terms of mass protest, but that the long-term impact of Bloody Sunday was to reconcile the South to partition. Brian Hanley had a piece in History Ireland last year on the South’s reaction to Bloody Sunday arguing much the same thing.

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WorldbyStorm - July 10, 2013

I tend to think that’s true…

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8. Pasionario - July 9, 2013

The reference to “instinct” is interesting because I think this is something Irish people have begun to think about more rationally since the early Seventies. And the rational response, to my mind, is that there is no clear argument in favour of a United Ireland.

Would anyone actually benefit?

Would life be that different from what it is under the status quo?

Would we all be better off being governed by an FG/Unionist coalition (for that is what it would be!) than the current lot?

In all cases, I think the answer is “no”. If anyone would like to explain why it would be “yes”, then I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.

As it stands, one striking thing about recent polling which shows how few people in the North are in favour of a United Ireland is that there are clearly many people who vote Sinn Fein and who also prefer to remain in the United Kingdom. It’s more about community identification within the Northern statelet than it is about supporting Irish unity.

Sinn Fein are actually more comfortable doing politics North of the border than they are down here where they still seem like fish out of water. Just look at Adams!

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sonofstan - July 9, 2013

SF are getting more comfortable with Dail politics and MLM in particular is becoming an excellent public representative. The irony being that this progress involves SF in the 26 become a distinct and in many ways quite different party to what it is in NI.

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WorldbyStorm - July 10, 2013

I guess the counter argument is that class struggle might become more evident in a UI particularly an FG/Ynionist run one. It could hardly be less evident here.

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9. ivorthorne - July 9, 2013

To contextualise the seeming indifference of Southerns to events in the North, one should remember this:

We live in a country where 10,000 people protesting in Dublin is national news, but 10,000 people protesting in Waterford is local news.

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10. rockroots - July 9, 2013

There’s an instinctive patriotism that you can see evidence of in the clip above, but when it comes down to it the same general apathy that has met economic hardships probably applies to the question of Irish unity. There’s also the mainstreaming of the kind of rigid anti-republicanism championed by the likes of the Indo for many many years, and the after effects of the troubles and the Good Friday Agreement have left republicanism as a taboo to the middle-classes and beyond, as if to acknowledge such instincts would be to invite a return to car bombings and mortar attacks. But there’s probably also a mature recognition that a United Ireland would absorb a million or so openly hostile citizens, unless or until such time as there can be cross-community support for the idea.

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11. bjg - July 9, 2013
12. shea - July 10, 2013

its probably easier to be a young drug dealer in a working class area than a young republican, less nonsense of the gaurds from what i can see. Since partition a lot of effort has gone in to not asking the people what they want on the matter, some people point to the removal of article 2 and 3 but that was in a vote on the then status quo versus an alternative. there was no option for a united ireland on the ballot paper.

A lot of people take the same response to a hypothetical united ireland as to every other issue they they don’t get asked their opinion on. you get explinations as to why something won’t happen not why the individual doesn’t want it to happen. its internalized but pops out in counter hegemonics here and there i think.

Fact of the matter is the british government has more guns than the Irish government. they have a monopoly of violence in these islands, this part of the north Atlantic. They are a G8 country that has a habit of being in war. Our government are slightly scared of them. Up to the 50’s and 60’s various FF and FG governments tried to organise international pressure campaigns on the issue based on their mandate, to no avail, the provos tried the long war tactic, to no avail. The brits said they will honour a majority vote in the six counties. Most of the parties accept that position, they dress it up in morals but the real politic of it is the brits have more guns. at some future point we may be at a position where the British bona fides is tested, do they honour the vote. they don’t have to, they have more guns, and the great and the good will scurry to their new position.

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13. Discussing Irish Politics – Or The Lack Thereof | An Sionnach Fionn - July 10, 2013

[…] interesting views expressed underneath a post by WorldByStorm over on the Cedar Lounge Revolution: Do Irish people instinctively understand that Irish unity, independence and sovereignty is in their … The answer of course is how could they when so much of the Dublin media establishment actively […]

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14. Roger Cole - July 10, 2013

The recent arrival to Ireland who is surprised that only self declared Republicans (such as myself) support a united Ireland is probably correct. The overwhelming and dominant ideology in Ireland is the neo-liberal militarist ideology called imperialism. The entire corporate media, including RTE, and all the mainstream parties support the doctrine of perpetual war and our deeper integration into the EU/US/NATO military structures. Even the idea of a United Democratic Irish Republic with its own independent foreign policy with Irish neutrality as it’s key component is is hated by them. However all they have to offer is perpetual war and perpetual austerity. The growing electoral support for those that advocate a United Irish Republic is a clear indication that it is the only alternative to the imperialist values of the EU/US/NATO axis. So our recently arrived friend should not believe that the views he hears are static any more than they were in 1914.

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EWI - July 10, 2013

The entire corporate media, including RTE, and all the mainstream parties support the doctrine of perpetual war and our deeper integration into the EU/US/NATO military structures.

This is true. Anyone who thinks that the love-bombing by NATO officials of recent years is unrequited only needs to look at the steady push in the past decade for NATO-ising the Defence Forces in terms of equipment, training, terminology and – most importantly – ideology.

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revolutionaryprogramme - July 10, 2013

Roger, it would seem from what you have outlined that the vast bulk of the Irish capitalist class are opposed to a united Ireland. How does this impact on growing electoral support for SF – what is their consituency for this? If it is not supported by the Irish capitalists then presumably it is from the working class (and presuambly some petty-bourgeois).

But then how to forensically analyse SF’s electoral support by workers between support for their republicanism and support for their presentation of a left-social democratic alternative to austerity?

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15. Roger Cole - July 10, 2013

In 1914 the vast bulk of the ruling caste supported the British Union & Empire and its commitment to perpetual war. By 1918 the decisive majority of the people rejected imperialism.
Now the EU/US/NATO axis offers perpetual war and perpetual austerity.
In the last few days the ESRI, the main Irish ideological centre of the economic aspects of imperialism supported more austerity while the most obvious militarist aspects is the decision of the EU/US/NATO axis to pour more money & weapons into the Al-Queda dominated rebels in Syria. In response to these policies an increasing number of people are saying they are supporting either SF or independents (nearly 40% according to the latest MRBI poll), most of whom see themselves as being on the left. As the economic crisis continues and the wars escalate this process will continue although the ideological supporters of imperialism will do all they can to prevent it. The key test of support will be next years local and EU elections. Republicans like myself see no difference between opposing imperialist wars and imperialist austerity policies which is why PANA not only opposed the Amsterdam/Nice/Lisbon treaties and the use of Shannon Airport in the axis wars but also helped to establish the Campaign for a Social Europe

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smiffy - July 10, 2013

So “imperialism” supports Al-Quada now? It’s so hard to keep up these days.

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16. Joe - July 10, 2013

As someone who has been around these parts (the “South”, the Republic of Ireland, the 26 counties) for the last 53 years give or take, here’s my answer to your question, RP.
I would say that there is support among a majority of working people for national unity. As in, if you ask people the question “Would you like a United Ireland?”, the majority would say yes. But if you tease it out a little bit, you will find that a majority of people would like that to happen some time in the future and only if it happens by consent and definitely not after, or resulting in, a lot of bloodshed or general strife. People would like a united Ireland, they believe it’s something that should some day come about. But they don’t want to actively campaign for it or force it along in any way.
Moving on to that old canard about people from “the South” who don’t ever or don’t ever want to go to “the North”. I too, at one time in my life, would have been critical of those people. Until the day I spoke about it to someone and they said to me: ” I did visit the North once. It was a lot different than down here. Some places had anti-Catholic graffiti and Union Jacks all over the place. Other places were all tricolours and IRA slogans. There were armed soldiers and police on the streets. I didn’t like it up there. I didn’t feel comfortable.” And then I realised it is plain logical common sense for people in the south to not particularly want to visit the north. Why would you when there’s plenty of other places in the world you can go without experiencing some or all of the unpleasantnesses my friend described to me?
Martin Lynch the Belfast playwright, when he was a member of the WP in the eighties, addressed this in an interview. He said he was pleased when he heard that people in the south didn’t want to hear about or get involved in what was going on up North. He said that people in the south had enough to be fixing down there and let the people in the north fix what needed fixing up there (my paraphrasing of my distant memory of what he said).
That would be my advice, for what it’s worth, to socialists down here. Mind our own garden. There’s enough weeds in it for a lifetime’s work.

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sonofstan - July 10, 2013

Fair point.

There are other countries, not politically divided, where a social and cultural divide exists between parts of the country, and ignorance and prejudice clouds any sense of national unity – Italy, the US (red v blue states) even England. And I guess there’s plenty of Londoners who’ve never been to Manchester. But I guess also the dynamic of that is different where an expressed wish for national unity meets ignorance or lack of interest in the other bit?

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17. irishmarxism - July 11, 2013

Many Irish workers aren’t very good at understanding their own immediate interests and supporting a progressive alternative to austerity that hits them in the face never mind grappling with what longer term or less immediate interests they might share with any sort of struggle in the North. Since there hasn’t been a struggle in the North since RP has lived in Ireland the lack of importance given to what’s called the national question that he has noticed is not at all surprising. It shows the hollowness of nationality in itself, as opposed to democratic struggle. For how deep the division is see my article from last year:

http://irishmarxism.net/2012/09/30/how-deep-is-the-division-created-by-partition/

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