Forty Years of Éire Nua
Seán Ó Brádaıgh
The French Revolution in the late 18th century
challenged the divine right of monarchs and introduced the
concept of the sovereignty of the people, expressed through a
Republican form of government. This idea of democracy has been
accepted and developed in many countries since that time.
It took decades for
France herself to accept that the Rights of Man she proclaimed
extended to black people in her colonies and women did not get
the vote in France until 1945. Our own 1916 Proclamation had
already guaranteed votes for women on an equal basis with men.
Whether by revolution
or evolution, change comes slowly, as ordinary people, some of
them visionary, struggle to achieve liberty and equality through
fraternity, most times against powerful and selfish interests.
Democracy involves not just rights but also duties and
responsibilities. Without taxation there can be no public
services, for instance.
Democracy works best at the local level, where
people can identify with their own local community. On the
larger scale, people of the same nation have a sense of a common
national identity and can accept laws which might seem
restrictive but which are necessary for the common good.
In Ireland we were
colonised and have maintained a stout resistance and sought to
establish our national rights over many centuries. This
struggle is not yet over. There is still foreign rule in six of
our 32 counties, and England must be persuaded to withdraw and
let the people of all Ireland rule themselves.
The freedom struggle
is complicated by the alienation, deliberately fostered by
English divide and conquer tactics, of a powerful and
substantial number of people from the idea of a 32-County Irish
Republic. They are mostly Protestants.
The aggressive and
even brutal tactics of the British army on the streets of the
North and the introduction of internment in August 1971 changed
the nature of what was a campaign for civil rights into a
renewal of the freedom struggle – an outright war against
Shortly after that, the Republican Movement launched its Dáil
Uladh initiative. It sought not merely a British withdrawal
from Ireland, but a united province of Ulster within a free and
united Ireland. A nine-county parliament would still have a
Unionist majority, of about 5% and would have considerable
power, more than the Stormont six-county state ever had. A
conference was held in Monaghan and attracted much interest and
set up Comhairle Uladh to promote this novel idea.
The other three
provinces joined in and soon the comprehensive object of a
four-province federal Ireland was developed and given the simple
title of ÉIRE NUA. In a federal system power and even
sovereignty are shared between the national state and its
A number of supportive
and idealistic people outside of Sinn Féin contributed to the
Éire Nua project and helped to promote it. Federal states as
big as the US, Canada and Germany and as small as Switzerland
were studied carefully. Sinn Féin activists were provided with
literature which explained how such federal systems were
successful in some of the best-run countries in the world which
have different languages, cultures and religions.
This was not an easy
task, nor is it now, as all the powerful interests who have a
stake in the old system, the political and other elites, always
resist change. The following is a good example of this
When British Prime
Minister, Harold Wilson, quietly suggested in 1974 that he would
consider a withdrawal from the Six Counties a grand coalition of
the Unionists, SDLP, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour asked him
to drop the idea, which he did. This is recorded by Garret
FitzGerald in his memoirs and by Merlyn Rees, MP, in a letter to
The Guardian, 19th July, 1983.
He wrote: “The option
of withdrawal was seriously considered in Cabinet sub-committee
between 1974-76. As Secretary of State I was firmly against
such a policy and was supported by the elected Irish government
in Dublin, the SDLP, … ….’” The sub-committee was chaired by the
The core value of Éire Nua is power to the people
and that places it in opposition to the over-centralised modern
states, even some nominally federal states.
As we have seen in
recent times, many states now play a subservient role to the
interests of the faceless people of big business and
international capital. And governments run scared before
powerful media corporations. Such states and their governments
thus betray the interests of their own citizens.
The European Union
came into being, and Irish people voted in a series of referenda
to weaken national defences and thus enable transnational
capital to have a free rein. We now live with the consequences
of this and we need to proclaim the sovereignty of the people
The partition of Ireland in 1922 created not one, but two
unnatural entities, not just a “Protestant parliament for a
Protestant people” in the Six Counties, but also a Catholic
state in the 26 Counties.
The Unionist majority
in the North behaved very badly in their gerrymandering of
electoral boundaries and in discrimination against the
minority. The, mostly hidden, hand of the Orange Order was
behind serious civil rights abuses. Westminster consistently
refused to intervene and the whole thing blew up in all our
faces in 1969. This would not have happened in a 32-County
pluralist Ireland which guaranteed equal rights and equal
opportunities to all her citizens.
The same unnatural
partition affected the 26 Counties also. A 32-County state with
its balance of different religions could hardly have brought
about the controversy over the appointment of a Protestant
librarian in Co Mayo in 1931; the banning of Edna O’Brien’s
short novels; the hounding from office of Dr Noel Browne,
Minister for Health in 1951; the scandals of the Magdalene
Laundries and the Industrial Schools, for examples.
Republicans have never advocated the achievement of a united
Ireland by adding the Six Counties to the 26, under either the
1922 or the 1937 Constitution. We have never proposed or
recommended a 32-County Free State. We have never accepted
either state but seek to restore the All-Ireland Republic which
was overthrown in 1922.
If the Unionists
perceived their possible fate as incorporation into an extended
26-County state, as advocated by some Northern nationalists,
then they were probably right to decline the invitation. Their
attitude in this respect is at least understandable, but their
treatment of the minority was shameful and unworthy of the
descendants of the first Irish Republicans of the 1790s period.
Republicans of today have not succeeded, alas, in making plain
what their objective is, a totally New Ireland with power to the
provinces, regions and districts.
One Unionist, David Adams, writing in the Irish Times on
3rd December 2009, criticised the failure of nationalist or
republican Ireland to propose a blueprint for a united Ireland.
“Clarity is what the
people of Northern Ireland (sic) need.
“Those who believe
that, if it comes to it, the six Northern counties could simply
be tacked on to the Republic (sic), and Unionists would fit
neatly in with a 32-County version of how things are in the
South at present, are kidding themselves. That would be a
recipe for perpetual instability across the island.”
He criticised the
Provos (Adams and McGuinness) for having no more than a
half-baked notion of how to get a united Ireland, and then
“In fairness to Sinn
Féin (sic), none of the southern-based political parties has
been forthcoming with anything like a detailed post-unity plan
“The Éire Nua document,
authored by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill in the 1970s,
remains the only serious bid by any strand of nationalism or
republicanism to address the issue at all.”
Indeed, the Éire Nua proposal is the only one in which Unionists
have ever expressed an interest.
Adams-McGuinness faction declared Éire Nua to be merely “a sop
to Unionists” and got the 1981 Ard-Fheis of Sinn Féin to drop it
as a policy, and a subsequent Ard-Fheis to delete all reference
to a federal Ireland from the Sinn Féin constitution, Ruairí Ó
Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill stood down from the the
leadership. They were not going to renege on something they had
created and in which they believed passionately.
breaching of the Sinn Féin constitution by Adams-McGuinness in
1986 the newly reorganised Sinn Féin Poblachtach redrafted and
republished Éire Nua. It has remained a core policy since and
has been supplemented by the SAOL NUA Social and Economic
The men and women of the First Dáil Éireann (1919) and the
Second Dáil Éireann (1921) were leaders of a brilliant and
exceptional generation of Irish Republicans. They set up an
administration with government departments, local government, a
police service and courts of law and fought a war of
independence. The pace must have been hectic.
It was not until the
1970s, however, that Republicans formulated a proposal that
would clearly outline structures of government that would
guarantee the rights of Unionists, who were afraid of being
swallowed up in an all-Ireland state, and that would give them
access to real power. And this real power would be accessible
to every community in all four provinces.
Some research needs to be done now to discover if
the Unionists would still have a majority in a nine-county Dáil
Uladh, given the population changes since 1971. Irrespective of
how the figures would come out, however, they deserve nothing
less than their full rights and access to real power. Their
place in an Irish Republic was bought dearly in their own blood
in the Rising of 1798 and we need them and they need us.
Might not the Irish banks be in better shape now
if there had been some God-fearing Presbyterians in the upper
echelons of management? And more women too? A blend of the
better characteristics of the different strands of Christianity
could be a refreshing, progressive and formidable force for
good. A combination of the Protestant Ethic and the Catholic
There is also another
major element emerging. The Scots, Welsh, Cornish and even
English nationalities or nationalisms are asserting themselves
once more. The ties which bind the “Union” are fraying, a
certain momentum is building up and we all need to be planning
for a better future. What better basis on which to build than a
free, united, federal Ireland of over six million people?
Éire Nua includes a Draft Charter of Rights and the right of
Petition or Initiative. This right of Initiative is much used
in Switzerland. It is a constitutional modus operandi
whereby a referendum can be resorted to on an issue of
importance if a sufficient number of signatures are collected. This can be done at local, provincial
or national level. Issues like Shell to Sea or the M3 motorway
near Tara come to mind. This is direct participative democracy
at work, as distinct from representative democracy.
For all this to work
smoothly and satisfactorily we need a good system of education
which encourages young citizens to think things through and
develop their critical faculty, rather than learning material by
heart in order to gain points.
Ireland, as a nation, has many other resources too. She has
some of the finest land and fisheries in Europe. She could feed
Europe with organic food.
She has an ancient
history and culture and a potentially high productive capacity.
In retrospect, the only problem with Éire Nua was
that it was produced by the “wrong” people, those who have been
labelled disturbers, subversives, dissidents and terrorists –
all undesirables in the eyes of the Establishments. Yet, it has
been admired and praised by many scholars and academics. It
needs some new maps, particularly in light of the results of the
2011 local elections in the Six Counties. It also needs to be
The old order is being
questioned more and more, people are receptive to new ideas and
the circumstances are opportune again.
There is also a Plan
B, as there should always be, because Sinn Féin Poblachtach says
in a footnote to the Programme:
“The above proposals
are not definitive; they can and inevitably will be modified.
Sinn Féin Poblachtach would in fact welcome constructive
of these proposals.”
This then is the Éire Nua programme. But how do we get it put
on the agenda for creating a New Ireland, fashioned by the
people of Ireland themselves? This can best be done by
convening a Consultative Assembly, representative of all shades
of opinion in all 32 Counties. Sinn Féin Poblachtach would
bring Éire Nua to this Consultative Assembly as its proposal, in
the hope that it, or some version of it, would prove acceptable.
Such a Consultative
Assembly will never be convened without the build-up of a public
demand for it. Bringing this about calls for a mighty campaign
among the Irish people. This is an admirable and worthy task.
The alternative is a continuation of the running sore of the two
artificial states with all the consequences we know all too
well, civil strife, unemployment and emigration.
Sinn Féin Poblachtach is shouting STOP and is
presenting a viable, feasible alternative, ÉIRE NUA – A New
Seán Ó Brádaıgh