THE HISTORY OF EIRE NUA

THE ORIGIN OF EIRE NUA
In the mid-sixties Daithi O'Conaill, the author of Eire Nua, was involved with a very successful local co-operative venture in Co. Donegal. The co-operative was located in a remote, economically depressed and neglected area, plagued by emigration and unemployment. Working with Fr. McDyer, the founder of the co-operative concept, Daithi realized that local people when given the opportunity and direction could manage and improve the local economy, stem the flow of emigration and improve the quality of their own lives.

During his involvement with the venture Daithi also realized that the physical remoteness of the local people from the center of power in Dublin was directly related to the neglect and hardship suffered by them. This condition was further exacerbated by the psychological barrier created by their forced separation from their neighbors in the six counties of Ulster occupied by the British. The experience of directing, working with and observing local people succeed in managing their own affairs, independent of central authority, had a profound effect on Daithi and was responsible for planting the seeds of the Eire Nua concept in his mind. Nurtured by his political ability and his desire to plan for the future, the seeds took root and blossomed into the concept of a new beginning not just for Donegal and Ulster but also for all of Ireland.

Daithi realized that the first step in creating a new Ireland was the reunification of the nine-county province of Ulster. In expounding on this concept in 1969, he wrote:
By creating a provincial parliament for the nine counties of Ulster, within the framework of a new Ireland the partition system would be disestablished and the problem of the border removed. The Protestant people of Ulster would have a working majority and would have immediate access to power. Furthermore, the devolution of power to the local level would ensure for each community the opportunity to foster its own traditions and culture. Each region and community would have within itself the immediate power to deal with its own social and economic problems. Such devolution of power from one central authority to the people is the essence of democracy. The Nationalist population would be of sufficient strength to ensure a strong and credible opposition within reach of power. For the first time in fifty years we would see a normalization of politics with an end to the domination of one community by another and the resultant frustration and conflict.

In 1969 when war broke out again in Ireland, Daithi was deeply involved with the Republican movement. Prior to the onset of internment in August 1971 he presented his ideas of Eire Nua to the Republican leadership and was subsequently given the green light to proceed. On the 21st of August 1971 at the West Ernan Hotel in Monaghan, with over 500 people anxiously waiting outside in the square, the Leadership of Provisional Sinn Fein publicly announced the Eire Nua program. Historians, local and foreign media and prominent people including Sinn Fein delegates from all over Ireland enthusiastically greeted the birth of Eire Nua.

THE LAUNCHING OF EIRE NUA

In 1967 while Daithi O'Connaill was putting the finishing touches to Eire Nua, an unrelated movement was coming to the forefront in the occupied six counties of northeast Ireland. The non-violent civil rights movement inspired by Martin Luther King took to the streets demanding equality in employment, housing, voting rights, police, and civil rights. These demonstrations were met with violent opposition from Stormont, the Northern Ireland Government. They were attacked and beaten by Unionists mobs led by the police (RUC) and B Specials (militia). Their homes and communities were burned to the ground, many were killed and thousands were forced to flee across the border to the Irish Free State.

One of the most significant marches of this period took place from Derry to Belfast. Bernadette Devlin, a student activist, led it. The marchers were set upon by a frenzied mob of Unionists led by the RUC and B-Specials. This was the first time that the outside world saw the true nature of the Northern Ireland State. The Republican movement was not initially involved in events of this period. However, as the state-led violence escalated against the Nationalists, the IRA was asked for help in defending the communities against the Unionist onslaught. During this same period, while thousands were fleeing across the border, the Irish Free State, notwithstanding its promise of "not standing idly by", did in fact stand by and let the onslaught happen. Meanwhile the IRA, acting in a defensive role, was successful in securing the Nationalist areas.

In the meantime, the British Government poured tens of thousands of troops into the north under the pretext of defending the Nationalist communities against the Unionist mobs. However, the role of the British army soon became evident when they ceased playing the role of "peacemaker" and were instead deployed as security forces" in Nationalist areas. To counter the successes of the IRA in defending these areas, the Stormont Government, on August 9th 1971, with the help of the British army introduced internment without trial. The victims of this pogrom were all taken from Nationalist areas.
During this period the civil rights movement became radicalized as a result of the treatment they received at the hands of the Stormont government. They participated in acts of civil disobedience including anti-internment protest demonstrations. It was on one such demonstration in Derry on Sunday, January 30th 1972 that British paratroopers opened fire, killing thirteen instantly and wounding scores of others. This murder of unarmed demonstrators became known as the Bloody Sunday massacre and in effect signaled the end of peaceful protests and the beginning of war.

Aware of the consequences of the approaching war, the Army Council of the IRA endorsed Daithi O'Connaill's plan for a political solution for Ireland. On August IIth 1971, two days after internment, they issued a statement calling for the setting-up of an alternative form of government for Ulster.


THE PROMOTION OF EIRE NUA

The statement of August 11th 1971, calling for an alternative form of government for the nine counties of Ulster, was the official launching of Eire Nua. One week later on August 18th, Ruairi O' Bradaigh, President of Sinn Fein, issued a statement endorsing the proposals. The statement said that the people of Ulster should proceed to set up a Regional Parliament for the nine counties of Ulster. It continued by saying that the settlement of 1921 that set up both the Stormont and Dublin parliaments was unworkable and against the interests of the Irish people. It called for the dismantling of both statelets to make room for the New Ireland. It concluded by calling on the people of Connacht to consider joining Ulster in setting up their own Regional Parliament.

On August 21st 1971, a convention was assembled in Monaghan to consider the establishment of an Ulster Parliament (Dail Ulaidh). Invitations were sent to a broad spectrum of people including elected officials representing various political viewpoints. All nine counties of Ulster were represented. This convention drew both national and international attention and received major media coverage. Amongst those attending were two Westminster parliamentarians, Frank McManus and Paddy Kennedy. Since these were the only parliamentary level officials present, it was decided that as a first step a council would be set up to promote Dail Ulaidh. Paddy Kennedy and Frank McManus were selected to head up the council. Aided by a constitutional expert from Dublin the council drafted structures for local and provincial governments.

The next meeting of major significance was held in Tuam, the old capital of Connacht. Desmond Fennell and Maura Conlon organized the meeting. Various organizations and individuals attended from all five counties of Connacht. This meeting drew national attention and received major media coverage, as did the meeting in Monaghan. A council was set up for the same purpose as was the council in Ulster and Officers were elected to head it up. Follow-up meetings were held in Tuam, Westport and Drumshambo.

In the spring of 1972 a committee was formed at University College Galway to study the implications of and make recommendations for setting up a federal system consisting of the four provinces. The main question considered was whether Eire Nua was to be set up as a unitary system with regional assemblies or a federal republic with four provincial parliaments. The basic difference highlighted by the committee was that a regional assembly could be suspended at will by the central government, as was Stormont by the British government. On the other hand in a federal arrangement there would be a sharing of powers between the provinces and the center. In this situation the Federal government could not suspend the provincial parliament. The Supreme Court would be the final arbiter in all disputes between the provinces and the center. The latter arrangement was selected by the Leadership of the Republican Movement and is today the basis for the Eire Nua program.


GROWING RESISTANCE TO EIRE NUA

The suspension of the Stormont government by the British government in the spring of 1972 created a political vacuum. It provided a realistic opportunity for the political parties in Ireland to put forward their solutions to achieve a permanent peace for the Irish people. The Irish Republican movement stepped into the breach and continued to politicize the Eire Nua program. A further obstacle was removed when on June 28th 1972 a bilateral truce was called between the IRA and the British government. However, the Dublin government and the various political parties who had paid lip service to Irish unity remained silent and instead resorted to undermining negotiations for peace.

On June 28th 1972 a press conference was held at the Ormond Hotel in Dublin to promote the Eire Nua program. The program was based on the formation of four Provincial Parliaments with a federal Parliament at the center. Media representatives attended the press conference from Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe. Despite attempts to sidetrack the main issue, the Irish Republican representatives managed to highlight their proposal for a new Ireland. They emphasized that their proposals were not definitive or exclusive of other proposals. They also stated that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom would be incorporated in the domestic law of the new Ireland and indicated that the new Ireland would be a complete break with the past.

Due to the ongoing success and growing interest in the Eire Nua program the Dublin government became fearful of its own position of privilege and power and acted against the Republican movement by banning Sinn Fein spokespersons from radio and television. The result was that while the BBC, UTV and other major European networks carried the press conference live, Irish radio and television downplayed the event, thus depriving the Irish people of the opportunity to judge for themselves the merits of the Eire Nua program. Gradually the noose of censorship was tightened and in 1976, Conor Cruise O'Brien made censorship official government policy.

The media in the United States also applied censorship when on a coast-to-coast television discussion among Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans, broadcast from Boston, John Hume advocated and managed to have Ruairi O'Bradaigh's Eire Nua proposals deleted from the program. However, on returning to Ireland, O'Bradaigh stated that during a chance meeting with Mr. Gerry L'Estrange, a member of the 26-County Parliament, who declared that "nobody could take away from your regional government policy, it is very progressive"


UNIONISTS REACTION TO EIRE NUA

During the bilateral talks between the IRA and the British government in 1972, the late Daithi.O'Conaill presented William Whitelaw with a copy of the Eire Nua program. This action by O'Conaill left no doubt as to whether or not the British government was aware of the Irish Republican Movement's intent regarding the Irish question. However, they refused to give the Movement credit for having put forward a sound political solution to the Irish question. The talks themselves ended in failure.

Despite official censorship in the 26-county state, a Council was successfully set up in Munster to promote Dail Mumhan followed by a similar Council in Leinster. In 1973, a Council of Ireland was launched and a number of meetings were held in Athlone to promote the program. Representatives from the four provinces attended the Athlone meetings. During the same period a number of meetings were held throughout Ireland where leaders of the Republican movement discussed the Eire Nua policy with prominent members of the pro-British Loyalist and Unionist parties

At a seminar held in Galway in 1974, Frank McManus M.P. speaking of Eire Nua, stated "there was nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come" and "the only criticism that can be made of Eire Nua, was the source from where it came and that was not a valid criticism"

In the summer of 1974, during the taping of a UTV talk show Sammy Smith of the UDA expressed his concern to Ruairi O'Bradaigh about the changing population (the lower ratio of Protestants to Catholics) in a nine-county new Ulster. Such a comment by a hard-line Loyalist leader, albeit negative, represented fresh thinking on the part of some leaders of the ultra hard-line Loyalist community. More discussions took place with the Rev. Eric Gallagher, a leading Methodist Minister who stated that political scientists in leading universities had analyzed Eire Nua and found no fault with its systems of checks and balances.

In 1976, the Rev. Billy Arklow, who later became Dean of St. Andrews Cathedral in Belfast, arranged for O'Bradaigh to make a twenty-minute presentation of Eire Nua at Queen's University in Belfast, to an assemblage that included leaders of the Protestant community. The presentation was well received as demonstrated by the number and types of questions asked. Harry Murray, Chairman of the Ulster Workers Council, had commented that the Eire Nua program was similar to the Australian system, which is a federation of states that seemed to work well.


THE UNDERMINING OF EIRE NUA

The steady growth of Eire Nua in the mid-seventies was led by the Irish Republican Movement and endorsed by the IRA. This did not deter' pro-British Loyalists and Unionists from becoming involved in direct discussions on the Eire Nua federal policy with leading Irish Republicans, most notably the late Daithi O'Conaill and Ruairi O'Bradaigh.

In 1974, Desmond Boal added his voice to the growing Loyalist opinion favoring Eire Nua. Boal, who was secretary to Ian Paisley, published a statement favoring a two-state federal solution, comprising the 26-county and the 6-county states. While the Republican leadership realized that it was a major step forward to have Loyalists and Unionists come out in favor of British disengagement and a federal solution of sorts, they felt that the two-state federation would not work as they would be eternally at logger- heads i.e. Czechoslovakia. However, discussions continued with Boal and others until the collapse of the Power Sharing Executive.

The large number of publications of that era indicates that the Irish people recognized that there was a solution and that the Eire Nua federal policy was their first choice. Amongst the most prominent publications were, Towards a Greater Ulster, Ireland as a Whole, Take the Faeroes for Example, The Third Republic, A New Nationalism - Desmond Fennell; Ulster the Future - Frank McManus M.P; Shaping a New Society - Emmet O'Connell; Our People our Future - Ruairi O'Bradaigh.

However, there were undercurrents developing within the Irish Republican Movement due to the influx of newcomers, especially in the North. Emerging from these would be the men and women who would lead the blanket protest and give their lives on hunger strike and wage an all-out war for a united Ireland. However, there were also those with personal agendas who viewed the situation as an opportune moment to take control of the Irish Republican movement. These opportunists, aware that the Republican leadership of the day was highly respected because of Eire Nua, campaigned for their gradual removal by undermining Eire Nua.

At the 1980 Sinn Fein Ard-Feis the Belfast leadership, along with branches in Dublin, moved to have the term federalism removed from Sinn Fein policy and replaced with the term maximum decentralization. Daithi O'Conaill later resigned from Sinn Fein, having become the first victim of political cleansing. Daithi later returned as Vice-President of the newly formed Republican Sinn Fein and authored Towards a Peaceful Ireland and Eire Nua - A New Democracy, the updated version of Eire Nua, prior to his untimely death in 1991.


THE REBIRTH OF EIRE NUA

To recap, the late Daithi O'Conaill, one of the leading military strategists and political visionaries of seventies founded Eire Nua. Along with Ruairi O'Bradaigh, President of Republican Sinn Fein, Daithi opened a dialogue with leaders of Loyalist groups in the occupied six counties. Many meetings were held during the Eire Nua promotional campaign of the seventies, but personal ambitions within the Republican movement and opposition from the proponents of the status quo seemed to have buried Eire Nua. In the meantime, we have been dealt initiatives, super initiatives, and now hyper initiatives by the governments in London and Dublin.

The saying that nothing good comes easy can be applied to Eire Nua as it makes a slow comeback, spearheaded by Republican Sinn Fein in Ireland. Again we see a growing awareness of Eire Nua, manifested by more meetings and media attention. Since then a number of significant events have attested to its rebirth. In December 7th 1993 a press conference was held in Belfast to launch the new bilingual Eire Nua program. At the press conference, Ruari O'Bradaigh, in a message to the Unionists, said: that in the context of an English public undertaking to withdraw, the Ulster identity is a legitimate identity which can find expression in a nine-county Ulster parliament with strong local government. The position of each of the four provinces would be entrenched in a new Federal Ireland in a written constitution with complete separation of church and state and a pluralist society. Channel Four and Sky news in Britain reported covered the press conference as did the Irish Times and Belfast Telegraph.

In June of 2000 Bertie Ahern, the 26-county Prime Minister 'damned the Eire Nua program with faint praise' by stating that while Eire Nua had its merits those who promoted it ie; Republican Sinn Fein were suspect because they did not engage in the 'peace process'. Ruairi O'Bradaigh replied by stating that the British had no problem sitting down to discuss the Eire Nua peace plan at the height of the war in the 70's.


THE NIFC ENDORSES EIRE NUA

Since its founding in 1987 the National Irish Freedom Committee (NIFC) has endorsed the Eire Nua program and has been promoting in the United States ever since. The NIFC views Eire Nua as a comprehensive Irish formula for a just and lasting peace in Ireland. This program is in stark contrast to British sponsored 'peace initiatives' such as the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, Sunningdale, Hillsborough and the Good Friday Agreement, all designed to copper-fasten and legitimize British control over the occupied six counties of Ireland.

 

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