The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

One Republican Party

An argument made for republicans forming a single party for the island

Dr John Coulter • 23 May 2005

Republicans across the island should lend an ear to the present separate political debates taking place amongst the Left in Britain and Northern Unionism on the concept of party unity.

The General and local council elections in the North have placed Sinn Fein firmly in the middle ground as the main voice of Northern nationalism.

It may not have delivered the same electoral annihilation to the moderate SDLP in the same way Ian Paisley's DUP hammered Ulster Unionism, but it has confirmed Sinn Fein's place as the lead negotiator of the nationalist cause.

The muddied waters of 'who speaks for Northern nationalists' is now crystal clear - last year's European election victory over the SDLP was not a 'one-off fluke'.

The republican movement should use this new, reinforced mandate not simply to advance the peace process, but to further strengthen the concept of the pan-nationalist front throughout the island.

One immediate tactic it should deploy is for Sinn Fein to outflank the DUP by dropping its ban on MPs taking their Westminster seats. The stumbling block has always been the oath of allegiance, but in this respect Sinn Fein needs to listen closely to the sound advice of one of the great stalwarts of the Left, Tony Benn.

The abstentionist policy may have been central to the republican electoral strategy in 1918 when Sinn Fein clinched the majority of Irish seats when the entire island was ruled by Britain.

However, the time is right for the republican movement to prove it is a truly democratic nationalist party like the Scottish National Party.

Just as the DUP needs to deliver on power-sharing with nationalists, so too Sinn Fein can shake off the perception it is merely the IRA Army Council's wee political puppet by having the vision to scrap abstentionism and take the oath at Westminster.

Practically, it is not being asked to take any other oath which is different from that taken by the Left or nationalist MPs, or indeed any future radical Islamic movement MPs.

Historically, supposedly true republicans are as much opposed to the Dail in Dublin as they are to British rule in the North. Yet Sinn Fein TDs sit in Leinster House and participate fully in debates to such a degree the party could become a serious contender for coalition government with Fianna Fail after next year's Southern General Election.

Republicans should remember the impact which a young Bernadette Devlin made in 1969, when as a Unity candidate, she won the Mid Ulster Westminster by-election and took her seat in the Commons.

She did almost as much to highlight and progress the republican cause at Westminster than a generation of Provisional IRA bloodshed on Northern streets. As things currently stand, many republicans are asking themselves the question - did IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands MP die so Sinn Fein could agree a deal to make Ian Paisley the de facto Prime Minister of a partitionist parliament at Stormont?

This question has been the key one in fuelling the growth of the militant dissident republican cause in Ireland, as espoused by the Real and Continuity IRA's and political movements such as Republican Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein needs to convince its ranks and file supporters that a purely democratic strategy will take the movement closer to the historical goal of a 32-county, socialist republic.

Sinn Fein needs to look to the example of Eamon de Valera. As a vehement anti-Treaty activist, he lost the Civil War. But he became leader of the South by joining Fianna Fail and going into democratic government. Now that Sinn Fein has moved from the perceived 'extremes' to the middle ground of Northern politics, it is imperative abstentionism is ditched otherwise it will become a Biblical mill stone around Sinn Fein's neck.

Speaking of Biblical mill stones, there is also the real danger Paisleyism's highly volatile fundamentalist clique could become the DUP's Achilles' Heel. The Sinn Fein leadership can outgun the Paisleyites by confronting them on their newfound 'home turf' - the Chamber floor of the House of Commons.

On the Provisionals' side, they need to transform the IRA into an old comrades' group known as the Irish Republican Association. Eventually, too, Sinn Fein once it is totally democratic could merge with the SDLP to become a united, single movement known as The Republican Party of Ireland.

Long-term, Ireland should have only one republican party. In the South, Fianna Fail pushed the ethos of 'The Republican Party'. Now is the time to start building the foundations of transforming the pan-nationalist front into this single republican party.

Fianna Fail needs an all-Ireland credibility. Sinn Fein needs a democratic credibility free from the perceptions of criminality. The SDLP needs to maintain its middle class power base.

In terms of mergers, the time has come to unite all three nationalist movements - not into a 1974 loyalist-style Unionist Coalition, but into a single party wedged firmly in the Catholic middle class and ensuring the working class never feel the need to return to armed struggle.

Maybe the time has also come, for the sake of republican unity, not simply to transform the IRA into an association, but also to consider the unthinkable - mothballing the title 'Sinn Fein' itself.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

31 May 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Justice is the Right of All Our Victims
Gemma McCartney

Quis Separabit? The Short Strand/Markets UDA
Anthony McIntyre

Civil Law as an Instrument of Resistance
Peter Mason

A Salute to Comrades
Dolours Price

Behaviour of Young Gets Worse
David Adams

Recognising Similarities, Delivering for the People
Mick Hall

One Republican Party
Dr John Coulter

Venezuela: A Common Brotherhood
Tomas Gorman

May Day versus Loyalty Day
Mary La Rosa

One Eyed Morality
Anthony McIntyre

Lying in Wait for the Dutch Tsunami…After the French Earthquake

Michael Youlton

22 May 2005

How Those In Power Respond
Anthony McIntyre

Seeking Clarity — And Safety
Justice for Jimmy Campaign

Behind the Betrayal
Philip Ferguson

Self-Deception and Distortion
Tomas Maguire

Civil Case/Witch Hunt
N. Corey

No Entry
Anthony McIntyre

The Moral Reason Never to Tell
Dr John Coulter

Venezuela: Beginning to Borrow Some Revolution
Tomas Gorman

Dangerous Drugs
Sean Fleming

Rebel City
Liam O Ruairc



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