EIRE NUA -- A new Democracy
Empowerment of the People
(Cathleen Knowles McGuirk, Vice-President, Republican Sinn Féin, July 1999)
ÉIRE NUA means a new Ireland. I have subtitled this short lecture “Empowerment of the people” because that is what the ÉIRE NUA federal policy is all about.
In any war of liberation which eventually is successful the mistake sometimes made by revolutionaries is the failure to foresee the aftermath of withdrawal by occupation forces from their country. In a climate of confusion it is relatively easy for others to move in and take over the reins of future government.
In the case of Ireland in the current phase of its struggle for freedom in the occupied six north-eastern counties the then Republican Movement in 1972, and at the height of the war, having anticipated just such an eventuality devised a comprehensive political policy called ÉIRE NUA -- New Democracy.
Its main architect was the late Dáithí Ó Conaill, the late Republican leader and Vice-President of Republican Sinn Féin. He saw it as a way of building a pluralist 32-County Republic that would cater for people of all traditions on this island.
The policy called for the establishment of provincial parliaments in each of the four historic provinces of Ireland. These parliaments would work under the co-ordination of a 32-County National Parliament. The detailed proposals for a new four province federal Ireland in a post British withdrawal situation, was aimed at bringing participatory democracy to the Irish people. In other words, empowering the people by moving away from the present over-centralisation of power and placing political power in the hands of the people at the lowest level possible ie Regional Boards, District Councils and Community Councils.
Regional boards would plan and oversee the economic, social and cultural development of areas within their jurisdiction.
District Councils would give people a direct voice in their own local governance ensuring accountability to the electorate.
Community Councils would give the people the opportunity to improve conditions at parish level.
Democracy could even devolve down to street level where representatives would be elected.
The National Parliament, or the Third Dáil, would be representative of the whole of Ireland and would be the supreme national authority acting in trust for the people. It would have responsibility for:
- Irish Foreign policy
- Overall financing
- Irish culture, language and literature
- Maintaining Irish neutrality and seeking to secure a nuclear-free world
The interests of the Irish people would be upheld at all times.
Before this plan for the establishment of a new society in Ireland can be realised, the structures of undemocratic partition rule must be abolished and replaced with entirely new structures based on the unity of the Irish people as a whole.
A new Constitution would be required providing for a Charter of Rights to secure for citizens effective control of their conditions of living, maximum distribution of authority; and the right of Ireland to join International bodies or organisations such as the United Nations.
The protection of Irish sovereignty and neutrality would be of paramount importance.
The articles contained in the Charter of Rights are among the most democratic, liberal and radical to be found. In the event of the Republican Government regaining power these articles would be strictly adhered to and not just lip service paid.
The key aspects to the ÉIRE NUA policy which are the arguments in favour of a Federal Ireland are:
- participation by the people
- addressing the Ulster question
- redressing the economic imbalance in Ireland along East-West lines
When the Republican Movement endorsed this original and radical policy a Press Conference was held at the Ormond Hotel, Dublin, on June 28, 1972 to launch and promote the ÉIRE NUA programme. The Press Conference was attended by media representatives from Ireland, Britain and Europe. Republican Movement spokespersons emphasised 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.
Unionist opinion at the time responded favourably to the proposals.
Due to the ongoing success and growing interest in the ÉIRE NUA programme the Dublin administration became fearful of its own position of privilege and power and acted against the Republican Movement by banning Sinn Féin spokespersons from radio and television, thus depriving the Irish people of the opportunity to judge for themselves the merits of the programme. In 1976 censorship was to become official government policy thanks to Conor Cruise O'Brien.
Even ‘Home Ruler’ John Hume got in on the act when he managed to prevent the ÉIRE NUA proposals being debated on a coast-to-coast television discussion among nationalists, unionists and Republicans broadcast from Boston. He succeeded in having the proposals deleted from the programme.
I mention all of this because people who have read ÉIRE NUA and recognise its significance ask why the proposals for a Four Province Federal solution have not been debated by the Irish people using available fora all these years.
Sadly, in 1981, by a simple majority, the Federal policy was defeated by an Ard-Fheis after an element within Sinn Féin had successfully lobbied to have it abandoned on the grounds that it was a “sop to Loyalism”. We believed at the time that a major mistake was made in the rejection of this policy. There was nothing to replace it and an original, positive and progressive element of policy was thrown away.
Following the ‘split’ of 1986 when, by a majority of nine, Sinn Féin voted to end the abstentionist policy and take seats in Leinster House, Sinn Féin regrouped under the name Republican Sinn Féin and set about adopting once again the ÉIRE NUA policy.
It was updated to its present form in 1990, and promoted widely. Dr John Robb of the New Ireland Group in Antrim, speaking in Dublin in 1991 stated that the most enduring consensus for the most liberating outcome lies in the building of a New Ireland.
ÉIRE NUA presents a clear alternative to both failed political entities. It is obvious that a two-state Ireland has not worked and will not work. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 which partitioned Ireland and left us with an appalling legacy of economic stagnation, emigration in the South and injustice, gerrymandering and discrimination in the Six Counties, in other words the Nationalist nightmare, did not receive the vote of one Irish MP, either Nationalist or Unionist, yet it remains to this day the legal basis for the British presence in this country.
ÉIRE NUA provides a detailed blueprint which incorporates the four historic provinces of Ireland into a new All-Ireland Federal Republic. It also provides for separation of Church and State, and for an independent judiciary. It provides for a system in which all creeds and traditions can be represented and all citizens can exercise real power without any group infringing on the rights of others.
The programme and its structures make it possible to bring together all the positive forces in the country.
ÉIRE NUA will provide the basis for implementing progressive social, economic and cultural policies.
Republican Sinn Féin believes that nationalists and unionists can exist together in peace and harmony, but only if British rule in Ireland is removed. A new future can then be worked out for the benefit of all our people. For ÉIRE NUA to be a meaningful policy it must attract widespread attention and some element of loyalist/unionist support.
There is much talk today of inclusiveness; this programme SHOUTS inclusivity. Don't let us waste any more opportunities to put our programme before the people. We must keep the thrust going by action now!