Republicans in Ireland, Remembrance Day events and ‘Reconciliation’?

I suppose there are different things one can say about the supposed ‘united’ Remembrance Day ceremony at the N.I. Parliament in Stormont, Belfast, this week.  Some republicans will wonder what Sinn Féín was doing at a Remembrance Service for fallen British soldiers at all. Some will see this as an attempt by republicans to build bridges with unionists who suffered loss during the Troubles at the hands of republicans. Others will see it as an attempt to develop a ceremony which both nationalists and unionists can attend, which remembers both nationalists and unionists who joined the British Army during WW1 and WW2, sometimes (but not always) for different reasons. The fact that the unionists and the British Secretary of State chose to join in the singing of the British National Anthem despite the obvious embarrassment caused to the republicans present and despite the fact that anthems were not supposed to be played (in a supposed ‘united’ ceremony), shows once again the utter contempt they have for the nationalist and republican perspectives in the North.

Ultimately, all of us in the North have to find a way to live together there (and hopefully eventually also to live together on the island). However, that requires an end to certain things. It requires an end to supremacist thinking and recognition of equality amid our differences. It’s clear that both the British Secretary of State and the bulk of unionist politicians are still not prepared to accept that nationalist and republican perspectives need to be treated with equality and respect in this little statelet. In such circumstances I think all republicans need to reconsider how best to achieve that recognition of equality and indeed the objective of achieving a 32 County state.

In my view that requires, NOT, a reconciliation being republican and unionist perspectives WITHIN a six county entity. What that simply does is water down both perspectives and creates a consensus of the lowest common denominator. In my view, unionism minus its Orange bigotry and sectarian clothes is a legitimate and rational ideology. So is republicanism and socialism. The question is not to try and converge the two but to try to move proponents of one to become proponents of the other. Unionists will eventually realise that they can only maintain the union with Britain by ditching 17th century sectarianism, racism and supremacy and attracting support amongst the descendants of the Catholic Irish in the North and new migrant communities. Republicans will only realise their goal of a united Ireland by republicanising a large section of current opponents of republicanism. That requires the presentation and representation of republicanism as a secular philosophy reflecting the interests of all – regardless of origin, ethnicity or religion –  who live on this island and in particular those most marginalised and dispossessed by the current capitalist system.

As a socialist I also think that republicans and socialists should be using the Remembrance Day events not to insult the families of loved ones who served in the British Army but to educate the population about imperialism, colonialism and neocolonial warfare in the 20th and 21st centuries and how Remembrance Day ceremonies have now become a rallying cry and justification for present day British armed interventions all over the world.

From a republican and socialist perspective, WW1 was an imperialist war. While WW2 could be viewed as a war against fascism, the bulk of other British Army interventions in the world including Ireland, have been colonial or neocolonial in nature. Republicans and socialists need to be saying this to the broader public at this time of year.

I say this while also accepting that there are particular people who occupy particular public roles in society who have to represent all the people – whatever their politics – and this may require them to adopt a non-party political role for various events.  However, that shouldn’t prevent others from articulating a republican and socialist perspective. Indeed in my view that is essential if we are to convince people of the ‘rightness’ of those perspectives.


About Féilim Ó hAdhmaill

Dr. Féilim Ó hAdhmaill is a Lecturer in Social Policy in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork, Ireland. His subject areas are Comparative Social Policy; Conflict Transformation and Peace Building; Community Development and he is Programme Director for the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management. University profile For information on the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management He has a long background working in community and voluntary sector and as a political activist in the North of Ireland. He is a former republican prisoner who spent seven and a half years in prison. He was released from jail in August 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement. He has lectured in social policy at Queens University Belfast and Ulster University and have been a lecturer in University College Cork since 2006.
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