29 November 2010

to the unfettered control of Irish destinies

It is now just over 48 hours since over 50,000 people gathered in the icy cold white and grey of Wood Quay and marched across the Liffey, up along its northern bank and onto O'Connell Street to gather around the monument to Jim Larkin, leader of the greatest strike the nation has ever seen, and in front of the GPO, symbolic birthplace of an independent and sovereign Irish Republic. Over 50,000 voices raised in protest and anger, over 50,000 hearts and minds in search of something better, fairer and more just for themselves and for their brothers and sisters. 50,000 citizens coming together on a cold November morn to claim their future, claim their nation, and to claim their dignity.

But what, if anything, was achieved?

The sheer scale of the event was the first victory. With two notable exceptions, the union day of protest in February 2009, and the USI-organised national student march earlier this month, few recent protests could deservedly be called a success in terms of participation. As our country suffers what we now know to be one of the greatest economic collapses in modern history, the populace has been noticeable by its absence. France was brought to its knees by the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62, ours will climb to 66 within four years and nobody has batted an eye. Greece erupted in flames when their government signed up to a rescue plan with a punitive interest rate, our leaders lied about the existence of a rescue plan, the nature of the plan and the scale of the plan (today we learned that by 2015 at least 20% of our annual tax intake will go on servicing the interest alone on this plan, and we are willing to sacrifice almost our entire National Pension Reserve Fund in the process). Until Saturday the silence that greeted these lies was deafening.

The UK media all pegged the numbers attending the march at around 100,000. RTE, under fire from the government over unwarranted accusations of a hostile bias, adopted the official Garda tally of 50,000. My own estimate would be somewhere north of 70,000, perhaps as high as 80,000, based on the length of the march in comparison to that of February 2009, which is generally acknowledged to have been well over 100,000 strong. My sister was unable to make it out of Waterford that morning given the horrendous weather conditions throughout much of the country, and her story was echoed across the airwaves. Had the nation not been blanketed the night before by a freak snowstorm, who knows how large the rally would have been?

The second observation was that valuable and all as the march was, the general sentiment was that this needs to be the start, not the culmination, of wider unrest. Despite the odd cry of 'solidarity' and 'unity before union politics', Union leaders speaking at the rally were almost entirely drowned out by booing from the ordinary rank and file union members, castigating their leaders for excessive salaries and being altogether too close to the political leadership whom they were supposedly marching against. The calls for their resignation rang out loud and strong from members waving placards calling for a national strike. With the upraised arms of Big Jim above them there was no doubt in my mind that the workers around me will take matters into their own hands soon if their unions' leadership aren't seen to take a more active and aggressive stand against the Government's proposed austerity measures. There is a great anger out there, and the danger is that if the unions and mainstream opposition parties cannot channel it effectively, more radical groups like Sinn Féin and éirígí will.

The third victory, and possibly the most important one, relates directly to these two groups, and others of their ilk. As regular readers will know, I can be accused of being many things, but a Republican is not one of them. Growing up in a household where the veneration of Michael Collins approached idolatry, in a time when a small group of murderers wrapped themselves in tricolours and committed atrocities in the name of an imagined nationalism, and with the governments of the last 23 years masking their corruption with appeals to patriotic fervour, the idea of celebrating a sense of historical or national pride either publicly or privately has never sat comfortably with me. For me Republicanism has always been the embodiment of the very worst that our nation has to offer.

The staging of the rally portion of Saturday's protest outside the GPO was a deliberate attempt to reclaim our history away from the twin depredations of the violence of the paramilitaries and the corruption of the Fianna Fail machine. Hosted by Fintan O'Toole, whose latest book "Enough is Enough" captures the growing mood throughout the country that our current Constitution and political system is no longer fit for purpose and that we need to replace our economic, political and social systems with ones based on notions of equality and social justice, Saturday's rally echoed calls for the birth of a new republic, a Second Republic, and did so by publicly reclaiming two foundation documents of the first Republic, beginning with the Democratic Programme of 1919 that affirms:
"It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland.

The Irish Republic fully realises the necessity of abolishing the present odious, degrading and foreign Poor Law System, substituting therefor a sympathetic native scheme for the care of the Nation’s aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation’s gratitude and consideration. Likewise it shall be the duty of the Republic to take such measures as will safeguard the health of the people and ensure the physical as well as the moral well-being of the Nation.

It shall be our duty to promote the development of the Nation’s resources, to increase the productivity of its soil, to exploit its mineral deposits, peat bogs, and fisheries, its waterways and harbours, in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people."
a statement whose poignancy and relevance to our current economic hardships was evident to every citizen standing in the crowd.

The greatest moment of the day though, and certainly the one which took me completely by surprise, was when Ruth McCabe stood up and read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. I have never paid much attention to the Proclamation, filing it away with other historical items of an unsavoury nature, tainted by their appropriation by extremists, murderers and the morally corrupt. As she stood on the podium, emotion welling in her voice, I found myself transfixed by each and every line, by the promise and commitment to social justice contained within:
"We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past."
On this icy grey afternoon, with flurries of snow still falling around me and the colder wind from the IMF at our backs, with 50,000 of my fellow citizens standing at my shoulder and the voice of a lone woman echoing along streets silent save for a thousand lips in quiet mirroring words first uttered on that self same street 94 years ago, the tears rolled down my cheek and I felt, for perhaps the first time in my life, a sense of pride in the history of my nation, a connection to the struggle that birthed our country, a belief in the value of the republic.

But not this republic. Not the republic that exists in name only, owned by the few and exploiting the many, whose name is used to justify murder and extortion and locks us all away in a prison of conservatism and dogma. Not the republic of Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail, of Dev, Haughey and Bertie or the Catholic Church. Not the republic that is, but the Republic that is yet to come.

I believe in this Republic, The Second Republic. And Saturday marked the first step towards its birth.

The centenary of the Proclamation will fall within the lifetime of the next Government. The drafting of a new Constitution, a successor to the 1937 document that will be fit for purpose in a modern, secular nation in the 21st century and with social justice and equality as its cornerstone, should be a priority for any incoming government, with the ultimate goal of delivering a new proclamation, the Proclamation of the Second Republic, in 2016.

If there is any good to come from the pain we are to suffer over the next five years, this must be it. A new nation, a fair and equitable nation, a nation created by, with and for all of its citizens.

A Second Republic.

Video of the rally by Digital Revolutionaries

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