“Más mian linn an tír a athaontú creidim gur chóir dúinn dul isteach arís sa Chomhlathas Briotanach chun é sin a bhaint amach.” [“If we wish to reunite the country I believe we have to go into the British Commonwealth again to achieve that.”]
So said Éamon Ó Cuív, the Twenty-Six County minister for community, rural and gaeltacht affairs, in the relaunch of the Irish language newspaper Foinse last Wednesday [November 18].
That any citizen of a supposedly sovereign state would publicly advocate re-entering the structures of an empire that had done so much damage to their nation in the past is startling enough. That a government minister and senior member of the so-called Republican Party would do so is, frankly, jaw dropping.
Éamon Ó Cuív as a government minister in the ‘Republic of Ireland’ has an obligation to defend and uphold the constitutional status quo he was elected into. Yet, here he is, as a member of a self-proclaimed republican party no less, stating his belief that Ireland as a whole should re-enter an organisation of states that has an unelected monarch at its head in order to gain some semblance of national unity.
Ó Cuív has form on this issue; in 1994, the grandson of Éamon de Valera proposed that the Twenty-Six Counties rejoin the British Commonwealth as a sop to unionism.
It would be unimaginable for a serving government minister in any other part of the world to argue for the state he was elected to serve to become subservient to another.
However, neither the Twenty-Six County government, the Fianna Fáil party, nor the media has had anything to say about Ó Cuív’s sensational statement.
For socialist republicans, the origins of such statements are clear. The Good Friday Agreement, the St Andrew’s Agreement and the pacification process that led to them were about normalising the British government’s involvement in Ireland. The dropping of Articles 2 & 3 from the Twenty-Six County Constitution, despite their purely rhetorical value, was about facilitating this normalisation.
For decades, cranks, died-in-the-wool reactionaries and a smattering of southern establishment-type unionists have been proposing measures such as the Twenty-Six Counties rejoining the British Commonwealth. Two decades of normalising the British occupation has given these anti-democratic proposals a veneer of respectability and allows Dublin government ministers to promote them unafraid of any backlash.
In an interview in 1999, the veteran socialist republican and civil rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey made this point in relation the political establishments, north and south: “I would not even be surprised if some years down the line, we re-enact the Act of Union and we see the south going back into the commonwealth, and they will all be ministers under the crown.”
In the Six Counties, however, Britain’s involvement in Ireland remains as abnormal and nasty as ever. As reported previously by éirígí (PSNI Repression on the Rise), the PSNI is stopping & searching an average of 110 people every day under repressive legislation, MI5 spooks are going into overdrive and at least one British army regiment is back on a war footing. Only this week, it was admitted that the Special Reconnaissance Regiment worked hand-in-glove with the PSNI in an undercover operation in Fermanagh last Saturday which culminated in a number of shots being fired by the occupation forces.
At a time when Irish republicans are consistently accused of having no alternative to the status quo, it is astonishing to hear a senior politician suggesting that a meek request to re-enter Britain’s ‘family of nations’ would somehow solve the centuries-old problem of British state repression and divide and conquer tactics. In reality, such a move would be a backward step for democracy and progress in Ireland.
Of course, Éamon Ó Cuív is not alone in hankering after the trappings of someone else’s long-gone empire. On Thursday [November 26], the former governor of the Bank of Ireland, Laurence Crowley, was made a ‘Commander of the British Empire’ [CBE] by the British ambassador in Dublin Julian King.
King said Crowley was ‘honoured’ because he “epitomises all that is good about North-South relations and the close links between the UK and Ireland”.
What Crowley really “epitomises” is an ability among the political, economic and cultural establishment of the Twenty-Six County state not to rock the boat or speak out in the face of partition, a military occupation and the imposition of an apartheid state by the British government in the North.
The common class interests of the Twenty-Six County and British establishments help to smooth over any small differences they may have and allow notions such as joining the Commonwealth to take root.
Laurence Crowley, for example, would have been delighted by this week’s decision by the British Supreme Court to allow banks to continue speculating and profiteering off the backs of ordinary customers in order to subsidise its preferential arrangements for wealthy and business clients.
At a time when another group of Irish reactionaries were trying to protect British interests in Ireland, the socialist republican Liam Mellows noted simply that the Irish Republic stands for the interests of labour and the working class, while the Free State stands for the protection of capital and exploitation.
Those who dream of the ‘Commonwealth’ and royal awards and visits have chosen their side, the rest of us must make the argument for the Republic.