A Second Republic- Reflections from the Summer School from Tom White


This year’s Summer School event in Tullamore was absorbing and challenging, especially on Day Two when the debate moved to the political future of our island in the light of Brexit. No-one in attendance claimed to know what will develop from the fluid, fraught political problems we are currently faced with North and South. When our brains become overloaded with complexity, there is an all too human tendency to revert to gut instincts – fear, fight and flight. This has been a recurring motif in Irish history and indeed world history. In crisis situations it is difficult to think of long – term solutions.
The Good Friday Agreement came out of a crisis situation. It brought PEACE to Ireland after decades of struggle and suffering, and all sides grabbed the Peace dividend and sighed a mighty sigh of relief. Although the Good Friday Agreement contained many forward – looking aspects, the natural human tendency on all sides was “to let the hare sit” on contentious and challenging issues; these issues have been both home – grown (“Cash For Ash”, Parity of Esteem, Irish Language) or imported, like Brexit. The political institutions underpinning Good Friday have now largely failed (no debates at Stormont); when people give up talking with one another, they generally end up shouting at one another. Most worrying of all, the Peace dividend we so longed for and valued is beginning to look distinctly rocky.
The political leaders of the Loyalist community in Northern Ireland (the DUP) found themselves in temporary nirvana after the last Westminster election. Theresa May failed to secure a majority, and turned to DUP to help govern – a lurch to the right and a blatant act of treachery towards her Conservative long term supporters, the Official Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. For the Tories, the DUP represented “any port in a storm;” so the DUP got the chance to strut the world stage, whilst screwing a few extra UK tax-payer pounds towards Northern Ireland. Stormont has been prorogued, now Westminster has also been prorogued; a bit of a pattern there, perhaps? Maybe the DUP might not be the best coalition partners for anyone to have?
“We are where we are” – the old cliché; but where exactly do we want to go? South of the border, the women and young people of Ireland (and the EU!) have slowly dragged what used to be a deeply conservative nation kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Recent referendum triumphs in the Republic have masked the fact that what has been achieved has been one hell of a struggle for progressives against the innate Catholic conservatism enshrined in the McQuaid-De Valera Constitution of 1937. Whatever the many shortcomings in the current Irish Constitution, it sure beats the dreadful state of affairs at the moment in the UK which has muddled by for centuries of “precedent.”
I believe it would be much better for citizens living south of the border to update and redraft the Irish Constitution to help make it a secular and inclusive document which everyone on the island could ascribe to and support. That one giant stride of progress would circumvent the constant effort of progressives having to fight referendum causes to seek to amend a deeply flawed document. Arriving at a draft for a “Second Republic” will be a complex process, but that process would be greatly enhanced if Loyalists in the North were prepared to have a creative input to its drafting. Why should they do so? Demographics alone suggest that there will soon be a majority of people in Northern Ireland who favour a united Ireland; better surely to influence the outcome of what may well become inevitable than to have a fait accompli foisted upon Loyalists in the North. Better to walk through the door to reunification clear – sighted rather than blindfolded. That’s prudent and rational. That’s not just a polite request to Unionists in the North; the fact of the matter is, progressives in the South need your input and help. The prospect of a United Ireland still has immense traction amongst conservatives South of the border; they will be more inclined to accept clauses which might otherwise be too radical for them if they believe a United Ireland is made more likely by their voting “Yes.”
There’s a lot of challenges out there, North, South, East and West. In the midst of confusion, we can revert to tribalism, to shooting one another, or we can move on to a cooperative, shared future which supports the legitimate aspirations of all the diverse communities which inhabit our island. Let’s choose the latter option, and let’s start the planning and work to put that in place NOW. Planning a Second Republic, with its constitution written from the grassroots up, is what is needed to give comfort and hope in our time of crisis. Let’s draft a new secular Constitution and let’s put that to voters, South and North.