Addressing Contradictions in the Border Poll PositionYFU Admin
Yes For Unity – Addressing contradictions in the Border Poll position
The Good Friday Agreement heralded a new era in the same old pattern of the decade’s long denial of sovereignty to Ireland by Britain. 1998 saw the enforced normalisation of British occupation upon working class communities in the North and the slow managed splintering of anti-imperialist grassroots political and military opposition to our own national servitude.
Republican Socialism actively opposed the Good Friday settlement on a street level, openly campaigning and canvassing for a ‘No’ vote in the mouth of the GFA referendum as best as resources allowed for at the time.
Republican Socialists viewed the Good Friday Agreement as a simple pacification process, designed to manage the continued copper fastening of the British occupation here while framing the working-class struggle for national liberation and socialism as a sectarian problem. The current political situation (the fruits of Good Friday) at its centre criminalises that legitimate aspiration for Irish Unity and socialism and is not something we support.
Reflecting on the outcome of the GFA, we see today how republican political opposition to the GFA stayed for the greater part in the shadows; in many circumstances principled republicans let themselves be marginalised from popular political feeling, which in turn allowed state forces and the media to carry out intensive Machiavellian manoeuvres designed to isolate and control republican progress.
Elements within the Irish Unity community, who opposed the Good Friday Agreement on a matter of principal, often failed to recognise that our own worst enemy lived between our ears. Decades of seemingly unsurmountable division followed, along with perpetual false dawns, internal oppression and self-isolation, leading us to the position wherein – in the context of the oncoming national debate on Irish Unity – working class republicanism (the element which sacrificed most for Irish Unity), may well be left with no voice in the event of a United Ireland.
The Working class must be heard
Working class aspirations from all around Ireland must be heard however, not least in a situation wherein middle-class interests and business lobby groups are vying to maintain the centre position in the Irish Unity debate. The least that the Republican Left can do in this situation is to demand and ensure that during any national debate on Unity, a rights based people’s constitution that enshrines the concept of cherishing all of the children of the nation equally within a Sovereign Irish Republic is the preferred outcome. A guaranteed Irish National Health Service, National Housing Service, Universal Free Education up to 3rd level and the maintenance of National Sovereignty over our budget our territory and matters of defence, such demands can and should be made a staple demand for the united Ireland envisaged by the wider Irish Unity Community.
During any future transition into a united Ireland, basic working-class demands must be constitutionally protected, and we must begin work on demanding this as a red line condition immediately. A rights-based peoples constitution that guarantees freedom from all forms of exploitation and oppression must be promoted within the Irish community today as the preferred outcome in any post Unity situation tomorrow. This is the vision that will deliver a worthwhile Irish Republic, and which can act to rally our people to campaign to that end on the road to referendum.
If any opportunity exists to address the national question non-violently and through a peaceful referendum process it must surely be embraced, this is as revolutionary a position as any that espouses armed struggle, vulnerable working class communities must be defended, not least from the hardships and heartaches of revolutionary war with no mass support.
Telling the truth
Via the open and unapologetic embracing of Seamus Costello’s doctrine of Guerrilla politics, the wider ‘Yes For Unity’ initiative had freedom to manoeuvre and engage with varied elements within the Irish Unity debate as much or as little as we saw fit in light of our overall Republican Socialist objectives.
We view a referendum process as the most likely mechanism that will deliver an end to partition in our country, furthermore we have the maturity to recognise that a ‘Border Poll’ is the most likely scenario through which such a referendum will emerge. We reiterate our position that an “agreed Ireland” which rests all political and economic power in the hands of anti-working-class forces can never be an alternative substitute for a sovereign and socialist Irish Republic.
Whatever the eventual Unity referendum mechanism looks like will be a matter for debate and prediction that cannot be nailed down by idealist thinkers today. The only nailed down framework for calling a unity referendum, as of today, exists vaguely within the Good Friday Agreement; the ‘Border Poll’, which envisages a six-county based referendum on Irish Unity followed by a 26-county referendum on the same theme.
Knowing the above to be a simple and evident reality, we call the existing situation as it is, not how we would like it to be. The ‘Tá Power document’ (a staple guidebook for modern republican socialist activists) states clearly that “we must not go out to deceive the working class”, if we see a ‘Border Poll’ as being the most realistic and likely scenario that will emerge on the road to Irish Unity, we must state this openly, without fear of criticism or accusations of heresy; the working class will not be fooled by attempts to insinuate some alternative political reality, however well meaning.
Republican Socialists genuinely and fearlessly outlined this position on a Border Poll in 2016; via the policy document document “Britain Out of Ireland, Ireland Out of the EU”, which advocated a position that is ,unfortunately, often deliberately misrepresented as giving full support for the civic nationalist vision of an ‘Agreed Ireland’, a simple cursory glance at the document puts the lie to this accusation.
Confronting Big House Nationalism
‘Big house nationalism’ (some may include big house Republicanism) are today crafting a process that will most likely exclude the possibility of putting a rights-based people’s constitution at the centre of any transitional process towards a united Ireland. We Republican Socialists have a duty to the communities that bore the weight of the armed struggle however, not to let such districts degenerate into the impoverished ghettos that Britain and Free state are currently happy to see emerge.
There are many powerful ideas and many potential strategies to be found amongst the people of our districts, around the future modelling of Irish society and around how things should look; our communities must be empowered and made powerful enough to platform such voices for change in a post Irish unity 32 county socio economic framework. Such a process is vital if working class interests are not to be left behind in a process which is fast being monopolised by tendencies who wish just that.
Yes For Unity by taking our case to towns and villages across Ireland have been working extremely hard to provide just such a platform.
We could have chosen to simply continue with echo-chamber conversations and criticisms of the above process instead; to hold on to the sure and steadfast positions of the last century as if they were wholly representative of things as they are today, indeed this would most likely have been the easier option, certainly in the short term.
But the cost of such a static position would have been to ultimately let our long suffering communities sit stagnant, with no strategy or hope for change of any sort and a dearth of vision in the face of despair, of suicide and prescription drug epidemics, poverty, unemployment and rampant anti-social behaviour, the legacy of the defeated post conflict era; we could do this, or we could agitate so loudly that working class demands (North & South) could not be ignored.
The contradiction addressed
Republican Socialists are fully aware that an ideological contradiction exists within the dynamic that sees us promote a future referendum as a path for progress. Britain (via their ‘triple lock mechanism’) deliberately designed things that way, just as they designed events in order to leave us with the litany of contradictions in many areas; however Seamus Costello’s doctrine of Guerrilla politics allows us to outflank that contradiction, to dip our toe into constitutional waters or take it out again as required by tactics and logistics, the blatant stating of the fact that we owe our occupier no courtesy or consistency (and will give him neither), this is the ultimate revolutionary strategy and we have faith in it. Should it suit Republican Socialist objectives to withdraw from the referendum position (either before or after), we would do so in a heartbeat and without regret.
Whether others trust us to stay true to our principles during the process is up to them, we have full faith in ourselves, what our critics cannot be allowed to do is deliberately misconstrue what we genuinely mean for their own strategic ends, and Yes For Unity will not allow them to do so without fierce rebuttal.
Demographic shifts and changing Ireland
Demographics in the north of Ireland are changing. Stormont was conceived by Britain in 1921 as a gerrymandered state with built in Unionist majority; generational based political shifts in the six counties have presented a scenario wherein for the first time ever, progressive sentiment may tip the balance of public opinion in favour of ending partition itself.
YES For Unity challenge and reject the right of the six-county state to exist in any form, this remains our position today. In 1998, Republican Socialists opposed the Good Friday Agreement, it’s so called ‘principle of consent’ and the triple lock system which saw the sectarian state known as ‘Northern Ireland’ consolidated as a quasi-legitimate entity. Our outlook in this regard remains constant and standing on the platform of anti-imperialism, we remain committed to the dismantling of the British state in Ireland, be that by the utilisation of an Irish Unity referendum or outside the confines of the GFA if needs be.
Central to the project of revolutionary change however lies a duty to recognise political and social reality as it exists at every juncture of historical development.
In the event of any failure to end partition via a Border Poll, YES For Unity would be under no more compulsion to recognise the Unionist Veto than we are today, holding that it was founded upon the fraudulent coercion of the Irish people who under a state of duress were compelled to accept the unconstitutional division of Ireland in 1921.
However, the demographic and subsequent political shifts currently being witnessed in the north are occurring at a pace unpredicted by any political party when the Good Friday Agreement was conceived. It is our belief that rising progressive sentiment (particularly amongst our youth) which today seeks an end to partition in our lifetime can conceivably be harnessed to significantly weaken, discredit and eventually play a part in dismantling the sectarian northern state itself.
The fact that this momentum may express itself via the Good Friday Agreement (that is via a ‘border poll’ or unity referendum) presents no ideological or principled difficulty. Progressive popular opinion is of greater revolutionary importance than the past or current programs of any political party and for Republican Socialists to ignore the sentiments of a progressive section of the Irish working class would represent no less than arrogant posturing on our behalf. We have no intention of retreating into such an intellectual morass.