Daltún Ó Ceallaigh  





The Bookshop at Queen's (University Belfast)



Evaluation from a Nationalist Perspective of the Peace Process and British and Irish positions on sovereignty since 1800. The book also functions as a useful tool of reference, providing an accessible and comprehensive description of the various pieces of relevant legislation.




Getting our Acts together


Micheál MacDonncha


An Phoblacht-Republican News



In the introduction to this book the author points to the important contribution made by the pro-Articles Two and Three lobby in the 26 Counties in the early ’90s when the campaign to abolish these key parts of the 1937 Constitution was at its height. The debate focused on Britain's legislative claims to sovereignty in Ireland, in particular the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.

         Daltún Ó Ceallaigh takes the process further in this book which provides an invaluable survey of the British legislation claiming sovereignty over Ireland from the Act of Union of t801 to the Government of Ireland Act and all subsequent amending laws. These are set against the parallel legislation in the 26 Counties. The author makes the key texts accessible and analyses them critically. He traces the apparent changes in the British position especially in the Downing Street Declaration and the framework document. He argues that the core British position has not changed: “Jurisdiction without responsibility has been the aim of the British since 1920, even though this is a legal as well as a political absurdity.”

         On the unionist veto he asks: “Is the implication that there is to be no ‘immediate’ constitutional adaptation of any kind except in this way?”

         What I found particularly interesting in this book was the analysis of the role of the Dublin government in the nationalist consensus. The author says this consensus “should have been the aim all along” but the problem now is that “it is being done at somewhat of a disadvantage given the concessions which the “Irish government has been permitted to get away with from 1973 to 1993 when there was very limited electoral presence of genuine republicans.

          “For example Dublin will have to be moved from the absolutist position that there cannot be any constitutional development in the North without the consent of the majority there, white at the same time of course seeking such consent as desirable in relation to a range of democratic options.”

         These are words worth thinking about as we enter a new and crucial phase of London-Dublin relations. There are also very useful sections on the unionist and loyalist identities. All in all it’s a compulsory read for serious students of - and participants in - the peace process. Here is the core contention of the book that raises fundamental questions for republicans:

        “There is now a recognition, or at least an implication, that partition has failed. The problem is: will that mean an effort to repair it rather than replace it?

         “The struggle now must be to proceed from this recognition through a continual refusal of northern nationalists to accept or cooperate with a refurbished Six-County UK province, to a constitutional compromise at least of an interim kind. That could allow for a devolutionary entity in north-eastern Ireland, but must go beyond simply perpetuating the framework of the present United Kingdom. The key will be convincing the conservatives in Dublin and London that there will be no settlement otherwise and that the alternative is continued instability as northern nationalists are mobilised in one form or another to resist any prolongation of an unaltered constitutional status quo.”







Here is a plain and thoughtful examination of the north-south problems mainly in terms of legality and constitutionality, with analysis of the British and Irish positions from the Act of Union to the present day and possible means of resolution. Older politics are dealt with cursorily and there is a very brief excursion in a ‘note’ to grapple with Adamson’s Cruthin idea (=Pretani=Britanni, making the Gaels the later invaders) and the significant use of the name Scotti for the marauding Irish. Similarly questions of self-determination and territorialism - which may well be seen as being at the heart of the problem - are dealt within an addendum, and without confronting the key dispute: whether it is the inhabitants of the island or those of the six counties who have the right to determine their allegiance. In a book sub-titled 'the peace process in context', it is surprising that there is barely reference at all to the extremist factions or to the use of violence. The presence of such key questions in 'notes' and 'addenda' - or their absence - seem to point to a structural weakness of the book. If they are not part of the main argument, can the latter be complete? Ó Ceallaigh is Belfast born and reared, and Trinity educated; his career has been in trades unions, and since 1980 he has been general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teach-ers. His previous books, Labour, Nationalism and Irish Freedom (1991) and Sovereign People or Crown subjects? (1993), were on similar themes.



BOOKS IRELAND November 1996


Tony Canavan



This book would not make pleasant reading for Unionists as it is founded on the premise that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. What we have here is a po­lemic, following in an honourable Irish tradition, which examines the recent developments from a republican perspec­tive. One might say that it is a neo-republican perspective since the author is willing to embrace a federal or confederal Ireland without the title ‘Republic’ or a constitu­tion. Instead he suggests a ‘Common­wealth’ (Comhlathas na hÉireann) with a ‘Covenant’ (Cúnant) for its constitution. All this to make a settlement acceptable to un­ionists. Just as Clayton in her book uses history to examine and explain unionist ideology, so too does Ó Ceallaigh in his, illustrating the truism that in Ireland history is politics.

         Ó Ceallaigh’s is a new and imaginative approach and one that other republicans could learn from. He does not seek to demonise or castigate the unionists but this does not prevent him from putting forward the republican argument nor taking issue with unionism. As he points out, there is a distinction between arguing that they are wrong and suppressing their identity. He disapproves of the apparently liberal view that everything must be tolerated as tradi­tional or part of a cultural identity. Too often tolerance, he says, becomes in effect ‘sur­render to Orange intransigence.’

         Like Clayton, he identifies two strands within unionism. One is that tradition which traces its roots back to the Reformation and represents the radical and democratic dynamic within protestantism. The other belongs to the Ascendancy tradition, characterised by the Orange Order, and is bigoted and undemocratic. He identifies on the nationalist side a conservative undemocratic counterpart to Orangeism, Hibernianism, which seeks to equate being Irish with being Catholic. In contrast to this is the Republican tradition which he classifies as being democratic and secular. His underlying thesis is that the two progressive traditions on each side carry within them the potential to bring about peace, a peace that inevitably will be within an all-Ireland framework. His case is that all the players in the peace process should nurture these progressive elements and challenge the un-democratic.

         Since recent developments in Irish society have undermined Hibernianism (notwithstanding it is still a potent factor), he sees the main task now as tackling Orangeism. Most of the book is a dismantling or refuting of Orange-Unionist arguments to maintain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. As well as in-depth but readable analysis of the current constitutional position, Ó Ceallaigh provides historical commentary to refute Unionism. He goes back to earliest times to disprove the Cruithin myth (i.e. that the Ulster Protestants are the original natives of Ireland by about 2000 years) and begins with the Papal Bull Laudabiliter to chart British claims and actions of sovereignty over Ireland.

         In the end Ó Ceallaigh, despite some straight talking, is calling for an accommodation with the unionist community in the North and a new Ireland based on “democracy, equal rights and tolerance”. He dismisses the questions of culture and identity, arguing that equitable political structures should be established before worrying about these. He says we need a balanced approach, in which both sides make corresponding concessions (e. g Articles 2 and 3 for Sections 1 and 75). He outlines a number of possible options for the North and makes no secret of his own preference.

         This is a polemic, and not everyone will agree with it nor even give any credit to it. Nevertheless, it is one that ought to provoke thought and debate. When so much of the writing on the North is dominated by revisionists or apologists for unionism, it is refreshing to see the republican case put with clarity and enthusiasm. If you do not agree with this, then the wealth of reference material still makes it a valuable contribution to the literature on the North.






Enda Finlay


Irish Democrat



Ó Ceallaigh has done us a great service by compiling this book. The often frantic and confusing pace of Anglo-Irish relations in the last few years demands that somebody attempts to analyse recent developments in their contemporary and historical context. Ó Ceallaigh's book amply satisfies this demand, and is a testament to logically structured arguments and concise research.

This book, which expands and updates his earlier book Sovereign People or Crown Subjects? (1993), begins with an analysis of the Downing Street Declaration, which for Ó Ceallaigh “sets the current official benchmark”. The problem remains however in finding a democratic accommodation for. unionists “without none­theless acceding to a neo-ascendancy stance”.

Ó Ceallaigh addresses the vexed question of identity, suggesting that a bit too much time is spent on analysing identity and that what is re­quired politically is “not de­finitiveness and certainty, but toleration”. The quasi-historical claims of some of the more notorious ‘scholars’ in con­structing a justification of unionism by extending it into antiquity are also suitably dealt with.

The major part of the book is taken up with a detailed ac­count of explaining Britain’s claim to sovereignty over Ire­land and then to the Six Coun­ties since the Act of Union. Ó Ceallaigh demonstrates how the Irish countered Britain’s claim, via four key texts: the 1916 Proclamation; the Decla­ration of Independence by the First Dáil 1919; the Constitu­tion of the Irish Free State of 1922; and the 1937 Constitu­tion (Articles 1, 2 and 3).

It is obvious from this ac­count that despite some subtle changes, Britain maintains “supreme authority” over the Six Counties and has still to make a decisive break from its imperialist claims.

    The book concludes with a summary of some of the key arguments inherent in the peace process, such as consent, parity of esteem and the British government's position. His conclusion, albeit written be­fore the ending of the IRA cease-fire, is comparatively hopeful, in contrast to many other commentators. Ó Ceallaigh manages this because of his comprehensive under­standing of the problem and his long-held commitment to democracy and equality.



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 … meticulously researched and presented in a readily comprehensible manner.  




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