SOVEREIGNTY & NATIONALITY
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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.
meticulously researched and presented in a readily comprehensible manner.
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