Éire Nua and the Federal Ideal
Provisional Sinn Féin and the ideal of a Gaelic, Federal and independent Éire.
With the impending reality of the next Irish government being formed by Sinn Féin, I felt that it would be instructive to analyse some of the literature of a previous emanation of the party, specifically, the 1960s-1980s ‘Éire Nua’ movement. Led by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill among others, the party laid out a vision for a future Ireland which is nowhere to be found in the party’s current program. Starting with corporatist economics, they framed a Romantic Catholic conception of the body politic in a radical Federal solution to the Troubles.
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Virtually ever since its inception, this vision has been erased from the public sphere. As it is said in the Réamhrá:
‘Some of those who were involved in an attempt to takeover the Republican movement had it suppressed.’ (3)
It was banned from the airwaves by the Stickies in RTÉ’s Noel Stapleton Cumann, and it provoked the Liberals’ (like Conor Cruise O’Brien) into advocating for the Section 31 censorship bill. The Trotskyists lead by Gerry Adams, who took over the Provos in the late 1980s, similarly bashed Éire Nua. From the Neoliberal center to the Leftoid extremes, the Nu Ireland we inhabit excoriates the legacy of Éire Nua as iliberal and destructive at every opportunity.
This article attempts to provide a concise introduction to the basic premise of Éire Nua, with the hope of demonstrating why it has been so rejected. The crux of the article will focus on summarising ‘Éire Nua: The Social and Economic Programme of Sinn Féin’ (1971) pamphlet published by the Provisionals.
‘Comhar na gComharsan’ and Co-operative economics (p.3-38)
Firstly, the Éire Nua political programme sets out a third position on economics and attempts to 'strike a balance between Western individualistic capitalism' and 'Soviet state socialism' (p.4). Criticized by the stickies for being romantic and mythical, the economy would be remoulded in a “distributist and corporatist” manner, proper to the native Gaelic character. Taking influence from democratic socialist policies like the nationalisation of the key sectors, while retaining a respect for private property and a contempt for bureacracy, the authors define their system simply as ‘Economic Resistance’. Helpfully, they provide ten main principles:
Out of these principles, 1-6 refer to public ownership of finances as well as key sectors, 8-10 to national autonomy in cultural and geopolitical matters and 7 specifies protection for native private poperty. From these principles, the main objectives of the movement are refered to as: 1-2: state protection of local industry, 3 & 6: strengthening of trade unions and 4-5: a protectionist ‘Buy Irish’ consumer market.
The programme goes on to describe in more detail sector-specific applications of the Economic Resistance policy. In Finance it espouses a reversal of the post-Lemass globalized project of Free Trade. For the Provos, a stand had to be taken against foreign control of Irish land:
‘The Economic Resistance Movement must also organise itself to oppose effectively the purchase of land by foreigners. Such purchases may, for example, be countered by the formation of co-operatives’ (p.10)
At the time the purchasing of Irish land by foreigners, particularly wealthy Germans, was a hotbutton issue in the rural West. It spurred on Agrarian revolts like Lia Fáil, and even features in Thomas Kinsella's poetry. The Provos took a firm pro-Irish position. The country was not to be sold off to foreigners, like the TK Whitaker Liberal Regime encouraged. In another striking passage the document states:
‘The post-1959 ‘boom’ is due (a) to relaxation of control of foreigners investing in Ireland, (b) to the actual subsidisation of such investment at the taxpayers’ expense. Not only is the country being sold out, but we, the people, are subsidising the price out of our own pockets!’ (p.13)
On the topic of industry, they advocate the building up of sophisticated manufacturing, instead of the Americanised knowledge-economy. Even in the 1960s, according to SF there was a ‘cult of the foreign expert’ and a lack of native ‘nest-egg’ know-how (p.18). The rule of non-Irish foreign Capital waa naturally more pronounced in the North. Scrutinizing the names of the Directors of even the smallest firms (10,000 to £30,000 capital) ‘suggests perhaps 10—15% Catholic ownership’ (p.16).
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry follow similar paths of a co-operative nationalisation, while the planning of land and infastructure will be community-specific and based around the promotion of large families. Generally ‘there would be a considerable reduction in the quota of foreign imported hardware’, with a consistent emphasis on self-reliance and family inheritance - a direct reflection of early Fianna Fáil’s protectionist principle of subsidiarity (p.29).
The provos refer to their protectionist economic philosophy as ‘Comhar na gComharsan’. Perhaps best illustrated by the work of Desmond Fennell, this ideology imagines Ireland not as a unitary nation-state, defined by the liberal precepts of citizenship and sovereignty, but as a decentralised community of communities. The Confederalist implications of this line of thinking will be expanded upon later, but its importance for Éire Nua’s economic project is delineating a governmental approach which puts communities first. It rejects the tentacles of both State and Market overeaching into the domains of family and parish. While ‘Communitarian’ is the preferred modern term, its centrist implications are misleading. Fennell’s localism, influenced by E.F. Schumacher as well as European autonomy movements, is inherently radical. It seeks a total retreat from the confines of modern Liberalism.
New Ireland's National Ideal (p.39-56)
‘Family ties to the losing side in the civil war motivated many, and few had shared in the benefits of Irish Independence; above all they were overwhelmingly Catholic and conservative in their outlook. Éire Nua's social and economic program appealed to all these elements.’ (Moloney, 340)
While the economic model of Provisional Sinn Féin is markedly distinct from the modern dialectic of Globalised Neoliberalism and International Socialism, it is perhaps the social politics which is of most interest to present-day dissidents. Despite the vague leanings toward Maoist anti-imperialism, the leadership - and rank & file - of the Provisionals was ardently Catholic. As Ed Moloney recounts, ‘A profile of the typical rural Provisional supporter’ was ‘what one of their number called “peasant proprietors” and an Adams supporter once scornfully dismissed as “Fianna Failers with guns.”’ (Moloney, 339).
It should be said that the Provos were hardly the sectarian fascists the stickies made them out to be. As much as a certain Premier Irish Intellectual titillated himself/herself with tales of vulnerable wee Protestants boys being buckbroken in Offaly by IRA death marches - Éire Nua primarily sought a palingenetic renaissance of the ideals of Old Ireland.
Starting with the most central chasm in modern Ireland's cultural consciousness, the programme makes the point that without our native tongue, Gaeilge, we are forever cut from our ethnic roots. It asserts ‘A national language is the medium of a nation’s culture.’ and that the embrace of it is core to the goal of Irish Independence:
‘It is because the Irish language “grew up” with our people and was the medium of expression for our distinctive culture that it is best fitted to bring about the spiritual regeneration necessary to foster the self-reliance among our people which is a pre-requisite for the solution of our many social and economic problems.’ (p.39)
In a section of the programme which most clearly demonstrates the influence of Desmond Fennell, language is understood as the primary means by which a people express their metaphysical self-confidence. As in the tradition of Giambatista Vico, ethno-linguistic identity is an organic process, born directly from the relationship between a people and their landscape. To cut a man off from his native teanga, canúint agus nós is to alienate him from the soil upon which he lives, dies and is buried. For Gaeilgeoirí like Fennell, the slaying of a language through the duplicitous pen is far worse than the damage incurred by the whip of the grug. Borders can be redrawn, states fall apart. But the enclosure of the mind is an imperialism of the soul.
With this in mind, the authors strongly cite the theories of British collonial writers, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, linking the cultural genocide of Englsih imperialism with today's psy-opping through American soft power. Without a self-confident ethno-linguistic identity, we are condemned to be spiritually molested by the Great Satan of Anglo-American consumerism. Under Globalist Liberalism, the Provos claimed to foresee future generations of Irish youth wedded to the cult of debt-based consumption, bereft of coherent social and cultural identity, and ultimately succumbing to culture-destroying nihilism.
With due respect to the patience of readers, I quote this paragraph in full:
‘As things stand, we are losing the freedom of our minds, we are being assimilated completely at an evergrowing rate with an Anglo-American mass-culture. We are being fed daily on books, magazines, films, television programmes, songs, etc., which propagate superficial international form of culture that is devoid of ideals and does not seek to better mankind. With it comes alien thought — the Anglo-American mind, Anglo-American ideas, Anglo-American attitudes. We are rapidly becoming a degenerate provincial people, with no imagination, forced imitation, second-rate and uncreative. We are selling our soul for a mess of pottage. We are rapidly bidding farewell to nationality.’ (p.40)
To counteract the liberal imperialist project of spiritual annihilation, Sinn Féin’s project suggests a patriotic education system for future generations. The values of God, family and responsibility to ones family would be strongly instilled. Along with an Irish language focus, this would entail much more emphasis on cultural and economic independence, ensuring children have a strong foundation for direct engagement with the needs and flourishing of their communities.
Again quoting in full, I would like the reader to consider the gulf between 1970s Sinn Féin and what they have become (try to imagine Mary Lou uttering these words):
‘Sinn Féin educational policy will aim to ensure the development and equipment of all the moral, intellectual and physical powers of our children so that they will become God fearing and responsible citizens of a free independent nation. The rights of the family as the primary and natural educator of the child and the spiritual interests of the various religious denominations shall be acknowledged within the framework of an educational system whose philosophy shall be to unify the people into one nation with one national consciousness.’ (p.45)
In terms of these social services, the practical-minded men of the Provos pointed to the template of the Folk High Schools founded by Bishop Gruntvig in Denmark. They emphasised ‘General principles of social and industrial co-operation’ which ‘prepared the minds attending them for the idea of voluntary association on the basis of self-government and solidarity’ (p.48). Similarly, institutions ‘run by religious orders will be safeguarded’ (p.49).
Following from the building up of localist principles, the party also supported a swift rebellion from the global technostructures of the EEC and NATO. They urge resistance: ‘Ireland’s sovereignty, independence and neutrality are not for sale to any foreign power or group of powers.’ (p.58). Sinn Féin’s Ireland would seek common cause in trade with anti-Imperialist third-world nations like Libya and Palestine over the World Capitalist Network.
The Federal Solution to the ‘Northern Problem’
Finally, there is the central premise of Éire Nua for the Provisionals themselves - at least in its finalised form - the Federal 32-County Republic. Ó Conaill, with the help of the noted Priest, Fr. Jim McDwyer, as well as the writings of Desmomd Fennell, formulated SF's resolution to the Troubles remarkably early on, in the late 1960s, more than thirty years before the ultimate power-sharing Good-Friday agreement. Perhaps even more remarkable is how common sense it is, only taking up several pages at the end of the Éire Nua programme.
During his time in Mountjoy, Dáithi Ó Conaill took considerable influence from Fennell's writings on Swiss federalism (Fennell, p.157). Ó Conaill went on to be chief propagandist behind the solution, modelled on the Confederate system of a decentralised community of communities. The entire island would be restructured to respect the ethnic autonomy of distinct socio-cultural regions. Moloney explains the crux of the system succinctly:
‘Eire Nua outlined a decentralized federal scheme that would consist of a central government drawn from a federal parliament, half of whose members would be elected nationally via a system of proportional representation and half drawn from four provincial parliaments that would have strong powers over economic policy.’ (Moloney, 338)
Moving the capital to Athlone, the four provinces system would allow for regional and cultural diversity of the country proper autonomy. Instead of the massified, unitary nation-state, power would flow upward from each local community of parishes. In this system, the ethnic and economic interests of local communities would be paramount, if a local community were to bound together and assert their right to regional and cultural autonomy, the central government were to have no authority over their wishes, bar explicit ethnic or civil violence of course.
Interestingly, this would have granted Ulster Unionists a coherent majority over the new established ‘Dáil Uladh’. Not only that, but more specific regional communities would be dominated under the democratic control of Unionists also. Despite both the Stickies’ and Adams’ Marxist IRA have labelled Éire Nua-era SF as reactionary and sectarian, the latter attempted to attack EN for being soft on Unionism. As Moloney notes: ‘“It was, its critics claimed, a sop to loyalism.” Adams Revolutionary Council opposed Éire Nua’ (Moloney, 341). While crafted by conservative Catholic Nationalists, it is true that their federal solution had tremendous appeal to Protestants themselves.
The Federal scheme sparked considerable dialogue between the Provisional Republicans and the Ulster Unionists, as well as non-partisan Protestants. In particular, Desmond Boal, former chairman of the Democratic Unionist Party, took to the Federal solution strongly. Though he favoured a fully independent Ulster as opposed to confeferate parliament which is devolved from a Central Irish state. Even Ian Paisley for a time showed interest in the proposals, urging Ó Brádaigh to provide a more detailed essay on them by Desmond Fennell in the Irish Times.
While these talks ultimately lead to nothing, it’s worth noting the alternatives to the far from definitive 1998 power-sharing arrangement. With modern Sinn Féin dominating elections on both sides of the border, the spectre of a Dublin-controlled United Ireland appears ever closer. While a discussion for another day, the impending centralisation of the Neo-Liberal Irish Regime over the whole of the island raises questions of future alliances. From Conor Cruise O'Brien in the 1970s to the bugman technocrats of FG, Greens, etc today, the agenda of the cosmopolitan elites has always been antithetical to populists on both sides of the border, South and North, Catholic and Protestant.
In this article I have attempted to provide, an admittedly non-exhaustive, introduction to the revolutionary conservatism of Provisional Sinn Féin’s Éire Nua policy of the 1960s-1980s. From their coporatist economic model, social idealism and finally confederationist solution to the ‘Northern Problem’ — they are the antithesis of modern Sinn Féin.
Éire Nua: The Social and Economic Programme of Sinn Féin. 1971. Sinn Féin.
Fennell, Desmond. 1985. Beyond Nationalism. Dublin, Ireland: Ward River Press.
Moloney, Ed. 2007. A Secret History of the IRA. Dublin, Ireland: Penguin Ireland.
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