Making the case for Irish unity in Britain

I popped up to Camden on Saturday for the Sinn Fein conference on Irish Unity, which it appears is a prelude to the creation of a new solidarity group in Britain.

The most interesting speaker was Coleraine Councillor Billy Leonard, who talked about the implications of Scottish and Welsh devolution for Ireland, the decline of Britishness and the contrasting growth of the all-Ireland dynamic.

This was an important theme, but there was no great sense from any of the speakers that the Irish in Britain could play a role in shaping that wider dynamic. The planned solidarity group sounds as if it will be mainly focussed on supporting domestic election campaigns.

One exception was John McDonnell who suggested that supporters of Irish unity need to rebuild their position in the Labour Party, following it’s decision to organise in Northern Ireland.

In my view, one of the the most effective things the Irish in Britain can do for a united Ireland is to bring their perspective to bear on the constitutional debate here.

If Irish nationalists are currently missing that opportunity, the same may be true for unionists, according to Mick Fealty:

I’ve looked at this question a number of times on the Brassneck blog and there certainly is a nationalist dialectic being played out, not least between the Tories (the English interest party) and the Scot Nats. Labour is currently looking like its been caught offside: so many Scottish MPs, yet being the only mainstream UK party advocating a deepening of the union. How times have changed.

Unionist interventions, in what is for them a national debate, have been few and far between. Even though they could probably hold a disinterested middle ground in the wider UK debate. (Slugger)

Previous generations of Irish nationalists were well organised in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As recently as the 1960s, the Irish community here played a significant role in the civil rights campaign. Much of that impetus was lost with the onset of the Troubles, particularly after the wave of repression that followed the IRA bombing campaign in England in the mid-1970s.

There were nevertheless subsequent campaigns around miscarriages of justice, the early phase of the peace process and many other issues.

Perhaps the time is now ripe for a modernised version of Desmond Greaves’ strategy of the 1960s.

The Connolly Asssociation’s central insight was that the unionism
of most unionists was not based on love of Britain or the Crown, but on
being top-dog over nationalists and Catholics, and enjoying the small
privileges that went with that, in a northern economy that was racked
by backwardness and unemployment. Rule out such top-doggery by means
of civil rights, said the CA, and political conditions would be created
in which the rational basis for the unionism of most unionists could be
eroded in a generation.

  That was why the Association and Irish Democrat
opposed the call for the abolition of Stormont in 1971-72, for that
would remove the local northern forum in which the process of dividing
unionism and enabling some unionists to discover their Irishness could
work itself out. (Irish Democrat)

In a modern context, that would mean supporting the autonomy of the cross-community executive at Stormont, perhaps in alliance with the other devolved administrations (potentially including a future English Parliament), and opposing centralising Whitehall initiatives that cut across the potential for all-island developments.

The corporation tax issue is one possible example of this logic, albeit not necessarily the most resonant. There will be others.



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3 responses to “Making the case for Irish unity in Britain”

  1. Mike avatar

    One aspect of building for a united Ireland is transforming the movement for self-determination in Scotland into a republican one. That’s the purpose of Bella Caledonia: a new Scottish republican newspaper with a web presence.

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    looks interesting, Mike. Duly added to the blogroll.

  3. declan mc kenna avatar

    The Irish in Britain were and still are reluctant to get involved with the politics of Whitehall even if it is in an oppositional position. The abstention policy adopted by Sinn Fein has rendered political involvement in England very difficult for Irish nationalists.
    I don’t think the Irish thought long and hard about breaking Britishness. Maybe it’s time we did.

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