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Opinion A united, independent and socialist Ireland is possible

JOE BOWERS and ADAM MURRAY argue that the EU Establishment and those both sides of the Irish Sea have no interest in the emergence of a progressive united Ireland - that is the campaigning job of the labour movements

WE read with interest Nick Wright’s article in the Morning Star (The labour movement can only support a united Ireland, M Star August 4).

This is an important topic for discussion which we welcome opportunities for engagement on. The appearance of Wright’s article allays concern that Eugene McCartan’s comments (Letters, July 26) that “the best place for such a discussion is within Ireland itself,” might preclude discussions on this topic in the pages of Morning Star.   

In Ireland north and south a discussion is taking place about the creation of a new Ireland. For example, in the Irish News on August 23, Gerry Adams states: “We have the National Health Service here which is under huge pressure, we have a semi-privatised health service in the south – could we actually get an all-Ireland public health service? We say yes, and we can afford it.”

In the same edition of Irish News a Martin Darcy from County Tyrone writes in the letters to the editor that: “State laws are subordinate to European Union law, that being so there can be no remaining doubt that Ireland is not a free, independent, sovereign country, but a vassal state”… “logically Ireland’s defence will fall to Chancellor Merkel’s European army, an army which will no doubt be used against Ireland should it choose to leave the EU at any time in the future. A border poll will be a Hobson’s choice: London or Berlin rule? It is as though James Connolly’s ‘Neither King nor Kaiser’ was a prophetic warning.”

Another quote which has appeared is that of Pat McArt, former managing editor of the Derry Journal, who writes in relation to the effects of the 2008 crash on the economy of the republic: “Here is a fact worth repeating ad infinitum... in this country the bank bailout hit us at 25 per cent of our GDP, Germany 1.5 per cent, yet our media and political establishment have never really hit a discordant note whilst singing the praises of Brussels. Is there some sort of myopia or amnesia at work here?”

These three quotes are all evidence that a discussion among the Irish people themselves is very much alive, which we must participate in.

It is the role of communists to centre class politics in that discussion. The political demand for Irish unity as espoused by nationalism runs the risk of generating division by centring identity and neoliberal capitalist ideology instead.

The labour movement in Ireland can unite workers by instead centring material demands. It should leverage those demands in the drafting of what the new Ireland might look like.

A united labour movement in Ireland, supported in solidarity by the labour movement in Britain, has the power to leverage demands passed by unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. These include all-Ireland universal healthcare, public housing, work and employment rights, people’s rights, and all other demands endorsed by the labour movement democracy.

One major stumbling block on the path towards a united, independent, socialist Ireland is reflected in the failure of the Lexit campaign to gain traction in Ireland.

The labour movement in Ireland has almost singularly defended membership of the EU, which undermines demands for independence and socialism. This is the predominant difficulty we find in our experiences, not “partitionist reflexes” which Wright attributes to the local labour movement.

Ireland continues to display some of the highest levels of support for EU membership in the imperialist bloc, typically polling between 80-90 per cent approval.

The narrative of the EU being a force for peace, people’s rights and economic development is a narrative which is not borne out by facts and undermines the goal of a united, independent, socialist Ireland.  

The EU Permanent Security Co-operation (Pesco), which the Irish government has surrendered to, is an agreement which squanders hundreds of millions of the Irish budget on weaponry which could be spent on housing and healthcare. Pesco ultimately leads to the creation of an EU army, running counter to Irish neutrality.

At the 2021 Madge Davison Memorial Lecture our chosen topic was Peace, Independence and Sovereignty. Guest speakers were Eoin O Murchu, former deputy chair of the Communist Party Ireland, and Dr Ray Bassett, former Irish ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Comrade O Murchu kicked off the event, identifying three aspects to the democratic struggle in Ireland today as: “equality and parity of esteem for both communities in the North, the ending of partitioning conditions of such equality and parity of esteem, with the Protestant community having an assured place in the new Ireland which is to be built, and a full national sovereignty for the Irish people to run our own affairs jointly between all communities in our country.”

Dr Bassett began his contribution by highlighting the paradox that “nationalism in Ireland has become entwined with pro-unionist EU feeling.” He pointed to a contradiction that “those who espouse national sovereign governance are ardently committed to Brussels.”

Despite the aim of the EU institutions being full political and economic union, “many in Ireland and within the Irish Republican movement do not accept that and continue to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Ireland is actually engaged in a process of ‘enhanced co-operation between independent sovereign nations’.”

Whether the new Ireland created enshrines the principles of independence, sovereignty and socialism… or subservience to the EU’s “closer union” and neoliberal ideology, depends entirely on how successful socialists and pro-indepence labour activists are during the present ongoing national discussion.

More than five decades of Communist Party of Ireland policy provides for this discussion: clear positions on British imperialism, the European Union, the need to engage with the British labour movement, the need to build left alliances and engage people’s organisations, particularly the trade union movement.

As communists, socialists, labour activists, trade unionists and working people we can’t entrust our interests to nationalist establishment figures in Ireland and Tory establishment interests in Britain. As Wright rightly draws attention to, the stated view of the British Labour Party’s leader Keir Starmer hardly deviates from the Tory position, Starmer is entirely pro-union and untrustworthy.

Aware that establishment figures on both islands will draw up and implement any future Irish reunification with the interests of capital and Establishment in mind, the labour movement must fight for what Connolly fought for: “the organisation of the socialist republic.”

A 51 per cent result in a border poll in favour of Irish reunification is enough to demand reunification be implemented. Those of us who live in the north of Ireland know too well the importance of avoiding, to the greatest extent possible, renewed sectarian division on our streets.

We should be working united as a movement for the highest result possible in a border poll. It’s our responsibility to challenge the hegemonic influence of unionism and narrow nationalism.

In accordance with our policy protection of the NHS, the creation of a public health system in the Republic of Ireland, and the development of an all-Ireland public health system is an important part of that struggle.

The left, the trade union movement, and people’s organisations must unite now and assemble an ambitious platform to leverage workers’ demands as part of any transition to a new Ireland. Otherwise we may miss a historic opportunity for progress.

We welcome opportunities to further the discussion taking place on a new Ireland, and are grateful for the opportunity provided by the Morning Star to do that.



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