Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

A Mayor for all the People

(by Des Wilson,

It was entirely in keeping with his republican tradition that the Mayor of Belfast invited so many different people to share in whatever bounty the City Hall has to offer - the republican tradition is one of openness and sharing both responsibility and benefits as widely as possible.

We can hope that the Mayor's ideals will be realised during his year of office.

The Mayor was willing to include in his recent celebrations people who not only were his opponents but would have been glad to see him eliminated from public life.

The churches, which have been foremost in opposing republicanism, can feel comfortable in the Belfast City Hall not because of their past record of espousing freedom and sharing, but because the Mayor is trying to put into practice the basic beliefs of republicanism.

It would be good if church officials and other politicians would read the writings of republicans and understand what they have been saying.

Some people who struggled for freedom in Ireland were very conservative and said things we would not accept.

They were few, and were children of their time.

When John Mitchel said the things he did about other races or about what he thought of as criminal classes, he was reflecting not republicanism but the ideas of his time and place.

A pity, but we have to recognise all our history as part of us, and not just select bits of it.

A first read which London-dependent politicians, church officials and others could well do would be the writings of Terence McSwiney.

After that you need not instruct them what to read – they must want to go further.

For republicans, the use of force is a last resort, not a first one. It is to be used only when all peaceful political means have been tried and have been frustrated.

For those who built empires in the past and those who want to preserve them into the future the use of force has been a first resort.

The empire builders went into other people's countries, including ours, and took them by force.

Armed force was their first resort. But as you read what republicans wrote you find again and again that armed force is not a first resort, it is a regretted last resort, to be stopped as soon as can be, and that is a fundamental difference between republicanism and acquisitive empire building.

It would be impossible to name a single peaceful effort that was not made in Ireland to stop the undemocratic regime from destroying people, economy, churches and law.

Far from being dedicated to physical force, republicans were remarkably patient. At times they were also weak because there was an almost pathological fear of republicanism in Ireland.

Irish people were prepared, and encouraged, to fight for other people's freedom abroad – they even recruited soldiers to save the papal states, and died in tens of thousands in other foreign battlefields, but many were afraid of freedom at home. People were afraid of freedom.

Partly because freedom brings new responsibilities and risks, partly because those who oppose freedom are often armed to the teeth and will use arms as a first resort, not a last one.

The struggle for freedom by peaceful means was difficult and often turned into an armed struggle, not because republicanism is violent, but because its opponents too often are.

Why then do church officials and other politicians fear republicanism? History, as usual.

The Catholic church until very recently looked on itself as a monarchy with a heavily crowned pope presiding.

And monarchies relate to each other, even marrying each other rather than mating with "commoners".

And other churches either became part of the monarchy's establishment like the Anglicans or clients of monarchies, like the rest of the Protestant churches.

So for them, all republicanism was too big an adjustment of their lives and fortunes.

Also there was the terrible experience of the French Revolution. Although that revolution astonishingly quickly turned back into a monarchy, highly centralised at that, nevertheless heads had rolled.

The great fear was that a new republicanism in Europe would send heads rolling again.

All nonsense, of course, and meanwhile the most militarily powerful and richest states developed as republics – the USA and the USSR.

The Pope laid aside his crown and played the guitar. However, in all cases the people as a whole had little control over such developments.

They are afraid of republicanism in Ireland most of all because many of our citizens are afraid of freedom, of making their own decisions, their own mistakes, their own triumphs.

Every triumph celebrated in Belfast by the ruling party of the past was somebody else's triumph.

The Mayor would need perhaps three terms to teach lessons of that kind.

July 5, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on July 4, 2002.