Before Christmas I attended an extraordinary meeting involving leading members of Republican Sinn Féin and Irish Republican Socialist Party organised by the cross-border Guild of Uriel.
Des Dalton, vice president of RSF criticised the Good Friday Agreement for being sold on false premises that it would lead to Irish unity and would strengthen the union. The agreement also denied the "essential unity of the Irish nation" and didn't address the "root cause of conflict" Britain's denial of Irish "sovereignty and democracy".
The real need was for a New Ireland "fashioned by the Irish people themselves" with Eire Nua being the key to breaking the deadlock. This document, formulated in 1972, was intended to move beyond "failed partitionist structures". It was presented as a means of allaying the "real fears of unionists". However, after the split, the Provisionals removed Eire Nua and went into "reformist politics" a denial of republican tradition. Subsequently the Eire Nua policy was adopted by RSF and updated.
Eire Nua seeks a National Parliament with federal provincial and local government structures.
A participative form of democracy would hopefully make mutual exploitation impossible and bring "all the positive forces in the country" together. The Dail would coordinate the regions and protect the Gaeltacht areas. Power would be decentralised enabling people to take decisions affecting their own lives with basic rights and freedoms guaranteed.
The RSF vice president quoted Ruairi O Bradaigh "only the people of Ulster themselves" could guarantee their future welfare. In a nine county Ulster, unionists would have a working majority, "subject to the checks and balances".
By this means, Wolfe Tone's "dream of substituting the common name of Irish man or woman for Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter, could finally be realised". This I see as being, in the main, traditional nationalist rhetoric harking back to documents and precepts that tend to sacralise an Irish nation.
However, Eire Nua tries to appeal to unionists through a new nine-county Ulster but by doing so reminds us that Ireland was almost always divided often into more than four Provinces with shifting boundaries depending on the success or otherwise of warring tribes. One participant said she had grown up with A Nation Once Again but had come to the conclusion that "we were never a nation we were always tribal".
So the relevant question is, why not make the reality of Northern Ireland a better place for all in the context of a working relationship with the rest of our islands? Boundaries are not in themselves the cause of conflict but often a consequence of past violence and a means of better security.
In a nine county Ulster there would be greater numerical equality but this could lead to more rather than less sectarianism. In the south sectarianism has been muted because the minority was tiny and relatively powerless. A larger minority might lead to confrontation.
Unionists need security in a world that was largely Anglophobic and, in this context, numerical equality is no solution. They sometimes cling to the other island but had they had greater numerical strength and confidence, the siege mentality might have been diminished and a space created for greater generosity as in 1798.
At one point Des Dalton referred to "non-violence" as the "preferred option" for the people of Ireland and this brought a palpable shocked reaction. I suggested that, as a unionist, my experience was that violence changed little and that what actually stimulated questioning was the demands for civil rights. Civil rights shook the unionist establishment to its core and changes followed and would have followed even more quickly but for reactionaries sticking rigidly to uncompromising stances.
Had republicans continued with "armed struggle" mentality nothing would have changed.
More recently, it was the apparent willingness of republicans to negotiate that opened up new possibilities.
Sectarianists religious and political have always given hidden support to their opposite numbers by enabling people to draw lessons from the worst visible features in their opponents.
If the RSF wishes to make a meaningful impact on the political process they should relinquish a militancy that is self-defeating and instead engage with real people.
In the Drogheda meeting they must have observed the deep gulf between their own perceptions and that of most nationalists and unionists.
The whiff of cordite attracts because people are fascinated by violence but cordite is only sexy when it is reduced to a whiff and the reality of pain and suffering is removed.
People in the meeting appreciated the honesty of RSF speakers, but they were affronted by something that seemed to threaten their hopes for a better future. In a later article I intend to reflect upon the approach of the IRSP.