Much has been written and will be written about the establishment of Dáil Éireann in January 1919 and its adoption of the Democratic Programme. That programme offered the people a vision of a better and more just Ireland, presented as a natural progression from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic read outside the GPO in 1916 by Patrick Pearse and signed by the revolutionary leaders of the 1916 Rising.
The Democratic Programme for the 21st Century, drafted by the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, places the Democratic Programme in a continuum with the 1916 Proclamation. The Forum’s Democratic Programme states: “In 1916 Patrick Pearse had written ‘that the nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all the material possessions of the nation, the nation’s soil and all its resources, all wealth and all wealth-producing processes within the nation. In other words, no private right to property is good as against the public right of the nation.’”
Also writing in 1916, James Connolly declared that “the re-conquest [of Ireland] involves taking possession of the entire country, all its powers of wealth-production and all its natural resources, and organising these on a co-operative basis for the good of all.” In April 1916 Connolly insisted to the Irish Citizen Army that “we are out for economic as well as political liberty.”
The 1916 Proclamation laid out a vision of a new Ireland beyond British colonial domination. To achieve this new Ireland the Irish people needed to secure their freedom and independence from British occupation; the struggle for national freedom could not be separated from social and economic justice for the mass of the people of Ireland.
The Forum’s programme again draws from the 1919 programme, which stated: “We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible, and in the language of the first President, Pádraig Mac Phiarais, we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we re-affirm that all rights to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.”
To those who lay claim to the radical tradition within our history the Proclamation for the 21st Century presents this understanding of the crucial questions facing radical forces today. With the revolutionaries of a hundred years ago, we believe that it is only in a truly democratic, sovereign, independent Irish Republic that the problems that beset the people can be addressed. Only then can the people collectively determine their own lives and together create a society that has the common good of all as its guiding principle and in which all our social relations are free and fully human.
Democracy means that the people have real decision-making power over their own lives and all aspects of their society. Real democracy cannot be confined to the political domain only; if the people are to control their own lives, democratic control must extend to the economy as well as to the political, social and cultural spheres. A society in which the people do not have control over all decision-making is not a democratic one.
Sovereignty is the ability of a people or state to govern and make the laws within their borders; without it, the people are not sovereign, and no democratic decision-making is possible.
Independence is the exercise of sovereignty and democracy free from external coercion, restraint, or interference. This does not mean isolation from the wider world, or a lack of engagement with it, but being able to act freely within it and to interact with others on our own terms.
In the Ireland of today, dominated by imperialism, there is no real democracy, sovereignty, or independence; the people cannot determine their own lives or control their society; and there are no answers to the social problems that confront us.
One obstacle to the people exercising democratic control is the existing system of liberal democracy. Having the right to vote every five years for one party or another to govern us is not democracy and gives us no real control over the decisions that affect our lives. The institutions of governance themselves prevent the people from exercising any decision-making power; in fact they remove decision-making from the people and place it with the elite, the bureaucracies, and the rich.
In regard to partition the Forum declares: “As a response to political upheaval and revolution in Ireland in the early twentieth century, partition provided a solution for and within imperialism. It divided the democratic forces and the working class; it was a compromise that unionism and its Tory supporters could accept; it provided a state in the 26 Counties in which nationalist capital and big business could advance their class interests; it provided a means of ending the Revolution without sparking social transformation; and it secured both parts of a divided Ireland for imperialism.”
Partition can only be addressed by confronting its role in denying democracy in both parts of Ireland, which produced the “carnival of reaction” that Connolly foresaw.
North and South, we are denied real democracy, sovereignty, and independence. All the institutions of governance—the EU and the euro zone, the British Parliament, the Stormont Executive, and the Dáil in Leinster House—serve to remove democratic control from the people and to promote the interests of capitalism and imperialism.
A new Ireland—a sovereign and independent Ireland—will be brought into being only by the working class, through the struggle of the working class. The elements that have abandoned national sovereignty and national democracy have no interest in these essential democratic tools. They are wedded to the interests of imperialism, whether that of the European Union, Britain, or the United States.
The working class has nothing to lose in this necessary struggle except the chains that bind us and shackle us to a failing economic system.