Irish republicanism

Irish republicanism (Irish: poblachtánachas Éireannach) is the political movement for the unity and independence of Ireland under a republic. Irish republicans view British rule in any part of Ireland as inherently illegitimate.

The development of nationalist and democratic sentiment throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, distilled into the contemporary ideology known as republican radicalism, was reflected in Ireland in the emergence of republicanism, in opposition to British rule. Discrimination against Catholics and Protestant nonconformists, attempts by the British administration to suppress Irish culture, and the belief that Ireland was economically disadvantaged as a result of the Acts of Union were among the specific factors leading to such opposition. The Society of United Irishmen, formed in 1791 and led primarily by liberal Protestants,[1] launched the 1798 Rebellion with the help of troops sent by Revolutionary France, but the uprising failed. A second rising in 1803 led by Irish patriot Robert Emmet was quickly put down on 23 July 1803. The Young Ireland movement, formed in the 1830s, broke with Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association because it believed that armed struggle was legitimate. Some members of Young Ireland staged an abortive rising in 1848. Its leaders were transported to Van Diemen's Land. Some of these escaped to the United States, where they linked up with other Irish exiles to form the Fenian Brotherhood. Together with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in Ireland by James Stephens and others in 1858, they made up a movement commonly known as "Fenians" which was dedicated to the overthrow of British imperial rule in Ireland. They staged another rising, the Fenian Rising, in 1867, and a dynamite campaign in England in the 1880s.

In the early 20th century IRB members, in particular Tom Clarke and Seán MacDermott, began planning another rising. The Easter Rising took place from 24 to 30 April 1916, when members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army seized the centre of Dublin, proclaimed a republic and held off British forces for almost a week. The rebels were at first viewed as extremists and the Irish public generally favoured Home Rule, but the execution of the Rising's leaders (including Clarke, MacDermott, Patrick Pearse and James Connolly) led to a surge of support for republicanism in Ireland. In 1917 the Sinn Féin party stated as its aim the "securing the international recognition of Ireland as an independent Irish Republic", and in the general election of 1918 Sinn Féin won 73 of the 105 Irish seats in the British House of Commons. The elected members did not take their seats but instead set up the First Dáil, in line with the still continued practice today of abstentionism. Between 1919 and 1921 the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who were loyal to the Dáil, fought the British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), a predominantly Roman Catholic force, in the Irish War of Independence. Talks between the British and Irish in late 1921 led to a treaty by which the British conceded, not a 32-county Irish Republic, but a 26-county Irish Free State with Dominion status. This led to the Irish Civil War, in which the republicans were defeated by their former comrades.

The Free State became an independent constitutional monarchy following the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931; changed its name to Éire/Ireland and arguably became a Republic with the passage of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937; and formally described itself as such with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. That same year (1948), the republican movement took the decision to focus on Northern Ireland thereafter. The Border Campaign, which lasted from 1956 to 1962, involved bombings and attacks on Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks. The failure of this campaign led the republican leadership to concentrate on political action and to move to the left. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968–9, the movement split between Officials (leftists) and Provisionals (traditionalists) at the beginning of 1970. Both sides were initially involved in an armed campaign against the British state, but the Officials gradually moved into mainstream politics after the Official IRA ceasefire of 1972; the associated "Official Sinn Féin" eventually renamed itself the Workers' Party. The Provisional IRA, except during brief ceasefires in 1972 and 1975, kept up a campaign of violence for nearly thirty years, directed against security forces and civilian targets (especially businesses). While the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) represented the nationalists of Northern Ireland in initiatives such as the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement, republicans took no part in these, believing that a withdrawal of British troops and a commitment to a united Ireland was a necessary precondition of any settlement. This began to change with a landmark speech by Danny Morrison in 1981, advocating what became known as the Armalite and ballot box strategy. Under the leadership of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin began to focus on the search for a political settlement. When the party voted in 1986 to take seats in legislative bodies within Ireland, there was a walk-out of die-hard republicans, who set up Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity IRA. Following the Hume–Adams dialogue, Sinn Féin took part in the Northern Ireland peace process which led to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. After elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, republicans sat in government in Northern Ireland for the first time when Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún were elected to the Northern Ireland Executive. However, another split occurred, with anti-Agreement republicans setting up the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and the Real IRA. Today, Irish republicanism is divided between those who support the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement and the later St Andrews Agreement, and those who oppose them. The latter are often referred to as dissident republicans.