If you judge Fianna Fáil by their actions rather than their rhetoric, then they have more in common with Peronism than any objective reading of classical republicanism. The other major Irish political party to claim the label of “Republican” is Sinn Féin, whose record in power is slight but tends towards left-authoritarianism. Since all parties in the Republic are technically republican the terminology may not seem like such a big deal, but a party’s use of the R word is a very good indicator of whether it believes in a republic, or in The Republic. The distinction is important.
The terminology of big-R Irish Republicanism does not derive directly from small-r classical republicanism (see my previous post for a guide to the differences), but indirectly via the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic. It could have been the Proclamation of the Empire for all the difference it would likely have made to Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil party policy, just that we’d be talking about Unionists vs. Imperialists instead.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin’s comments yesterday are fascinating:
To those misguided, would be republicans who delude themselves into believing that an independent united Irish Republic can still be achieved by violence, I say it’s time to face up to reality. …
… Let nobody be fooled, these so-called “dissident” republicans are unqualified partitionists. Nobody who believes in the Republic should have anything to do with them.
Again we see big-R Republicanism (Minister Martin isn’t as pedantic as I am with the capitalisation) as synonymous with territorial nationalism, but I also find his rhetoric revealing. Note the deliberate use of “Irish Republic” rather than plain “Ireland” or even “Republic of Ireland” – that’s anti-Treaty mythology which could have been lifted straight from An Phoblacht, and Martin is using it to underline FF’s Republican credentials. For big-R Republicans the short-lived Irish Republic of the First and Second Dáil still exists in some parallel legal reality like a king-over-the-sea in a modern-day parody of Jacobitism.
The fundamentals of Republicanism and Jacobitism are strikingly similar: denial of the propriety of a parliamentary vote; loyalty to a state-in-waiting which carries the true torch of legitimacy; a millenarian faith in the imminent return to power of the true regime, which will unmake history and set the land to rights. Both are fundamentally nostalgic creeds that embody the old Irish punchline: “if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here”.
For big-R Republicans, it’s not enough to have a republic, only The Republic will suffice.