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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

The Republican Ideal
Edited by Norman Porter

(Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1998)
182pp. Index. Pb.: 12.99; ISBN 0-85640-627-9.

In this edited volume, six political activists from the North and South of Ireland deconstruct and/or reconstruct the republican ideal to give it pertinence for reaching an agreement between two traditions, one overwhelmingly Gaelic, Catholic and nationalist, the other British, Protestant and unionist. The contributors include Martin Mansergh of Finna Fail, Mitchell McLaughlin of Sinn Fein, and Des O'Hagan of the Workers' Party, all of whom have strong republican roots, and, somewhat surprisingly, three representatives from parties outside the republican tradition: Eamon Hanna of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, David Cook of the Alliance Party, and Avila Kilmurray and Monica McWilliams of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition. Along with advocating their political preferences, the contributors present a range of opinions and views that illustrate the varied aspects and different interpretations of republicanism. This, of course, is the collections' intention, to make us acutely aware that republicanism is not an extremist form of Irish nationalism nor is it a movement solely bent on physical force to achieve reunification.

Norman Porter, a disaffected unionist, provides an excellent introduction that examines the different priorities associated with the republican ideal. They are: resolution of the national question, commitment to a republican form of government, and transforming society. As Porter points out, none of the contributors endorse irredentism or promote the strident exclusivity of a Gaelic Ireland; rather their universal theme is one of inclusiveness, pluralism, anti-sectarianism, and democratic participation. As for republicanism's lingering identification with cultural nationalism, Porter suggests that nationalism is giving way to a less threatening sense of belonging that will allow those who identify as Irish, British, or whatever to engage in the political process without their nationality shackling them to preordained political outcomes.

The individual contributions, while varying in quality, do help to separate the republican ideal from myth and address unionists' misperceptions. Published in the bicentennial year of the United Irishmen's Uprising of 1798, many of the essays dwell on republicanism's historical development in Ireland; of these Mansergh's account is the best. O'Hagan stands almost alone in making the case for organizing republican society along socialist lines, though one suspects Sinn Fein will increasingly draw upon a radical republicanism with working-class appeal in the South. While the contributors conjure up contrasting visions of republicanism and the future, the problem for each is how to realize the ideal and, for unionists who will not be convinced, how to make republicanism in practice less menacing.

William A. Hazleton, Miami University, Ohio

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