The current economic crisis offers a chance to reimagine what it means to be a republic in Ireland ahead of the centenary of 1916, Fintan O’Toole told the large crowd at the annual Féile lecture on Saturday night.
Mr O’Toole, one of the leading political and social commentators in Ireland, was introduced at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin on Saturday night by Emmet O’Connor from the University of Ulster who described him as “a public intellectual.”
Mr O’Toole, whose latest book ‘Enough is Enough; How to build a new republic,’ was released last year, said a national debate needs to take place in the next few years.
He explained that the next ten years will see a decade of commemorations with the centenaries of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the 1913 Lockout, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and Partition.
“In my mind, the anniversary that is most important is the anniversary of the assembly of the first Dáil in January 1919. It produced the Democratic Programme which was essentially the blueprint for the new republic,” he said.
Mr O’Toole said the Democratic Programme enshrined the ideals of the republic but argued that those ideals have been abandoned. “An independent nation no longer exists on the island. Many people in the North will say it never existed but people in the South took it for granted that they lived in an independent democracy. That assumption has now been completely blown apart,” he said.
The Irish Times assistant editor also said the bailout of Irish banks and subsequent loans from Europe has taken decision making power out of the hands of Irish politicians. “It effectively makes government redundant for four years in terms of taxation, priorities, and the distribution of resources,” he said.
Mr O’Toole said the basic principles of the founders of the republic have been lost. “The Democratic Programme stated that private property must be subordinate to the public welfare. The reverse is now true. Public property has been seized to pay off bankers,” he said.
He also paraphrased former Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s famous description of the North when he said; “The South is also a failed political entity. For most of its history it has been an economic failure.” While he highlighted what he sees as the problems of the state, Mr O’Toole also warned “there is no magical solution.”
“It is going to be tough. There will be very difficult choices that have to be made if we want to put fairness at the centre, not only to get better choices, but to have a better chance of getting social consensus,” he said
He also encouraged everyone to take part in the dialogue around creating a new republic. “Here in Derry you know the value of community engagement and involvement. We need that kind of engagement redoubled all across the country if we are going to create an opportunity where we can take back democracy for the people and create a new republic,” he said.