We are coming towards the end of the “Decade of Centenaries” and this is where it all gets a bit contested.
The Lockout, the Great War, the Easter Rising, were all really important and we all learned so much more about each other’s histories and traditions. We discovered new histories with a far greater interrogation of the experience of women, children and the working class.
But the hard bit is yet to come. How will we engage with the ending of the Tan War, the Treaty, the Dáil debates and the imposition of an artificial border? We are connecting dots to our direct lived experience that has perhaps not been so obvious before. Our recent conflict that arose from partition-induced discrimination, and denial of civil rights has to be at the heart of any commemoration. Many will be discommoded.
How will we engage with the history of a Civil War that still frames national politics? Republicans executing republicans, and the role of state agents, is not something we have engaged with in an open way before and resonates directly with disappearances and the current Operation Kenova investigation in ways that are likely to discomfort us more than we expect.
But equally there will be a conversation in the southern state. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are direct beneficiaries of those times. Their entire construct remains framed by the Tan and Civil Wars and what proceeded them. No matter how much they shade much of that. Will they engage in honest conversations on this?
This year coming our social, economic and political challenges and opportunities have the potential to be so transformative they will certainly we written in the same way as 1998, 1994, 1969 and that decade that transformed our island from 1913-1923.
Brexit will get done. Without our consent and to our detriment. Irish citizenship rights have not been secured. Right now, all of those born in the North who are proud Irish men and Irish women are deemed British by default and the Good Friday Agreement has apparently no enforcement domestically. We have learned this through the case of Emma De Souza. No English court or English politician can claim that Irish men and women who are born and live here are anything other than what they are, but their laws will claim them. While living under the EU this was hidden and mattered little. After Brexit it will matter a whole lot. In practical ways. Unless the Irish government act quickly.
Economically the Withdrawal Agreement between Varadkar and Johnson, and accepted by so many as a recipe to avoid the No Deal crash out catastrophe, has been described as far from perfect. It is a million miles from perfect and there are real and tangible fears for the economic future of this part of our island, neither in the EU, nor in the UK, nor being a Celtic Hong Kong.
The Good Friday Agreement’s arrangements will be tested in a way that we can only imagine. So many want a local government with local accountability to deliver local solutions to local problems. They want all political parties to work in all of our interest, cement our cracking peace and get on with building prosperity. But the sectarianism of the DUP remains there for us all to see. Can structural protections support hopes for a new beginning? It is possible, yet not definite.
All of the above leads to one place. A structured and concerted conversation about a new Ireland and a different constitutional arrangement. And that conversation is being called for, but it must be more, it must be deliberate and hold weight.
The truth is that Brexit “concessions” and the painful testing of our peace agreement that so far has proven unworkable evoke the words of the dead Leitrim Fenian Seán Mac Diarmada, “Damn your concessions England, we want our country”. A United Ireland a new Ireland, is on the agenda and on the lips of citizens. It must become part of government planning and contingency in 2019, that it is not already points to the reality that partition operates to the interest of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They have benefitted from partition and are threatened by the idea of a new Ireland. And while that is currently the case they will realise this year that is cannot be avoided and they need to get with history and be part of a conversation that otherwise will sweep them aside as history tends to do with those unable to recognise the critical moments of an age.