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Republicans who do not respect unionists or recognise State are standing in way of united Ireland

Commemorative and funeral marches by non-State actors wearing uniforms are polarising, ridiculous and ultimately unrepublican

Not many people read our Constitution, and for many it might prove a difficult casual read. Perhaps every school leaver should have been given a module as part of his or her secondary education on its provisions and receive a personal copy as part of that module. Article 9.3 provides as follows: “Fidelity to the Nation and loyalty to the State are fundamental political duties of all citizens”.

Those words are important in that they underline a point I made here a few weeks ago that the Constitution is not simply a charter of individual rights; rights without duties are meaningless. Vindication of rights must entail enforcement of duties at personal and State level.

But what do we mean when we say that all citizens owe a duty of loyalty to the State established by the Constitution – our “sovereign, independent, democratic state” as it is described in article 5?

Every applicant for Irish citizenship is required to make a formal declaration of loyalty to the State. Those born into Irish citizenship are impressed with that duty of loyalty as a consequence of their status. The President and the judiciary are required to make solemn declarations committing them to “uphold the Constitution and the laws”.

Why then should not Robert Emmet’s republic of 1803 be equally regarded as still in existence and as legitimate?

No member of the Houses of the Oireachtas is constitutionally obliged to make any such declaration, but since membership of the Oireachtas is confined to those who are citizens, loyalty to the State is their constitutional duty in any event.

There are nonetheless people who regard the State as illegitimate. They have been indoctrinated to believe that the State is not the republic proclaimed outside the GPO on Easter Monday 1916. They adhere to an ideology that the independent Irish State established in the form of Saorstát Éireann in December 1922 was an illegitimate entity based on a betrayal of the republic proclaimed in 1916. They regard the 1937 Constitution as a mutation of the illegitimate Saorstát, and believe that the republic proclaimed in 1916 continues to exist separately from the present Irish State.

Who are those people? They are the small band of dissidents who paraded in some of our cities in black-and-white uniforms last Sunday and who paraded in Derry in full paramilitary gear last Sunday carrying crates of petrol bombs.

But there are others. The leadership of Sinn Féin also adheres to the ideology that the State is not legitimate. That party also espouses the ludicrous belief that the powers of government of the 1916 republic although vested in the second Dáil which by majority approved the treaty were devolved onto the Army Council of the IRA in December 1938 by seven TDs last elected 17 years earlier in 1921 who had repudiated the treaty and the new Constitution.

That belief and ideology has never been discarded. It justified in the eyes of the provisional movement the prolonged campaign of terrorist violence aimed among other things at the subversion of the Irish state.

And even with abandonment of abstentionist politics and the Belfast Agreement approved by majorities of the Irish people in referendums held north and south, present-day Sinn Féin and the dissidents’ uniformed marches both still withhold loyalty by insisting there is a different state in being to which they owe their loyalty.

That idea is almost theological in character. Why then should not Robert Emmet’s republic of 1803 be equally regarded as still in existence and as legitimate?

When we recall that Sinn Féin in 1917, while ratifying the 1916 republic, still accepted that the external form of an independent Irish state once established might not be a republic, and when the First Dáil used the term Saorstát Éireann to describe the state of which it was the parliament in its formal declaration of independence in 1919, it is hard to see how the independent Irish State is not now entitled to the loyalty demanded by article 9.

Present-day Sinn Féin and the dissidents’ uniformed marches both still withhold loyalty by insisting there is a different state in being to which they owe their loyalty

I fully acknowledge, as an Irish republican, that it remains entirely open to Irish people to contest the historic legitimacy of partition, and to aspire to some form of Irish unity when that can be achieved by peaceful means, with the consent of majorities of the people in both parts of the island.

But as Bertie Ahern stated so forcefully in his speech on Sunday, the need now is for republicans to show respect for the unionist people and their traditions. The vocation of true republicans must regard reconciliation based on that respect as the overriding priority from now on.

People who claim to be republican, but yet withhold their duty of full loyalty to the State in whose parliament they seek to serve, impede reconciliation on this island. Commemorative and funeral marches by non-State actors in uniform is divisive, polarising, counterproductive, ridiculous and, ultimately, unrepublican.

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