Earlier this week, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill met with the Prince of Wales, as part of his ongoing trip to the 6 counties, to discuss the upcoming centenary of partition and the potential “rabbit-holes” that may accompany it. This is not the first time Sinn Féin has met with representatives of the British Royal Family. Famously, Martin McGuinness shook hands with the Queen of England in 2012, while both Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald met with Prince Charles in 2015 and 2018 respectively. While the mainstream media has presented these meetings as representative of political progress within Sinn Féin, in the eyes of the republican community, it can be seen as nothing less than a rejection of the republican principles they claim to uphold.
Republicanism has throughout its history been defined by its struggle for democracy, and consequently its rejection of monarchy. A nation that determines its sovereign by birthright rather than by popular vote, cannot truly call itself a democracy. By solidifying the prestige of the royals’ privilege of birth, monarchy enables and encourages a population that accepts the privilege of wealth and property, strengthening the grasp of the propertied class over the nation, stifling the growth of class consciousness and the social freedom that grows from it.
Members of Sinn Féin would claim that meeting the royals is not an acceptance of their legitimacy, that it’s simply a cost of peace, part of a wider, more practical strategy of achieving a United Ireland. But whose strategic interests does this serve? How does this further the cause of the working class of Ireland? A relationship between Sinn Féin and the British monarchy ultimately has no pragmatic purpose beyond normalising the sectarian state Sinn Féin has now assimilated itself into. Equally, when Sinn Féin members point to the leaders of communist parties meeting British dignitaries, they leave out the point that these are the heads of sovereign states meeting British figureheads for diplomatic negotiations, not the representatives of those living in an occupied territory meeting with their occupier to renew bonds of common interest.
Moreover, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. As recently as 2008, Martin Ferris said “Sinn Féin is opposed to a State visit by the British monarch or by members of the British royal family to any part of Ireland.” and troubles with handshakes persisted to 2012 and reservations within the party continued long after.
Since the ceasefire of 1997, Sinn Féin has followed an agenda of “normalisation” of partition and the 6 county statelet. In trying to appeal to the middle class, it has abandoned any revolutionary elements of its party and politics, and in return has been accepted into the political mainstream both North and South. But the 6 counties cannot be considered a normal state, nor can the members of the British royal family be considered normal heads of state.
The British monarchy has at every step pushed against reform in Britain and its colonies. It holds steadfast in its support of the empire, having awarded medals to soldiers involved in the massacre of civilians. Prince Charles himself is colonel-in-chief of the parachute regiment, the same regiment that was responsible for the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings. The meeting between O’Neill and the Prince of Wales follows only a day after the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday were told by prosecutors that no more ex-soldiers would be taken to court, despite little justice having been served.
As communists, anti-imperialists and republicans, we must reject the normalisation of the British Monarchy and the continued British occupation of the 6 counties. National liberation will not be won while appeasing the imperialists at our doorstep. An alternative vision of anti-sectarianism must be put forward, one that unites catholic, protestant and dissenter in class struggle against their common enemy. This will not be achieved through cordial discourse with the figureheads of Empire.
“Believing as we do that there is nothing on earth more sacred than humanity, we deny all allegiance to this institution of royalty, and hence we can only regard the visit of the King as adding fresh fuel to the fire of hatred with which we regard the plundering institutions of which he is the representative. Let the capitalist and landlord class flock to exalt him; he is theirs; in him they see embodied the idea of caste and class; they glorify him and exalt his importance that they might familiarise the public mind with the conception of political inequality, knowing well that a people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never attain to that spirit of self-reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom.”