In modern republics the origin of sovereignty is in the people, but now we recognize that we have many peoples. And many peoples means many centres of sovereignty—we have to deal with that.
(Paul Ricoeur) 1
‘What ish my nation?’ asks Captain Macmorris in Henry V in what must surely be one of the first expressions of Ireland’s identity crisis. Ever since, the same question has found multiple forms of response, each contriving to make sense of complex, and often conflicting, allegiances—Gael and planter, Catholic and Protestant, Republican and Loyalist, tribal and cosmopolitan.
A change seems to be occurring in recent times, however, as Irish people, North and South, move gradually beyond the orthodox equations of political and cultural identity. For unionists and nationalists alike, this means rethinking traditional fidelities to unitary ideals of nation-statehood: a United Kingdom for the former, a 32-county Republic for the latter. The 25-year war in Ulster epitomized the clash of irreconcilable territorial claims. Hence the need for a movement beyond sovereignty—at least understood as an absolute principle of ‘one and indivisible’ power. And the attendant need to think further than the conflict between British and Irish nation-states towards a new configuration of identities. 2
The central wager of this opening chapter may be stated accordingly: contemporary Ireland is in historic transition and calls for new modes of self-definition in keeping with an overall move towards a more federal and regional Europe. In the new European dispensation, nation-states will, arguably, become increasingly anachronistic. Power will be disseminated upwards from the state to transnational government and downwards to subnational government. In this context, future identities may, conceivably, be less nation-statist and more local and cosmopolitan.