The DUP and Ireland


A speech given by Nicki Jameson at a London RCG meeting on 28 June

After failing to secure an overall majority, the Conservatives have been negotiating with the DUP and have finally done a deal to secure the votes of its ten MPs on key questions. This deal will provide £1bn for state sector spending in the north of Ireland.

Everyone in Britain outside of Tory HQ is bristling with indignation of one sort or another. Regional governments in Scotland and Wales, which are already a poor relation, subsidy-wise compared to the north of Ireland, are incandescent; while Labour supporters point out that the DUP seems to have had no problem locating that magic money tree that Corbyn was ridiculed by Amber Rudd for relying on. Outraged commentators are asking if ‘cash for votes’ is legal (which it clearly is!) and, ever since the negotiations started, supporters of Corbyn have been going on about the hypocrisy of the government talking to the DUP - which has clear links to loyalist paramilitaries - while having made propaganda out of Corbyn’s earlier support for Sinn Fein, the IRA and Irish republicanism.

Much has been made in the press of the DUP’s reactionary politics – its stances against abortion and gay rights, and in favour of creationist education. But relatively little has been said about why the DUP exists at all. Why indeed the little statelet of ‘Northern Ireland’, which has been propped up by subsidies from Westminster for many a year, exists.


To understand this it we have to look at the historical context, which begins with the fact that Britain or England has occupied the neighbouring island of Ireland for 800 years. There is no time here to go over any of the history of this, but suffice to say the occupation was met both with determined resistance and with infighting between various vested interests within Ireland. The latter of which were exploited, as is always the case with colonial rulers, by the occupiers. The British used settlers to support their rule and employed divide and rule tactics between religious groups and between class interests.


100 years ago last year, nationalists and socialists fought the Dublin Easter Rising and, after the subsequent war of independence, Ireland was partitioned, with 26 counties forming the new Irish Free State and six remaining under British control.

James Connolly predicted that Partition would lead to '...a carnival of reaction...' and indeed this was the case.

Although at times Protestants have played a progressive role in fighting occupation (Legendary 18th century Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone and many other leaders of the United Irishmen were Protestants), a key part of British divide and rule has long been to use the Protestant population as proxies with which to control the island. A substantial Protestant, or more properly ‘Unionist’ or ‘loyalist’ section of the Irish population was against independence and Partition ensured both that they could remain part of the ‘United Kingdom’ – established by the 1800 Acts of Union – and that the British government could continue to rule over part of the island.

As we wrote in Ireland the Key to the British Revolution: ‘Repression and discrimination have been permanent features of the northern statelet from its foundation... These features are built into the system and are essential to maintain the loyalty of Protestant workers to British rule. The northern statelet was formed from six of the nine counties of Ulster, carefully chosen so that the Unionists would have a large majority. This meant the large Catholic minority, who would never be reconciled to a loyalist state, had to have it forced on them. And forced on them it certainly was. In a period of Unionist orchestrated terror between July 1920 and July 1922, 453 people were killed in Belfast, 37 members of the Crown Forces and 416 civilians, including 257 Catholics and 157 Protestants. Outside Belfast more than 100 died... Of 93,000 Catholics in Belfast almost 11,000 were driven from their jobs and 23,000 rendered homeless. Over 500 Catholic-owned shops and businesses were burnt, looted and wrecked.

‘The state set up a whole machinery of repression. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the loyalist state’s armed paramilitary police force, mainly recruited from the Orange Order and the Special Constabulary, with access to rifles, sub-machine guns, and armoured cars.... All were recruited from the Orange Order and formed a Protestant and loyalist militia.

‘Loyalist “law and order" was further strengthened by ... the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, which ... gave the civil authorities all the powers of a police state.’

The DUP – history

Until very recently, the dominant loyalist political party has been the Ulster Unionist Party, sometimes referred to as the Official Unionists. The UUP is a longstanding, ruling class unionist organisation, founded its current form in 1905, but with roots going back centuries.

The DUP was founded in 1971 by the ‘Reverend’ Ian Paisley. Paisley was a ‘populist’ leader in the style of Trump or Hitler. He grew to prominence during the 1960s civil rights movement in the north of Ireland, which staged peaceful demonstrations calling for an end to anti-Catholic discrimination. Paisley argued that the UUP and other mainstream loyalists were far too soft on this nationalist scourge and, like such populists always do, made his pitch in the name of the section of the working class that is loyal to the oppressor. His rhetoric against Catholics is interchangeable with that of Hitler against Jews, Trump against Muslims or the EDL against immigrants.

This is the founder of the party which now holds the balance of power in British politics.

The DUP did indeed attract the loyalist working class to it, appealing to their fear that within the north they would become the minority community and be treated by the Catholic ruling class the way their ruling class had treated the Catholics.

In 1974 Paisley led a general strike of loyalist workers in protest against the Sunningdale power-sharing agreement, in which nationalist and loyalist parties would share power in the Six Counties, and the 26 Counties government would play a role in the governance of the north.

Good Friday agreement

In 1994 the war in the north of Ireland, though still not finally resolved, came to an end for the time being, resulting in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. The DUP opposed the GFA and is not a signatory.

However, ultimately it was among the winners of the so-called ‘peace dividend’ as it has grown to be the largest and most dominant political party in the Six Counties and therefore in charge – along with Sinn Fein, which similarly has seen off the more conservative nationalist SDLP – of the government and budget for the north.

The Stormont Northern Ireland government itself is of course currently in abeyance, due to a scandal caused by the DUP’s corruption.

The DUP today

So, the DUP hates Catholics and is not keen on other minority ethnic groups either. As is now very well known, it opposes gay marriage and abortion. (Though it must be said, other than the Greens and People before Profit, no mainstream political parties in the north of Ireland actually favour full legalisation of abortion, in line with the reactionary traditions of both the various Protestant churches and of the Catholic church.)

However, the DUP seeks to sure up support from its base by securing concessions and help pave the way for a return to Stormont, luring Sinn Fein back into the ‘power-sharing’ executive on the DUP’s terms. This was why the deal took so long and why the Tories have been backed into a strange corner in relation to some of their own austerity policies, and had to back away from the plans to change the ‘triple lock’ and winter fuel payments.


Ireland: reaction north and south of the border

apple billions protest tax
The Irish government assisted Apple to appeal against a decision by the European Commission to order the company to pay €13bn in taxes to the Irish states.

Ireland: caught in the crossfire

On 17 May Enda Kenny announced his long-awaited retirement as leader of Fine Gael – the right-wing party that heads the ruling coalition in the Twenty-Six Counties. Having wanted to get rid of him from time immemorial, his party and the Irish media now praise his ‘extraordinary leadership’ in tackling ‘the Brexit issue’, elbowing his way into the great chambers of Brussels and securing his nation a prominent place at the negotiating table. Ireland has indeed found its way to the table – not as a ‘player’, but as a Brexit bargaining chip. Today’s ‘Irish question’ sits between the exit bill and citizens’ rights – ‘progress’ on all three being an EU precondition for commencing trade talks with Britain. As rivalry sharpens between the major imperialist powers, Ireland – chained to foreign capital – finds itself caught in the crossfire.

Read more ...

Ireland: no return to the status quo?

2 March 2017 saw elections held to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the second time in ten months – this time around the result was quite different. Turnout overall was up almost 10% compared with May 2016 and was highest in Nationalist areas. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was returned as the largest party – but only just. Sinn Fein’s total of first preference votes leapt by 34.5%. It finished with 27 seats to the DUP’s 28 – just over 1,000 votes separated the two. It has been hailed as the Nationalists’ greatest electoral performance in the history of the statelet – and the Unionists’ worst. Mike Nesbitt resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) before the full count was even in. DUP veterans Lord Morrow and Nelson McCausland lost their seats. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called it a ‘watershed election’; the notion of perpetual Unionist majority ‘demolished’. His party has since climbed in the opinion polls in the south, overtaking Fine Gael. Talk abounds of border polls, ‘joint authority’ over the North by London and Dublin and ‘special status’ in a post-Brexit European Union.

Read more ...

Ireland ‘power-sharing’ executive collapses

March 2017 will see elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly held for the second time in ten months. On 9 January, amid the latest crisis to engulf Britain’s political institutions in the North of Ireland, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister, thus collapsing Stormont’s ‘power-sharing’ Executive. His party had seven days to re-nominate for the post, or else trigger a return to the polls. First Minister and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster warned any election campaign would be ‘brutal’. Sinn Fein declined to nominate a replacement and, on 16 January, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire called a snap election.


Sinn Fein’s decision to force an election was precipitated by public reaction to the ‘cash-for-ash’ corruption scandal – a story that broke in February 2016 but erupted in December with further revelations. The First Minister was personally implicated. With the ensuing drip-drip of allegation and revelation, the sheer arrogance with which Foster and her cabal in the DUP passed the buck garnered widespread revulsion.

Read more ...

Questions of History

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 75 - February 1988

David Reed reviews Questions of History by Irish Republican Prisoners of War

The defeat of the hunger strike in 1981 was a severe setback for the Republican Movement. While initially, in the wake of the heroic sacrifice of the prisoners, certain political gains were made especially on the electoral front, the last few years have not seen any significant political advances by the revolutionary forces in Ireland.

The greater emphasis on electoral work and the decision to reject abstentionism in elections to the Dail has not led to the gains clearly expected. The work around 'economic and social' issues has not yet produced any substantial results. The revolutionary forces in Ireland have been unable to halt the growing collaboration between British imperialism and the puppet governments in the Twenty Six Counties. Finally, on the military level, the stalemate which has existed for some time between the IRA and the British and loyalist security forces remains.

Inevitably in such a period every revolutionary movement is forced to reassess and rethink its strategy if the impasse is to be broken. The Republican Movement is no exception. It is in this context that we should welcome Questions of History written by Irish Republican Prisoners of War and produced by the Education Department of Sinn Fein 'for the purpose of promoting political discussion'. Part I has so far been made available and covers the period from Wolfe Tone to the Republican Congress (1934).

The book is a valuable historical document which uses the history of the Republican struggle as a vehicle for raising crucial political questions. It asks: whether an ideology based on nationalism alone without a strong social content is sufficient to win the masses over to the struggle? Which class must lead the struggle for national liberation? Can a guerilla army like the IRA expect to win popular support for a social programme if it has no organised political party actively involving itself in the daily struggle of the oppressed? In a revolutionary movement should the army control the party or the party control the army? Is there a need for a vanguard party comprising 'scientifically trained socialist revolutionaries' to ensure that the nationalist working class has the capacity to complete the national struggle? In a situation of dire poverty badly affecting the unionist working class, could the working class in the north become united for long enough to perceive British imperialism as the ultimate enemy of their real interests?

All these questions arise out of their very challenging examination of the history of the Republican struggle. However no answers are given for the aim of this study is to provoke real thought and discussion in the Republican Movement. What, for us, is very significant about their approach is the acknowledgement of the centrality and relevance of the communist standpoint to the history of their struggle. Marx, Engels, Connolly, Lenin, are all discussed and their views on the Irish struggle have played a crucial role in formulating many of the questions. Very heartening also is the considered use of the arguments in Ireland: the key to the British Revolution in assessing their history.

While questions are only posed and not answered, the Irish Republican POWs are quite clearly trying to direct their movement's thinking along a certain path. For them nationalism alone, separate from a social programme, is not going to win the allegiance of the masses (p82). Fintan Lalor's standpoint, for example, in the Young Ireland Movement (1848) is seen as 'much more in keeping with the radical republican tradition'. Lalor saw the land question at the root of the national question (p 31). Marx's analysis of the Irish national struggle at the time of the Fenian movement 'went to the roots of the problem' and Marx 'saw, as Lalor had, the connection between the national and social struggle' (p45)*. Marx primarily, and later Lalor, were influential in forming the views of James Connolly. Connolly argued that national freedom would be useless unless accompanied by social change. His significance in the evolution of the revolutionary struggle 'cannot be emphasised enough' (pp59-60).

Which class leads the national revolution will determine how far the struggle develops. The failure of the United Irishmen (1798) is seen in terms of the lack of a unity between different classes and creeds which made up the movement. 'Protestants who had courted the United Irish movement clung to the British connection once their own property was threatened'. Presbyterian artisans found it impossible in practice to have a common interest with Catholics. And Catholics themselves were divided between rich and poor (p19). Daniel O'Connell used the discontent of the Irish peasantry to win political power for middle-class Catholics (1829). It did not free the peasantry but rather it gained middle-class Catholics the right to sit in parliament' (p26). The Home Rule movement (1870-1912) while under Parnell's leadership was prepared to use the Land League (1870) and the 'social warfare' of the peasantry against the Landlords to achieve its aim. However, it was not concerned with social revolution in Ireland but rather 'legislative independence to enable middle-class Catholics to prosper'. The Home Rule movement eventually fragmented (pp54-7).

Connolly understood that only the working class could be entrusted with the task of leading and carrying through the national revolution as a precondition for its own emancipation. While he participated in the Easter Rising (1916) he was 'suspicious of the bourgeois forces he was aligned with' (p65). To ensure that the interests of the working class and peasantry would be defended he told the Irish Citizen's Army shortly before the rising, 'In the event of a victory hold onto your rifles as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty' (p65). Nevertheless, Connolly felt it correct to align the working class with the 'most progressive section of the national bourgeoisie' as part of the process of achieving national freedom and social revolution.

The Irish POWs suggest that it could have been the loss of the revolutionary leadership of 1916, particularly Connolly and Pearse, which allowed the conservative republicanism of Griffith and de Valera to dominate the next stage of the struggle until the signing of the Treaty in 1921. In the period of the First Dail (1919/21) they point to many occasions when the IRA took the side of the landlords against the peasantry and rural workers in the land arbitration courts (p81). The Irish working class had also lost its revolutionary leadership with the murder of Connolly in 1916 and Larkin's departure to America in 1914. The new opportunist leadership of O'Brien and Johnson with-drew the working class movement from the Irish national struggle concentrating mainly on economic issues. Questions of History asks whether this also contributed to the 'future conservative nature of much republican thought' (p76). This is the context in which the question of the need for a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class is being raised (pp68, 77, 97).

The Irish POWs are examining their history to confront some of the important political questions facing their movement today. After discussing Connolly's decision to participate in the Easter Rising and ally himself with the most progressive section of the national bourgeoisie' they ask would this approach apply to the SDLP or Fianna Fail (p66). Surely the answer is no. First, is it not the case that Connolly allied the Irish working class to the revolutionary wing of the national movement, more exactly the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie and urban intelligentsia and not the national bourgeoisie as such? Had not the latter firmly tied its interests to British imperialism after the Dublin lockout and at the beginning of the First Imperialist War? And second, is it not the case that the last 18 years have conclusively demonstrated that the SDLP and Fianna Fail represent bourgeois and petty bourgeois class forces in Ireland which see their interests firmly tied to those of British imperialism?

One issue has not been directly raised so far by Questions of History. While it acknowledges the main theme of Ireland: the key to the British revolution - unless the British working class makes common cause with the Irish people's struggle for freedom it will undermine its own struggle for socialism - it does not assess the importance for their struggle of a working class solidarity movement in Britain. This is surely a crucial question as the Dublin lockout, the war of independence and the Civil War demonstrated. Should the Irish liberation movement therefore take steps to build links with the most progressive/ revolutionary sections of the British working class movement in the interests of furthering its own struggle?

Finally, some comments on the Republican Congress (1934) and, in particular, the statement raised in relation to this in Ireland: the key to the British revolution: `David Reed in analysing this period has stated: "It is quite wrong to see the dispute between the Republican Congress and the IRA as one between socialists and militarists" (p154). This was directed at the British movement as the next sentence of Ireland: the key to the British revolution shows:

'Those who attempt to use the Republican Congress to justify their own attack on the IRA, slander both the Congress and the IRA.' (IKBR p95)

and was a pointer to the events of 1965 when all of the British left, immediately after the split in the Republican Movement, took the side of the Officials against the Provisionals on the grounds that the former were socialists and the latter apolitical militarists. The point made by Questions of History, 'If the IRA leadership was revolutionary why did it refuse to commit itself to a Connolly-style Republic?', is very telling (p155). However our intention in this context was to make the point that people who call themselves socialists often turn out to be opportunists, playing a treacherous role in future struggles. And those in Ireland who concentrate, if one-sidedly, on the military struggle to defeat British imperialism can, in some circumstances, keep a revolutionary tradition alive. This is what we believe happened. Something which needed to be pointed out to a British movement which has a very backward position on the national question.

There are many more vital points to raise and discuss in Questions of History. Every socialist must study it and they will learn valuable lessons for the future. In particular they will learn how to critically examine and assess their own history in relation to Ireland. Part 2 is eagerly awaited.


*Questions of History is wrong to say the International Working Mens Association would not endorse Marx's proposals in regard to Ireland' (p.45). It did with very minor amendments despite opposition from English trade union leaders on 30 November 1869 (see Documents of the First International vol. III 1868-1870 pp. I 91-5). The same was true in November 1867 concerning the Manchester Martyrs (vol. II pp.179-180).

All page references, unless otherwise stated, refer to Questions of History.


Timeless abstractions

Two reviews of Questions of History have appeared so far in British left newspapers. Both The Leninist and Workers Press manage only to use the review as yet another occasion to repeat their own well learned prejudices.

The Leninist (December 1987) (caught up in the entrails of the very reactionary British Communist Party) tell us that the authors are 'unable to assess their own standpoint objectively, accepting the fundamental premise of the republican movement'. What the Irish POWs have been unable to recognise is that 'Irish Republicanism since its inception with Tone until today' is 'essentially' composed of 'petty bourgeois revolutionaries'. A timeless history followed by a timeless criticism. The Leninist answer to this timeless problem: 'confrontation with petty bourgeois utopias peddled by such as Adams' and building a revolutionary vanguard party.

Workers Press' review runs over three issues of their paper and is a more lengthy examination along the same lines. Their main concern is to defend Trotsky's historically incorrect position on the Russian revolution and Easter Rising, and take a side-swipe at David Reed who, here we go, 'opens the door for a "stages" theory that rigidly separates national unification from the struggle for socialism as a whole'. (At least they have the basic integrity, unlike The Leninist, not to cut short quotes in Questions of History at the point where they discuss arguments in Ireland: the key to the British Revolution.)

Their conclusion: the Republican Movement's programme is the 'programme of Irish nationalism and reformism - not of revolutionary socialism'. Yet another timeless prejudice that fails to draw the fundamental distinction between revolutionary nationalism and reactionary nationalism. Their timeless solution: a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class.

The Irish POWs are seeking concrete answers to the very concrete problem of completing their national revolution in Ireland. Hence the detailed analysis of their own history. Our very 'erudite' British revolutionaries ignore that concrete historical analysis and offer timeless abstractions for what are essentially their own abstract problems. Our suggestion is first that they examine their own history in relation to Ireland, and explain why the British working class has never made common cause with the Irish since the days of the Chartist movement. Second, they should tell us why, with all their superior knowledge of revolutionary strategy, they have never been able to have any practical influence on this very concrete British political reality.


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed