- Created: Friday, 15 May 2009 15:35
- Written by Paul Mallon
FRFI 177 February / March 2004
Since the 26 November elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly (reported in FRFI 176), stalemate has ensued pending the review of the Good Friday Agreement set to begin in February. Loyalist attacks have continued against the nationalist community and have been extended to a widespread racist terror campaign against ethnic groups, exposing the racist character of the loyalist tradition itself. Further evidence of the widespread collusion between the British government, its agents and the loyalist death squads in the terror campaign directed at the nationalist community has also been published. The DUP is now setting the pace of the political agenda in the north and is set to destroy the illusions of Sinn Fein in regard to the restoration of devolved power to the Stormont Assembly.
The Six County statelet is now the race hate capital of Europe. Every day in Belfast a racist attack is carried out. The white supremacist loyalist tradition, which is materially dependent on British imperialism, has maintained its hate campaign primarily against Catholics and Irish nationalists for centuries. Loyalism is racism by definition. Loyalist death squads and hate mobs have extended their hate campaign in recent weeks in Belfast against the tiny minority ethnic community in the north of Ireland where 99% of citizens are white. In December Ugandan and Romanian families were burned out of their homes in South Belfast. The Belfast Chinese community has come under recent sustained attack from loyalist hate mobs, as have Muslims throughout the north.
Following weeks of speculation and in the aftermath of the election of Ian Paisley’s hard-line Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as the main unionist party, Jeffery Donaldson, the anti-Agreement Unionist, joined the DUP from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Two other key supporters followed him, taking the DUP assembly member total to 33 seats compared to the UUP’s 24. This adds to the crisis facing the Good Friday Agreement as Unionism turns increasingly hard line.
In early December, the Dublin government published part of the Barron report. The interim report of the Barron Inquiry into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings points to collusion between agents of the British armed forces and loyalists in the atrocity, which claimed 34 lives. The initial report stated that Barron could not say if there was collusion at the highest level, but that the British government had certainly thwarted any proper investigation into the bombings at the time and since, and had failed to co-operate fully with the present inquiry.
Several reports published since the end of last year have detailed widespread collusion between the British government and loyalist death squads’ campaign to terrorise Irish republicans and the wider Catholic community in the Six Counties. In October the British government refused to publish the findings and recommendations of a report into British collusion by Canadian Judge Peter Cory. Cory had been asked to investigate the allegations of British state collusion with a number of killings including those of human rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson and the killing of Catholic Robert Hamill. Blair had previously promised to publish the reports but with elections looming in November their publication was postponed; they still have not appeared. In mid-January Judge Cory went over Blair’s head to contact the families directly concerned advising them that he recommended full public inquiries. Cory described the British government’s attempts to keep them in the dark as ‘unfair and cruel’. The family of Pat Finucane have sought a judicial review in the High Court to force the British government to publish the Cory findings.
On 19 January a further report condemned the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigation into the murder of Catholic Sean Brown in May 1997 as ‘appalling and unprofessional’ with ‘serious and unexplained failures’. The report, by police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, stated that the RUC ‘had made no real effort to track down the killers’.
The review of the Good Friday Agreement is due to start on 3 February. The only movement of significance since the November election has been yet another sop to Unionism when the British government established a so-called Independent Monitoring Commission in January which is the only part of the two governments’ April 2003 Joint Declaration to be implemented. The Commission will focus almost entirely on Republican armed groups and will ignore the ongoing loyalist campaign of violence. As we argued in FRFI 176: ‘A review of the Good Friday Agreement in the next period will attempt to wrest further concessions from Sinn Fein to appease Unionists and the British government.’ This remains the case.
Sinn Fein remains completely tied to the Good Friday Agreement. There is quite simply nowhere else for them to go. The immediate political future will be one of ongoing loyalist attacks on nationalists. Faced with this and continued assembly suspension Sinn Féin’s strategy amounts to being reliant on the ‘good faith and commitment’ of Tony Blair and British imperialism. The Unionist veto remains firmly at the heart of the northern statelet. The DUP is now setting the political agenda of the north. The pace of any future ‘progress’ will be dependent on the racist bigot Ian Paisley.
Faced with this harsh reality and the obvious implications for the Republican strategy, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has opted for some wishful thinking. Speaking in Belfast on 27 January he said: ‘The review will not be a renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement but it is an opportunity to accelerate the process of change promised in the Agreement’. The ‘acceleration of change’ will be assessed on the streets by the most oppressed and the victims of state discrimination and loyalist terror. The real acceleration of change will not occur within the failed structure of British rule in Ireland but within the republican movement itself. Having endured generations of the Orange/Unionist veto the question for nationalists then becomes how long will the present consensus endure and where are the forces emerging from to defend the nationalist working class from loyalist attack?
The Socialist Environmental Alliance: The SWP and the Partition of Ireland
On 14 February a left convention will meet in Derry to discuss a joint electoral pact for the pending June European elections. The invitation to the convention circulated by the Socialist Environmental Alliance (SEA) ‘envisages an electoral alliance of different parties, campaigning groups and individuals offering voters a radical, anti-sectarian alternative to parties based on one or the other of the two communities’.
Such a ‘radical alliance’ in fact is nothing new. What unites them is their refusal to fight against the partition of Ireland and directly confront imperialism in Ireland. Long-standing Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member Eamonn McCann will stand on the SEA platform. The ‘broad alliance’ will not be extended to those anti-imperialists, socialists and republicans who oppose partition and regard British imperialism, as the primary cause of the conflict. The SEA describes those who oppose partition as ‘sectarians’.
The core of the SEA is the SWP in Ireland. The SEA stood McCann in last November’s elections to the Stormont Assembly; he polled 2,257 votes (5.5% of the vote). McCann later said in Socialist Worker (6 December 2003): ‘We regard class divisions, not community differences between Protestant and Catholics, as the defining characteristic of our society’. For the SWP ambivalence towards the partition of Ireland and the role of British imperialism is part of its history. In 1969 the SWP supported the Labour Party sending troops in to the Six Counties believing then as they do now that imperialism can play a progressive role.
British imperialism created and maintains the division and split between the Catholic and Protestant working class. The social deprivation/poverty map reflects the sectarian character of the northern statelet with almost 80% of the top 50 most deprived wards in the north being Catholic. According to the 2001 population census, unemployment rates for Catholics remain 1.8 times higher than Protestants. The October 2003 Bare Necessities: Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland report revealed 37% of Irish nationalist households live in poverty compared to 25% of households who view themselves as British. To campaign for better conditions for the working class it is absolutely essential to fight British imperialism. In contrast, McCann and the SEA wish to see a middle road of reform that maintains their privileged position, and so they imply that British imperialism can play a progressive role in Ireland and reform the reactionary loyalist state. This can never be the case: British imperialism in Ireland has always been reactionary and always will be. There can be no progress in unifying the working class without destroying that which divides it: partition and British occupation of the North.