Ireland: Repression, violence, segregation – the realities of the sectarian state

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

The peace process, which has been in continual crisis since the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement, has faltered once again, as devolved power to Stormont remains suspended. Direct rule from London has been in place since the British government directly intervened and suspended the devolved institutions in December 2002. Divisions within Unionism remain unresolved, and at present the anti-agreement Unionists hold the majority within both the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party. Elections are also suspended as the result would favour the anti-agreement Unionist camp and thus unravel the whole agreement.

Sinn Fein has responded by retreating to the 1969 Nationalist demand of the basic right to vote. The British and Irish governments and the pro-agreement parties now have to seek ways to get the peace process back on track.

Throughout the summer, Loyalist mobs and death squad paramilitaries have continued a daily terror campaign against Nationalists. On 16 September Loyalists placed bombs inside the grounds of two Roman Catholic schools in County Derry: one was St Mary’s High in Limavady, the other was discovered 10 miles away at St Patrick’s College, Dungiven. Both devices were live and primed to explode. Sectarian attacks on Nationalists are daily as Loyalism continues its war on the Nationalist population. Loyalists have subjected Catholic families living in the Deerpark Road area in North Belfast to what can only be described as a pogrom. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has refused to act, and to date has arrested no one in connection with these ongoing attacks. This comes as no surprise to Nationalists given that the PSNI is merely a rebadged version of the old sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Far from undermining the nature of the sectarian state the Good Friday Agreement has furthered institutional sectarianism and discrimination against Catholics and Nationalists. 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. Tony Kennedy, Chief Executive of the charity Cooperation Ireland* says in the Irish Times of 26 August that ‘there are more peace walls five years into our “peace process” than there were when the Agreement was signed, while surveys show that increasing numbers of people are living in segregated estates’. Yet Sinn Fein remains wedded to solving these problems within the framework of the failed and discredited Good Friday Agreement.

The campaign for political status and segregation continues within Maghaberry prison where Republican prisoners have staged rooftop protests and no-wash protests. They have been denied family visits. Political status was removed in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The criminalisation of all forms of resistance to British rule has continued unabated. On 2 July, relatives and supporters of the protesting prisoners held an occupation of the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Prison Service to highlight the political status campaign. Following its reporting of this protest, the online republican news journal The Blanket has came under state attack: on 4 July the PSNI raided the home of its editor Anthony McIntyre, seizing computer equipment and other materials. Thirty three jeeps and over 100 officers were involved.

Meanwhile the Irish state has returned to the methods of supergrass show trials, last used against Republicans in the 1980s, when in August the alleged leader of the ‘Real IRA’, Michael McKevitt was convicted of ‘directing terrorism’. The non-jury Special Criminal Court in Dublin sentenced McKevitt to 25 years imprisonment on the evidence of FBI-paid informer David Rupert.

Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin called for patience within the Republican community: ‘we may need to be patient until such a leadership [pro Good Friday Agreement] emerges within Unionism.’ On the role of the British government McLaughlin believes ‘the hand of history was never more firmly on Tony Blair’s shoulders’. On 7 August Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht expressed the opinion that ‘the current British Prime Minister is widely recognised as a man prepared to act on his conscience’. Blair has demonstrated with murderous effect to the peoples of the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq that his conscience drives him to be an ardent defender of British imperialism. Any notion that he or British imperialism can play a progressive role in Ireland or be an honest broker should be vehemently opposed.
Paul Mallon

*Cooperation Ireland is an NGO established in 1979 to promote peace in Ireland. It is a registered charity. The main source of income according to its website is the European Union. Patrons include the British Queen and Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland.


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