Ireland: direct rule continues

FRFI 171 February / March 2003

As the British government gears up for war in Iraq, it is attempting to maintain stability in the north of Ireland. It is hoping for a return to devolved Stormont rule by the end of February, ahead of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly scheduled for 1 May. On 23 and 24 January the British government held an ‘Ulster Summit’ in London attended by the Irish government, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and former First Minister David Trimble and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams.

Earlier, David Trimble had called for the issue of IRA disbandment to be on the agenda as part of discussions about the re-establishment of the Stormont parliament. The British government backed the Unionist call for the IRA to disband. Speaking at the end of 2002 in Belfast, Tony Blair stated that Britain would respond ‘generously’ to what he called ‘acts of completion’ by the IRA. ‘Acts of completion’ is Labour Party language for what will amount to the disbandment of the IRA. At the end of the Ulster Summit, Adams felt able to predict an ‘imaginative gesture’ by the IRA in response to the implementation of the devolved institutions.

A round of talks to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly – suspended on 14 October 2002 – broke down on 19 December following the leakage of a confidential Irish government position paper which stated that the IRA was still active. In late December, media in Britain and Ireland quoted a senior Irish government source saying that the IRA was planning to make a ‘historic gesture’ to resuscitate the peace process, although this was said to fall short of full IRA disbandment. Yet, when in its New Year message the IRA restated its total commitment to the peace process and once more called on British imperialism to implement the Good Friday Agreement, it rejected what it called ‘unrealistic ultimatums’ in regard to calls for its disbandment. The reality, however, is that the Ulster Unionist Party and the British government have manoeuvred the IRA into a position where nothing short of a significant statement from the IRA on disbandment will restore the devolved institutions. The Republican movement is once again being compelled to save the peace process.

In a measure of how far Sinn Fein is dependent on the success of the peace process, Martin McGuinness suggested that the period of January and February was probably ‘the most critical six to eight weeks that we have seen in the course of the last 30 years’. Sinn Fein Assembly member Martin Ferris went further and described the negotiations to restore the devolved institutions as the most important since Britain imposed the partition of Ireland in 1921.

As the negotiations drag on, organised fascist loyalist attacks on the nationalist working class continue. In North Belfast in January as part of their continuing terror campaign against Catholic schools across the north, loyalists placed a bomb at the Holy Cross primary school. A loyalist feud has claimed two lives over the New Year period and threatens loyalist involvement in the peace process. In a bid to stabilise the escalating violence within the loyalist community, new Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy revoked the licence of freedom granted to leading Belfast loyalist Johnny Adair for being ‘a threat to others’. The UDA terror group of which he was a member has expelled him and has now threatened to assassinate him. But neither a loyalist feud nor a return to Stormont rule will make a difference to the sustained daily attacks the nationalist community suffers at the hands of loyalist hate mobs and death squads.
Paul Mallon


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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