Nationalists divide over Sinn Fein support for British policing

On 22 January, a report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan graphically confirmed that the activities of loyalist death squads were assisted and sponsored by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and its successor the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The nationalist people have known for decades about this collusion, which was and remains an integral part of Britain’s war machine in Ireland. The report was published at the time that the Republican Movement is being moved by Sinn Fein towards accepting British policing in the north of Ireland. PAUL MALLON reports.

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Ireland: Assembly elections

Speaking in the White House at the 14 March St Patrick’s celebrations Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern trumpeted progress with the Irish peace process: ‘The IRA campaign has ended, the weapons have been decommissioned, inclusive support for policing has been agreed and the programme of normalisation of security in Northern Ireland will be completed shortly. The door is now open to shared government’. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has declared his ‘wholehearted support for the PSNI’ (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

Elections to the Stormont Assembly on 7 March have confirmed the ascendancy of the loyalist bigot Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). With a 30.1% share of the vote, it won 36 seats in the 108-seat Assembly, a gain of six seats over its 2003 result, while the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) lost nine seats, ending up with 18 (14.9% of the vote). Sinn Fein won 28 seats, a gain of four (26.2%) and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) lost two, ending up with 16 (15.2%). This leaves Paisley as both the First Minister and the undisputed leader of Unionism. The ten-member Executive will now consist of four DUP ministers, three Sinn Fein, two UUP and one SDLP. Paisley has been the real winner of the peace process: in 1997, his DUP got only 13.6% of the vote compared to the UUP’s 32.7%.

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Power sharing returns

After four and a half years’ suspension, devolved government in the north of Ireland returned with the reconvening of the Stormont Assembly on 11 May. In his oath of office speech, First Minster and Unionist leader Ian Paisley declared: ‘I have not changed my Unionism, the union of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, which I believe is today stronger than ever.’ Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on the other hand claimed ‘I am proud to stand here today as an Irish Republican who believes absolutely in a united Ireland.’ Here lies the contradiction of a political process which is hailed as the final solution to centuries of conflict between Britain and Ireland.

On 15 May Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern became the first Irish premier to address the Westminster parliament in London. In a speech celebrating ‘the most beneficial transformation in British-Irish relations in over 800 years’, Ahern told his audience; ‘the so-called “Irish Question” was for a long time shorthand in these halls for a nuisance, a problem, a danger. A recurring crisis that was debated here, but not where its effects were most felt’. But today, he declared, ‘I can stand here and say that the “Irish Question” as understood then has been transformed by the Good Friday Agreement.’

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Obituary - Brendan Hughes Irish revolutionary (1948-2008)

IRA commander in Belfast and leader of the H-Block prisoners

Brendan Hughes dedicated his life to the fight against British imperialism in Ireland. Born in the Grosvenor Road area of West Belfast in 1948, he was first arrested by the British army while in Aden with the merchant navy on suspicion of being an ‘Arab terrorist.’ From 1969, he understood the need to defend nationalist areas from British army and loyalist attack; he joined the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, becoming a skilled street fighter, his unit carrying out five or six attacks in a day at the peak of the armed confrontation with the British army in the 1970s.

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Ireland: A blow against normalisation

On 7 March, Irish Republicans shot dead two British soldiers at the Massereene barracks in County Antrim. They were the first British soldiers to be killed in Ireland since the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agree­ment. Both soldiers, members of the 25 Field Squadron of 38 Engineer Regiment, were set to fly out the next morning to Helmand province in Af­ghanistan and were dressed in desert fatigues. Four others were wounded in the incident, including two pizza delivery men. Less than 48 hours later, an armed officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was shot dead in Craigavon in north Armagh. The attacks, which were carried out by the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA respectively, both organisations opposed to the Good Friday Agree­ment, represent a blow to the British strategy of normalisation in the north of Ireland.

For over ten years, the north of Ireland has been presented as a normal part of the United Kingdom, basking in the glory of peace after a 25-year campaign against British rule led by the Provisional IRA. The 1994 ceasefires and subsequent Good Friday Agreement were said to be the culmination of a political process. The national question, the continued British involvement in Irish affairs, was said to be resolved. The overwhelming majority of the Irish people supported the moves towards peace. However, the end result has not been British withdrawal from Ireland but the return to devolved rule at the Stormont Assembly outside Belfast. Many of the social problems which gave rise to the national struggle today remain. By taking part in the negotiations which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the Republican movement accepted the British precondition that the Unionist veto would stay, ensuring that the constitutional status of the Six Counties would remain unchanged. The IRA were forced to disarm and it was later reported to have disbanded in response to Unionist demands. More recently Sinn Fein has been forced to support the PSNI. The final phase of the political process is the transfer of policing powers from London to the north and their direction by local politicians. This is the political context in which these latest attacks took place.

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Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed