Ireland: pressure on Republicans to end crisis

Commenting on the crisis in the Irish peace process in February 2002, we argued that: ‘The 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.’

Since then Sinn Fein has grown, electorally surpassing the SDLP as the main nationalist party in the north, second only in size to the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party, now the main voice of unionism. Unionism and British imperialism, with Irish government complicity, have engineered the present crisis in the peace process. The focus of recent talks has been IRA decommissioning weapons and disbandment. Sinn Fein’s key concerns are dilution of the Good Friday Agreement and the position surrounding ministerial authority in any future assembly and the north-south institutions.


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Ireland: Unionists step up pressure on Sinn Fein

On 20 December 2004, a Belfast bank was robbed of £26.5m. Unionist politicians swiftly claimed that the IRA was behind the raid. The allegations have served to put even more pressure on the Republican movement following the failure of talks in December to restore the Stormont assembly when Unionists demanded that the IRA allow the decommissioning of its weapons be recorded on photographs. For the Republican movement this was a step too far – for the moment, at least.

On 6 January 2005, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Hugh Orde waded in to support the claims of IRA involvement in the robbery. In doing so, Orde followed in the tradition of the old RUC: he had absolutely no evidence for what he said. Raids on several Republican homes yielded nothing. They showed however that PSNI approach to policing is no different from that of the old RUC. Despite this, the claims have impressed the SDLP and the Irish government, who now also see the IRA as the guilty party. The whole episode has embarrassed Sinn Fein because it needs to sustain its alliance with these bourgeois forces.


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Ireland: Republican Movement faces disintegration

The murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney and the political fall out which followed have expressed the crisis of the peace process in Ireland. It marks a watershed for the Republican Movement. Behind the media coverage in the wake of this latest incident lies the political reality facing the Republican Movement and the consequences for its dual strategy; because of the route Sinn Fein has chosen, the political process in Ireland has reached an impasse which can only be broken by the disbandment of the IRA. The killing of Robert McCartney expresses the degeneration of the Republican leadership since its engagement with bourgeois politics and its isolation from the Republican working class. PAUL MALLON assess the implication of recent events in Ireland for Sinn Fein’s strategy within the overall peace process.

The McCartney killing
On 30 January, members of the IRA were involved in the killing of nationalist Robert McCartney following a bar-room brawl in Belfast. Since then the family of Robert McCartney have led a campaign to reveal the truth and the identity of the killers. The campaign is led by McCartney’s sisters and fiancée from the strongly Republican enclave of Short Strand in East Belfast, and has mobilised many nationalists on the streets against what they view as increasing criminality and misrule of Republican areas by members of the Republican Movement. Sinn Fein responded to this pressure by suspending seven of its members, and the IRA expelled three of its own volunteers. The family maintains that up to 12 members of the IRA were involved in the killing. The family have indicated that they may stand in the forthcoming election campaigning in their local area for justice for Robert. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness issued a warning that ‘The McCartneys need to be very careful. To step over that line, which is a very important line, into the world of party political politics, can do a huge disservice to their campaign.’ Catherine McCartney responded by stating ‘We have to be very careful that we’re not being used by anybody and that includes Sinn Fein and all political parties. We’re not stupid women’.


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IRELAND: Election entrenches deadlock

The general election in the north of Ireland has served to further deepen the crisis in the Irish peace process. Ian Paisley has cemented his position as the leading voice of Unionism, obtaining one in three of all votes cast in the Six Counties on the basis of his refusal to share power with Sinn Fein. Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) now has nine Westminster MPs compared to only one from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The UUP leader and former north of Ireland First Minister, David Trimble, lost his seat and has resigned as party leader. During his election acceptance speech Ian Paisley, occasionally breaking into hymns, declared that ‘the old path of Unionism has returned. The Bible says “Look for the good way”’. This latest election has left the intransigent Unionism of the DUP in the political ascendancy and has further served to entrench the deadlock in the political process in the north of Ireland.

On 12 April, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams made a direct appeal to the IRA calling on the organisation to ‘commit itself to purely political and democratic activity’. The next day the IRA responded in a short statement declaring that it will respond ‘in due course’. As we have reported in previous issues of FRFI, it is the disbandment of the IRA which is at the top of the political agenda in Ireland. Until this issue is resolved there will be no movement in regard to the political process and the restoration of the devolved power which was suspended in October 2002. The reasons for the stalemate are clear; integral to the Good Friday Agreement is the right for Unionism to veto political progress at a whim. It is the aim of Unionism, supported by British imperialism, to crush revolutionary nationalism in Ireland; this expresses itself today in the continued calls for the IRA to disband before ‘progress’ can be made.


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Ireland nationalists resist loyalist intimidation

The loyalist marching season in the Six Counties led to a dramatic increase in sectarian attacks against nationalists. The most serious of these incidents occurred in North Belfast where nationalists came under attack from both the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and loyalist gangs following a series of Orange parades in the nationalist Ardoyne area of the city. Sinn Fein responded, as it has in recent years, by attempting to police its own community. This year however an increased number of nationalists, primarily youth, rejected the Sinn Fein leadership’s line and fought pitched battles with both the security forces and loyalist mobs to defend their areas.

Once again 12 July, the height of the loyalist marching season, became the focal point of conflict following the decision to force an Orange march through the Ardoyne area. Last year this same parade caused tensions to explode into protests, which resulted in open confrontation between nationalist youth and the British army (see FRFI 180). Sinn Fein intervened and saved British soldiers from nationalist youths. This year in Ardoyne escalated in a similar way with Sinn Fein again policing its own community. Nationalist youth responded throwing petrol bombs, blast bombs, bricks and bottles at the military. Around 80 PSNI officers were injured, they responded by firing plastic bullets at the nationalist protesters in the first use of baton rounds in almost three years. Several nationalists were injured by these lethal weapons, which have previously killed 17 people, the majority children, in the Six Counties. The next day Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly, who spent the day before acting as a policeman, complained of being ‘disempowered’ by the British military as they began baton charges and used water cannon to disperse the crowds. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams played a similar role and was soaked by police water cannon for his efforts. Adams spent much of the day trying to call the British and Irish governments to get them to intervene. Many nationalists viewed Adam’s posturing as a political stunt.


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Shell washes up in Ireland

Five farmers remain indefinitely imprisoned for contempt of court after defying an Irish High Court ruling that they must comply with the Shell-led construction of a high-pressure gas pipeline across their land near Rossport, County Mayo.
The June ruling followed five years of legal haggling between the Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell and its partners, Mayo County Council, local residents and environmental groups. The pipeline will run 70km from the offshore Corrib field to a proposed onshore terminal at Broadhaven Bay, and 8km through the farmers’ land, past houses, a pub and a school, to a massive refinery at Bellanaboy. The refinery will have nine huge chimneys, from which the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane will be equivalent to the global warming potential of 27,000 cows. Environmental groups have also been warning about the potential effects of toxic emissions on Broadhaven Bay, an important breeding ground for various species of whale and dolphin, and Carrowmore Lake, the source of the regional water supply. Both areas are ‘protected’ under EU habitat directives, but in spite of this the 26-County government and High Court have effectively legalised the irreversible destruction of a large section of Ireland’s western coastline.


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Ireland: loyalism runs riot

The Orange marching season over the summer has been the occasion for innumerable attacks on nationalist communities throughout the Six Counties, although the media has focused on loyalist violence against the police and British army. This has been the backdrop against which the IRA publicly announced (28 July) that it was ending its armed campaign. Meanwhile, yet another report has been published confirming the sectarian character of the Six County statelet and detailing the level of intimidation and discrimination endured by nationalists in the north.
Paul Mallon reports.

Loyalist violence
The latest round of Orange violence followed a disputed loyalist march through a nationalist area of West Belfast on 10 September. Mobs invaded nationalist areas in the Grosvenor Road in Belfast, Ligoniel and Ahoghill village, attacking churches, schools and businesses. They also turned their attention on the police and British army, using pipe and blast bombs against the state forces and exchanging gunfire.


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Ireland: Unionists maintain block on Assembly

With policing set to become the central political issue in the peace process in 2006, the exposure of a British agent in the Sinn Fein leadership in December provided a reminder of who really controls the Six Counties. Neither Sinn Fein’s involvement in the running of the police nor a return of the Stormont Assembly will alter the reality that Unionism, backed by British imperialism, rules the north of Ireland

The British spy
On 15 December 2005, Denis Donaldson, a leading member of Sinn Fein for over two decades, admitted to having secretly worked for the RUC/ PSNI, Special Branch and British military intelligence throughout that period.

Donaldson had been centrally involved in the so-called ‘Stormontgate’ debacle in October 2002, when the devolved Stormont Assembly collapsed amidst allegations of a Republican spy-ring. Donaldson, who was head of Sinn Fein’s Stormont administration, was then arrested with four others during a high-profile raid on Sinn Fein’s offices by hundreds of PSNI officers (see FRFI 170, December 2002/January 2003) and charged with having information useful to terrorists. Donaldson made his announcement only after the police had announced that they were dropping all charges and had warned him that his life was in danger as he was about to be exposed as an informer.


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25 years on from the hunger strike – Irish prisoners still resisting

On 5 May 1981, Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer and elected MP, died in Long Kesh prison following 66 days on hunger strike as a result of Britain’s refusal to reinstate political status for Republican prisoners. He had refused to concede to demands from visiting dignitaries to abandon his protest. Sands explained why the Republican prisoners of war were political prisoners: ‘I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution.’ At his funeral in Belfast 100,000 people marched in defiance and solidarity.

Following the slow deaths of the 10 IRA and INLA hunger strikers, working class youth took the lead in battling the British forces and their collaborators. However, the National H-Block/Armagh leaders had adopted a ‘broad support’ strategy designed to appeal to prominent people in the South, which meant that in practice the campaign was tailored to the demands of middle class leaders who did very little to publicly support the prisoners. This and the lack of any effective solidarity movement in Britain meant that Margaret Thatcher could stick to her pronouncement that ‘a crime is a crime’ and refuse to concede that Republican prisoners were political.


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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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Editorial - Ireland: Republican movement crosses the Rubicon

FRFI 152 December 1999 / January 2000

After over ten weeks of the Mitchell Review, Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) finally agreed on a process that would lead to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Central to this was the acceptance by Sinn Fein that 'decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process'.

In crossing this Rubicon, Sinn Fein and the Republican movement are seen to pose no real threat to the interests of British imperialism in the Six Counties. The only potential opposition to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement came from a section of the Ulster Unionist Party led by its deputy leader John Taylor. As a gesture to this section of Unionism – and an indication of the contempt Labour has for the nationalist working class – on 24 November the RUC was awarded the George Cross for 'gallantry'. Part of the citation described the RUC as 'a recognised world-class police service that has given professional and impartial service to all the people of Northern Ireland since its inception'!


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Editorial: IRELAND

FRFI 153 February / March 2000

Decommissioning: a temporary crisis? 

David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party, in agreeing to the Mitchell Review and the process that led to the setting up of the Northern Ireland Executive, set themselves a deadline of February for the IRA to begin decommissioning. If decommissioning has not begun by the time their leadership council meet on 12 February, then they threaten to withdraw from the executive. This deadline comes after the first report on the decommissioning process by General John de Chastelain, expected on 31 January. The Peace Agreement itself has set May as the date by which decommissioning should have been completed.

The announcement by Peter Mandelson on 19 January that the British government was going to implement almost all of Chris Patten's recommendations on the reform of the RUC infuriated unionists. The changes, which will be introduced in the autumn, will alter the name of the RUC to the 'Police of Northern Ireland'; do away with its crown and harp cap badge; reduce the number of police from 13,500 to 7,500; set up a new police board with two Sinn Fein members on it and attempt to recruit more Catholic members.


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Ireland: imperialism and national revolution

FRFI 187 October / November 2005

How the Trotskyists got it wrong

Ireland: Republicanism and Revolution
by Alan Woods,
Wellred Books,
May 2005,
135 pages, £6.99

Why review a book on Irish republicanism written by a long-standing member of the bloody, racist, imperialist British Labour Party? Because socialists needs to understand the significance of the revolutionary national class struggle against imperialism and for socialism, particularly with developments in Latin America. Woods’ analysis of Irish republicanism totally fails in this respect. Indeed, his book is an example of a trend which Lenin called imperialist economism, and which today expresses the interests of a narrow section of the working class – the labour aristocracy.


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Ireland: PSNI harasses nationalists

On 4 September the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) reported that, although the IRA Army Council continues to exist, it poses no threat to the peace process. The report comes at a time when the activity of dissident Republicans opposed to the Good Friday Agreement is at a ten-year high, and they are facing increased harassment by state forces.

The IMC was established by the British and Irish governments to monitor the disbandment of the IRA. Its latest report deals exclusively with the status of the IRA and, in particular, the status of the IRA Army Council, the ruling body of the organisation. It states: ‘The mechanism which they [the IRA] have chosen to bring the armed conflict to a complete end has been the standing down of the structures which engaged in the armed campaign and the conscious decision to allow the Army Council to fall into disuse.’ The report goes on to say that it does not expect the IRA to make any further announcements on the disbandment of the Army Council beyond what it said in 2005 when it declared the end of its military campaign (see FRFI 187).


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Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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