British troops go on manoeuvres in north of Ireland

On 15 December 1993 then British Prime Minister John Major stood on the steps of Downing Street with Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to announce a joint peace declaration. Major stated that the British Government had ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest’ in the north of Ireland, and went on to suggest that its role would be that of an altruistic neighbour whose sole interest was to see ‘peace, stability and reconciliation’ in Ireland.

What became known as the Downing Street declaration set the foundation for the much lauded Good Friday Agreement, which, from Beirut to Bogota, is held up as an example of a successful peace process.

One would have to wonder 21 years later, if there is no economic or strategic interest, why there are still over 5,000 British troops in Ireland? And why the British Army is launching a huge training operation in Derry at the moment? Manoeuvres and drilling involving 500 troops are taking place this week on Binevenagh mountain and in the MacGilligan peninsula in the north west.

This is in fact the largest training exercise the army has undertaken in Ireland since before the IRA’s most recent military campaign began. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Monroe of the Royal Scots Borderers, who is heading up the exercise, stated: ‘From a security perspective, it would have been really difficult to have run this exercise during Operation Banner’. Operation Banner was the name given to the entire military occupation during the time of the ‘Troubles’; since 2007 the army has worked under the operational name ‘Helvetic’. The goals and parameters of Helvetic are to offer specialised ordnance disposal and support to the police (PSNI (RUC)) in circumstances of extreme public disorder. Essentially it maintains the same goal as ‘Banner’ to quell any Nationalist unrest, but is tempered with a ‘softer approach’ more suitable to the current circumstances.

The army has implied that the training is not for use in operations in Ireland, but rather looking towards imperialist adventures elsewhere, with Monroe stating that ‘there's a tremendous amount going on in the world so it's important that our soldiers are prepared appropriately and well’. With regard to the impact of the operation on local people he said: ‘They shouldn't be concerned and our advice to the civilian population who could see these exercising soldiers is to simply go about their normal everyday routine lives’, adding: ‘We're here for the foreseeable future’.

The principal concern is not the training exercises but the fact that the troops are there at all. It is becoming more and more apparent to those who support the Good Friday Agreement that the British promises were made solely to secure nationalist agreement and are now past their usefulness, and that the demilitarisation of the province was a smokescreen to ensure the full-scale decommissioning of the Provisional IRA’s arsenal.

There has been very little attention paid in the press or by Sinn Fein to this (a 100 word statement on the online version of An Phoblacht), and with good reason. With power-sharing seemingly at an impasse, very much due to Unionist implacability on the subject of parades and flags, the sight of the British Army tramping through the hills of Derry puts paid to the illusion of change that the PR men at Sinn Fein have been pushing so hard. Martin McGuinness regularly declares that the so-called ‘dissidents’ are living in the past, that ‘the war is over’, urging them to step into 2014.

With the potential for power-sharing to fall apart because of Unionist intransigence, signifying that there is still a de facto Unionist veto, and with the British Army marauding through the countryside, the future is looking strangely like the past in the north of Ireland.

John Byrne

Gerard Conlon: fighter for justice 1954 - 2014

Gerry Conlon, one of the four innocent people sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974 for the Guildford pub bombings, died on 21 June 2014 aged 60. The Guildford Four - Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson - spent 15 years in British prisons and were finally released on appeal in 1989. Gerry will be remembered both as one of the most prominent victims of British judicial abuse of Irish people and as someone who went on to spend the rest of his life tirelessly campaigning on behalf of others wrongly imprisoned.

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Ireland?Sinn Fein under pressure /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

On 30 April Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was arrested under the Terrorism Act by the Serious Crimes Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). After four days of questioning he was released without charge. Ostensibly the arrest was about the case of Jean McConville, the suspected informer executed by the Irish Republican Army in 1972, which has long been a cause célèbre of those opposed to the 25-year armed struggle of the IRA. In reality his arrest was political and took place in the midst of a renewed political offensive by the North’s loyalist majority.

The priorities of British ‘justice’

On 16 April the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, in a speech entitled ‘Moving Politics Forward’, outlined her proposal for a new approach to tackling what politicians now call the ‘legacy issues’, in reference to the events that took place during the 1969-94 period of the Irish liberation war. Villiers criticised the attention given to ‘the minority of deaths in which the state was involved’ at the expense of a ‘proportionate focus on the wrongdoing of paramilitaries’, by which she meant the IRA. Less than two weeks later Villiers announced the British government’s decision to reject an inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre in which 11 civilians were killed by the Parachute Regiment. Such an inquiry was deemed not to be in the public interest. However, within 24 hours another ‘legacy issue’ had taken the headlines with news of Gerry Adams’ arrest.

Good cop, bad cop

In responding to the arrest, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness pointed the finger at a ‘dark side’ of the PSNI comprised of an ‘embittered rump of the old RUC’, determined to settle old scores by disrupting and defaming Sinn Fein on the eve of local and European elections on both sides of the British-imposed border. Prominent Sinn Fein members followed suit, painting a picture of a minority of ‘securocrats’, relics of the past, now flexing their muscles in an attempt to derail the ‘Peace Process’. If this continued, McGuinness said, Sinn Fein would withdraw its support for the PSNI. Within days, challenged by loyalist politicians, he had backtracked. On his release, Adams was quick to reaffirm his support for British policing in Ireland, policing for which his party has played the roles of cheerleader and recruitment agent in nationalist communities since Sinn Fein joined the policing boards in 2006. After years of collaboration with the British state, Sinn Fein is left floundering and without analysis when the imperialists renege on their agreements – as they always do.

DUP drinks at Downing Street

Whilst Adams was being interrogated in Antrim Serious Crime Suite, British Prime Minister, David Cameron was entertaining and courting representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) at a Downing Street garden-soirée. DUP backing is sought by both Labour and the Tories in case of a hung parliament in next year’s General Election. After dining with the British queen and prime minister at Windsor Castle in April 2014, McGuinness must have felt that Sinn Fein’s alliance with British imperialism was secure. Now he has been left out in the cold. Cameron has his own election to think about.

‘On-the-Runs’ and running riots

These events have taken place in the wider context of a new loyalist offensive that began with the ‘flag riots’ of 2012-13 conducted by a community determined to defend a privileged position within the sectarian Six County statelet that it perceives to be under threat, faced with Sinn Fein’s growing electoral support north and south. Two days prior to Adams’ arrest a High Court judge ruled that the PSNI ‘had facilitated illegal and sometimes violent parades’ during the flag riots which included months of weekly attacks on the Short Strand; the frequently besieged nationalist enclave in predominantly loyalist East Belfast. No allegations of political policing were made then by leading Sinn Fein members as the PSNI bent over backwards to allow loyalists to run amok in Belfast and elsewhere.

Following the collapse of the Haass talks to resolve outstanding contentious issues in December 2013, this new offensive was given a second wind in late February following the failed prosecution of John Downey for the 1982 IRA bombing of a British military ceremony in Hyde Park, loyalists seized on the media uproar surrounding 228 secret ‘letters of comfort’ sent under both the current ConDem coalition and previous Labour government to the ‘On-the-Runs’, republicans who were officially excluded from the ‘early release’ terms of the Good Friday Agreement that applied to political prisoners, either because they had already escaped from prison, or because they had never been caught in the first place. After DUP leader Peter Robinson threatened to resign as First Minister over the issue, the British government rushed to the rescue, immediately commissioning an investigation to report by the end of May.

Behind the brave faces and media-savvy interviews, Sinn Fein is in a desperate position. The inevitable consequence of their reformist strategy has led them into a dead-end with no room to manoeuvre: all they can do is make concession after concession.

Patrick Casey

Remembering the Easter Rising

The 2014 London commemoration of the 98th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, organised by the London branch of Republican Sinn Fein, and attended by a wide range of independent Republicans, communists and anti-imperialists was the best attended commemoration event in recent years.

The Easter proclamation was read out, as was the Roll of Honour of Republicans from London who gave their lives to the struggle, followed by the lowering of flags and a minute’s silence.

Many of the speakers condemned Sinn Fein's Martin McGuiness, for meeting once again with the Queen of England. It is even rumoured she has been invited to the centenary commemoration of the Rising in Dublin in 2016.

The General Secretary of the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Support Group read out two messages from prisoners.

The first was from Gavin Coyle, who has been kept in solidarity confinement at Maghaberry prison since 2011:

… after 14 days of interrogation at the hands of the British Armed Forces, namely RUC/PSNI. They attempted to recruit me as an informer which I refused… During the first six months there were numerous attempts from both RUC/PSNI and MI5 to recruit me as an agent. I will never bend my knee and that's why the torture continues!’

A long statement was then read from the Public Relations Officer of the E2 landing prisoners at Portlaoise prison, which reaffirmed ‘our commitment to the progressive ideals which inspired the 1916 leaders and which inspire us still: the idea of an Ireland free from foreign interference; the creation of socially and economically just society; the provision of free universal healthcare and education for all and the promotion and revival of the Irish language’.

An objective analysis of Irish history illustrates that a section of the Irish people will militarily confront the British state for as long as Britain remains in Ireland. They will do so not out of some blind allegiance to armed actions but out of a deep conviction that constitutional politics will never deliver our right to national self-determination.’

In the 26 Counties, both Eirigi and the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) used their Easter events to celebrate the roll of women in the Republican struggle. 2014 is the 100th anniversary of Cumann na mBan, the women's section of the IRA.

Eirigi statement (read out by Stephen Murney, recently released from two years’ internment):

‘In this centenary year of the formation of Cumann na mBan, it is right that we salute and honour all those women who, across many generations, have played a part in our national liberation struggle. In that respect, it is correct that we acknowledge and send solidarity to those women who are currently imprisoned in Ireland for their political beliefs – women such as Ursula Ní Shionnain in Limerick gaol and Sharon Rafferty, Christine Connors and Nuala Gormley in Hydebank.’

‘When Mairéad Farrell stated that Irishwomen had been oppressed both as women and as Irish people, she spoke an undeniable truth. It is always worth reminding ourselves that women’s participation in the Republican struggle was not just to achieve national liberation, it was also about the struggle of working-class women for better living conditions, for better working conditions and pay, and for a radical political voice.’

RNU statement:

‘We have embraced again the founding Republican ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity; and by consequence the unashamed ideals of Irish National Liberation and Socialism. Under our watch, socialist principles will not be abused as a smokescreen with which some would abandon the urgent need to free our country, nor will it be the preserve of a pompous minority of intellectuals. It will be the straightforward principled position for those who demand a fair deal for the ordinary man and woman of this country, who currently and shamefully are forced to work for the privilege life styles of the gombeen men of Ireland or the foreign bankers backed by the plundering and heartless forces of Troika and the IMF.’

At a large gathering at the garden of Remembrance in Dublin the 32 County Sovereignty Movement questioned how Republican socialism can be made relevant today:

‘If Connolly could elevate his socialism beyond tradition why can’t we? Why can’t we define our socialism beyond protest and into disciplined political action with a defined national objective? Can we honestly say that the greatest tribute we can pay to James Connolly is to stand at the centenary of his execution and declare ourselves gloriously isolated?’

‘We cannot allow our socialism to be merely a critique of capitalism no more than we can allow our Republicanism to be merely a critique of partition. We are not a protest movement, we are not a debating society, we are not a commemoration committee, and we are a movement who must be defined by the changes we bring about.’

In all this year’s Republican statements there is a new sense of urgency and a realisation that it is not enough just to oppose the GFA on dogmatic historical grounds, that at a time where people on all sides of the divide are struggling to make ends meet, the struggle must be to make a socialist alternative relevant to all peoples of the island, and that this is an opportunity to put Republicanism back at the forefront of class struggle.

John Byrne

Ireland: an exit from the crisis?

Over recent months Ireland has been elevated to ‘model pupil’ status by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) for its obedience in implementing devastating austerity measures. In December 2013 Ireland became the first Eurozone country to formally exit a bailout programme. In 2008 it became the first country in Europe to enter recession and in November 2010 it accepted a joint EU/IMF bank bailout package worth over €85bn (£72bn) in order to stabilise the unravelling economy. Part of the deal forced the Dublin government to introduce more than 200 austerity programmes, implementing structural reforms such as a property tax as well as severe slashing of public spending. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition elected in 2011 has claimed to be aiming at regaining ‘Ireland’s economic sovereignty’. Despite the optimistic headlines, the fundamental causes of the crisis remain. The Irish people continue to face the devastating social consequences.

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Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed