[Marxism] Unanimous welcome for Bob Jones alumnus arch-bigot Paisley's alternative to the Good Friday agreement!
james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Sun Mar 7 17:51:06 MST 2004
After the Good Friday review - The political landscape of restoration
3rd March 2004
All is well! This was the message to come from the opening of the
'review' of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in February.
Spokespersons for the British government shrugged off the permanent
crises that the Good Friday process had faced, the collapse of its
institutions and what was, from their view, a disastrous election
which left Sinn Fein as the majority nationalist party and the
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Ian Paisley as the majority
unionist party. They maintained that while the republicans had been
too slow and niggardly in their concessions, once in a majority
Paisley would mellow and moderate his tone. Careful diplomacy would
have the GFA up and running again.
In fact the nature of the Good Friday Agreement is sufficiently
illustrated by the fact that 'success' within the context of the
agreement would now mean the arch-bigot Paisley or his deputy as the
prime minister in a local colonial assembly.
The electoral success of Sinn Fein actually represents no direct
difficulty for the British and is mainly of significance in terms of
the negative unionist reaction. There was really no political
difference between Sinn Fein and the nationalist Social Democratic and
Labour Party (SDLP). Both vied to show themselves as the most stalwart
defenders of a British settlement which guarantees partition and the
continued existence of the colonial sectarian statelet in the North.
The success of Sinn Fein therefore did not represent any challenge
from nationalism aimed at the GFA.
The success of Paisley's DUP is a different story. British strategy
throughout the development and attempted implementation of the GFA was
to offer a (minority) share of sectarian privilege to nationalists. In
order to do so, while maintaining the unionist base that allows them
to guarantee capitalist stability in Ireland, it was necessary to keep
at arms length the Paisleyite rejectionists and construct a 'moderate'
unionist majority willing to tolerate the presence of Catholics in
government. The whole history of the GFA has been a history of British
attempts to bend the agreement further and further to the right to
appease the reactionary and sectarian Unionist leader Trimble and keep
at bay the even more rabid Paisley. Paisley's election victory and the
defection of Geoffrey Donaldson and his supporters from Trimble's
Unionist Party to Paisley's DUP mark the final and absolute collapse
of the British strategy.
The British have spent over 30 years in a dirty war to keep their
presence in Ireland and preserve their unionist base. Abandoning that
base has never even got onto the agenda, let alone been seriously
considered. Paisley's victory, and the immediate willingness of the
British to rewrite the agenda around that victory, therefore means
that we are no longer talking about a peace process or about the
process of the Good Friday Agreement. We need a new word. A good word
might be restoration. Success now would be the restoration of the
sectarian state in the North in something like its original form
without all the smoke and mirrors of a fake sectarian equality.
Yet the spurious optimism of the British seemed borne out by the
initial review talks. Paisley came to the talks not with one proposal
but with three! This development was immediately welcomed by the
British, the Dublin government and by Sinn Fein itself. The
fundamentalist monster of Irish politics was coming in from the cold!
In summary the proposals were as follows:
The local assembly and executive would be re-established as before,
the 'mandatory' coalition in their terms, with the added pre-requisite
of total disarmament and disbandment of the IRA.
The local Stormont assembly would be reconvened without an executive,
all issues resting on majority vote in the assembly.
The local Stormont assembly would be reconvened with a voluntary
coalition coming together to form an executive, as opposed to the
forced coalition demanded by the GFA.
Beyond Good Friday
No-one involved in the chorus of welcome for the proposals seemed to
notice that we had left the GFA far behind and were already deep in
restoration territory. The British and Dublin had in practice torn up
the agreement by accepting the DUP proposals onto the table and Sinn
Fein had, by its welcome, indicated that it would stay on board to
discuss a new deal without the pretence of reform dusted over the old
If this were not evident immediately then a brief analysis of the DUP
proposals quickly clarifies things.
The proposal that the DUP would operate within the Good Friday
Agreement is nothing of the sort. Their proposals refer only to the
Stormont assembly. They don't mention other strands of the agreement
supposed to be central to its operation, such as cross-border bodies
and human rights legislation. These items aren't even on the agenda -
there is no prospect of the DUP agreeing to cross-border institutions.
Under unionist leadership the Human Rights Commission has imploded.
Only in dreamtime can we imagine a genuine defence of human rights
In relation to the assembly itself the new demand - for the total
disbandment and disarming of the IRA - would in practice depend upon
the judgement of the DUP. They could, and would, always have and
always will ask for more while it would be impossible for the
republicans to completely disband. After all, the authority of the IRA
is what holds the republican base to the GFA and there are plenty of
militarists waiting to lift the mantle of the IRA if it is dropped by
The DUP aren't serious about a 'mandatory' coalition with
nationalists. They are serious about the proposal for an assembly and
executive constructed by voluntary coalition. There's a name for that
proposal - it's called Stormont. The old Stormont, slightly modified
at first, but still red of tooth and claw, where a unionist majority
would head straight back to the apartheid society the 1950's. The DUP
are serious about their proposal, but it's not a serious proposal. The
old Stormont blew up and gave rise to a 30 year war. There is simply
no way short of all-out pogrom to impose the old Stormont on a much
larger Catholic minority.
That leaves an assembly without an executive. Again there is a name
for that. It's called direct rule. This is the real dilemma that the
British face. The last assembly, with its 108 members and host of
ministries, all replaced at a moments notice by 3 junior labour
ministers, had a distinctly comic-opera element. When do they admit
that there is no chance of a deal? Do they keep up an even more comic
opera assembly that will be a focus for sectarian rivalry and
instability or do they rule without one, leaving no figleaf covering
their responsibility for the sectarian hellhole that is their colony
in the North of Ireland?
"kicking the dog to see if it is dead"
In this new political landscape the pretence of negotiation with Sinn
Fein is wearing thin. We are well past what former SDLP deputy leader
Seamus Mallon called "kicking the dog to see if it is dead" and in the
landscape of restoration Sinn Fein is to be kicked anyway in the hope
that ever more public and craven capitulation by them may yet persuade
unionism to do a deal.
Sinn Fein point mutely to their increased vote and their position as
leading nationalist party in the North. Surely the British respect
democracy? In response the unionist parties, the British and Dublin
queue up to meet the political leadership of the UDA despite a vicious
loyalist feud, a constant litany of sectarian attacks, a rash of
vicious racist attacks and an almost total lack of electoral support
for the loyalist front organisations. The message could not be
clearer. The loyalists are needed as glove puppets for the British and
the British are telling Sinn Fein that the future is Orange despite
the level of political support for the Provos. The Sinn Fein task is
to conciliate the orange reaction and make a deal more to the liking
of the British and unionists.
The message is even more clearly spelt out in the furore around the
attempted IRA kidnap of republican Bobby Tohill. In normal times the
British would expect the IRA to police republican dissidents and would
turn a blind eye. In this case they intervened and, even before the
arrests were completed, pumped out from every state information agency
the news that this was an IRA operation.
This has happened before. Every collapse of the GFA has been
accompanied by some new claims of IRA activity - break ins at the
state security headquarters at Castlereagh, spying at Stormont, now
the Tohill affair. All were used to establish republican
responsibility for the failure of the process at a time when the
actual mechanism was that the institutions were collapsing in the face
of unionist rejection. The British are accepting the fact that the DUP
proposals are bogus and that the review talks will go nowhere. They
are establishing now that it is the reluctance of the republicans to
disband that is to blame. The Dublin administration fully supports
this ploy, with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern naming Gerry Adams as a member
of the IRA.
The Johnny Moment
We are now at the 'Johnny moment'. Johnny White, spokesperson for
loyalist 'mad dog' Johnny Adair, routinely explained his enormous
wealth by claiming that it arose from the proceeds of the sale of jail
handicrafts. For years a media committed to the GFA meekly accepted
this fairytale, only to round sharply on White when he fell from
favour. For years Adams' claims never to have been a member of the
IRA, although widely disbelieved, have passed without comment and have
not been an issue. Only now, when Sinn Fein are seen as an obstacle to
a settlement, has this changed and the claim met with widespread
The Sinn Fein leadership, featherbedded by the capitalist media, see
themselves as political geniuses. They now have to face much choppier
waters when they are portrayed as unreformed terrorists. To make
matters worse, the more vehement Adams' denials of IRA membership, the
more uneasy becomes a base that is steeped in republican militarism.
The Sinn Fein response to the attacks is one of total bemusement.
Their initial welcome for the DUP proposals was followed by a call on
everyone else to hold to the GFA and then followed again by calls for
unconditional talks between themselves and the DUP. They demand that
negotiations be within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement
except that they themselves can step outside for unconditional talks!
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness draws attention to the unionists, Dublin
and the British lionising of the UDA while they continue their low
level war of sectarian intimidation but then welcomes this hypocrisy
in the name of inclusion. 'Include Sinn Fein too!' is the desperate
Gerry Adams speaks to the faithful at Sinn Fein's Ard Fheis on 28th
February. 'We will not be bullied - pressure on Sinn Fein is a waste
of time' he announces to rapturous applause, ignoring the fact that
the process has been driven by repeated attacks on Sinn Fein and
repeated capitulations by his movement - the last crisis began with a
major surrender of weapons and full-scale recognition of the Northern
state by Sinn Fein. In return they got nothing except the blame for
not doing enough to persuade the unionists. True to form, Gerry Adams
defiance is followed immediately by indications that Sinn Fein is
willing to take further steps towards the disbandment of the IRA if
London and Dublin stick to their side of the bargain!
The factor that most disorients Sinn Fein is the collapse of their
strategy of nationalist unity. The Irish bourgeoisie want stability in
the North. They want the ability to influence some of the patronage
dispensed in the colony and an advisory role behind the scenes where
they have the ear of the British. If the price for this is indefinite
colonial status for the North and sectarian dominance by unionism in
the administration then so be it. They have little patience for Sinn
Fein obfuscation designed to reassure their traditional base that they
are still a party of anti-imperialist radicalism. If the Shinners do
not do more, a lot more, the Irish bourgeoisie will punish them for
it. There is even wild (if unrealistic) talk of joining with Britain
to exclude Sinn Fein from a new executive!
Direct rule and restoration
February was supposed to mark a process of review of the Good Friday
Agreement. That never got off the ground. The mechanism was to exert
much greater pressure on Sinn Fein and to make it clear that they were
the villains of the piece because of their failure to capitulate fully
enough and quickly enough.
The outcome of the GFA review farce was inevitable. The next period
will be a long period of direct rule by Britain, with or without the
comic opera assembly. This direct rule will not be an empty time. It
will have one aim - the aim of restoration of a partitionist
executive, this time without all the flummery and pretence of equality
and democratic rights that helped destabilise the first experiment.
The fact that London, supported by Dublin, have tried to cut to the
chase and force immediate republican capitulation indicates just how
savage the drive to ensure the sectarian rights of unionism will be.
The major difficulty for the British is that the Paisleyite triumph is
not a mark of unionist resurgence but rather of its continuing decay.
This decay is confirmed by the fact that the departure of unionist
dissidents has not brought peace to Unionist Party leader David
Trimble. Rather he faces a further leadership challenge from the
right. A process that depended on depicting the arch-bigot Trimble as
a moderate may be rebuilt with an even more bigoted unionist leader!
Win or lose for Trimble, the UP and the DUP will be locked in a battle
to prove who is more irreconcilable and represents the firmest defence
of unionist privilege. The fact that this battle is to play out in a
statelet where 40% of the population is Catholic and whose existence
is being guaranteed by Irish capital through the Dublin government
gives some indication of the difficulties of a stable imperialist rule
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