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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 July 2001

Northern Ireland: New Sectarian Dangers - Workers' Response Needed

THE RESIGNATION of David Trimble, First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly over the issue of IRA arms decommissioning, ahead of the Orange Order 'marching season' with its expected flashpoints at Drumcree and elsewhere, poses new sectarian dangers for the working class as ROBERT CONNOLLY explains.

THE RECENT escalation of tension in Northern Ireland is posing real dangers of a slide into a violent sectarian conflict.

The peace process since the mid-1990s has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand the process, at vital stages, was propelled forward by working-class action against sectarian murders and there was relative peace compared to the era of the 'Troubles', a definite weight off the shoulders of working-class people.

Also, some opportunities to put forward a class alternative to the twin monoliths of 'orange' and 'green' sectarianism were opening up for a period.

But the other side of the peace process was a further polarisation of working-class communities into more exclusively Catholic or Protestant areas.


THE PRESENT tension and violence, in North Belfast for example, is all about territorial control. A confrontational mood has developed in areas which are bordering communities that have become more strictly Catholic or Protestant.

The role of sectarian politicians and more directly of paramilitaries has created an atmosphere of fear and anger. The Ulster Defence Association (UDA), in particular, is carving out increased spheres of influence with a campaign of intimidation and strict marking out of 'their' areas with UDA flags etc.

The sectarian landslide of the 7 June Westminster and council elections was a further reflection of the reality of the process of polarisation on the ground. The anti-agreement wing of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) now holds the upper hand and has paralysed the leadership of David Trimble.

The days of Trimble's manoeuvres are over. His resignation is part of a process of realignment in Unionism. What will happen to the UUP now is unclear but the forces tearing it apart are stronger than those holding it together.

A realignment of Unionism on the basis of a DUP on the up and the hard line wing of the UUP is becoming the dominant trend.

The increase in electoral power for the strident nationalists of Sinn Fein at the expense of the SDLP is another reflection of the sectarian polarisation.

These are general trends. The situation over the rest of the summer could be even more difficult. Trimble's resignation will probably mean that the Assembly will, after a short period, judder to a halt again and then another protracted period of intense negotiations over the summer to get the ball rolling again.

The present situation, however, has the potential to escalate beyond the control of the main sectarian parties. The snails' pace negotiations and cynical posturing of the establishment parties offer no solution to the fundamental problems.

No going back

The dangers of the violence we see now means that working-class people must act. The lessons of the peace process are clear. Only united action by workers from Catholic and Protestant communities can halt the violence.

Among working-class people there is a strong mood against any return to a military campaign. Sectarian attacks on workers from either communities can lead to spontaneous walkouts in workplaces. The role of the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) played a key role in organising such united action in workplaces and initiated the 'No Going Back' campaign in 1996.

With the issue of parades moving into focus, the danger in the situation is clear. There is no solution to the problems facing Protestant and Catholic working-class people on the basis of capitalism.

The dead-end politics of the sectarian parties offer nothing; no reprieve from the privatisation holocaust of New Labour, no future for youth, no improvement in facilities and living standards for working-class people, and no escape from the violence that they perpetuate.

An alternative can be built. 90 young people attending a meeting of Socialist Youth in Belfast on the ideas of Che Guevara are an indication of this. The recent successes of the work of Socialist Youth have shown that a new generation are searching for an alternative.

More on Northern Ireland in next week's issue of The Socialist.

MEMBERS OF Socialist Youth held a protest in Belfast city centre on 30 June against the sectarian attacks breaking out across Northern Ireland.

Hundreds of people came to the stall to sign our petition. We call on the trade unions and community organisations to take mass action by mobilising workers and residents against the bigots on both sides intent on dragging us into a summer of violence.

Many young people have no time for sectarian Green and Orange politics. Socialist Youth will keep campaigning to build a movement which fights for the common interests of working-class and young people. The only way forward is socialism.

Gary Mulcahy

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In The Socialist 6 July 2001:

Strike Back At School Sell-Offs

TGWU conference: Free The Funds

Icy Blasts Of Recession

Wales: Tuition Fees Damned - Now Abolish Them!

Capitalism's Bitter Coffee

Put All The Warmongers On Trial

Northern Ireland: New Sectarian Dangers - Workers' Response Needed

Hackney Bin Workers Score Quick Victory


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