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Northern Ireland; Has The Peace Process Permanently Stalled?
THE PEACE process remains in deep crisis. Despite desperate efforts by the British and Irish governments, it has not proved possible to re-establish the Executive, and Assembly elections have been postponed indefinitely. Ciaran Mulholland reports from northern Ireland.
Attempts to resuscitate institutions established under the Agreement will continue over the summer but the same problems will surface.
Since its inception the Executive has been suspended on three separate occasions and has stumbled from crisis to crisis. Even if a new deal is reached, it will again only deliver a temporary respite.
Achieving a new deal won't be easy. The Agreement is based on division. It accepts that division is permanent and in reality actually strengthens it. The political process is now simply catching up with events on the ground.
After an election, if it takes place, the political situation would be even more prone to fracture. Recent events have bolstered Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein party. Most Catholics blame unionism in general and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, David Trimble, in particular for the collapse of the Executive and the failure to reach a new agreement and hold elections in May. Almost certainly Sinn Fein would pull further ahead of the 'moderate' Catholic/nationalist SDLP if an election was held.
Is a deal possible?
IAN PAISLEY'S Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are crowing that they were right all along and the anti-Agreement wing of the UUP is firmly in the ascendancy. [Since this article was written the six UUP MPs have split along pro- and anti-agreement lines with Geoffrey Donaldson leading two other anti-agreement MPs to resign the UUP parliamentary whip]
Anti-Agreement unionists of various hues will almost certainly have a majority over pro-Agreement unionists after the next election and the DUP may even emerge as the largest unionist party.
Hammering out a deal, when Sinn Fein is the majority nationalist party and a majority of unionists are anti-Agreement, won't be easy. Clearly Trimble's position would be bolstered by moves from the IRA that appeared to concede his demands. The outlines of a possible deal are clear.
The republican movement has undertaken to effectively stand down the IRA, ending recruitment, training and targeting, and will carry out further decommissioning. They will probably even eventually sign up to the policing boards, a move that will show their commitment to ending their armed campaign more than any other. In return, the British government will let on-the-run IRA men return home and dramatically scale back on military activity.
Trimble's declared bottom line, however, is the effective disbandment of the IRA and a declaration that "the war is over". He won't achieve these aims. Trimble needs a simple message for the unionist electorate but he will not get one - the IRA is not going to publicly disband to save his skin.
The question is whether some sort of compromise will allow the IRA to deny that they have surrendered, or pandered to a unionist agenda, whilst at the same time Trimble can claim that he has achieved the IRA's dissolution.
Such a compromise isn't impossible but it will prove exceedingly difficult to achieve. True, both the republican movement and the pro-Agreement wing of unionism wish to keep the show on the road, at least for now. Against this are the basic contradictions within the peace process and the distrust between the main players.
IN THE current political vacuum, conflict on the peace lines - stoked by both sets of paramilitaries though especially by the UDA - will continue and may intensify. The violence has diminished but not ended - 50 people have died over the last three years. In an atmosphere of mutual recrimination and mistrust, and with little hope of a political way out, low-level conflict could explode at any time.
If and when an election is held, what can working people expect from the political parties represented at Stormont? Not a lot. In reality, all these parties and the New Labour government have no fundamental disagreements on economic and social issues. So can an alternative be built?
Many young people reject sectarianism, and because of their experiences of opposing the war in Iraq and globalisation are beginning to question the entire system. The Socialist Party and Socialist Youth speak for some of them but we need a broader party to give them a real voice. If socialists and candidates representing campaigning groups were to stand in the next elections, it would be an important step forward in building a new mass party.
In 1996 the Labour Coalition came from nowhere and won two seats. Against a background of world economic recession, the implementation of right wing policies by the Executive and by New Labour and an upturn in class struggle (such as an increase in the number of strikes) it will be possible to mount a serious socialist alternative to the establishment at the next Assembly elections. We must begin preparing the ground now.
Extracts from Socialist View, Summer 2003, No. 11, magazine of the Socialist Party, CWI in Ireland
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: