Crisis for republicans in Northern Ireland – political alternative needed

Northern Ireland: Crisis for republicans – political alternative needed

THE NORTHERN Bank robbery in Belfast, Robert McCartney’s killing and the
attempt to cover it up, and then the allegations about the multi-million pound
criminal empire run by the IRA have put the leadership of the republican
movement in Ireland under intense pressure.

The "friends" and "allies" they tried to court among the Irish, British and
US ruling establishment have all turned on them, trying to isolate them and to
damage Sinn Fein electorally.

A few months ago these people were prepared to partially ignore the
robberies and other rackets that they knew were carried out by the IRA. The
brutal methods used by the IRA and other paramilitaries to keep a grip on
working-class communities were also ignored.

For Bush, Blair and Ahern, working-class people’s deaths in the loyalist or
republican heartlands of Belfast and Derry are of no concern, provided they do
not upset the Northern Ireland "peace process".

What changed this was not the Northern Bank robbery or Robert McCartney’s
death. It was the collapse of talks last December and the realisation that
unless more concessions could be got from the republican movement there was
little or no prospect of the Assembly being revived.

The British and Irish governments are using recent events to try and knock
Sinn Fein back, hoping either that a deal could be done without them or else
that the republican leadership could be left with no choice but to disband the

Republicans now find themselves in a very difficult position. A return to
war is not a serious option. But their political strategy – based on the myth
that by getting into government north and south and by introducing piecemeal
and minor constitutional changes they could eventually achieve a united
Ireland – is now in tatters.

Angry protests

Unionists will now demand the complete dismantling of the IRA as a
precondition of any new deal. Even if they were prepared to consider this, the
republican leadership would find it very hard to persuade their members that
the IRA should be folded up in return for a promissory note from
ultra-loyalist Ian Paisley that he might eventually share power with them.

In any case, dismantling a multi-million pound/euro enterprise with assets
stretching across the world would be very difficult to achieve.

Under this onslaught from the very people they tried for years to court as
"allies" the first reaction of Adams and Co. was to lean back to the base of
republicanism in the working-class communities in Northern Ireland. A series
of rallies were called to protest against what they portrayed as the attempt
to "criminalise the nationalist community."

Their problem is that just as they were trying to mobilise the Catholic
community in the north behind them, a section of this community was angrily
mobilising against them over the McCartney killing.

Neither the governments nor the main political parties have any idea how to
get beyond the current impasse. They are incapable of bringing about a

The talks between Northern Ireland’s four main parties have only been about
how they can rule over a permanently divided society, not how that division
can be overcome. All they have achieved has been a greater sectarian
polarisation than at the time of the IRA and loyalist ceasefires ten years

Only the working class can solve the problem. The mass reaction against
Robert McCartney’s murder showed how the sectarian and paramilitary
organisations can be isolated and stopped in their tracks by a movement of
working-class people. What happened in the Short Strand could also happen in
Protestant working-class communities in opposition to the loyalist
paramilitaries’ brutal gangster methods.

Other class issues have also cut across the sectarian division. Strikes and
movements against health and education cuts have united Protestant and
Catholic workers.

If the one-day strike on pensions scheduled for 23 March goes ahead it will
do the same. Above all, opposition to water charges is uniting working-class
people and could end in a massive non-payment campaign.

The problem is the lack of a political alternative. Despite the barrage of
attacks from the media and despite real anger over the McCartney murder, it is
not likely that Sinn Fein will suffer significantly in the May elections,
mainly because no viable political alternative exists who working-class people
can vote for.

To find a way out of the sectarian impasse. a new mass party which could
unite working-class people in the struggle for a socialist solution will have
to be built.

This could give a political voice to movements like the campaign for
justice for Robert McCartney as well as to the industrial and social
movements. The Socialist Party will be standing in the local elections to
begin to develop that alternative.

This is an edited version of a feature in The Socialist, the paper of the
Socialist Party in Ireland. To subscribe, contact 02890 232962,
[email protected] or 13 Lombard Street, Belfast BT1 1RB.