Northern Ireland: On the horns of a dead-end dilemma

THE NORTHERN Ireland ‘peace process’ has stalled. The Assembly and other institutions set up after the 1998 Good Friday agreement have been suspended, returning direct rule to London. The IRA has withdrawn from all arms decommissioning talks.

Yet, there is not the same angry mood on the streets of Northern Ireland as there was after the Canary Wharf bomb in 1996. Then, after decades of bloodshed, people feared a return to sectarian violence and paramilitary campaigns.

Now, working-class people are disappointed that the Assembly has gone and that the peace process has stalled over decommissioning arms. But there is no mood for mass protest.

Most people could accept the Assembly not being there. They think it better that it did exist, allowing people access to politicians. But the Assembly members’ first actions, mainly to give themselves pay rises, alienated many people.

For most people as long as the peace process is maintained, with the cease-fires and gradual demilitarisation, that is a preferable situation.

But this crisis is going to be harder to get round than previous problems. The fact of suspension makes it harder for the Republican movement to shift.

There has been little change in the attitude of the leadership of the main parties. If it was just down to the Trimble leadership of the unionist UUP, of the Adams wing of Sinn Fein and of governments in London, Dublin and the USA, they would have reached some compromise on the decommissioning issue.

This would probably have involved some means of registering weapons, saying this put them ‘beyond use’, the phrase used in the Good Friday agreement.

But neither Trimble nor Adams could sell their own supporters such a compromise at present. Trimble possibly faced removal as Unionist Party leader and Adams has risked a significant split in the Republican movement.

The Republican movement has moved away from opposing decommissioning on principle to discussing how it can be implemented.

The final statement they put out last week accepted the need for decommissioning but would only do so in the context of full implementation of the agreement, and removal of the ‘root causes of the conflict’.

The Republicans are trying to sell some movement on arms to their own members in tandem with movement from the British government on further withdrawal of troops, closure of some army bases and on the RUC.

Despite some British press reports, there is no significant basis for the IRA rearming. It runs completely contrary to Sinn Fein strategy.

A return to a war strategy would scupper their electoral strategy. Their military campaign proved a dead end. Their political strategy is equally wrong.

They linked up with the SDLP, the Southern government and the Irish establishment in America in a right-wing pan-nationalist alliance which was designed to bring them a place in safe constitutional politics.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, everybody else in this alliance thought that they should decommission. Sinn Fein are isolated, caught on the horns of two dead-end strategies, military and political.

Now, the only step Sinn Fein can take is to restart the political process by making a compromise.

The Unionists too have dug in. Trimble made himself more of a prisoner of the Unionist council by telling them that any future deal that came out of a review would have to go back to them. He also said that he’d throw other issues such as policing, the name of the RUC, into the equation. That won’t be accepted by republicans.

Sectarian politics will end in a deadlock, either now or in the future. There is a huge vacuum in capitalist politics in Northern Ireland. Socialists will be fighting for a new peace process built from the bottom up, based on building the class unity of working people.