Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/323/9632
Northern Ireland elections: Capitalist Politicians Bring Stalemate And Division
NORTHERN IRELAND will be going to the polls on 26 November. But no agreement has been reached on how a new Executive will be put in place after the election.
The British and Irish governments (and many people in Northern Ireland) hoped for a new 'peace deal' but these hopes have been dashed. CIARAN MULHOLLAND from the Socialist Party in Belfast reports.
AFTER MONTHS of negotiations, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble rejected IRA decommissioning moves at the last minute as not "transparent" enough and a supposedly carefully crafted deal fell apart.
The minutely choreographed moves by Sinn Fein, Trimble and the British and Irish governments seemed to be going to plan right up to the last minute. Then Trimble, clearly under pressure from party members who saw the "deal" as unsellable, pulled the plug.
The election is now being fought with no agreement, and very little likelihood of one being reached in the short term at least. What voters are being asked to elect is not so much an Assembly as a set of negotiating teams who will spend months, possible years, squabbling while the British and Irish governments try to convince us that the peace process is still on course.
The recent debacle will most likely strengthen Sinn Fein on one side and the anti-Agreement unionists on the other. To many Catholics, it appears that the IRA moved but Trimble threw its concessions back in its face. It is now almost certain that Sinn Fein will pull further ahead of the SDLP, which still calls itself the strongest nationalist party in the North.
It is also almost certain that anti-Agreement unionists of various hues will have a majority over the pro-Agreement unionists after the election, and the Paisleyite Democratic Unionists (DUP) may even emerge as the largest unionist party. The outcome of the election will make the political situation even more precarious and prone to fracture.
Hammering out a deal when Sinn Fein is the majority nationalist party and a majority of unionists are anti-Agreement will not be easy.
It is not lack of goodwill or an inability to compromise by the politicians that has brought us to this point. The problem is that the whole basis of the Agreement has been flawed from the outset. There has been no real agreement at any stage, beyond an agreement to differ. The Agreement is based on division and accepts that division is permanent.
Real peace process
THE SOCIALIST Party stands for a real peace process, based on a genuine unity of the people of the working class areas, not on sectarian politicians agreeing to sit down together while they make sure that people stay divided.
The "peace process" did bring about an opportunity to break the log jam of "traditional" politics here.
This was seen particularly at the time of the Northern Ireland Forum elections in 1996. A number of new groupings emerged that appeared to challenge the status quo to one degree or another.
What working-class people need now is a mass party that represents their independent interests and that is capable of winning support on both sides of the divide. Such a party will emerge through the exposure of the traditional parties when they actually wield power, and through the shared experience of struggles that unite Catholic and Protestant workers.
Socialist Party Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) would play a vital role in bringing such a mass party into existence.
When the Agreement comes up for review they would put forward the policies that favour the working class and young people from both communities.
They would argue for an end to the in-built sectarian voting arrangements in the Assembly, for genuine community-controlled policing and for a challenge to the pro-big business policies of New Labour and the main parties.
End Sectarian Violence
DESPITE A relatively quiet summer, working class communities across Northern Ireland continue to be racked by sectarian intimidation and violence.
Recently there have been petrol bomb attacks on both Catholic and Protestant homes in North Belfast, a sectarian mob has picketed a Catholic ceremony in Carnmoney cemetery and there have been riots in the Short Strand/Mountpottinger area.
There has been a huge upsurge in sectarian attacks since the Agreement was signed. If we took the word of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and most nationalist commentators the main reason for this increase is the turmoil within the ranks of the loyalist paramilitaries.
On the other hand unionists and loyalists blame the republican movement, arguing that they are mounting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Protestants. What is the real picture and how do we seriously tackle sectarianism?
The answer is that sectarianism can only be seriously challenged, and ultimately defeated, when it is identified and opposed in all its forms. There is no doubt that there has been a loyalist onslaught against Catholic areas in Belfast and against isolated Catholics in areas such as Antrim, Ballymena, Larne and Coleraine.
This is only part of the picture however. Catholic sectarianism is very real and there have been attacks on Protestant homes, churches, Orange Halls etc. Every community has the right to defend itself from direct attack but it is important to base this defence on a clear reach across the divide.
Genuine defence and a real challenge to sectarianism must be based on community groups and the unions and will only work if it is independent of the sectarian parties.
The unions and community organisations should launch a concerted campaign to end all the attacks and to offer an alternative to sectarian and right wing ideas. Such a campaign will only be successful if it recognises that sectarianism is a problem on both sides of the peace lines.
Socialists offer a real alternative
FOR MOST people in Northern Ireland the only 'choice' in the election is between the same old mix of sectarian and right-wing politicians. Voters in East and South Belfast, however. will have a real choice, the chance to elect someone to the Assembly who will fight to defend the common interests of working-class people and break the logjam of sectarian politics.
In these two constituencies, the Socialist Party is standing candidates and is mounting a determined campaign to build support for them.
JIM BARBOUR, Executive Committee member of the Fire Brigades union and one of the most outspoken trade unionists in Northern Ireland, is standing in South Belfast.
TOMMY BLACK, a trade union and community activist and Chair of the East Belfast Campaign Against the Water Tax (water charges are the latest burden being imposed on working-class people) is standing in that constituency. A vote for them is a vote to halt the privatisation of our services.
It is a "NO" vote to water charges and a "YES" vote to a campaign of mass non-payment if they are introduced.
It is a vote against sectarian stalemate and division and for the unity of people in the working-class communities and the workplaces to build a real peace process.
We are fielding two candidates in this election as a first concrete step towards building a new party of the working class which can challenge the sectarian politics and the right- wing economic agenda of all the main parties.
In other constituencies in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, we are advocating a vote for any candidates standing on behalf of genuine community campaigns or for other radical and non-sectarian candidates who are standing independently of the existing parties.
In The Socialist 15 November 2003: