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From: The Socialist issue 870, 16 September 2015: A new era for the 99%

Search site for keywords: Northern Ireland - Working class - Poverty - Ireland - IRA - Dup - Sinn Fein - Belfast

Northern Ireland Executive crisis

Only united working class can overcome poverty and sectarian division

Michael Cleary, Socialist Party Northern Ireland

The devolved government administration in Northern Ireland is in danger of total collapse. A crisis erupted in the aftermath of the killing of ex-IRA member Kevin McGuigan in Belfast on 13 August.

His murder is widely assumed to have been carried out by the Provisional IRA (PIRA - an Irish republican group which agreed to end its armed struggle as part of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal) in revenge for the killing of one of its prominent commanders, Jock Davidson, on 5 May.

Days later the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland stated that IRA members were involved in the McGuigan murder and that "the Provisional IRA still exists". A political storm then erupted.

Prior to his statement there was a widespread belief that the PIRA exists in some form. But an admission from the state that it still exists, is armed, and is prepared to use its arms, led to a sharp reaction.

Resignation

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) quickly pulled out of the Executive in response. After an opinion poll showed that 80% of Protestants supported the UUP move First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced the resignation of all of his party's ministers but one. He has stepped aside but another DUP minister, Arlene Foster, is acting in his role for the next six weeks.

The Executive was already in crisis before the recent events. Over the summer there were clear indications of behind the scenes talks however, and an agreement to break the impasse on so-called "welfare reform" was likely in September. The indications are that both the DUP and Sinn Fein would prefer the Executive to remain in place.

A solution to the crisis is likely to centre on the establishment of a new body to make assessments about alleged PIRA activity, similar to the "Independent Monitoring Commission" which oversaw the status of all the paramilitary ceasefires between 2004 and 2011.

If the talks fail, and the Executive collapses completely, what happens next is uncertain. The Secretary of State, Teresa Villiers, has the power to call an immediate election but will hesitate to do so.

She no longer has the power to suspend the Assembly and return to direct rule, as she once did, but emergency legislation could be passed at Westminster to allow this to happen.

The most likely scenario is a long period of prolonged negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Paramilitary

Whatever happens next the latest crisis only serves to underline the plain fact that the 'peace process' has not delivered on any of its promises. None of the problems facing working class people in the North have been solved, including the dominance of paramilitary groups in working class areas.

Potentially, the working class is also the only force which is capable of challenging the paramilitaries and the sectarian political parties. However, this requires the establishment of a new mass left political party, seeking to unite Catholics and Protestants in a common struggle for a better life, in order to provide workers and young people with a real alternative.

For background material on the peace agreement/the national question in Ireland, and on workers' struggles, see www.socialistpartyni.net and www.socialistworld.net

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