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International Socialism, June 1975


Mike Miller

Towards the Orange State


From International Socialism, No.79, June 1975, pp.4-5.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Mike Miller writes: ‘Our job is to reconstruct the institutions of this state’. David Trimble, UUUC Convention member, South Belfast. ‘Any new government of Northern Ireland must possess powers equal to those of our former government.’ Herbert Heslip, UUUC Convention member, South Down. ‘UUUC Victory. Return to Stormont.’ Headline in Paisley’s Protestant Telegraph.

The message from the triumphant Loyalist coalition could hardly be clearer. With a majority of 14 over all other parties in the newly elected Convention, Paisley, Craig and West, joint leaders of the United Ulster Unionist Council will demand the complete restoration of Orange supremacist power, turning the clock back to the days before 1968 when Stormont ruled supreme and every ‘fenian’ knew his place.

Stormont, in case anyone has forgotten, was the parliament of Northern Ireland through which the Unionist Party, a clique of wealthy landlords and businessmen, almost all of them members of the secret and totally Protestant Orange Order, ruled uninterruptedly for fifty years. Their rule was maintained by a combination of terror and discrimination aimed against the minority Catholic population, coupled with the favouring of the Loyalist Protestant population in the allocation of scarce goods like jobs and houses – vitally important in an area with permanent unemployment of around 10 per cent, and a slum housing record that is the worst in Europe with one house in five unfit for human habitation.

Behind Stormont stood a whole array of repressive weaponry ranging from the Special Powers Act which allowed imprisonment without charge or trial, to the notorious ‘B’ Specials, 10,000 armed thugs, recruited from the Orange Order, and unleashed on the Catholic minority every now and then just to make sure they stayed on their knees. The UUUC is out to restore the Stormont regime in all its bloody glory. Only this time they will be even more ruthless, having seen the revolutionary potential of effective opposition.

British policy in the Six Counties since the present upheaval began has been aimed at finding a ‘moderate centre’ capable of establishing a government which could rule the area in the interests of British big business in a less openly sectarian and vicious manner than the old Stormont set-up. That involved pulling together middle class Catholics and those Unionists who were prepared to tolerate changes in the system. But getting these elements together was only one part of the strategy. If ‘moderation’ was to succeed, the ‘extremists’ had to be dealt with effectively. For the anti-unionists, whose ‘extremism’ consisted of demanding their freedom, this meant violent repression: the interminable round of searches, arrests, detention, torture and beatings, and even summary execution at the hands of the British army, unofficially enforcing a regime of martial law in the Catholic ghettoes.

For the ultra-Loyalists, led by Craig and Paisley, it meant the cold shoulder. Although little physical repression was used against them, in spite of the sectarian assassination campaign which has resulted in the murder of several hundred Catholics in the last four years, the Loyalist politicians were excluded from the power sharing regime, the end-product of British policy, which took over government in January 1974.

The Ulster Workers’ Council strike in May last year shattered the illusion of a ‘moderate solution’ once and for all, and proved once again the impossibility of reforming the Northern state. The strike succeeded in toppling the power sharing executive. With it went the last remnants of British policy. The Loyalist demand for a Convention which would draw up a new constitution for the North, free from interference from Dublin and London, was granted. Paisley and Craig were back in from the cold. They were once again calling the tune, certain of an overall majority in the Convention.

In the interval between the UWC strike and the election of the Convention the Loyalists have been preparing their forces for the return of a Stormont type set-up. A body known as the Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee which unites the UUUC politicians, the Ulster Army Council – the heads of the eight Loyalist paramilitary armies – and the UWC, has been meeting weekly for several months, finalising plans for co-ordinated military, industrial and political action to ensure that all Loyalist demands are met in full. As well as the unofficial armies, the Loyalists have command over a large and growing section of the regular police, the RUC, and over the police reserve which was established by the Labour government to placate Loyalist demands for a ‘third force’. Members of the para-military groups were instructed to enter the police reserve in their thousands, which they did. It has been revealed that men whose applications to the Ulster Defence Regiment, the successor to the ‘B’ Specials, were turned down because of their association with sectarian gangs, have now been accepted in the police reserve. The UDR itself is dominated in every area by men whose prime loyalty is to the UUUC. These state militias are financed by the British government and trained by the British army. They are armed with the most modern weaponry available. If it comes to a confrontation with the British state they will fight, in their thousands, for Loyalist reaction.

Other institutions of the old state structure, like the judiciary and the senior civil service, were never taken from the Loyalists’ hands. At local level too, the Loyalists have been conducting a vigorous campaign to have full powers restored to the local councils which they dominate but which were deprived of effective power because of their blatant discriminatory practices in the past. Success in this campaign will restore second-level state power to the Orange machine.

Faced with such massive resistance from a solidly united (for the time being at least), heavily armed and determined bloc of Loyalists, British policy is in tatters. No attempt to enforce power sharing will be made. The politicians have neither the will nor the ability to take on the Loyalists. The British army has made its position clear since the UWC strike: as far as it is concerned there is one enemy, and one enemy only: the IRA. General Sir Frank King, GOC here, authorised the release of all the Loyalist killers at a time when their assassination campaign was in full swing. At the same time he opposed the release of Republicans from Long Kesh in spite of the IRA ceasefire.

There are signs too that sections of the Tory Party leadership are in favour of a restoration of Loyalist supremacy as the only alternative in the North. Tory spokesman on the North, Airey Neave, a personal friend of one of the para military leaders, Lt Col Edward Brush whose organisation has been implicated in sectarian killings, has said that power sharing cannot be enforced against the wishes of the UUUC. Thatcher and Whitelaw are rumoured to have given up the idea of power sharing, and sections of the Tory press are advocating the recreation of the link between the Tories and the Ulster Unionists.

The SDLP, representing the Catholic middle class, are already accusing the British of ‘betrayal’. On a recent visit to the North, Harold Wilson made no mention of power sharing and hinted that if the SDLP refused to accept the best deal they could get from the UUUC they would get no support from the government.

Similar noises have been coming from the South too where Northern policy is dominated by Conor Cruise O’Brien, a reactionary, viciously anti-Republican Labour Minister in the coalition government. O’Brien, commenting on the Convention election results, stated that power sharing was obviously out of the question. As the crisis in the North moves rapidly to confrontation point, the only ‘contribution’ from the South is a new law, the Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act which will permit Southern Courts to try men and women wanted in the North for political ‘crimes’ against the imperialist regime. Southern jails, already full to bursting point with republican activists, will be crammed even tighter.

Deserted on all sides by its former allies, the SDLP will be left with few options. Either it accepts the UUUC offer of chairmanships of powerless parliamentary committees, leaving all cabinet positions in Loyalist hands, and as a result is deserted by its supporters who would turn once again to the IRA, or else it walks out of the Convention and refuses to co-operate in a Loyalist restoration. In spite of Gerry Pitt’s statement, ‘I have hope for the Convention,’ the latter course seems almost certain, although the pressures on the SDLP to do a deal will be strong. Their boycotting of the Convention would be the signal for the Loyalist takeover, with or without British support, but almost certainly without their opposition.

Whatever the scenario for the months ahead, one thing is certain: neither the SDLP, the British, nor the Southern government can prevent a Loyalist restoration. In fact the current indications suggest that such a restoration is to be permitted. The increasing build up, under British supervision, of the Loyalist dominated state militias in the North is seen as a prelude to the ‘Ulsterisation’ of the campaign against all effective opposition to Unionism. The increase in repression in the South is likewise aimed at removing from the scene all of those who will not acquiesce in the Loyalist victory.

Faced with the threat of a Loyalist restoration, with all that that implies by way of repression, working class disunity, and strengthening of reactionary forces throughout Britain and Ireland, it is not enough to point to its long term instability, flying, as it does, in the face of contemporary developments in imperialism’s plans for ruling Ireland. Nor is it enough to hope for the Loyalist monolith to destroy itself by internal bickering over the sharing of the spoils of power. The restoration must be actively resisted in Ireland and in Britain. There is little doubt that the Provisional campaign will be renewed sooner or later. The struggle for the destruction of the Northern state is a legitimate one which British workers must recognise and support. That state is unreformable. Its very existence is the source of the continuing crisis. The British army is in Ireland to maintain the state intact, reformed or not. That army is one strong prop which has helped to give the Loyalists strength by ensuring that the state which they inevitably dominate is kept in existence, and by waging war on all opponents of the state. The withdrawal of the army is an immediate priority which must be fought for in the British labour movement. The British ruling class must not be given time to reconstruct the old state machine. The crutch must be pulled from under the reactionary right wing Loyalist coalition by withdrawing the army NOW. That is the minimal contribution the British working class can make to the defeat of reaction in Ireland. Victory for the Loyalists is a defeat for the whole working class.

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