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International Socialism, November 1975


Mike Miller

The Conversion of William Craig


From Notes of the Month, International Socialism, No.83, November 1975, pp.5-6.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Mike Miller writes: The present upheaval in Northern Ireland enters its eighth year with no solution in sight. The uncertainty is fuelled by the absence of any identifiable British policy, by the contradictory interpretations of the Provisionals’ ceasefire, and by the contradictory interpretations of the Provisionals’ ceasefire, and by the sudden emergence of William Craig, once the most uncompromising of Loyalist leaders, as a supposed ‘moderate’.

Until Craig’s proposals for a coalition between the Loyalist UUUC and the Catholic SDLP, few people believed that any solution could be found in the Convention, the body elected earlier this year to work out a constitution acceptable to both sides. With a clear Loyalist majority in the Convention its report will recommend a return to the old Stormont set-up with its inbuilt Loyalist majority rule, modified only slightly to give powerless committee seats to Catholics. For its part the SDLP will reject anything less than cabinet seats which are guaranteed in the constitution.

The two positions are totally irreconcilable, and, although many believe otherwise, it is unlikely that the British will accede to the Loyalists’ demands – at least in the short run. Craig’s ‘conversion’ has almost certainly ensured that the British government will extend the life of the Convention in the hope that his coalition suggestion will be taken up by other members of the UUUC when they realise that their own plans will not have British backing. Indeed that is what prompted Craig to change course: he is determined to see a local parliament restored to the Six Counties, and believes that the unimaginative line of the UUUC will not bring that about, whereas his offer could, with himself firmly in the saddle.

What exactly does Craig propose? All that Craig has suggested is that two SDLP men be invited to join a majority Loyalist cabinet, as an emergency measure while the present crisis continues. This implies that the power to hand out invitations to join the government would be firmly in the hands of the Loyalists. The SDLP cabinet members would be out-numbered by four to one and would either accept majority decisions or leave the cabinet. Finally, their participation would be temporary, only lasting the duration of the emergency. The benefits of having the SDLP involved in government were spelled out by Craig himself. Speaking in the Convention he pointed out that. The fall-out from agreement would be far reaching. The SDLP could be more forthcoming on the security issue and agreement on institutions would enable the UK government to go out and really clobber the terrorists.’ With the ‘terrorists’ ‘clobbered’, the crisis would be over and the justification for SDLP participation in government ended. Full Loyalist hegemony would be restored with the open collaboration of the Catholic middle class.

If Craig’s deal can be sold to a sufficient number of UUUC politicians, to the SDLP, and to the Loyalist rank and file, then it would enable the British to concentrate their efforts on destroying the IRA and all those who refused to accept the Loyalist restoration. With the SDLP cooperating with Craig, and with the Southern regime collaborating with the British, the confusion in anti-Unionist quarters would be such as to minimise effective resistance. That is one reason why it is so important for the British to present Craig as a moderate. But Craig’s goal of a restored Orange ascendancy has not changed one bit. Only the tactics he proposes for getting there have.

All previous British attempts at finding a compromise solution have failed abysmally. Craig now presents them with an opportunity for restoring Loyalist rule, while pretending that this is a moderate, compromise solution.

Craig’s most significant success to date is in winning the support of the largest of the para military Loyalist armies, the UDA. They have recognised fully the advantages of tying the SDLP and its supporters to the state while the serious opposition to the state is eradicated. But it is impossible to know the extent to which the pro-Craig leadership represents the views of the rank and file UDA men. The other major Loyalist army, the UVF, made its attitude clear with the slaughter of eleven people on 2 October. It opposes any compromise and has threatened to ‘unleash the dogs of war’ in the event of any deal being done with the SDLP. It is significant that it is only since Craig emerged as a ‘moderate’ that UVF men, whose identity and activities have been known to the security forces all along, have been arrested in large numbers. Craig’s deal is being given every chance of success.

What then of the SDLP – will they accept? They have indicated that they are willing to take Craig seriously, while insisting that the offer of temporary seats in government is not sufficient: they want their seats guaranteed in the constitution. But they will pursue Craig’s plan in the hope of convincing the Loyalists that they could be as good as any at upholding the institutions of the Northern state, given a chance at participating in those institutions. To all intents and purposes the SDLP have abandoned their United Ireland ambitions and accepted the ‘inevitability’ of Loyalist majority rule. They simply want to ensure that they do as well out of it as possible.

They can no longer look to the Southern regime for support if they fail to come to terms with the Loyalist majority. The Southern ruling class, under the ideological sway of the reactionary Conor Cruise O’Brien, has made it quite clear that it no longer wants to involve itself in the North, except to assure the Loyalists that they have nothing to fear from south of the border. Foreign Minister FitzGerald told the United Nations last month that his government recognised the right of the Loyalist majority to self determination, while Defence Minister Donegan promised the Loyalists that he would wipe out the IRA in the South and guarantee the ‘inviolability of the border’ in the event of the Loyalists coming back to power. The South is spending £100 million annually on ‘defence’, which is essentially internal security aimed at those who would resist the Loyalist takeover. Almost 700 people have been jailed by the Special Court in just over two years for their Republican and socialist activities.

Ironically, the Craig scheme, while holding out the slightest hope for a compromise deal in the Convention, threatens to bring the Provisional ceasefire to a speedy end. The Provisionals were led to believe that the inevitable failure of the Convention would be followed by a declaration from the British of their intention to withdraw from the North. (What the Provisionals were not told of course was that the British would install a Loyalist regime before they left.) That hope has kept the ceasefire going inspite of the most blatant provocation from murderous Loyalists and the British military alike.

If the British are now going to seriously canvass Craig’s idea, or some variety of it, they will find it impossible to play the Provisionals along much longer. When the ceasefire goes it will be Britain, by all accounts, that will bear the brunt of the renewed military offensive. The pressures are on the government to end the ceasefire before the Provisionals do so themselves. That was the purpose behind the UVF’s massive military effort at the beginning of October, and although the UDA disapproved on tactical grounds, they fully supported the reasons given by the UVF for their carnage.

For their part the Provisionals still regard the British as the main enemy, and while there are plans for defending minority areas against Loyalist attack the Provisionals are convinced that if the British declare their intention to get out, the Loyalists will ‘come to their senses’. If on the other hand the Loyalists choose to fight, the Provisionals are convinced that the people of the South, with or without government approval, would come to the defence of their co-religionists in the North, assuring the victory of the ‘Irish’ over the ‘colonists’.

The political bankruptcy of the Provisionals has rarely been exceeded. But they are still right in one respect: there can be no progress in Ireland save through the destruction of the Northern state itself. All attempts to patch it up lead inevitably to confrontation on a scale unseen in the last seven years. By continuing to declare in favour of the maintenance of the Northern state the British ruling class gives sustenance to the reactionary cause of Loyalism, and convinces the hard men of the extreme right wing that they can fight and win. The British army must be pulled out, thus cutting the ground from under the right wing. The demand for the withdrawal of the army must be actively pursued by socialists throughout the British labour movement.

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