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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland:

Terrorism Leading to Disaster

(August 1971)

From Militant [UK], No. 78, August 1971.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

One Ulsterman in every ten is on the dole. The unemployment figures for June showed an increase of 5,500 on the previous year. Since then news has been released that the Ulster Textile Mill in Newry, where already 2,500 are unemployed, is to close adding another 300 to the dole queues. These and other redundancies have come together with the gloom, which now hangs over Ulster’s two largest firms, the Harland and Wolff shipyards and Shorts Bros and Harland. Already, W. Blease, N.I. Officer of the ICTU has been talking in terms of the possibility that “thousands in Ulster are going to have chronic hardship next winter”. (Belfast Telegraph, June 24th)

This year the Ulster 71 celebrations mark the fact that the province has existed for half a century. But what is there to celebrate about high unemployment, about the fact that 35% of wage earners take home under £16 per week or that, according to the Ministry of Development figures, 100,000 houses are unfit for human habitation?

Ruling Class in an Impoasse

It is these conditions that underline the present troubles. Already this summer Derry has witnessed rioting on the scale of two summers ago. Similarly in the Protestant and Catholic ghettos of Belfast the simmering discontent threatens to boil over at any time. One incident in this atmosphere is potentially enough to set off a full scale bloodbath. The shooting of Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie, (according to all eyewitness account both unarmed) has come as the climax to a long succession of explosions, fires, gun skirmishes, tarring and feathering, minor stone throwing incidents etc. throughout the province. June 26th–27th was a quiet week-end by present standards. But during that time there were four shooting incidents, two men were beaten up and tarred and feathered, there was small scale rioting in Derry, 18 incendiary devices were found in Bangor shops, and finally there were three bombing incidents including the destruction of a Belfast bookies. It is against this background that the season of traditional Orange parades is getting into full swing. No-one needs to have the dangers of this situation spelt out.

Faced with this situation the ruling class is in an impasse. Every way they turn, every move they make, they come up against a blind alley. Above all they must now prevent a religious “civil war” because of the disastrous consequences this would have in terms of destruction of property and trade. Despite all their efforts, their foster child, religious hatred, whom they have nurtured since Ulster was founded, and even before, cannot be made to lie down. Their inability to find a way out only reflects their inability to solve the basic social problems and provide houses and jobs. While Faulkner can blame all his ills on the activities of “evil minded men” the real evils for the working people of Ulster are those associated with poverty and social degradation.

On Sunday July 4th in a daylight machine gun attack on an army patrol in Leeson Street two soldiers and two civilians were injured. There would be little extraordinary about this were it not for the fact that responsibility has been claimed by the “Official” IRA.

Since the blood bath of August ’69 the “Provisionals” have commanded a huge numerical majority.

Recently a Belfast spokesman for the Officials was interviewed in the Irish Times. When asked whether they hoped to defeat the troops in open battle part of the reply was, “... You can defeat any army no matter how big with the support of the people. But we haven’t reached the stage yet where we have completely proved to the people that what we are fighting for is for their benefit.” (Irish Times July 5th)

Responsibility on Labour leaders

This is true of Provisionals and Officials alike. Terrorist activities can isolate them further. No matter how much the Official leadership pronounce on the need for socialist policies, for a strong political movement, and for working class unity, terrorism will only point them in the opposite direction, away from politics and away from the masses. The only “civilians” who were involved in the Leeson St. attack were the two who were injured, one being hit in the head by a bullet. In the same interview as above this was explained by the remark, “that bullet was probably on its way down with its life spent. It was just one of those things”!

(The Belfast Officials have just launched an appeal to the troops raising important demands such as Trade Union rights for soldiers and election of officers. But what is the point of such an appeal if it is to be signed in lead?)

As Marxists have always pointed out, isolated acts of terrorism, despite individual bravery, is not itself enough. The whole history of the republican movement, the fizzling out of all past campaigns, is proof enough of this. Despite the intentions of the IRA rank and file, terrorism from either faction is totally fruitless, and can only have disastrous consequences in widening the chasm which now separates protestant and catholic workers.

Already too many opportunities to cut across the sectarian poison have been missed. The heavy responsibility for preventing a full scale religious bloodbath now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Labour and TU leaders. It is only mobilisation of the entire labour movement that bigotry can be removed and a basis laid for solving the everyday problems of the people.

So far, however, all we have been offered is an example of how not to lead. The NILP has only two representatives in Stormont (only one elected). Both these have expended most of their energy on urging people to support this particular Unionist Government because it is a “little less reactionary” than its predecessors. According to David Bleakley: “We are being offered a future based on progressive reforms fundamental to our whole future” (Belfast Telegraph July 29th). If the NILP considers that anything can be achieved by participating in the Unionist government then it is offering a vote of confidence in Toryism. On that basis it might as well dissolve itself in favour of the Unionists!

A Workers’ Defence Force

As shown in Militant No 76 the workers would rally to the banner of labour if a clear class lead were given. What is required is not a pious condemnation of sectarianism but a clearly spelt out socialist alternative. Socialist policies must be formulated, policies capable of mobilising the workers on their common grievances, and pointing the way forward to the solution, the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy as laid out in Clause Four. Coupled with this, a demand which must be taken up by every section of the Labour movement is for the replacement of British troops by a Trade Union Defence Force. The troops are only in Ulster as the agents of the British ruling class. Just as that class can find no solution neither can its army. The shootings in Derry only serve to underline this. Already the troops have been here for two years and still the violence remains. No matter if they stay another twenty years, if the basic grievances are not removed, the troubles will continue. Only a body which acts in the interests of the working class is capable of providing a solution.

Armed with these demands the Labour and TU leaders must mobilise their support and take on the challenge which faces them.

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Last updated: 24 September 2020