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Peter Hadden

Anglo-Irish Agreement

Workers face heightened sectarianism

(April 1986)

From The Militant, 40N, April 1986.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Already the existence of the Anglo-Irish Agreement has resulted in a dramatic increase in sectarianism in the North. The most ominous aspects of the stoppage on Monday 3rd March were the incidents of sectarian intimidation and attack.

There were attacks on Catholic owned property. In Lurgan Catholic workers in the Saracen factory had to be evacuated as the factory was besieged. In Tyrone and Fermanagh cavalcades of loyalists toured through Catholic areas shouting and jeering at the inhabitants. In the centre of Derry shoppers were attacked by groups of loyalists. In outline the shades of pogroms were visible.

Other incidents have highlighted the dangerous upsurge in sectarianism. North Belfast has seen three sectarian murders this year. The latest was the most vicious. 25-year-old John O’Neill was abducted in the middle of the day by a murder gang posing as the driver and occupants of a black taxi. His battered body was later found in the Ballysillan area. So extensive were his injuries that police initially described him as a man in his fifties and his family identified him only by the colour of his hair. The killing was reminiscent of the vicious activities of the Shankill Butchers.

One other incident on the Falls/Shankill peace-line on March 19th illustrates the bestiality which may be unleashed if things deteriorate. Gavin Morgan from Clonard on the Falls side of the peace line was lured across to the Shankill by two teenagers. He was later found semi-conscious on waste ground. Gavin is only seven years of age, a fact that speaks for itself.

It is now all too obvious that the Anglo-Irish Agreement will solve nothing. On the contrary it will make things worse for all workers, Catholic and Protestant.

The signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a gross miscalculation on the part of the Thatcher government. Since last November this supposedly iron-willed government has been retreating all down the line in the face of loyalist opposition.

First Thatcher openly admitted that she underestimated loyalist opposition. Then in the Downing Street talks and in her more recent letter to Paisley and Molyneaux she all but agreed to suspend the agreement. Translated from terse parliamentary language this is the meaning of her promise “to approach the workings of the agreement in a sensitive way” if talks on devolution are opened up.

Shaky “agreement”

The fact that Paisley and Molyneaux have virtually lost control of the forces which they demagogically whipped up, will have caused alarm bells to ring in Downing Street. This is why the government have frozen all the paltry concessions to the Catholic minority which were hinted at last November. Repeal of the Flags and Emblems Act is not to be considered until next year. Attorney General Sir Michael Havers has proclaimed that the supergrass system will stay. It also explains Tom King’s announcement that the Agreement is a “bulwark” against a united Ireland.

Clearly this unworkable agreement is on its last legs. For the Catholic community it means more, not less, repression as the British government attempt to sell it to the Protestants as an agreement to smash the IRA and as the indignation of the RUC and the UDR is vented on Catholic communities. This means that pressure will mount on the SDLP and the Southern government to deliver something or else pull out of the accord. It also means that by increasing sectarianism and repression the agreement which designed to bolster the SDLP and moderate Catholic opinion is already beginning to have precisely the opposite effect.

If it were left to Paisley and Molyneaux the British government’s softly softly approach to the implementation of the agreement might allow talks to be opened up. But these leaders have precious little room to manoeuvre. Anything short of the complete abolition of the agreement is not likely to be accepted by their supporters, the ranks of both parties, especially the DUP, the Orange Order, the Ulster Clubs, the Loyalist Workers Committee ’86, the paramilitaries etc.

The initiative has passed to the streets and given that the government is not at this moment prepared to capitulate entirely and openly suspend or scrap the accord, confrontation is still the most likely option in the coming weeks and months.


The token protests of with-drawing from Boards and suspending Councils have no real effect and pressure will arise for an escalation. Violent confrontations are likely. Further sectarian stoppages, possibly even an all-out strike, are definitely being considered. Given the serious sectarian incidents which occurred on March 3rd, a strike of a larger duration is an ominous prospect. With the RUC and UDR completely unreliable and with the initiative passing to the Ulster Clubs and the paramilitaries, serious pogroms against Catholic workers and Catholic areas would be possible. If an all-out strike were successful in closing industry, and given that the army would be unable to control the situation, the Tories would have to retreat. However by that stage the province might, have been pushed close to the precipice.

This makes urgent a response from the trade union movement. For the tens of thousands of workers, Catholic and Protestant, who wanted to go to work on March 3rd there was no lead from the union leaders. They simply condemned the strike but had nothing to say either on the key question of protection for workers who were intimidated or on the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

At this moment there is a certain amount of uncertainty in the Loyalist camp as to how to proceed with their campaign. On the shop floor class issues remain to the forefront. Even in Shorts it is concern with threatened redundancies and management hints of a low or zero pay offer this year which are in workers’ minds. Now is the time for the trade unions to intervene and present an alternative.

What is needed is a campaign on the class issues: jobs, wages, cuts etc. This should be coupled with a campaign against sectarianism to isolate the bigots on both sides. And also it must be linked to a class campaign on the national question by putting forward a socialist alternative to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Elsewhere in this issue we explain in detail what such a campaign would entail. We also describe the initiatives which have very successfully been taken by supporters of this paper with the trade unions. Now is the opportunity for the union leaders to act. If they delay even for a few weeks they may be faced with a much more difficult and dangerous situation in which to intervene.

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