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Peter Hadden

Civil war threat – workers must respond

(July 1986)

From Militant, No. 143N, July–August 1986.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DESPITE THE claims of the London and Dublin Governments to the contrary, the Anglo-Irish agreement is, in reality, a dead letter.

The main purpose of the agreement was to throw a life-line to the SDLP in the form of a few purely cosmetic concessions to the Catholics in the North. In the meantime the screws of repression, mainly against the Provos, were to be jointly tightened North and South. Out of this it was hoped that a basis might be created for some form of internal settlement in the North.

From the point of view of the ruling class, especially the British ruling class who were chiefly instrumental in drawing up this accord, it has been a failure on all counts. Its overall net effect has been to increase sectarianism and to destabilise the North. The British ruling class now face a province less governable than it was before last November.

Yet having made the mistake of signing the accord, Thatcher is now hoist on her own petard. She cannot implement the agreement because or the loyalist violence which would be unleashed.

But to scrap it would cause a reaction among Catholics. There would be a notable shift of support from the SDLP to Sinn Fein and a corresponding strengthening of the more ardently nationalist Mallonite wing of the SDLP.

Unable to resolve this dilemma the British government have for months clung to the agreement in name only. Nothing has been implemented and nothing of any substance can be implemented. The Anglo-Irish agreement exists only in form, not in content. The government’s de facto suspension of the accord while publicly proclaiming not only its existence but its health and vitality is not a position which can be indefinitely maintained. Already it has been dealt a number of body blows.

First, there has been the Stalker affair. The indecent haste with which Stalker was removed from the inquiry into RUC methods reveals a conspiracy by the ruling class to cover up shoot-to-kill methods. What better way to demonstrate to Catholics in the North that despite the paraphernalia of the inter-governmental conferences of the Maryfield secretarial etc., nothing but nothing has changed.

In the middle of this controversy the Unionist campaign has received a propaganda boost from the divorce referendum result in the South. The real reasons for this vote are not those stated by the Unionists and are explained elsewhere in this issue. Nonetheless it has allowed them to present the image of a priest-ridden state in which even basic civil liberties such as divorce are excluded.

Also by weakening the southern government the divorce referendum makes the Anglo-Irish agreement more precarious. The coming to power of a Haughey-led Fianna Fail government would be its effective end.

The failure of the Anglo-Irish agreement is not in doubt. But this can provide no grounds for complacency on the part of the working class and their organisations. Already it has had the direct effect of massively increasing sectarian polarisation, the continued existence of the agreement makes it more likely that things will get worse. A warning has been given in the form of the loyalist reaction to the scrapping of the Assembly. Ian Paisley immediately stated that the province was on the verge of civil war. Calling on Protestants in every street, hamlet and village to get organised he said, “This is a war and people will be hurt. People have already been hurt and sacrifices will have to be made.”

In the context of the threatened re-routing of Orange parades, of quite widespread incidents of sectarian intimidation, and of the holding of sinister paramilitary parades in the dead of night in the estates, towns and villages, those threats cannot simply be dismissed as empty rhetoric. There is a danger that if events begin to spiral towards confrontation there are those who will take Paisley at his word and civil war will come onto the agenda.

This is why the labour movement, the only non-sectarian force in the North, must come out from behind the wall of silence erected by the trade union leaders and act now. A civil war would be a disaster for Catholic and Protestant workers alike. It would engulf the entire country, would spread to Britain, and would end up in the nightmare of repartition.

Among some workers in the North there exists the dangerously fatalistic view that at least this would sort things out and mean a settlement. It would result in no such thing. The end would not be stability but the opening up of Middle East style instability, with

refugee camps, contested frontiers and all the horror and the mayhem to which that would give rise.

There are a quarter of a million trade unionists in the North. It is time that the voice of this enormously powerful, but latent force was heard. By presenting a socialist alternative which could appeal to both Catholic and Protestant workers and by organising its huge membership to defend the working class from sectarian attack, the trade union movement alone can offer the alternative to sectarianism.

Trade unionists must now step up the pressure for the calling of a rank and file delegate conference of the unions and bona fide tenants and community groups to work out a socialist alternative to the Anglo-Irish agreement. This would mean a rejection of this capitalist solution and the counter-posing of a socialist solution tot eh national problem, that is the unity of the entire working class in the struggle for socialism, against both partition and the two poverty-ridden states which now exist and for a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland.

Also such a conference could be used to put the movement on alert in the face of possible worsening sectarian violence. A campaign against such violence like the 1975/76 Better Life for All Campaign, except much more thoroughgoing, should be launched. In the event of any drift in the direction of sectarian civil war the Labour Movement would have to organise its own defence force to protect the working class and struggle to prevent such an outcome.

The trade union leaders’ policy of silence on all these questions has left the working class as a whole, and the trade union movement itself, dangerously exposed to sectarian attacks. That policy must end. The time for bold socialist action is now.

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