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Peter Hadden

Anglo-Irish Agreement – another failed solution

(November 1987)

From Militant, November 1987.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE second anniversary of the Anglo Irish Agreement would be more appropriately marked with wreaths than celebrated with flowers. After two years and twelve Intergovernmental Conferences the Agreement is quite clearly played out.

Two years ago the Catholics in the North were sold two lies by the SDLP. The first was that the South would, in future, have a say in the affairs of the North and the second, and far more important, was that if the likes of Haughey and FitzGerald could be involved the lot of the northern minority would improve. A quarter of a million people are unemployed in the South. One and a half million depend to some degree on the pittance of social welfare to survive. Haughey, like Fitzgerald before him, presides over this vista of poverty by the same means as Thatcher, through monetarism and repression.

Far From being the champions of democratic rights in the North these people are the enemies of justice and democracy and the stalwart defenders of clan privilege in the North. Currently we have not an agreement but on Anglo- Irish disagreement – on the issues of extradition and the Diplock courts. In this the hypocrisy of the Southern government and the false basis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in vividly exposed.


Haughey is refusing to ratify the European Extradition Treaty. – Yet extradition already takes place in practice. He refuses, not out of principle, but because Thatcher and King won’t approve the quid pro quo of three-judge trials in the North. Why three judges? Not because it is any more just. As one person quipped when the idea first was raised, it would mean defendants would be three times more likely to be convicted! Three judges are demanded because this is the practice in the South. The Anglo-Irish ‘disagreement’ is not about ‘justice’ but about whether Southern methods or British of repression are best!

From the outset the ‘concessions’ hinted at through the Angle-Irish framework were only cosmetic. The real purpose of the Agreement was nothing to do with justice and everything to do with repression.

It was devised by the British ruling class mainly to .boost the SDLP at the expense of Sinn Fein. It was hoped that the initial Unionist reaction would quietly subside and the extremes of loyalism and nationalism having been isolated, that the way would be opened to political stability through devolution and power sharing.

Now the strategies of imperialism are in tatters. The accord has brought not peace but more violence – hundreds of families petrol bombed and intimidated from their homes, murder gangs in the streets and a rising death toll. In 1984, before the agreement, 64 people were killed. In the first 9 months of this year the death toll went over 70. Instead of political stability there is instability. The paramilitaries have been strengthened while the political futures especially the ‘moderate’ parties are falling to pieces. One by one the leading figures of the Alliance Party have been abandoning this sinking ship. In the recent West Belfast bye-election Alliance polled only 475 votes, a drop of about 1,600 over 1985. Sinn Fein got about 60% of the vote. So much for the effects of the Angle-Irish Agreement in boosting the SDLP!

No Devolution

Devolution and power sharing are now further off than ever. After two years the British government have not even budged the Unionists into serious ‘talks about talks’ on this issue. Hence the spate of political resignations from all parties with no ‘jobs for the boys’ on offer in a future Assembly, the career politicians are not going to wait around ‘sacrificing’ alternative high paid careers. So the Glendinnings, Cushnahans, Cookes, Allastairs have bowed out of politics. Frank Millar has left Glengall Street for ITN. Jim Wells has swapped his old marching blood curdling speeches and organising protests in Dundalk on behalf of the PUP for the tamer life as an organiser for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds!

The Agreement backfired mainly because the British government entirely underestimated the scale of the Protestant backlash it would. invoke. Because of the furious Protestant opposition, the cosmetic concessions previously hinted at could be introduced. The entire operation was paralysed from the word go.

Double Talk

Insofar as the mass Protestant resistance has subsided this is because it has succeeded in stymying the Agreement. This year the Anglo-Irish Conference has met a grand total of three times and has produced only disagreement. To maintain the Agreement the ruling class have had to face in two directions at once. To the Protestants they have given assurances that there would be no real changes and that the only tangible effect would be more North-South co-operation to crush the IRA. Meanwhile they had to create the opposite impression among the Catholics.

This would not be sustained indefinitely. Either something would be implemented threatening a Protestant backlash which would tear the accord to pieces or else nothing would be done and ultimately the catholic population would become frustrated and alienated by the whole exercise. Basically this is the position which has been reached. Both the British and the Southern ruling class now recognise that the Agreement can no longer have any purpose. The problem is that openly ending it may make things worse. So they can’t work a way out of this sorry mess of their own creation. Disagreement over extradition may provide a suitable back door out of the Agreement for both sides.

Whatever happens the episode proves the impossibility of finding any capitalist solution to the conflict. The existing constitutional arrangement means poverty and violence. Any change to this arrangement promises only poverty and would precipitate even worse violence. All but the politically blind must now see that capitalist reunification is impossible. Just the hint of a possible move in this direction was enough, two years ago, to ignite a furious Protestant reaction, A real step towards reunification would provoke armed revolt, civil war, genocide and repartition.

No short cuts

Only the unity of the working class struggling for socialism can bring about a solution. There are no capitalist shortcuts. Two years ago the leaders of the Labour Movement in Britain and Ireland saw in the Anglo-Irish Agreement such a short cut and can now only eat their words. Neil Kinnock welcomed the agreement “as a step in the long road towards ending the violence, waste and fear which has plagued the people of Northern Ireland for so long”. (Press release, 15 November 1985)

Dick Spring in an Irish Labour Party Newsletter saw real change coming. “Our minister in the Conference will put forward Irish views and proposals for the progressive establishment of a new security system which would obviate the need for the UDR to be involved in local security.”

On November 12th 1985 the Irish Times carried a brief Pontius Pilate statement from ICTU declaring that they had no comment to make on the accord. By their position of silence of support the leaders of the labour movement have courted disaster. Insofar as the movement has held together in the North despite the sectarian reaction of the past two years it has been because of the clear understanding and tenacity of the union rank and file’ and despite the cowardly ineptitude of the trade union leaders.

With or without the continuance of the Agreement a dangerous situation still exists in the North. Trade unionists and socialists must draw the lessons of the last two years. There must be no more support for capitalist solutions. Instead the Labour Movement must be pressed into action to unite the whole of the working class to fight poverty, sectarianism and repression and to bring about a socialist’ solution.

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