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Peter Hadden

Something in the air?

(22 October 1993)

From Militant [UK], 22 October 1993.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

As head of the Orange Order and Unionist MP for South Belfast, Martin Smith is one of the most influential figures in Unionist/Protestant circles.

So his statement, albeit hedged with weighty conditions, that Sinn Fein might at some stage be involved in talks is clearly significant. That it was followed by the mildest rebukes from other leading members of his party shows that some rethinking of policy has taken place.

This, together with the Hume-Adams talks and hints of an IRA ceasefire has fuelled speculation in Northern Ireland that some major development is about to take place. With compromise seemingly in the air in South Africa and the Middle East hopes have been raised of a political breakthrough and even of an end to the violence.

Opinion polls show that a majority of people back the Hume-Adams talks even though they are also sceptical that they can help end the violence in Catholic areas there is general support. One poll shows that 30% of Protestants are in favour. However in hard-line Protestant working class areas there is also considerable unease and uncertainty and this is being exploited by loyalist bigots. The two main loyalist paramilitary groups, the UDA and UVF, have recently stepped up their recruitment.

Already the result has been a new and ferocious wave of terror by these groups. There is now on average one loyalist murder bid per day. Many of these are attempts to massacre groups of Catholics, selected at random.

These attacks are probably intended to provoke IRA retaliation, scupper the idea of a ceasefire and stymie any prospect of a settlement. They show that the immediate reaction to any new political development is likely to be a fierce escalation of violence.

Nonetheless the indications are that the Tories are likely to persevere with talks with the major parties and with Dublin. They are also angling to find terms that might bring about a ceasefire and open the way for Sinn Fein to be included in talks.

An IRA ceasefire – possibly as early as Christmas cannot be excluded. Gerry Adams has stated that the price would be recognition by Britain of the right of self-determination of the Irish people.

There have been conflicting statements from different quarters including a more hard-line statement from the IRA in last week’s Republican News. Despite an IRA statement that “the IRA’s war goes on”. The signals from its leadership that they are open for negotiation are unmistakeable.

This is an indication of the dead end of the IRA’s ideas and tactics. While the British state cannot eliminate the Provos – neither can the IRA hope for – a military victory. The idea of a long war, another 20 or 30 years of their campaign, is not so easy to sell to IRA volunteers as it was ten or 15 years ago.

A new initiative, more comprehensive than previous ones could be on the cards. This may involve agreement with Dublin to end its territorial claim – in return for greater North-South co-operation and Southern involvement on a consultative basis.

Arrangements for some form of devolved power-sharing assembly would be likely. And if an IRA ceasefire could be thrown in it’s possible that the Tories could divide Protestant opposition sufficiently to contain the Loyalist backlash for a period.

But to get this far would mean overcoming huge obstacles, a possible split in the IRA, INLA violence, UDA and UVF atrocities, the DUP spearheading more generalised Protestant opposition – to name but some. If some interim agreement is reached the basic underlying problems will not be solved. Even if it’s backed by aid from the US and elsewhere it will not end unemployment or grant people a decent standard of living.

All that would happen is that the administration of poverty and the implementation of Tory cuts would be handed over to the local politicians. It would be unstable and liable to collapse leading most likely to worse violence than now.

John Hume justifies his silence on the content of his talks with Adams by arguing that it’s better to work things out in private, However it is false to believe that a solution can be found behind the backs of the people of Northern Ireland and then foisted upon them.

It is the working class, Catholic and Protestant, who have the power to defeat sectarian aims and deliver a solution. The revulsion felt by Shorts workers at the killing of Catholic Joe Reynolds and their support for the trade unions’ protest outside their factory, showed the potential for united class action. Workers in Ballymena marched last weekend in protest at job losses in the tobacco industry. Civil servants are balloting for strikes against privatisation.

Militant Labour are trying to build on this potential and provide an alternative to the existing politicians and the paramilitaries. But the working-class movement can’t wait for the politicians and paramilitaries to make up their minds. We need to struggle now to defeat all forms of sectarianism and fight for a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland.

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Last updated: 2 May 2014