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Peter Hadden

Talks about Talks

(October 1993)

From Militant [UK], 1 October 1993.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

A joint statement issued last week by SDLP leader, John Hume, and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams has prompted a flurry of press speculation about a “major breakthrough” in Northern Ireland.

The joint statement speaks of “considerable progress” having been made in the meetings between these two leaders, which began in secret last April.

This is just the latest and most public evidence of a new political initiative in the offing. It has been reported that secret talks took place earlier this year between the government and the IRA on a 60-point plan for military de-escalation.

John Major recently took time out from his other headaches for a meeting with leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties. Is some sort of deal now likely? More importantly, is there a prospect of an end to the 25 years of violence?

The last time there was talk of a “breakthrough” was in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. It was designed to isolate Sinn Fein and the IRA and to prepare the ground for a devolved power-sharing assembly. Instead, it delivered eight years of stalemate.

The latest manoeuvres are an admission that this strategy has failed. The British ruling class recognise that a settlement must involve all parties. The unionists, who were excluded from negotiations in 1985, would have to be included. But so too would Sinn Fein.

In his dealings with Adams, Hume, wittingly or otherwise, has been acting as a conduit for the British establishment. They have privately encouraged these talks, hoping that they will come up with terms which would deliver an IRA ceasefire.

Indeed, both Adams and Martin McGuiness, another Sinn Fein leader, have recently hinted that an interim settlement might be possible. This would involve elements of joint authority and a declaration by the British government that they have no long-term interest in Ireland.

It is no coincidence that while Hume and Adams have been meeting, the Dublin and London governments have been discussing a rewording of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

The Dublin government would be prepared to replace its territorial claim over the North with an aspiration for eventual unity. The British government is prepared to state that the North is free to leave the Union if a majority of citizens vote to do so.

The stumbling block in this quest for an IRA ceasefire is the response of the Protestant community. It was they who scuppered the 1985 agreement.

Once again, they have reacted angrily, particularly to the suggestion of joint authority. DUP deputy leader, Peter Robinson, has spoken of “civil war”. At a West Belfast press conference, six of the seven-man inner council of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) have threatened more violence – even if there was an IRA ceasefire, Right wing unionist MP, John Taylor, has threatened loyalist attacks in Dublin,

In the event of some deal being struck between Sinn Fein and Dublin, an increase in loyalist violence is inevitable. Even in the event of an end to the Southern territorial claim, an IRA ceasefire, a new assembly, or some other concession that might make a deal palatable enough to a section of the unionists, it would be no lasting settlement. Mixing elements of reunification with the link to Britain – through some kind of joint authority – would only be a preparation for future conflict.

The underlying problem is the reality of life facing millions of workers in the two poverty-ridden states, North and South. The North is only left afloat by an annual 2bn subvention (1,300 per head) from Britain.

Even this is not enough to resolve problems of poverty and mass unemployment. This state cannot be made attractive to Catholic workers. The Southern Irish state is equally unattractive to Protestants.

Joint authority, as with any capitalist solution, would ultimately founder on the instability and uncertainty which such poverty breeds.

The only way out is through the unity of the working class fighting for a socialist solution. Within a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland, old conflicts could be democratically and peacefully resolved.

Recent developments in the Middle East have seemingly widened the prospects for peace but the labour movement in Ireland and Britain needs to mount its own challenge to sectarianism and pose its own solution.

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Last updated: 14 May 2014