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Peter Hadden

After the Downing Street Declaration

Is a solution possible?

(January 1994)

From Militant Labour, No. 219, January 1994.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

What is the purpose of the Declaration?

Every solution put forward by the ruling class over the past twenty five years bas ended in failure. This is an-attempt to come up with a new solution, more comprehensive than before. The outline of this would be a new assembly in the North, North-South links through various inter-governmental committees, the scrapping of Articles 2 and 3 of the Southern constitution and setting up a new talking shop to be called a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin.

It is hoped to win the support of at least the Official Unionists, Alliance and the SDLP. But what really makes this more embracing than what has gone before is the possibility of an IRA ceasefire followed by the rapid inclusion of the Sinn Fein leadership in the talk’s process.

Should the Declaration be supported?

No. This document is a model of ambiguity and doublespeak. It starts by stating that the most important issue to “to remove the causes of the conflict” – but it completely fails to do so.

At bottom the conflict is rooted in the poverty and unemployment which blights working class areas. It is this which breeds the political instability which for the past twenty five years has taken a sectarian form. This Declaration has nothing to say about providing jobs or improving peoples living conditions.

How cou1d it when its joint authors head Tory government which are cutting living standards in Britain and the South?

Major’s policy for the North means job losses, cuts in services, privatisation, including the sell-off of our water.

Just two weeks before he launched this pious document from No.10 Downing Street, his Chancellor appeared from next door with a budget which raised taxes and promised a public sector wage freeze.

A real solution means providing people with a better life. Day and daily the Tories are adding to the hardship of our lives.

The trade unions and community organisations should not unite with the Tories behind this document. Instead they should be attempting to unite the working class against Tory policies.

But does it not provide an interim solution which can end the violence?

The Declaration is a fudge, not a solution. If there is an IRA ceasefire, it is possible that there could be a downturn in paramilitary violence for a period. However, this is not certain – nor is the question of how loyalist paramilitaries would respond. A split in the IRA’s ranks could mean a continuation of some degree of military activity.

If there is such a reduction in paramilitary violence this would not be due to the Downing Street Declaration or other negotiations initiated by the Tories. Rather it would represent the partial exhaustion of those paramilitary forces which were created by the intense events of the early 1970s.

A respite due to such partial exhaustion is not a solution or a settlement. The working class movement needs to recognise things for what they are, not mistake them for what it would like them to be.

Does it not provide for an eventual solution to the national conflict?

The basis of the national problem today is the existence of two poverty ridden states in Ireland. After 50 years of Unionist discrimination, followed by 25 years of military repression, the Catholic working class cannot be permanently reconciled to life within a Northern Ireland state which cannot offer them a decent future.

On the other hand, Protestants look with dread to the prospect of being incorporated by the existing Southern state which they see as backward and sectarian. If an attempt were made to coerce, them into a capitalist united Ireland, they would resist. The result would be civil war and probable repartition, not reunification.

In short, there can be no lasting internal settlement. Nor can there be a sett1ement based on capitalist reunification. The Downing Street Declaration offers no way round this fundamental problem.

Sinn Fein say the British must become the “persuaders”
Would this not change Protestant attitudes to a united Ireland?

Sinn Fein have been forced to recognise what Militant have all along argued – that the British ruling class would now prefer to withdraw from the North and see Ireland reunited. Although British imperialism partitioned Ireland in order to cut across the unity of the working class, by the 1960s they no longer had any interest in maintaining the northern Unionist slate. Today the North costs more than £4 billion per year in return for which they get instability and upheaval.

However, they have been forced to put any idea of withdrawal to the side, because they recognise that it would precipitate a civil war for which they would be held responsible. Should the British government now attempt to do what Sinn Fein demand they would quickly meet with mass Protestant resistance.

At this point the majority of Protestants favour the link with Britain and oppose independence. But if the link with Britain was seen as being broken by the British and the choice was then either a capitalist united Ireland or independence the majority of Protestants would go for the latter. British “persuasion” of the need for Irish rule would only succeed in convincing Protestants that their only alternative was an “independent Ulster”. Catholics would never accept that and civil war would be the result.

Does it not offer a workable compromise of a local assembly
plus some Dublin involvement?

If unionist and nationalists accept this compromise this will only be because they had two completely different interpretations of what it means for the future. It is not a reconciliation or a solution but a recipe for future conflict.

The key phrase in the documents states: “The British government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise this right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland by consent, if that is their wish. ”

The British ruling class have a history of “diplomacy”. Early this century they offered the same territory in Palestine to both Jews and Arabs. The subsequent turbulent history of the region is, in part, a result of such duplicity.

An agreement here, which is based on giving unionists assurances that a united Ireland is off the agenda for decades while telling nationalists that it is a step on the road to a united Ireland, can have no better results.

A local assembly alongside North/South parliamentary structures in the long run satisfies no one’s aspirations. As pressures come from both sides to push it in the direction they want, it will be likely to come apart. The net result is likely to be greater polarisation and worse sectarian violence than now.

Should the IRA call a ceasefire?

The fact that an IRA ceasefire is now a clear probability – at some stage a likelihood – is not down to the Downing Street Declaration. Rather it is because within the republican movement there is a growing recognition that the military campaign cannot succeed.

The State, it is true, cannot completely eliminate the Provisionals. But it is also a fact that even if the campaign goes on for a further 25 years it cannot succeed in moving the British State.

Understanding this, feeling themselves strengthened politically, through the votes for Sinn Fein, and also affected by world developments, especially South Africa and the Middle East, a section, at least, of the republican leadership are contemplating a ceasefire.

We are in favour of an immediate ceasefire – not because there is anything good in the Downing Street Declaration or other Tory promises – but because the campaign is futile.

It is mass action by the working class which is able to pressurise governments and ultimately change society. The Provisional campaign is counter-productive in that it divides the working class and makes such action more difficult to achieve.

It goes without saying that we also are for an immediate end to the sectarian murder campaigns being carried out by loyalist paramilitaries. The trade union and community movement must not wait on the paramilitaries to make up their minds but must continue to mobilise the working class to isolate and defeat all those who carry out sectarian killings.

Would a ceasefire not be a surrender to repression
and an abandonment of prisoners?

No. IRA activity has provided the state with the excuse to carry out repression. The campaign has not succeeded in freeing a single prisoner.

It is only mass action – especially mass action by the working class as a whole – which can effectively halt repression. Such action would be far easier to achieve without the obstacle of the IRA campaign which has always made it difficult to mobilise Protestants on this question.

Can talks between the main parties bring about a solution?

There is an understandable feeling among people that the politicians should get together and “sort it out”. This is understandable but mistaken. The politicians are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

An end to the sectarian conflict means more than an end to paramilitary campaigns. It means overcoming the divisions within society. It means uniting Catholic and Protestant working class people in common struggle against the poverty, discrimination and injustice which are at the root of the conflict.

How can the politicians bring about a united struggle against sectarianism and Toryism when all major parties are either sectarian or Tory, or both?

These political leaders want to keep people divided. At the next election the same politicians, who are now wringing their hands asking for reconciliation, will be on the streets trying to make sure that people vote along purely sectarian lines.

When the politicians say “leave it to us” the working-class must answer “No”. Instead of supporting deals cooked up in secret by sectarian parties the trade union and community organisations must campaign to replace them with a mass socialist labour party which can unite the working class in struggle.

Should an assembly be setup?

The real issue is not whether an assembly should be set up, but what kind of assembly it would be? As assembly made up of sectarians and Tories would offer nothing to the working class. It would be like the council chambers put on a larger stage.

Who could have confidence in any of the councils running health, education, housing and other services? But this is what an assembly of these parties would mean.

The possibility of elections to a new assembly demands that the working class have alternative candidates to the Tories and bigots. Local trades councils, union branches, shop stewards committees should meet in every constituency together with community representatives to select worthwhile candidates who could represent the interests of the working class in such a body.

Such candidates, bound together in a fighting socialist labour party would fight to defend services, resist privatisation, oppose sectarianism and repression, and would use the assembly to mobilise the working class on these issues.

Is there a solution to the problem?

It is the working class communities who have borne the brunt of the Troubles, It is the working class also who have the ability to being about a solution.

Overcoming sectarian divisions does not mean people at the top of society producing paper schemes. It means uniting the working class, Protestant and Catholic.

The large demonstrations called by the trade unions against sectarianism killings last November showed that this is possible. United action against sectarian killings should be linked to united struggles against cuts, privatisation, for jobs and decent wages.

This could build a real unity in the community. Workers’ unity can provide the basis for a socialist solution. Because capita1ism means poverty, it cannot provide an answer to the national problem. But a socialist society which could offer all citizens a secure future would remove the causes of the tensions.

Within a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland today’s fears and divisions could be peacefully overcome.

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