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Peter Hadden

IRA Ceasefire – will it bring peace?

Workers’ unity can stop sectarianism!

(September 1994)

From The Socialist [UK], 2 September 1994.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The IRA have announced a ceasefire. This marks the culmination of the long series of talks between the British and Irish governments, the main political parties and, at times, the IRA.

If the ceasefire holds other changes are likely. The British will probably reword the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which legislated for partition, to state that if a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to break the link with Britain, they may do so.

The Dublin government will probably seek to change articles Two and Three of the Irish constitution, replacing the present territorial claim over the North with an aspiration for unity by consent.

Moves will probably be made to set up a local assembly with some form of power-sharing between unionists and nationalists. The release of some prisoners and a reduction in the army presence in Catholic areas would also be likely. In three months or perhaps earlier the British would include Sinn Fein in talks about the future.

For 25 years the British government has faced the resistance of the Catholic working class areas which first exploded in protest in 1968. There could be no going back to the days of a Unionist state in which Catholics were second-class citizens.

The British ruling class have recognised that while they can contain the IRA, they can’t ultimately defeat them by military means. Unable to find a solution without involving the republican movement, their strategy is to entice their leaders into the political process.

After the last ceasefire in 1975, which they labelled a “disaster”, the present republican leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, promised no more ceasefires until British withdrawal. Now they’re on the verge of accepting that no change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland can take place without the separate agreement of the people of the North. A few years ago they would have denounced, this as acceptance of partition.

At the beginning of August, Gerry Adams told a republican rally in Belfast that they had defeated the British army. In reality the IRA military campaign, was at an impasse.

It could have continued virtually indefinitely but, as even its leaders acknowledge, it wouldn’t have the remotest prospect of success. From the start of IRA operations over 20 years ago, Militant warned that their campaign was a dead end. We explained that the IRA’s methods of individual terror could not hope to overthrow the state or defeat the British army. Our analysis is confirmed by these latest developments.

To the majority of working-class people, Catholic and Protestant, the ending of the IRA’s activities will be a relief. Dissident republicans, as well as smaller groups like the INLA and Republican Sinn Fein, might try to, maintain a campaign. But the mood in Catholic areas is likely, for a period, to favour peace.

The loyalist paramilitaries have given no clear response but they too are likely to come under pressure to respond if an IRA ceasefire holds. It’s possible that the level of sectarian killings could decrease for a period.

While this would be very welcome, it would be wrong to mistake a ceasefire, even one by both republicans and loyalists, as a solution. The working class is now more divided, the communities more polarised, than 25 years ago.

While some Unionist leaders are prepared to go along with what’s now on the table for talks, the mood among Protestants is one of anxiety and suspicion. Opposition to the idea of a capitalist united Ireland is more intense than ever.

Among Catholics there are raised expectations that fundamental change will eventually come but these are certain to be disappointed. There’s no prospect of a lasting settlement under capitalism. The choice of either the existing situation – a poverty ridden state – or a capitalist united Ireland – the merger of two poverty-ridden states is no choice at all.

An interlude in the Troubles, or at least in their intensity, is possible. But unless a real solution is found it will be an interlude and nothing more.

BBC Radio Ulster interviewed a man on Belfast’s Shankill Road about the ceasefire. He said: “There’s no point in getting the politicians together. It is ordinary people who have to solve it.”

Unity of sectarian politicians, on top of a polarised society, is a recipe for a Lebanon or a Bosnia once the fragile consensus breaks down.

The real answer is unity of the working class, Catholic and Protestant, against the enemies they have in common – poverty, unemployment, sectarianism – and for a socialist solution. The working class are the most powerful force in Northern Ireland. United in mass struggle, nothing could stand against them. An opportunity to develop a united class movement may now present itself.

Northern Ireland Militant Labour is now demanding a political initiative by the trade unions. A special conference of the unions, plus bona fide community organisations with a base in the working class, and socialist groups like ourselves, must immediately be called. This conference should ensure that candidates representing the labour movement would stand in elections to a new assembly. We can’t leave it to people who’ve been responsible for keeping the sectarian conflict going for 25 years to shape our future.

We must begin to build a socialist Labour Party to challenge and replace them. We must give an alternative to the ongoing sectarianism and poverty which an SDLP, Sinn Fein, Unionist, Fianna Fail and Tory brokered deal will offer – working class unity and a socialist future.

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