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Peter Hadden

Ceasefire under threat?

(January 1998)

From Scottish Socialist Voice , No. 25, 9 January 1998.
Same article carried as Organise against sectarian killings in The Socialist [UK], 9 Jan 1998.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Events over Christmas dealt another blow to the faltering Northern Ireland peace process. Even before the killing of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright there was growing frustration within all the loyalist groups about what they see as lack of progress in the negotiations.

Prisoners from the loyalist UFF had announced before Christmas that they would review their ceasefire. PUP leaders had said they they would not return to the talks in January because they saw the Dublin government’s release of IRA prisoners as a unilateral action taken with no quid pro quo for them.

Tensions between the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) have led to clashes in some areas. Both organisations worry about the growing threat of the LVF and the sympathy of some within their ranks to this rival organisation.

The Wright killing compounded these strains, raising the LVF’s profile. It strengthens those within the two main loyalist paramilitary groupings who oppose their ceasefires continuing. After Christmas the UFF voted by a two-thirds majority that they had no confidence in the talks.

There is little doubt that, although the LVF claimed it, the UDA/UFF carried out the indiscriminate attack on a Belfast bar on New Year’s eve which killed one Catholic. The prospect of further LVF attacks – or attacks by other paramilitaries using the LVF flag – is a harrowing opening to 1998. The strains within loyalism are mirrored on the republican side. The INLA, which shot Wright, says it will take further action if attacks on Catholics continue.

The open divisions within the IRA surfaced last year with resignations from the Army Council and the formation of a 32-County Sovereignty Movement, fronted by Bernadette Sands, sister of former hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Following the recent LVF/UFF murders and threats of further attacks there are reports that the IRA or sections of the IRA are also threatening to retaliate using the banner of a “Catholic Reaction Force”.

All these signs of crisis within the paramilitaries – and some of the sectarian political parties – show the impasse reached by these groups and with it the paralysis of the peace process.

The problem is that this comes at a time when no alternative is on offer from the working-class movement. This threatens to turn the conflict into a sectarian war with rival armed groups fighting for effective control of their own patches of territory.

The peace talks may stumble on but they will not produce a deal which will solve anything. So far they have discussed nothing of substance. Ulster Unionists sit in the same room as Sinn Fein but will not talk directly to them.

Mass protests

What happens in the talks is increasingly detached from what is taking place in the communities. The latest idea – to shift the talks to Dublin and London or even to Austria or Finland – only underlines the unreality of the talks.

Working-class people, Catholic and Protestant, would pay the price if there is a widespread resumption of violence. Despite the sectarian polarisation the vast majority of working-class people do not want this.

A return to sectarian killings must be answered by mass demonstrations and protests organised through trade union and community bodies. The building of an alternative political voice which could represent the common interests of the working class is now vital.

The formation of the Labour Coalition (of which the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland is a part) and the election of two Coalition delegates to the talks in 1996 could have begun building this alternative.

Unfortunately the two elected delegates failed in this task and the Coalition’s efforts to replace them have been obstructed. But the Coalition have now secured a meeting with Secretary of State Mo Mowlam where this case will be pressed.

Even a lone socialist voice in the talks would offer a challenge to the sectarians and be a ray of hope to thousands of working-class people who at present see no way out of this situation.

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