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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland: Giving peace a chance?

Interview in Scottish Socialist Voice

(April 1998)

From Scottish Socialist Voice , No. 31, 24th April 1998.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Amidst a massive fanfare of international publicity, a “historic deal” has been agreed in Northern Ireland. Here Mairtin Gardner, interviews Peter Hadden, General Secretary of the Socialist Party in Belfast, who gives a socialist eye view of the deal.

SSV: Can you explain how unionist and nationalist parties, whilst supporting the deal, claim to their members that it means totally different things?

PH: Both sides have splits and developing splits. While they may eventually accept the deal, the republican movement has made most compromises and has probably gained the least from the deal.

The Sinn Fein leadership will try to sell the deal to Republicans as a transitional mechanism – a stepping stone towards a United Ireland. In reality, there is very little in the deal, only some new governmental structures.

Pro-deal unionists such as Trimble and the leadership of the UUP argue that the Union has been strengthened. But Paisley’s DUP and the smaller UK Unionist Party refuse to support any deal that is backed by the Sinn Fein leadership.

SSV: And how do the representatives of the working class loyalism (i.e. the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party) see the deal?

PH: The two smaller loyalist parties have been amongst the most enthusiastic supporters of the deal. Quite clearly they understand the consequences of a No vote. It was these parties, which have links to the UVF and the UDA, which pushed for the release of political prisoners within two years to be part of the deal.

However outside the hard-line loyalist areas, among the wider Protestant community, there is strong opposition to the release of prisoners, including loyalist prisoners.

SSV: What is the position of the Socialist Party on the deal? Will you support a Yes vote or a No vote in the referendum?

PH: We do not line up behind the reactionary elements who want to wreck the deal, and who’ll be urging a No vote. We don’t believe the deal will solve the problems – but a No vote would mark the end of the peace process. We are opposed to a return to violence.

This does not mean we support the deal. It is institutionalising sectarianism. The Socialist Party want peace and will work for genuine reconciliation rather than the superficial friendship at the top whilst there is huge polarisation on the ground. The underlying divisions and problems have not been resolved and won’t be by this deal.

But the type of solution we are fighting for is far removed from the bigoted No vote campaign.

SSV: How do you think the future will unfold if the deal is agreed or more ominously if it is rejected?

PH: If the deal is rejected, the situation would be very volatile indeed. This could be even worse if the No vote is based on a huge Protestant position.

Catholics would then see the main enemy as the Protestant community and not the state. In effect, Catholics could begin to draw the conclusion that they have no future in a state in which the Protestant majority has rejected even meagre reforms.

This could lead to a rise in sectarian attacks and an increasing polarisation on the ground which would make it even more difficult for socialist politics to gain the ear of the working class. However, if the deal goes through, the parties involved will be forced to take responsibility for education, health and the economy.

We could then see a glimpse of class politics return when the assembly starts to take decisions that affect working class communities. Such a situation could then offer opportunities for socialists to intervene and put the case for socialist change.

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Last updated: 19 July 2015