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Peter Hadden

Where now for Northern Ireland?

(May 1998)

From Scottish Socialist Voice, No. 33, 29 May 1998.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Seventy one per cent in Northern Ireland voted to accept the “Good Friday peace deal” on 22 May. Many voted Yes because they feared a return to sectarian violence. It was a vote to keep up the peace process and to reject the reactionary backward looking forces of the No camp. But working class people are still rightly sceptical of the deal.

Others voted Yes hoping that peace would bring jobs. But Gordon Brown’s promise of a £350 million investment programme is already earmarked.

The Yes campaign aimed to convince protestant voters that the Union with Britain was safe, while at the same time convincing Catholics that the deal was a first step to more fundamental changes, even to a united Ireland.

Protestants voted round about 55% for the peace deal, according to exit polls. The campaign also deliberately targeted those younger voters who rejected sectarian politics and wanted something new.

In reality this referendum has not ended sectarian politics. It has in fact set the sectarian divide in stone. Any new assembly will be dominated by the same politicians: the Protestant-based unionists who set up the sectarian state in Northern Ireland and the Catholic-based nationalist/republican parties.


In the elections for the Assembly Blair, Trimble and co will probably play up the referendum as a defeat for Paisley. Yes campaigners will hope Paisley’s campaign has lost its momentum and try to isolate the No parties.

The nationalist SDLP leaders now suggest that their supporters help Trimble overcome opposition from within the unionist camp by giving him their second preference votes!

But even is, amidst the horse trading and the vying for positions in the Assembly, they carry the elections, a deal based on stalemate and war-weariness can only last a brief period.

There are already arguments over decommissioning of arms which may affect who can take positions in the new Executive Committee. And the marching season begins soon, so disputes about routing and re-routing are likely to increase sectarian tensions on the ground.

The Republicans – who have conceded a lot ideologically and have given the deal support only because decades of military struggle failed to achieve its goals – may further split when disillusionment bites.

So may the Unionist bloc. It is not surprising that most people in Northern Ireland are far more cynical of the “peace process” than at any time since the IRA and loyalist ceasefires in 1994.

Even if the new Assembly is not wrecked by oppositionists it will be shown up as useless; it is based on sectarian capitalist policies and cannot improve workers’ lives.

Socialists should fight for a real solution based on the unity of working class people and the integration of communities. The main advantage of the big Yes vote is to give time to build a genuine working class alternative on the ground.

Unity must be forged on the basis of common class interests, social issues such as jobs, housing, etc. but also on the more difficult and divisive questions posed by the national conflict. The real struggle is for a united working class which could achieve a socialist Ireland as part of a democratic and voluntary federation or alliance of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

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Last updated: 19 July 2015