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Peter Hadden

The rocky road to Good Friday

(March 1999)

From The Socialist [UK], 26 March 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The Northern Ireland peace process remains dead-locked over the issue of decommissioning.

The Unionists are holding to their position of no Sinn Fein seats in the new Executive until some weapons have been handed over. Sinn Fein’s public position is summed up by the “not a bullet, not an ounce” slogan, which has appeared in Catholic areas of Belfast.

There is a proposal to bring all those involved in the multi-party negotiations back together to try to resolve this issue. The loyalist UDP, who are linked to the UDA, hold no Assembly seats. Reconvened talks would ensure that all the major paramilitaries, the UDA included, would have a voice on decommissioning.

A Good Friday deadline has been set and it is likely that the negotiations will once again go to the wire. There is pressure on all the main parties to come up with a compromise and reach a Good Friday deal, mark two.

Failure would mean the suspension and possible collapse of the Agreement. This, at a time when tensions are again building on the issue of disputed Orange marches, could unleash yet another summer of sectarian upheaval.

Almost all the political leaders were in America for St Patrick’s Day. Pressure was applied by the US, British and Irish governments on Sinn Fein in particular to make some gesture.

Gerry Adams hinted at some possible movement when he said he would only stretch the nationalist community if he could be sure that David Trimble would jump at the same time as him.

A deal is possible whereby Sinn Fein are allowed two executive seats and, within a very short time, there is a voluntary and unconnected gesture on weapons. There are also signs of hardening attitudes within the republican movement as it appears that there has been no progress on even the equality agenda.

It is a negative factor, the lack of an alternative, which keeps what there is left of the peace process on track. Within the working-class communities there is little sign of a peace process.

The polarisation remains and tensions are building again as the countdown starts to Drumcree. Loyalist dissidents, mostly in the name of the Red Hand Defenders, are regularly carrying out petrol bomb attacks on Catholic families.

At previous critical moments when the peace process seemed close to collapse, working-class people intervened, coming onto the streets in their tens of thousands to challenge the sectarian intransigence of the politicians.

Their views had to be taken into account. If things get worse the call for strikes and mass demonstrations must come from trade union and community organisations. If the deal does survive this latest crisis and if the Assembly is got up and running there will at least be a chance to develop a socialist challenge to the sectarian and right-wing parties.

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