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Peter Hadden

Raised Expectations and Dashed Hopes

(May 1999)

From The Socialist [UK], 28 May 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The Good Friday Agreement was reached by fudging the contentious issues, but they have to be resolved eventually. For ordinary people the whole peace process has been a roller-coaster of raised expectations and dashed hopes.

In working-class areas, petrol bombings, sectarian intimidation and beatings are now a daily occurrence. Loyalist dissidents have stepped up their attacks under the banner of the Red Hand Defenders or various other flags of convenience. Ominously there have been a number of attempted abductions, some in Belfast and others in the Portadown/Lurgan area.

Towns in south Antrim are facing organised attempts to create the same kind of sectarian geography as Belfast and Portadown. Some estates in Antrim have become mainly Catholic and sectarian graffiti, tricolours and green white and gold kerbstones have made this obvious.

Loyalists in what have been mixed estates have begun to bedeck them with UVF slogans, red white and blue kerbs etc. Some have gone further with threats, petrol and pipe bomb attacks on Catholics living in these areas. To one degree or another this is being repeated in many areas across the north.

A complete breakdown of the peace process would make this situation much worse. Sectarian violence could spill out of control in the direction of civil war and bloody repartition.

The vast majority of people, while disillusioned with the lack of progress towards a real solution, fear the collapse of the process. A majority still supports the Good Friday Agreement and the Assembly.

But even if fully implemented the Good Friday Agreement is neither a solution, nor a step to a solution. Power must be shared between unionists and nationalists, who each have a veto on legislation.

This means we will be stuck with sectarian politics forever. The only way the sectarian politicians can continue to be elected is if they work outside the Assembly to keep people apart to continue voting along sectarian lines. Sooner or later the divisions which exist on the ground, and which have widened considerably during the peace process, will reflect themselves within the Assembly. When the flimsy links between unionists and nationalist politicians are brushed away all that will be left is the bitter sectarian divide separating working-class people.

The bloody collapse, during the 1970s, of the power-sharing arrangements in Cyprus and the Lebanon is a warning of where the Good Friday Agreement can ultimately lead.

But the working-class movements that forced the “peace process” into being and stopped it going off the rails at certain key stages, shows that such a gloomy scenario can be averted. Such workers’ unity remains there, particularly showing itself on issues like low pay and the NHS.

It is time the working-class took the “peace process” out of the hands of sectarian politicians and began to shape its own future.

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