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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland’s Long Week

An Unfinished Deal

(July 1999)

From The Socialist [UK], 9 July 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

What has emerged from the “long week” at Stormont is somewhat short of a finished deal on decommissioning. However, there has been significant movement and the gap between the parties is so narrow that it is hard to believe that it will not eventually be bridged.

It is longer a difference of substance. All parties agree there should be decommissioning. All that is in dispute is the timetable, and this now comes down to a gap of perhaps as little as a few days.

Sinn Fein have made what, republican terms, is a “seismic” shift, accepting the need for decommissioning to be completed by next May and expressing confidence that they “could succeed in persuading” the IRA to comply with this deadline.


This is an historic change. Contrary to the suspicions expressed by unionists, there is no way that Sinn Fein can make this public move without the intention to carry it through. Should they allow the new political structures to be set up on the basis of promises to put weapons “beyond use”, and should they then renege on these promises, they would find themselves in the political cold.

And any idea of putting the arms to use with a return to armed struggle would be a non-starter. Nor can it now mean token decommissioning. Neither the unionists nor the governments will be satisfied unless a quantity of arms equivalent to what they consider to be the full arsenal of the Provisionals is decommissioned.

What is on offer is the effective disbandment of the IRA and in turn pressure on the UDA and UVF to follow suit. This is the price which kept Blair and Ahern at the table days after their “final” deadline.

There is no doubt that the more astute unionists recognise that this is an unqualified victory for them. The sight of IRA weapons put out of use would puncture completely the arguments of the Paisley-led opposition to Trimble.

New tactics

Yet, a large constituency within unionism is either unable or else unwilling to recognise victory when it is in their hands. They represent the final obstacle to this deal. We still have to hold our breaths and see if the obduracy and blind sectarianism of a section of unionism will yet manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and push Northern Ireland into a new cycle of violence.

Three decades ago when the IRA campaign was in its first beginnings the Socialist Party – then Militant – warned that the tactic of individual terrorism was futile. Its main effects would be to provoke repression and to increase sectarianism, driving a large section of the Protestant working class behind the unionists.

Now this strategy has been rejected – in favour of the political strategy of winning influence and ministerial positions in governments, north and south. In terms of the struggle for real change this too is a dead-end.

Gerry Adams talks of new tactics for this “transitional period”. In fact, the real transition which is taking place is the transition of Sinn Fein into becoming a part of the political establishment north and south.

It is better that a deal goes through and that an Executive is established rather than that the working class of Northern Ireland face the alternative of sectarian conflict. Working-class people should apply pressure for the deal to hold – but should do more.

The Executive will not overcome the problem of sectarianism or deliver real benefits to working class people: Catholic or Protestant.

What is now required is the building of a non-sectarian socialist alternative which can represent working-class interests and challenge the sterile politics of both unionism and nationalism.

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Last updated: 5 October 2015