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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland:

Workers Must Challenge the Bigots

(August 2001)

From The Socialist, 24 August 2001.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Party Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THIS SUMMER has seen further blows to what little remains of the Northern Ireland peace process. The latest is the arrest of three IRA members in Colombia, where they were training members of the FARC guerrilla movement.

The IRA’s return from their links with FARC is probably purely financial. But this hasn’t stopped unionists – and others – from alleging an arms-running operation and possible IRA involvement in Colombia’s drugs trade.

This will further reinforce unionist demands that actual decommissioning takes place before the Assembly and the Good Friday Agreement are put back in operation.

The earlier impasse in negotiations was no surprise. The unprecedented polarisation shown in the Westminster and local government elections left David Trimble with no room to manoeuvre over the weapons question.

The IRA and Sinn Fein leadership are firmly hitched to the political process and hope to win extra seats in the next election in southern Ireland and even enter a coalition government. They’re prepared to move on the weapons issue and have conditioned their rank and file to the idea that so long as there is no actual handover of weapons some other form of decommissioning would be acceptable.

The agreement reached with the international decommissioning body on how weapons would be “put beyond use” was a major step for them. But for Trimble, given his precarious position nothing less than a start to actual decommissioning plus a timescale for completion is enough.

So negotiations ended in deadlock. And unless there’s some dramatic move by the IRA, the next six-week deadline set for negotiations could also pass without agreement.

As always ordinary working class people pay for sectarian and right-wing politicians’ failure. Many working-class people, especially those living near the sectarian interfaces, have faced a long summer of sectarian intimidation, petrol bombings, pipe bombings and shootings.

Sectarian tensions

Much of this activity in areas like north Belfast and across County Antrim has been orchestrated by the local battalions of the UDA who no longer have even the pretence of a ceasefire.

Most attacks are against Catholics but sectarian intimidation has not been all one way. Protestant homes have also been attacked and Protestant property burnt in some areas.

While sectarian tensions are high and people see no way out, there is still no mood to return to full-scale conflict. The UDA’s return to sectarian killings – which most people hoped were a thing of the past – has provoked outrage.

At the start of July in Antrim, they shot a young Catholic waiting for a lift to work. His mainly Protestant workmates in the F.G. Wilson factory in Newtownabbey walked out when they heard the news. In Antrim Protestants and Catholics alike showed their revulsion.

A month later the UDA killers opened fire on young people who they took to be Catholics on the outskirts of North Belfast. A young Protestant, Gavin Brett, was killed.

The Socialist Party and Socialist Youth responded with a vigil at the scene of the murder. Our call for a day of action organised through trade union and community organisations was broadcast on local radio and got a huge response. One of Gavin Brett ‘s relatives echoed this call. A local Sunday paper even included the idea in its editorial.

A peace process based on sectarian politics will go nowhere. But we’re seeing what the alternative of escalating sectarian violence will mean.

We need an initiative to bring working-class people, Catholic and Protestant, onto the streets to challenge the bigots. A day of mass action by the working class could be the first step.

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Last updated: 29.7.2012