From Socialist Voice, June 2006

Paisley still blocking progress

It is still too early to see whether the latest efforts by both governments to re-establish a functioning Northern Ireland Executive, the “Committee for Restoration of Government,” will succeed.
    The present stalemate in the process is the result of two factors: firstly the DUP, and secondly elements within the British state in their continuous efforts to block progress and prevent change.
    Paisley and his party have built their present power base on sectarianism. Paisley models himself on his hero, Edward Carson, and his “not an inch” politics. He believes he can re-establish the unionist monolith and hegemony on his terms and under his leadership by ignoring the economic and political realities and the shifting imperialist interests. But the unionist business community knows that Britain no longer relies on unionism or sees it as its main ally in Ireland. Britain has not completely abandoned unionism, but it now sees that more is to be gained from an alliance with the Irish ruling elite.
    Paisley has built his political strategy of “strong, determined leadership” for the unionist population on the premise that republican decommissioning would not happen and that the republican movement would split and shatter under the demand for decommissioning. When decommissioning took place and the republicans did not split, he then raised the bar by demanding that Sinn Féin recognise and join the new policing bodies.
    Sinn Féin will take their seats on the policing board, but they want the PSNI Special Branch disbanded and control over policing placed in the hands of the Executive and the Assembly. This demand is even more urgent with the recent decision to hand over intelligence-gathering from the control of the Special Branch to “MI5,” the British Security Service. MI5 has for decades been running numerous loyalist agents, who have carried out assassinations and terrorist acts at the behest of their handlers.
    Clearly, more democratic control and accountability over any police force and intelligence-gathering is a major step forward, and this is a democratic demand that many progressive people can and should support.
    Paisley is not just content to push Sinn Féin to the point where he hopes he can split them on policing but has also introduced a new proviso in the form of the “complete end to criminality.” In the eyes of Paisley, is the breaking of a red traffic light by a known republican a justification for not going into government with them? Dovetailed into this strategy are the continuing attempts by British intelligence to cause divisions and sow confusion within republican ranks with the leaked allegation that Martin McGuinness is a British agent.
    It is clear that not all elements of the British establishment are fully committed to bringing about peace and a long-term settlement, particularly those connected to the state intelligence and repressive apparatus. They are still looking for a “victory” over republicanism, and they still work closely with loyalist paramilitaries in fomenting sectarian conflict, assassination, and other criminal acts.
    All democratic opinion should take note of the recent revelation by Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, that unionist politicians have always used—and, it can be said, encouraged—loyalist paramilitary violence to advance the unionist cause. So it was in the interests of both the unionists and the British state to ensure the continuation of the armed conflict and to promote the view that it was the violence of republicans that was responsible.
    The Good Friday Agreement has transformed the political landscape in Ireland, both north and south. It has provided a vehicle for moving politics forward, showing that political action can generate results and that advances can be made. Republican forces who believed in the primacy of physical force have been shown that politics can deliver.
    The rise of Sinn Féin in the North and in particular in the Republic has caused some concern within elements of the Irish establishment. As always, the establishment’s first priority is to defend their own class interests, and not necessarily national unity. It is within this complex situation that the Communist Party is attempting to present and to build an alternative understanding of what the national question is.
    The national question cannot just be boiled down to ending partition, or to a particular method of struggle, but must be viewed in a wider context. We need to see that the Good Friday Agreement is nothing more or less than a vehicle by means of which we can struggle politically and work to advance the democratic goal of a united Irish democracy. The agreement can be used to build and develop an all-Ireland approach to political and economic structures and investment priorities.
    We need to see an all-Ireland approach to such areas as power generation, water resources, health and education, a common approach to fisheries and agriculture, which in turn imposes its own political reality. This can provide the labour movement with the opportunity to fight for all-Ireland economic solutions and the building of the home market.
    We believe that the divisions within the working class need to be addressed, that the process of winning over the Protestant section of the working class will be long and complex but is absolutely necessary. We see the re-establishment of effective local government as the best means of reorienting the approach to the problems of working people, away from London to a local administration, with a shared and common approach with the rest of the working people on this island, where co-operation is structured to finding solutions within the context of all-Ireland political structures and all-Ireland economic priorities and solutions. In this way a divided working class can begin to see solutions that advance their economic, social and political demands.
    We have returned to the position that Connolly struggled for. What type of Ireland do we want? Whose interests will it serve?
    It is also important to recognise that Britain itself is no longer the imperialist force it was and that it is now caught between two imperialist blocs, the United States and the European Union, and is subservient to both. Britain has now moved into a closer political relationship with the Irish ruling class, who in turn are well integrated in and are willing and active junior partners with European and US imperialist interests.
    In the past, the strategy of both governments was to manage the process of change in their favour. Their favoured scenario was that the SDLP and Trimble’s unionists would hold the centre ground. This strategy has unravelled because of unionist intransigence and the rise of Sinn Féin. It is in this political context that we can understand the continuing pressure by both the British and the Irish government to decommission republican politics.

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