From Socialist Voice, October 2006

Slow progress in re-establishing the Executive

Progress in getting the Northern Ireland Executive operating again is proving very difficult to achieve. But with a new round of talks scheduled to start on 9 October at St Andrews in Scotland, sponsored by both the British and Irish governments, it is clear that the screw is beginning to turn.
     The most recent report of the Independent International Decommissioning Body, published in early October, confirms that the IRA is not involved in engineering, recruitment or information-gathering activities and that it has actively discouraged its members’ involvement in any non-political activity. This report will set the scene for the new round of talks to re-establish the Executive. The wriggle room for the DUP continues to narrow.
     The British government has been using both the carrot and the stick to push for movement. Direct-rule ministers have been making it clear that they are going to press ahead with the increase in rates and water charges and with cuts in health and education services. They are attempting to turn the economic screw to put pressure on the DUP and other parties to move forward; their argument will be that if the Executive had been operational they could possibly have taken alternative decisions. But the DUP may well be quite happy to see these polices—which they would agree with in private—being imposed by London, so that London takes the blame and not themselves.
     Recent statements by Ian Paisley Junior and Willie McCrea are further attempts to raise the political bar that they want Sinn Féin to jump over in order to join the government. The DUP also wants the d’Hondt mechanism amended; they want a voluntary coalition government, hoping to draw the SDLP into government and excluding Sinn Féin.
     Paisley Junior wants unequivocal support for the PSNI and is still attempting to sow doubt about the IRA ceasefire, while McCrea is demanding that republicans apologise for the last thirty years of war.
     Both positions are an attempt to cause internal difficulties within the republican movement while at the same time giving themselves credit for bringing Sinn Féin “into line” and getting them to wear sackcloth and ashes. They continue to look for a “victory” and apply the old imperial tactic of divide and rule in order to block progress.
     Jerry Kelly of Sinn Féin has stated clearly that difficulties over policing can be solved before the talks, and then political progress can be made, though any movement in relation to policing will have to go to a special ard-fheis.
     The Belfast Agreement was not concerned with victory by one side over the other but with a political compromise. It was and is concerned with creating a political framework within which political goals and aspirations could be contested and struggled for in political conditions, rather than through armed groups. The absence of violence or armed activity does not mean an absence of politics.
     The length of time that has passed and the constant stops and starts and foot-dragging, in particular by the British government and unionism, have had a damaging effect not alone on the unionist community but increasingly also on sections of the republican community. The recent media coverage of certain gatherings and the possible breakaway in south Derry are clear signs that we need movement. It is more politics we need, not less.
     As in the past, elements within republicanism have responded to what they perceive as opportunism by the political leadership and respond not by addressing the nature of the political divisions, real or otherwise, but by resorting to alternative methods or falling back on old methods of struggle. Somehow it is perceived that someone with a gun is less likely to sell out, to be purer in thought and action, and that the gun is the antidote to political opportunism.
     Clearly we need the Executive re-established as soon as possible to make it the focal point of struggle and resistance, both from within and without. Political structures can be used to press home the democratic wedge into the cracks and contradictions of the establishment, forcing it to concede what it previously refused. At this time it provides a point of struggle and a potential rallying point for resistance and unity between and within the working class over shared concerns and demands. To retreat now would be to play into the hands of Paisley.

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