September 2015        

Much ado about nothing

The “peace process” in the North is going through one of what appear to be regular spasms, this time resulting from the killing of two men who the press claim were former members of the IRA in Belfast.
     The fall-out from the killing of Kevin McGuigan on the 12th of August rumbles on as a result of comments made by the chief constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, which sowed confusion and provided the pretext for current developments. In a remark that is open to serious misinterpretation, Hamilton said that former members of the IRA may have been involved in the killing and then went on to state that the IRA still existed but not for the purposes of military activity.
     Hamilton is a political appointee and no doubt is well aware of how language can be misconstrued and reinterpreted in the divisive conditions of the North of Ireland.
     Unionism has been quick to grasp opportunistically at this gift horse, with the Ulster Unionist Party pulling out of the Executive, using the alleged continued existence of the IRA as the pretext. in reality this has nothing to do with Hamilton’s contradictory statement but is an attempt to outflank the DUP and Peter Robinson in anticipation of forthcoming elections in the North.
     The DUP meanwhile is attempting to use the killings to isolate and push Sinn Féin out of the Executive, or possibly to extract concessions and compromises from Sinn Féin regarding its stance on the proposed “welfare reform” being imposed from London.
     The political establishment in the 26 Counties, along with its media, has raised the level of its political attacks on Sinn Féin, not because of a desire to make a positive contribution to political events in the North but rather to score points in the period before the general election in the 26 Counties. In particular, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, as the two parties competing directly with Sinn Féin for votes, have, predictably, been most “outraged” by Hamilton’s mischievous statement.
     The backdrop to the current row is the British government’s so-called “welfare reform” and the massive budgetary cuts in social welfare. All the parties in the Executive signed up to the Stormont House Agreement in December 2014, in which “welfare reform” was a central plank. But as the campaign against cuts has gained popular support it has caused difficulties for all parties within the Executive.
     Sinn Féin has repeatedly claimed that it would oppose these “Tory cuts” by all means at its disposal. This could be interpreted as meaning that it would consider pulling out of the Executive in opposition to the cuts at the most politically appropriate time, thus strengthening its hand in the coming elections in the 26 Counties.
     In many ways it is in the interests of all the parties in the Executive to see either that they all take responsibility for the cuts, so as not to allow advantage to their political opponents, or—the next best thing—to let the Executive collapse and see a temporary re-establishment of direct rule from London. This would let them all off the hook, with the British government taking the blame for budget cuts.
     In many ways the present impasse is about how best to do this, and who will take the blame for the cuts. The scheduled 2016 Assembly elections would allow the Executive to be reinstated after the elections, with the period coming up to the elections dominated by “business as usual” as the various strands of unionism fight over who is best at facing down republicans and defending the existing constitutional position.
     All parties in the Assembly and Executive are committed to the settlement agreed upon, that is, some form of sharing of administrative portfolios. There is no appetite for a return to armed conflict, and those who would want this have so far come to nothing. But something more than electoral shadow-boxing is called for.
     The North will always be prone to sporadic political spasms, as the fundamental fault line remains unresolved. The two political and economic entities imposed on our people by Britain have failed, and will continue to fail. It is not in the economic or political interests of either the Irish establishment or unionism to see a democratic solution. Both are wedded to solutions that strengthen the grip of imperialism on our people.
     North and South, the problems are the same, and the same solutions apply: the building of a powerful mass democratic movement to harness the people’s anger and ultimately challenge the domination of our people by the European Union, the United States, and Britain, drawing our understanding of the nature of the struggle from the theoretical legacy of James Connolly to see and chart the way ahead.

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