By GERRY FOLEY
The trap that the Irish Republican movement put its foot into in the previous crisis of the Northern Ireland power-sharing agreement last summer was sprung on it on Feb. 11. David Trimble, the leader of the section of the pro-imperialist Unionist politicians that accept the agreement said then that he and his Ulster Unionist colleagues would resign from the power-sharing authority housed in Stormont Castle, if the IRA did not start disarming by February.
According to the agreement, the power-sharing structure cannot function without the participation of the Unionists. The IRA did not begin disarming. So, on Feb.11, the British government suspended the Northern Ireland government and resumed direct rule.
The dilemma of the IRA offers the perfect excuse to the British and their local allies not to deliver on the concessions promised to the nationalists in the power-sharing agreement.
It is a lot more difficult for the IRA to give up its arms than it is for the political wing of the Republican movement to agree to collaborate with the Unionists in administering local government programs. The IRA has historically been the defense force of the nationalist population against regularly recurring pogroms.
The present IRA and Sinn Fein, the mass party supporting it, arose out of the failure of the old IRA to defend the nationalist ghettos from the attacks of the pro-imperialist police and murder gangs in August 1969.
Thousands of people have risked their lives and freedom to build up the meager IRA arsenal. Pro-imperialist terrorist attacks on the nationalist people continue, in collusion with the Unionist police. There has been no demonstrated change in this situation. Therefore, the people directly involved in defense of the nationalists are not ready to trust the refurbished Northern Ireland state.
However, by accepting the agreement, the Republican movement created illusions that peace was possible on the basis of a power-sharing consensus from which it is now difficult to escape. The polls indicate that 85 percent of the population of Northern Ireland, including the majority of the nationalist population, demand the disarming of the IRA. This is the trap the Republican movement has gotten itself into.
“Self-determination” for oppressors?
The fundamental justification for maintaining British rule in Northern Ireland since the Irish war of independence of 1918-21 has been that the pro-British minority has a right to self-determination equal to the nationalist minority, even if exercising that right means condemning an almost equal number of nationalists to national oppression.
To defend that right, over the last 30 years the British government has been willing to maintain a massive military presence in Northern Ireland that sometimes included as many as 50,000 troops.
In addition, the British and the Unionists have maintained local defense and security forces so numerous that they created a prison-house society in which nearly half of the pro-British population lived from guarding the nationalist half of the population.
The pro-British population is the main instrument of British domination. On the other hand, the British rulers know that they cannot stabilize their rule of Northern Ireland unless they can get the better off elements of the nationalist population to accept and collaborate with it. Their problem is how to offer sufficient concessions to get collaboration from nationalists without alienating the Unionists.
In return for promises of being included in a power-sharing government that would guarantee the basic rights of nationalists, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Republican Movement, agreed for the first time in its history to accept the right of self-determination of the pro-British colony. It is now clear that this acceptance of the “Unionist veto” cancels out all the promises of the power-sharing agreement.
The Irish Fourth Internationalist group, Socialist Democracy, drew the main political lesson of the suspension of the suspension of the power sharing government:
“The most common joke at the setting up of the new Stormont executive was that Peter Mandelson, the British secretary of state, was signing his way into unemployment as he signed the legal instrument setting it up. The disjunction between claim and reality could not be more stark.
“Eight weeks later, this ‘unemployed’ representative of the British state, with a stroke of the pen, was able to wipe out all the structures and institutions of a supposed new and independent local democracy, as well as wiping out whole series of agreements and institutions supposed to be jointly under the control of the Irish government and enshrined in international law.
“As if to underline the overwhelming reality of British rule, Mandelson was even able to select the elements of the Good Friday agreement that would be suspended and those, such as prisoner release and changes to the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary], which would continue to operate.”
The unilateral actions of the British government have even caused a visible upset in the supine Irish neocolonial bourgeoisie and its government in Dublin. For example, the English PA news service reported Feb.14 regarding discussions between Mandelson and Irish Premier Bertie Ahern:
“Mr Mandelson appeared to hint at the tensions which suspension had caused with the Irish government, which was desperate to avoid a return to direct rule, fearing that it could lead to the whole process unravelling.
“‘In the last 72 hours, some harsh words have been spoken. That is perhaps not surprising. Huge issues are at stake. And yes, at times, there are differences of emphasis between us,’ he said.”
Mobilize masses north and south
When the last power-sharing crisis was temporarily resolved, the Irish government implemented changes in the constitution renouncing its right to sovereignty over the North. It now faces the prospect of having nothing to show for an historic surrender.
The same is even more true for the Sinn Fein leadership. There is a lot of speculation in the Irish press about disillusionment in the ranks of the Republican movement. Disillusionment, however, is overshadowed by the apparent lack of a political alternative after the failure of the strategies the Republican movement has followed for the last 30 years and the war weariness of the nationalist population.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called for a return to mass mobilizations and for stepped up-election campaigns to increase the weight of the Republican movement and to try to get the peace agreement operating again in a more favorable way for the nationalist people.
It is decisive to reactivate the nationalist masses both north and south. But it is unlikely that this can be achieved if the people are called on simply to support negotiations at the top level within what has proven to be a perverse framework.
The nationalist people need a clear political perspective. That cannot be provided without breaking from a peace agreement based implicitly on accepting the right of the imperialists and the Unionists to rule Northern Ireland.
As the trap of the peace agreement closes more and more and bites more deeply, it is more and more urgent for those who fight for the national rights of the Irish people to develop a new strategy. This must be based on mobilizing the masses north and south to fight for their historic aspirations and other demands that flow from them, including the demands of the working people, who represent the heritage of the Irish revolutionary struggle and its real potential power.