Militant, July-August 1990

Brooke's talks stalled - socialist solution needed

Ciaran Molloy, ATGWU Fermanagh

On July 5th the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, was expected to announce inter-party talks between the SDLP and the Unionists in a House of Commons speech. He failed to do this.

At the last minute Brooke and the Dublin government were at loggerheads on the question of whether the Irish government would or wouldn't be involved at an early stage in the inter-party talks.

The Unionists have already squeezed considerable concessions out of Brooke with is agreement to suspend the meetings of the Inter-Governmental Conference of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Brooke had conceded to the Unionists that the Irish government would not be involved in the talks. Paisley and Molyneaux, the DUP and the Official Unionist leaders, emerged pleased from their talks with Peter Brooke. They claimed that he was resisting pressure form the Dublin government to have an early input into the talks. But failure to allow Dublin an early input has raised fears by the Irish government and the SDLP that Dublin will be excluded from the talks indefinitely.

Nevertheless the difficulties which have been encountered on the road to the inter-party talks underline the difficulty of arriving at a political settlement in the North. The holding of talks is not a guarantee that a settlement will be reached. Previous attempts at establishing a devolved assembly have come to nought.


Socialists are not opposed to negotiations, stability or a political settlement. However, any proposals initiated by the Tories or other capitalist parties are doomed to failure and could give a new lease of life to sectarianism.

Even if a devolved government was established such a government would have to decided which hospitals and schools to close and could find themselves responsible, if it reaches here, for implementing the Poll Tax. There are a hundred issues, not least on the issue of repression, upon which a devolved government could founder. There is also the issue of Sinn Fein. The SDLP could not site in a power-sharing government amid escalating repression. They would have to pull out or commit political suicide by remaining. They would pull out.

At the Irish Congress of Trade Unions annual conference at the beginning of July the ICTU President Jimmy Blair commented on the progress towards inter-party talks. He said that a glimmer of light had arisen in the political arena in Northern Ireland and he appealed that the talks need to be encouraged.

But the role of the leaders of the trade union movement is not to part the capitalist leaders on the back. It is not to stand on the sidelines in the hope that the Tories and the bigots will arrive at a settlement. For 20 years the political voice of the organised working class has been silent in Northern Ireland. 20 years while Tories and bigots of all opinions have had a clear field. It has been 20 years of violence, sectarianism and repression.

The ICTU should adopt its own independent socialist solution to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. This would mean fighting to end the nightmare of poverty, unemployment , sectarianism and repression in the North, building a mass socialist Labour Party and ending the rule of the Tories and the bigots.

This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.

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