Militant Labour, October 1993
Manus Maguire, Belfast
Hume Adam Talks
The joint statement by John Hume, the SDLP leader, and Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Fein, on 25 September has received an avalanche of press coverage. Other discussions have taken place between the Irish and British governments and the DUP has presented their proposals, Breaking the Logjam, to the British government.
It has been evident for some time that discussions have been taking place behind the scene. Flowing from the Hume-Adams talks it is now being rumoured that the Provisional IRA are considering a ceasefire and it is speculated that an interim settlement could be negotiated involving Dublin, London, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and at least a section of the Unionists.
International developments, especially the peace accord between Israel and the PLO, have strengthened the belief that a settlement could be achieved.
One of today's buzzwords in the international arena is 'conflict resolution'. The negotiations between the white ruling class in South Africa and the ANC, and the agreement between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, have been cited as examples of intractable problems in the process of resolution.
The changed balance of forces internationally, with the collapse of Stalinism, has strengthened the confidence of capitalism. These events have had an effect on the leaderships of the ANC and the PLO. They can no longer depend in Soviet support of look to it as a model. The leaderships of the ANC and the PLO no longer pose a threat to capitalism and have been convinced of the need to compromise with the capitalist class. It is the enormous revolts of the black working class and the uprising - the intifida- of the Palestinian people that has led South Africa and Israel to draw the leaders of these organisations into negotiations in order to de-rail these movements.
The leaders of the republican movement have also been affected by the propaganda of capitalism about a 'New World Order'. They believe that they also area bout to be invited to negotiate a settlement. Gerry Adams recently wrote that 'a De Klerk has yet to emerge from the ranks of Unionism', supposedly to negotiate with the IRA.
The recent positions developed by republicans, are a recognition of the bankruptcy of the 'Armalite-ballot box' strategy adopted by the republican movement. The Provos have been forced to accept that they cannot force the British out of Northern Ireland, nor can they force one million Protestants into a united Ireland.
All these developments have led to a change in republican thinking. At the time of the last IRA ceasefire in 1975, for example, Martin McGuinness announced that there would be no further IRA ceasefires until the British Government gave a firm commitment to withdraw. His more recent statements have suggested that the price of an IRA ceasefire might be an announcement from the British Government that it has no long-term interest in Ireland. Gerry Adams said, that joint authority could be accepted as a stepping-stone to a united Ireland.
Flowing from these developments is an agreement possible? What price would the IRA put on a ceasefire? What would be the cost of an agreement to the Unionists?
The Provos would demand Sinn Fein's entry into the talks process. Attached to this would likely be withdrawal or phased withdrawal of British troops to barracks, the scrapping of Britain's repressive legislation, beginning with the censorship laws.
It would also include some agreement on the prisoners and a statement from the British that they have no long-term interest in Ireland. The British Government could not but be attracted to the possibility of an IRA ceasefire. But they also would, place further demands on the republican movement.
The British Government, who have presided over eight years of stalemate in Northern Ireland, have been forced to accept that their last 'solution' - the Anglo-Irish Agreement - has been a failure. The intention was to isolate Sinn Fein and smash the Provos. Then, the 'centre' ground would be encouraged into a power-sharing
devolved government. The Thatcher government met united loyalist resistance.
This effectively neutered the Agreement from the outset. Because of this the protests partially subsided and Thatcher was able to ride these out. Nevertheless, the Tory government learnt one crucial lesson - that any future agreement cannot be negotiated without the Unionists or at least a section of the Unionists.
If the government meets the price of an IRA ceasefire, its unlikely that they'll win favour with the loyalist paramilitaries and their response could be a backlash. Unionists have responded to the Hume-Adams statement, claiming that it is further evidence of a 'pan-nationalist front'. Peter Robinson, the DUP's deputy leader, said that the talks could lead to civil war.
Unionist and loyalist paramilitaries have added that the only IRA ceasefire they'd accept would be one where the IRA hands over all its weaponry.
The UDA's Inner Council said that if any deal was done between Dublin and London over the heads of the Unionists, they could put their military campaign into top gear and Catholics would 'never have seen the like of it before'. Previous IRA ceasefires have led to an intensification of loyalist violence. During the 1972 ceasefire loyalist paramilitaries began a binge of sectarian killings. From 1969 until the June 1972 ceasefire loyalists killed 35 people. It took them only six weeks to kill another 35 people. During the ceasefire the Provisionals were also active carrying out sectarian killings.
Already loyalist paramilitaries have stepped up recruitment. They are making a simple appeal to a layer of impoverished youth in the most deprived Protestant areas: join and stop the sell-out to the IRA and a united Ireland.
The Irish government and the British government have discussed the possibility of the South scrapping Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution to be replaced with an 'aspiration' for eventual unification. In turn the British government would acknowledge that it has no long term interest in the North, and that if a majority favoured a united Ireland then Britain would pass the necessary legislation.
The British government may accept that an upsurge in loyalist killings may be the cost, in the short term, of an agreement which leads to an IRA ceasefire. They could decide to take steps to crack down on the loyalist paramilitaries. They would hope to take the Unionist parties with them, but if they refused they would move to split them. In the Protestant areas they would attempt to lean on a majority of the Protestant community as a whole.
In the aftermath of a crackdown, the British government would hope an agreement could be cemented.
However, such a scenario is, to say the least, fraught with enormous difficulties. The British government could seriously miscalculate. They may not be able to entirely contain a backlash, which could spread beyond the paramilitaries. A backlash would invite a response from the Provos or another republican paramilitary grouping. The result of any future agreement could inflame the situation further.
Even in the event of an agreement, it is ruled out that it would provide a long term solution to the present conflict. The underlying roots of the conflict would remain. Catholic workers will never accept a poverty-ridden Northern Ireland state and Protestants will never accept unity with a backward, poverty-ridden, and as they see it, priest ridden Southern state.
The only solution lies with the working class - Catholic and Protestant - united and fighting for a socialist solution. Militant Labour advocates a socialist Ireland and a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland on an equal and voluntary basis. Within this, the rights of all minorities would be guaranteed. On this basis there could be a democratic settlement of the conflict.
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