Workers Hammer No. 190
Irish state and imperialist butchers pontificate against IRA "criminality"
Blair and Paisley turn the screw on Sinn Féin
British troops out now !
The brutal murder of Robert McCartney, a young Catholic father from Belfast's Short Strand, by IRA members has been seized on by an unholy alliance extending from Ian Paisley to the rulers of the Irish state to the British and US imperialists. The killing of McCartney was a vicious crime, one worthy of the Loyalist gangs who regularly terrorise the oppressed Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. But the "worth" of McCartney's life to the butchers of Iraq in Westminster and the White House, Paisley's Unionists and the clericalist regime in southern Ireland, is to reinforce the forces of Orange supremacy in Northern Ireland—from Loyalist terror to the "official" state forces for anti-Catholic repression, the British Army and the renamed Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Politicians in Washington, from Democrat Ted Kennedy to Republican president George Bush, embraced McCartney's sisters when they went to Washington. This certainly wasn't out of any new-found concern for the lives of working-class Catholics in Northern Ireland. Rather as a Guardian reporter put it, the motivation was that "these six women with 19 children between them could force the IRA to do what the British have failed to do for decades: put away their guns and disband" (Guardian, 11 March).
This has always been the real purpose of the imperialist "peace" fraud, whose very nature is underlined by the fact that Paisley, one of the most virulently anti-Catholic bigots on the face of the planet, is now calling the shots. Last December, amid declarations of yet another supposed "historic breakthrough", Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) declared that it would accept a power-sharing deal with Sinn Féin in Stormont—the historic seat of Orange rule. This was about as likely as Paisley swearing allegiance to Rome. For its part, the IRA had declared that it would "completely and verifiably put all our arms beyond use". But Paisley demanded photographic evidence, pontificating that Republicans had to don "sack cloth and ashes". The IRA refused to submit to what they aptly described as an "act of humiliation". Although taking its "decommissioning" offer off the table for now, the IRA still accepts the framework of the "peace process". A 9 December 2004 IRA statement opined that "the search for a just and lasting peace is a challenging one. The IRA leadership has risen to that challenge. The British government and the leaders of unionism must do likewise."
Sinn Féin has steadfastly clung to the illusion that the British imperialists—with the assistance of the Irish government and US imperialism—would weigh in against the Unionists to ensure that a deal was implemented. Yet the 1998 "Good Friday Agreement" was premised on maintaining the British Army occupation of Northern Ireland, the guarantor for the repressive apparatus of the Orange statelet. The only force that was to disarm in Northern Ireland was the IRA, not the Loyalist death squads. As we warned from the beginning: "Any imperialist 'deal' will be bloody and brutal and will necessarily be at the expense of the oppressed Catholic minority. And it would not do any good for working-class Protestants either" (Workers Hammer no 138, November-December 1993).
Following the latest breakdown in "negotiations", all fire was turned against Sinn Féin as the responsible party, which was then subjected to a relentless barrage of hostility from the very forces it has promoted as its "allies" for peace in Northern Ireland. In January, Northern Ireland police chief Hugh Orde made the totally unsubstantiated accusation that the IRA was responsible for a spectacular bank robbery in Belfast. This was immediately seized on by the British and Irish governments to demand that Sinn Féin ensure that IRA "paramilitary and criminal activity" be "definitely removed from the equation". Blair cut off parliamentary allowances to Sinn Féin's four Westminster MPs amid calls to ban them from Westminster—despite the fact that they were actually elected to the "Mother of Parliaments" and don't even take their seats there, refusing to swear allegiance to the Queen.
There is still not one shred of evidence of the involvement of the IRA or Sinn Féin in the bank robbery (which in any case is no crime from the perspective of the working class and the poor, or as Bertolt Brecht put it, "it is easier to rob by setting up a bank than by holding up a bank clerk"). But while Blair was railing against IRA "criminality", he was busy trying to further cover up the very real crimes of British imperialism in collusion with the Loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland. In 1989, Pat Finucane, a Belfast Catholic lawyer who defended, among others, Bobby Sands and other Irish hunger strikers, was gunned down in front of his family by the Loyalist UDA. He was targeted by Brian Nelson, an agent of the British Army and intelligence chief of the UDA. The whole truth about this case could be a devastating exposure of British imperialist "democracy", so Blair is now introducing a new public inquiries bill to curtail what can be made public in any "public" inquiry. As Michael Finucane wrote in a bitter indictment of Blair:
"In three days, on February 12 2005, exactly 16 years will have passed since my father was murdered by proxy agents of the British government. For those 16 years, my family and I have been campaigning for a public tribunal of inquiry into the murder because of our belief that his killing was ordered at the highest level. What is more, we are convinced the evidence to prove it is contained in files locked deep within the establishment.... Tony Blair signed an agreement with the Irish government in 2001 to deal with my father's case. He did so under pressure and in an attempt to delay an inquiry into the case, something his government has been doing for several years.… The murder of my father is a crucial event because of what it could potentially reveal. It is for this reason the [public inquiries] bill was created."
—Guardian, 9 February
Officials from the Irish government were as vehement against the IRA as Blair, if not more so. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared that Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness knew of the IRA's supposed plans for the bank robbery while they were sitting at the table negotiating for "power sharing". Justice Minister Michael McDowell weighed in to declare that Adams and McGuinness were members of the IRA's Army Council. Irish Gardaí raided homes of Sinn Féin supporters in search of evidence of "money laundering". None was found, but McDowell later admitted that the raids had been prepared weeks earlier and there is much media speculation in Ireland that it was planned long before the bank robbery. Feeding grist to the mill of Paisley's anti-Catholic reaction in the North, the Irish government was also aiming to protect its own interests against the increasing inroads that Sinn Féin has been making, particularly among poor and working-class voters in the South.
Viciously anti-working-class, enforcers of clerical reaction against women and racist attacks on Travellers and immigrants, the representatives of the "Irish Free State" are also notoriously corrupt. Indeed former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Charles Haughey probably made away with more from shady business deals while he was in power than the £27 million robbed from the Belfast bank. Such corruption has in no small measure undermined Fianna Fáil's electoral support. But the bank robbery accusations against the IRA and Sinn Féin did them little damage among their traditional supporters in Catholic communities. Graffiti saying "Gerry, Gerry give us a loan" indicated that many thought the idea of the IRA walking off with a cool £27 million was too good to be true. By contrast, the murder of Robert McCartney initially provoked real and justified revulsion among Catholics in Northern Ireland. This reflects concern that, particularly since the ceasefire, the IRA has operated less as a force for defence of the Catholic communities against Loyalist terror, the British Army and the cops, and act more as gangsters enforcing their own brand of "law and order" over these communities.
The bankruptcy of nationalism
On 6 April, Gerry Adams appealed to the IRA to maintain its previous commitment to "decommissioning", asking them to achieve their "aims by purely political and democratic activity". An article by Niall Stanage in the Guardian (11 April) observed that "disbandment of the IRA is also the logical conclusion to the course Adams and his like-minded comrades began to chart almost a quarter of a century ago"—when Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands won a seat in Westminster. Today Sinn Féin represents the vast majority of the Catholic population of the North and its support in the South is growing. But it will never be acceptable as a parliamentary political party while it retains even the vestige of an armed wing. Behind the clamour coming from Blair, Ahern and Co for the IRA to disband, the message is that the capitalist state is not going to abide any challenge to its monopoly of armed force by the IRA. Parliamentary democracy is simply the velvet glove over the mailed fist of the state—the army, police, courts and prisons whose purpose is to maintain the rule of capital. It is not enough for the IRA to give up its arms; Republicans are being told that they must be subservient to all the state forces on these islands.
The murder of Robert McCartney is being wielded to force the Republicans to accept the authority of the Orange state in the North, including the PSNI. This is a bitter pill, but one which Sinn Féin leaders have indicated they might be willing to swallow. Mitchel McLaughlin has said: "If the circumstances had worked out before Christmas, we would have convened a special ard-fheis [national conference] to debate the issues about policing. We want a PSNI that meets the criteria under Patten and the Good Friday Agreement once and for all" (Daily Ireland, 7 March). But with or without the window dressing of the Good Friday Agreement, the police force in Northern Ireland remains a fundamentally anti-Catholic force that works hand-in-glove with the Loyalist paramilitaries.
Assurances have also been offered of Sinn Féin's respect for the police forces of the Irish state. One of the party's Dáil deputies, Aengus Ó Snodaigh declared that Sinn Féin "are now working constructively with the Gardaí to increase local accountability", adding that "we recognise that the Gardaí are a legitimate police force—albeit one in need of fundamental reform" (Daily Ireland, 7 March). Such appeals for police "reform" are simply designed to give a more "democratic" facade to the armed fist of the state.
Despite the fact that the IRA has not taken up arms against the Irish state for decades, the government can still whip up fear that the IRA is supposedly running "a state within a state". This is a historically-rooted pretext for repression, harking back to the civil war in 1922-23, when the newly-independent Irish state brutally repressed Republican insurgents who objected to the terms of the Treaty signed with the British. Today's justice minister McDowell is the grandson of Eoin MacNeill who supported the execution of Republicans in December 1922; his great-uncle was in charge of the firing squad. But although they fought the state militarily over the terms of the Treaty, the anti-Treaty forces did not challenge the capitalist order. On the contrary, they supported it and were soon to be in charge of it politically. The Fianna Fáil party was founded by these forces and, led by Eamonn DeValera, ran the clericalist state for decades.
Sinn Féin is a petty-bourgeois nationalist party whose politics are fundamentally no different from those of Fianna Fáil. Its aim is the creation of a united, capitalist Ireland. But this would be far from a "democratic" solution to the national question. The Catholics in Northern Ireland are an oppressed minority, but they live within the same territory as the Protestants, who fear becoming an oppressed minority under the clericalist Irish state. The current hardening of Protestant opinion, seen in the huge vote for Paisley's DUP, is in part a reaction to Sinn Féin's claim that the Good Friday Agreement is a step towards Irish unity. This is compounded by the increasing impoverishment of both the Catholic and Protestant working class in Northern Ireland, with the Protestants falsely believing that the Catholics have been given preferential treatment under the Good Friday Agreement. Writing on the 2003 elections which were swept by Paisley on one side and Sinn Féin on the other, Observer columnist Henry McDonald explained that the DUP was able to "paint the peace process as a one-way pro-nationalist concession process". Noting that "the only growth industry north of the river Lagan in Belfast has been the construction of almost 20 so-called peace walls separating Protestants and Catholics on a permanent basis" McDonald added: "The landscape from Good Friday 1998 has been radically changed. The two communities are further apart than they were five years ago, politically and physically" (Observer, 30 November 2003).
We stand for the defence of the oppressed Catholic community in Northern Ireland and fight against all forms of discrimination in jobs, housing and education. At the same time, we oppose the forcible reunification of Ireland, even the suggestion of which serves to compact the Protestants behind the Loyalist bigots. This precludes a polarisation along class lines and instead lays the basis for communalist terror. In a situation of interpenetrated peoples and fratricidal nationalism, there can be no equitable solution short of the destruction of capitalism and the institution of workers rule. We fight for an Irish workers republic within a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles. An elementary precondition for any just solution is the withdrawal of British troops.
Deputy Higgins: servant of the bourgeoisie
Socialist Party (SP) Dáil deputy Joe Higgins leapt into the anti-Republican fray in support of the Irish state. A Socialist Party press release (23 February) details an exchange in the Dáil in which Higgins asks: "Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that the great majority of residents of the Short Strand area in Belfast are horrified to have criminal butchers in their midst, hiding under the political banner of provisional republicanism". "Criminal butchers" is not a term the respectable Mr Higgins would readily use to describe the Loyalist UVF. Its representative Billy Hutchinson, who was convicted of the murder of two Catholics in Northern Ireland, was hosted by the SP at its meetings in 1995.
Deputy Higgins continued: "Mr. Adams said this morning he has a problem going to the police. Does he have a problem in going to the Short Strand unit of the provisional IRA—call it the local SS unit for short—and demanding that it present itself to justice?" Comparing the IRA to Hitler's SS rolls off Higgins' tongue as do declarations of faith in the "justice" of the notorious anti-Catholic forces of the Northern Ireland police and the shoot-to-kill British troops. The SP has long refused to call for the withdrawal of the troops from Northern Ireland. Last year, when Sinn Féin youth marched in a Belfast antiwar demonstration under a banner that said "Brits out of Ireland and Iraq" the SP denounced them, grotesquely declaring "the above slogan could only appeal to one side of the sectarian divide" (Socialist Voice, April 2004).
Higgins' role here is no different than that of British Labour leaders who sided with their "own" bourgeoisie in World War I. He is also keeping alive the legacy of the Irish Labour Party, which refused to oppose the Irish bourgeoisie when it accepted the Treaty and partition in 1921 and gave back-handed support to the state against the Republicans during the civil war. Addressing a special conference of the Irish Labour Party and TUC in 1918, Irish Labour leader Thomas Johnson said: "Your executive believes, that the workers of Ireland join earnestly in this desire, that they would willingly sacrifice, for a brief period, their aspirations towards political power, if thereby the fortunes of the nation can be enhanced" (quoted in Revolution in Ireland, Conor Kostick, 1996).
At the height of the furore over the murder of Robert McCartney, Irish SWP leader Eamonn McCann outrageously compared the IRA to the British troops that gunned down 14 Catholics on "Bloody Sunday" in Derry. At a Belfast rally for McCartney, McCann declared to the capitalist media that "the McCartney murder had lowered Republicans to the level of the British paratroopers, and cast a 'dark shadow backwards' on the whole IRA struggle" (Guardian, 28 February). Talking out of the other side of his mouth in an article in Irish Socialist Worker (22 February-8 March), McCann appealed to disgruntled Republicans to join the ranks of the SWP:
"Every ruling class voice is currently raised high urging Republicans to ditch paramilitarism, become totally respectable and join the conservative consensus. Forgiveness and glittering prizes are on offer to those who accept. This would represent abandonment of struggle. The SWP urges Republicans who think of themselves also as socialists to turn not to the Right but to the socialist ideas of self-liberation which alone offer a road forward."
And this too would be a ticket to "respectability", of the social-democratic variety.
Lessons of the civil rights struggles
McCann's reputation stems from his role as one of the prominent left-wing leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s which opposed the blatant discrimination against Catholics and shook the Orange state. The experience is rich in lessons for future struggles in Northern Ireland where the sectarian divide runs so deep that the possibility for advancing socialist consciousness, or even class consciousness, often seems remote. The Northern Ireland civil rights struggles took place in the context of an international political radicalisation, particularly inspired by the struggles for black civil rights in America. A famous march from Belfast to Derry in 1969 was modelled on Martin Luther King's 1966 march on Selma, Montgomery.
In Belfast, the civil rights movement had a base at Queen's University, where leftists in Peoples Democracy were active. In the early stages there was some support for the civil rights struggle among Protestant students. Following the brutal police repression of a 1968 march in Derry the civil rights movement acquired mass support almost overnight and leftists, including McCann and Bernadette Devlin (now McAliskey) were catapulted to prominence. However both of them had fatal illusions in British imperialism. Such illusions were reinforced by the British SWP which supported the intervention of British troops in 1969 and spoke of "the breathing space provided by the presence of British troops" (Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969). What was needed was a perspective based on fighting to mobilise the working class, north and south of the border—where there was huge support for the embattled Catholics—as well as in Britain, against the deployment of the troops. In the absence of a class perspective, the Provisional IRA became the dominant force defending the Catholics in the face of brutal repression by the British. The IRA's forces grew dramatically after Bloody Sunday.
A former leader of Peoples Democracy, Michael Farrell, in a study of the Orange state, illustrates how previous attempts at mild reform by Westminster foundered on the rock of Unionist opposition. He notes that, for the first 40 years of its existence, the Orange state "remained a rigidly repressive police regime, confronting a hostile minority within and maintaining a permanent state of cold war with the South". Northern Ireland was once a centre of shipbuilding and engineering, but with the decline of British heavy industry, by the 1960s this economic link became less important for British imperialism. At the same time, Britain began to develop diplomatic and trade links with the South. The blatant oppression of Northern Catholics became an embarrassment and Westminster began nudging Stormont towards reforms. Farrell explains that:
"The effort met with little success. Once the Ulster industrialists had used the Orange ideology and Protestant supremacy to establish the Northern state; now the Ulster-based industries had all but disappeared, and with them most of the economic reasons for the six-county state. But Orangeism and Protestant supremacy had remained—and now they were themselves virtually the reason for the existence of the state: to dismantle Protestant supremacy would be to dismantle the state itself. The Unionists resisted stubbornly. The British had intervened to defend the state and reform it; but failing to reform it they were forced to concentrate more and more on defending it."
—The Orange State (1976)
The prevalence of sectarianism in Northern Ireland is not proof of some unbridgeable religious divide, but is fostered by the hellish conditions of capitalist exploitation. The attacks on workers in Britain accompanying massive deindustrialisation and the introduction of the so-called "flexible economy" of low-paid service jobs, have impacted even more heavily on both Catholic and Protestant workers in Northern Ireland. Loyalist demagogy that Catholics have benefited from the "peace" fraud often falls on fertile ground among working-class Protestants because their own situation has worsened. The employment gap between Protestants and Catholics has narrowed mainly because unemployment among Protestants has grown. The inability of the capitalist system to provide a decent living and decent housing for the working people is a key reason for the increasing sectarianism in Northern Ireland; a sectarianism which is inflamed by the capitalists and their state in order to prevent workers from recognising capitalism as the root of the problem.
As communists we seek to intervene, attempting to alter the course of the conflict towards a class determination. We fight for workers revolution on both sides of the Irish border and both sides of the Irish Sea. Our proletarian perspective requires an internationalist struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism, smashing the sectarian Orange statelet in Northern Ireland and the vicious clericalist state in the South. The Spartacist League/Britain and our comrades of the Spartacist Group Ireland fight to build the revolutionary internationalist parties necessary to this task.