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Workers Hammer No. 234

Spring 2016

Northern Ireland

British agent at heart of 1993 Shankill slaughter

The early 1990s saw a dramatic rise in sectarian murders in Northern Ireland, with the oppressed Catholic minority bearing the brunt of these. The level of mass revulsion was such that it generated a rare moment of class unity, as the mainly Protestant workforce at Shorts aerospace walked off the job in protest against the Loyalist murder of a Catholic co-worker in October 1993. Two weeks later, in its own response to the wave of Loyalist murders, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed a fish shop in the heart of Belfast’s Protestant working-class Shankill district. Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leaders were supposed to be meeting in a room above the shop. But the UDA was not there. Instead, nine Protestant civilians, including two children, were slaughtered, along with the IRA man carrying the bomb. Loyalist death squads responded in an all too predictable manner, killing two Catholic workers at a sanitation depot in West Belfast and then butchering another six Catholics and one Protestant in a machine-gun attack on a predominantly Catholic pub in Greysteel, County Derry.

Writing at the time, we stressed the urgent need for the workers movement throughout the British Isles to call for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all British troops from the North and to oppose the anti-Catholic murder machines of the British state, its Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the various Loyalist paramilitary forces (“British troops out of Northern Ireland now! Imperialist ‘peace’ fraud — deadly trap for oppressed Catholics”, Workers Hammer no 138, November/December 1993). When the IRA struck a blow against the imperialist oppressor or the Loyalist fascistic thugs, we defended the perpetrators against capitalist retribution, notwithstanding that such individual terror is antithetical to a proletarian strategy. However, the Shankill bombing was an act of indiscriminate terror, criminal from the standpoint of the working class. As we noted: “At bottom, this bombing cannot be divorced from the IRA’s nationalist politics.”

Now, adding a further dimension to the criminal character of the Shankill bombing, the Irish News (25 January), a Belfast-based Catholic newspaper, has revealed that a British agent played a central role in this mass murder of working-class Protestants. The newspaper asserts: “The IRA commander who planned the Shankill bombing was a police informant who had told his handlers of the plan”. The revelations are derived from top secret police files “liberated” by the IRA during a raid on Castlereagh Police Headquarters in 2001. The documents indicate that the intelligence provided by “agent AA” to his Special Branch handlers appears to have been passed on to the UDA leaders who had originally intended to meet above the fish shop, and that the bomb was in the agent’s house the night before the bombing. This would have allowed the British agent to tamper with the timing mechanism, causing the bomb to explode prematurely and without warning.

Only two weeks after the Irish News broke its story, it emerged that “an IRA informant may have told police about the 1974 Birmingham pub bombs before they exploded” (BBC News, 10 February). The two IRA pub bombings resulted in the deaths of 21 people, with another 182 injured, and was used to justify a storm of anti-Irish chauvinism and state repression. The British state has adamantly refused to launch a public inquiry into the bombings, even after it was forced to release six men in 1991 who had been framed up and imprisoned for more than 16 years for the bombings. Now Ashley Underwood, an attorney for families of some of the victims, has appealed to the Birmingham coroner for a resumption of the inquests that were halted following the conviction of the Birmingham Six in 1975. According to the BBC, “Underwood said West Midlands police officers may have wrongly prosecuted” the Birmingham Six “knowing they were innocent in order to protect their ‘mole’ and cover up their prior knowledge of the attacks”. “There is reason to believe”, he added, that “the police had sufficient time, between the telephone warnings and the first bomb going off, to evacuate” the two pubs.

The British state’s history of collusion with Loyalist anti-Catholic death squads is a matter of public record. A 2003 report by Metropolitan police commissioner John Stevens acknowledged security force collusion in multiple murders, including that of courageous lawyer Pat Finucane in 1989. The collusion was not restricted to a few bad apples, as Stevens implied, but was, rather, business as usual. It is more than reasonable to believe that the arrogant imperialist rulers had few qualms in overseeing the murders of some of their Protestant and British wage slaves in pursuit of their divide-and-rule strategy. We are committed to the fight for a victorious workers revolution that will finally put paid to blood-drenched British imperialism.

Imperialist peace fraud

The immediate backdrop to the spiralling sectarian terror surrounding the Shankill bombing was the talks between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and John Hume, then leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party, to lay the basis for an imperialist-imposed “peace” deal. In our 1993 article, we warned:

“Sections of the bourgeoisies in London and Dublin, together with their Labour and social-democratic lackeys, have seized upon the widespread fear, revulsion and despair over sectarian violence as an opportunity to foist an imperialist-imposed ‘peace’ deal on Northern Ireland. 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.”

In December 1993, less than two months after the Shankill bombing, the London and Dublin governments announced a joint “peace” declaration; the following August, the IRA declared a unilateral ceasefire. The “peace process” culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which endowed Sinn Fein with the facade of “power-sharing” in Stormont. The ink had barely dried when prominent Catholic lawyer Rosemary Nelson was murdered by a Loyalist bomb in 1999. A few years later, the IRA agreed to the “decommissioning” of its arms. The “demilitarisation” of the North promoted by Sinn Fein began and ended with the IRA, leaving intact not only the heavily armed state forces but also the Loyalist death squads.

Demonstrating their touching faith in the avowed neutrality of the capitalist state, various reformist groups added their voices to the chorus of imperialist hosannas that greeted the London-Dublin deal. The Militant, predecessor of the Socialist Party, which consistently refused to call for the withdrawal of British troops from the North, claimed that “peace” would be seen as a “great step forward” (Militant, 17 December 1993). In a similar vein, the Socialist Workers Party, while professing to be “sceptical about the deal”, wrote: “Socialists welcome the prospect of peace” (Socialist Review, January 1994); these “socialists” had also welcomed the deployment of the British army to the North in 1969!

Bloody British imperialism was no more interested in peace then than before or since — witness, among other things, its massacre of 14 civil rights protesters in Derry’s Bloody Sunday in 1972 and its later role in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and its bombing of Syria today. Economically, Britain was beginning to see Northern Ireland as a net drain, while the cost of direct military occupation had become increasingly intolerable. To this day, Northern Ireland remains a sectarian hell-hole premised on the continued subjugation of Catholics. Shredding illusions in the “neutrality” of the imperialists, we wrote following the Shankill bombing:

“Today they adopt a racist and arrogant pretence that they are just trying to stop the tit for tat barbarities of the ‘uncivilised Irish’ of all hues. All of John Hume’s initiatives, including the talks and proposals with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, are based on the premise that British imperialism is somehow ‘neutral’. All history and the graves of many Irish Catholics say otherwise.”

Workers Hammer no 138, November/December 1993

And, we might add, the graves of more than a few British and Ulster Protestant workers!

For Leninist vanguard parties!

While the level of all-sided killing has declined, two decades after the beginning of the imperialist “peace” process the Protestant and Catholic communities are more segregated than they were in the 1960s. Almost 20 “peace walls” were built in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement: over 90 per cent of public housing in the North — and 98 per cent in Belfast — is segregated along religious lines, while only seven per cent of children attend an integrated school. Yet a 2008 survey found that four out of five people expressed a desire to live in a mixed neighbourhood. For many poor and working-class Protestants, the historic privileges in jobs and housing were marginal, at best, and have only declined as the economy has gone to hell; the former Shorts aerospace factory, now owned by Bombardier, recently announced a thousand redundancies. The wretched living conditions and high unemployment that are byproducts of capitalist exploitation fuel the flames of sectarianism, which helps prevent the working class from recognising capitalism as the root cause of the problem.

The oppressed Catholic minority shares the same territory as the Protestants, who fear becoming an oppressed minority themselves in the event of unification with the South. The Protestants do not constitute a separate nation, but they are a distinct community defined in large part against the Irish Catholic nation, North and South, as well as distinct from the Scottish and English nations. Marxists oppose the forcible reunification of Ireland, which would only compact the Protestants behind the Loyalist bigots, precluding the development of class consciousness across the sectarian divide and instead laying the basis for a communal blood-bath and forced population transfers. The conflicting claims of these interpenetrated peoples can be resolved equitably only in the context of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.

A Leninist vanguard nucleus would fight to transcend the sectarian divide, opposing all manifestations of anti-Catholic discrimination in jobs, housing and schooling while seeking to intersect those rare episodes of united class struggle with a programme of transitional demands in the interests of the whole of the working class. Among these would be the fight for jobs for all through work-sharing on full pay and a sliding scale of wages and hours; for affordable, quality, integrated housing; for quality healthcare for all free at the point of use, including the right to abortion. It is necessary to fight for the full emancipation of women and for strict separation of church and state, breaking the Catholic clerical power in the South and the bigoted Unionist stranglehold over Protestant workers in the North. Such demands point inexorably to the need to break from the profit-driven dictates of the capitalist system. Working-class rule would establish a collectivised and centrally planned economy, which would reorganise society in the interests of all who labour and provide a decent living standard for all.

For this perspective to be realised there must be socialist revolutions that sweep away the capitalist order and replace the murderous capitalist state apparatus with workers states that expropriate the bourgeoisies in Britain and Ireland, North and South. The key to victory for the downtrodden masses from Belfast and Dublin to Glasgow and London lies in the forging of revolutionary vanguard parties of the proletariat, built in the struggle to reforge a world party of socialist revolution, the Fourth International. This is the task to which the Spartacist League, British section of the International Communist League, is dedicated.


Workers Hammer No. 234

WH 234

Spring 2016


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Quote of the issue

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Northern Ireland

British agent at heart of 1993 Shankill slaughter


Hindu-chauvinist witch hunt at JNU

India: students charged with sedition over Kashmir


Australian union tops push chauvinism against trade pact

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Victory to the junior doctors!

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Banana monarchy

Defend Jeremy Corbyn's right to run the Labour Party!