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A strange victory – Paisley to rule Irish colony

John McAnulty

31 March 2007

On launching the original institutions of the Irish Good Friday agreement, Tony Blair, never a man to shy away from a cliché, remarked that he felt ‘the hand of history’ on his shoulder.

If this is so then the British and Irish media, watching Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein sitting at the same table, (having formally met for the first time only moments before) must have felt the hands of history on their throats and lips.  No awkward questions were asked.  The function of the media, like Magi at some strange new birth, was to exclaim in wonder, to applaud, then to run potted biographies showing how Paisley career as a rabid pro-imperialist bigot and Adams as a former nationalist revolutionary had led…… Where exactly?  How had the two come to this extraordinary agreement?

The answer is a credit to ten years of effort by Britain, the colonial power, not included in the Paisley – Adams tableau but still pulling the strings.  Perfidious Albion had enlisted Irish capital to restabilise the partition of Ireland and refresh the failed sectarian state in the North.  They crafted the Good Friday Agreement, offering joint communal sectarian rights as a simulacrum of civil and human rights. They then buried their own creation by continuously adjusting it until it broke in an effort to ensure the political domination of the Unionist base on which the British occupation of the North of Ireland depends. 

The collapse did not lead to panic.  The British established a new agreement, the St. Andrews agreement, framed to shift new local political structures more firmly in the direction of majority rule for the Unionists, calmly consigned their former allies of the Ulster Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party to the dustbin of history and set about offering further bribes and concessions to Paisley and putting more pressure on Adams until Paisley no longer had a strong enough reason for saying no.

The St Andrews agreement, which gave Paisley the ability to use his majority in the local Stormont parliament to oversee decisions by Nationalist ministers, gave the DUP a letter of comfort allowing them to retain a reactionary policy of academic selection in education and committed Sinn Fein to unconditional support for the colonial state and the sectarian police, was not enough. 

Sinn Fein was forced into the humiliating position of supporting the police without the promised balancing act of a statement by Paisley supporting a power 
-sharing government.  The DUP were showered with bribes.  They were promised that the Irish language act, the only sop to Sinn Fein to come out of the St Andrews agreement, would be left for them to decide.  They were given the opportunity to cement their support with a populist move delaying the imposition of water charges. Former police leaders were able to insult the police ombudswomen when she detailed links to death squads and sectarian murders.  The sectarian killers of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) despite police reports that they were still implicated in murder and extortion, were given a government bribe. The group has a history of acting as muscle for the DUP.  All of this was not enough.

At this point the Paisley – Adams tableau was preceded by Comic Opera.  The British declared that the final date of the 26th was set in stone.  The DUP declared that they would not meet this deadline.  At the midnight hour there was a hurried meeting between Sinn Fein and the DUP.  The rest is history; agreement, the dual photo opportunity, hurried legislation to extend the deadline by six weeks.

All of this was total sham. The deadline was not aimed at the DUP nor was it any threat to the British.  It was aimed at Sinn Fein. Further concessions by Sinn Fein presented the ‘enough’ that allowed Paisley to sign up, making it absolutely clear that Paisley was the master, calling the shots and Sinn Fein the subordinates.  The significance of the six weeks was that this deadline is also conditional, requiring Sinn Fein to make more concessions before the Paisleyites finally meet their promise and join a coalition government.

When reporters did get around to asking a few questions there s was a local furore. Asked if the IRA army council were to be disbanded Adams responded furiously, saying that the question was ‘stupid’.  Apparently the correct answer was ‘Yes, the army council will be disbanded’.

In fact Sinn Fein are saying yes to much more than this.  The ‘preparation for government’ committee is meeting daily to hammer out the concessions that will put the DUP in government. Disbandment of the army council is to be followed by the defence of selection in education (significant – the abolition of selection was the one clear-cut reform claimed by Sinn Fein following the original Good Friday assembly).  The promise of an Irish language Bill will either be diluted to vanishing point or ‘balanced’ with new funds for an imaginary ‘Ulster-Scots’ language. A new ‘victims commissioner’ will be a Paisleyite, given large funds to prove that unionism was the innocent victim of rabid nationalist aggression, now tamed. An issue once touted as a ‘dealbreaker’ – nationalist insistence that control of police and the administration of justice be devolved from Westminster – has disappeared off the agenda. The only issue unresolved is the final DUP demand – a ‘red button’ that would eventually allow them to expel Sinn Fein from an arrangement they consider to be temporary and reach their dream programme of a monolithic sectarian Stormont government whose rampant bigotry and repression launched the civil rights explosion of the ‘60s.

So the foundation of the current settlement is very firmly based on constant political retreat by Sinn Fein, a retreat helped along by a flood of community grants designed to compensate them for their humiliation, currently being distributed at local level. In addition there are hints from the Fianna Fail government in Dublin that their eventual reward will be a place in a capitalist government in the Southern state. 

The republican consciousness that opposed sectarianism has collapsed, replaced by a ‘benign sectarianism’ where working class division is taken for granted and it is believed that resources can be shared amicably between communal groups. The fact that the death squads are openly subsidised by the British, that sectarian murder of Catholics still occurs, is dismissed as the dying spasm of darker days.

This is a doomed vision. The mechanisms that established the assembly are the mechanisms through which it will operate.  A full understanding of this Byzantine structure will require another article, but the main mechanisms are:

  • The North of Ireland remains a colony, with economic and political control residing with the Westminster parliament.
  • What political power resides locally will be exercised in backrooms in private deals between Sinn Fein and the DUP and with the DUP demanding the lions share.
  • These mechanisms will be fronted by a comic-opera assembly, with 108 members and ten ministers to legislate for a population of around 1.5 million.
  • Sectarianism, which already pervades society, will reach new levels and prove not to be benign, but a deadly poison that will eventually tear the settlement apart.
  • There is an economic component to the deal involving a commitment to privatisation, deregulation and capitalist restructuring by all the major parties. This offensive will cause real hardship that will simultaneously increase sectarian pressures while providing some opportunity for a socialist regroupment.

In fact the most realistic assessment is by Ian Paisley and the DUP.  There is still a strong sentiment against any deal and a number of members led by Jim Allister, the party’s only European MP, have resigned. The consensus holding the party together is that the current arrangement can only be temporary and that means must be found to eventually expel Sinn Fein from the agreement. 

It should not be forgotten that the current arrangement was the one rejected by the original partitionist unionist group of the 1920’s They were willing to surrender one third of the available territory in order to buy a temporary stability.  Despite the Paisley-Adams cameo, imperialist rule in Ireland remains unstable.


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