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Unionists unite to support war
10th April 2003
The various unionist factions in the north may have many differences but the one thing they all agree on is support for the war against Iraq. This unanimity was on display on the 7th April at a pro-war rally at Belfast City Hall. Although supposedly “non-political” every shade of unionist was in attendance. Included in the 300 strong crowd were the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson , Jeffrey Donldson of the UUP and the PUP’s David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson. David Trimble was not there but a statement of support from him was read out.
The main organiser of the event was the UUP’s Sir John Gorman, a WWII veteran and currently an MLA for North Down. He heaped praise on Bush’s stance on Iraq and enthused at the honour of Northern Ireland hosting a war summit. He also praised the “stoicism and courage” of Tony Blair. Although supporting the war on Iraq the demonstrators were also keen to draw parallels with Ireland. This was clear from the various placards on display, which proclaimed such things as – “Ulster says smash Saddam”, “IRA – Q” and “Basra . . . Baghdad . . . Crossmaglen next?” Many of these people would know very little of the Middle East, but they know what imperialism looks like and they like what they are seeing on their TV screens. If they support imperialism in Ireland why wouldn’t they support it in the Middle East? Unlike many in the anti-war movement they do make the connection, even if it is the result of unthinking prejudice. They have also been primed by leaders like David Trimble who have sought the exploit the contradiction of Sinn Fein’s involvement in the anti-war movement while at the same time maintaining close ties to the Bush administration.
One of the notable things about the pro-war demonstration was its loyalist paramilitary element. Behind its “respectable” front there was a hardcore of sectarian thugs. This was on display in the nationalist King Street/Castle Street area near the city centre when loyalists on their way to the pro-war rally attacked cars and bystanders, and threw bricks and stones at two local pubs and a taxi office. The pro-war stance of unionism once again shows the thoroughly reactionary nature of its politics. Any thought that something progressive can emerge from it is a total illusion as the participation of the PUP shows. Not so long ago this organisation was courted by the SWP as a body to debate the future of socialism with and by the Socialist Party as a possible partner in a new socialist movement. We wait with baited breath an honest accounting of these shameful episodes from either organisation.