After the funeral
Loyalists stage a show, but the real drama is off-stage
23 April 2021
As promised, loyalist groups in the north of Ireland returned to the streets following the funeral of the British consort, Prince Philip. The demonstrations confirmed the earlier analysis presented by Socialist Democracy, that there was no mass support for the protests and not even agreement among the paramilitaries to involve themselves.
The formal restart of demonstrations was launched by only two people: Loyalist Communities Council chairman David Campbell and former Ulster Unionist MLA and Ukip NI leader David McNarry, who unfurled an anti-Protocol banner outside the Irish Secretariat offices in Belfast. They were quickly seen off by the brother of a paramilitary murder victim, Gareth McCord.
Later that evening fires in Lanark way, connecting the Springfield and Shankill areas, led to some excitement. In the end it was a few masked youths and a small fire, with the cops deploying their usual softly, softly approach to loyalist demonstrations.
The main event was a band parade in Newtownards it attracted at most a few hundred people and a video of loyalist politician Jamie Bryan speaking from the top of a wheelie bin brought widespread derision.
That's not to say that loyalism isn't dangerous - the threat to invade nationalist areas carries real risk. The reality is that they have little support and the real drama is taking place behind the scenes. The Democratic Unionist Party is slowly but surely disintegrating. Leader Arlene Foster no longer even attempts to rally the troops and the party no longer actively participates in a common administration. The latest issue is an effective boycott of intergovernmental institutions that are a legal requirement of the peace settlement. We are reduced to Foster denying the boycott and everyone else pretending not to notice.
Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has told the party that if it wants to try to reverse the European protocol that it helped to create then it should collapse the Stormont executive. The DUP isn't going to do that, but it is essentially on strike and moving closer to the paramilitaries, with the situation one of increasing instability
What then comes to the fore is a broad determination to placate unionism and preserve partition.
The most influential voice is that of Britain. Johnson is still trying to have his cake and eat it by persuading Europe to abandon part of the deal. That's not going to happen and Britain is not planning to abandon the agreement, so what is left is expanding the transition time and smoke and mirrors, expressed by his blather that he would "sandpaper" the agreement and "get the barnacles off". The growing authoritarian state in Britain is an opportunity to appeal to unionism, hence the announcement that British troops are to be given retrospective immunity for crimes in Ireland and a firm statement ruling out a border poll.
Following behind is the Dublin government. A series of statements also rule out a border poll. In addition it is made clear that a future shared Ireland would be identical to the current divided one. There would be a Northern parliament, a Union flag and a role for British royalty. Unionism does not have to change, Dublin will move Irish society to the far right to conciliate them with proposals from the Fine Gael party that Ireland rejoin the Commonwealth.
The star turn is provided by Sinn Fein. Reassurance about the pro unionist nature of a future United Ireland is matched by weeping and gnashing of teeth following the death of the British consort Phillip and paeans of praise regarding the progressive role of the British Royal family. Mary Lou McDonald apologises for the IRA assassination of Louis Mountbatten.
None of the above will have any effect on Unionism. The DUP are not focused on an imaginary United Ireland, but on their hatred of the current forced coalition with Sinn Fein and the absolute necessity of Unionist unity, including the paramilitary groups, to preserve a majority.
The frantic rush to the right will impact Irish workers.
An example is Mountbatten's assassination. In the immediate aftermath of his death there was a rush to the airports of British minor royals, politicians and business people. They were on holiday. Many were in ancestral homes, were managing business assets or were the guests of the Irish elites. The fact is that the colonial experience never fully ended. The sectarian monstrosity in the North was matched by a semi-colonial tax haven in the South.
In the past, when Sinn Fein called for the Republic, they meant an Irish democracy that would supplant the current states. Now they and their leftist allies enunciate a mild aspiration that threatens nothing.
Recent polls show that a border vote taken in this context in the North would fail. It also showed that only 5% of respondents had any trust in the UK government, with only 15% trusting the NI Executive.
Nationalist posturing has run its course and left apathy and cynicism. We have to look forward to a new party of the working class to break the logjam and relaunch the goal of a Workers' Republic in a United Socialist States of Europe.