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Saving Stormont: The last hurrah?
29 October 2015
The results of the report by a British government monitoring panel caused bemusement among observers inside and outside Ireland. Following the statement of a few truisms - the IRA still exist, the loyalist gangs are still active - the Democratic Unionist Party, who had been blocking the operation of the local Assembly by resigning their positions and re-appointing themselves in a weekly cycle, returned to their positions full-time.
Of course the report was entirely political. Its main function was to provide the magic formula that would allow the DUP to return and escape the savage criticism of their backers in the business community. A report from the Irish authorities, while much more general in tone, added to the instability by increasing the political critique of Sinn Fein in the run-up to the coming southern election.
However the report has another function. The history of the Irish process, and current reports, indicate that the outlines of a deal have already been agreed. There would be little point in the DUP returning to Stormont to oversee its collapse. In fact Sinn Fein leaders are touring cumman to rally support for another retreat, while trade union and church figures are talking up the claimed benefits of the Stormont administration.
The outlines are straightforward. A new deal will involve:
The implementation of a savage austerity programme, with a small fig leaf for Sinn Fein.
The implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, with major concessions to Orange sectarianism and triumphalism.
Finally the IRA will have to be put to bed. Sinn Fein will have to denounce their servants, call on the police to pursue them agree that the letters of comfort to IRA members indicating that they will not be prosecuted are meaningless, and swear ever more total allegiance to the colonial statelet. Martin McGuinness has already stated that Sinn Fein stands ready to play its part in ending paramilitarism and, for the first time ever, the loyal praetorian guard of the IRA have been protesting their abandonment.
Lies and disinformation
The report of the monitoring committee also has a function in relation to the attempt to produce a new agreement, and to that end it builds in a series of lies and disinformation.
The main lie in the report is the equals sign that it draws between IRA and loyalist violence. The old IRA exist, with the agreement of London and Dublin, to soak up some of the energies that would normally divert to the physical force republicans, to maintain some credibility for the Sinn Fein leadership with their base and to provide physical protection from the many people they have victimised and betrayed.
The Loyalists on the other hand have continued to be armed and active over two decades following the IRA ceasefire. A large criminal empire continues in operation and runs campaigns of sectarian and racial intimidation. Their activities are covered by a blanket of silence in the local press and by a high level of impunity from the state.
All the parties have a policy of placating Loyalism. While the existence of the IRA provokes a political crisis, Loyalist violence is dealt with through a conference where Jonathan Powell, agent for war criminal Blair, offers them £1 million to behave. The project collapses at birth, with a number of groups committing to, and carrying out, further acts of intimidation.
The only role of an analysis of Loyalism is provide smoke and mirrors for a further retreat by Sinn Fein.
It is worth noting in passing that the role of MI5, the authors of the report, goes unremarked. Yet the collapse of a recent court case showed an unbelievable level of effort involving the most advanced forms of electronic surveillance, the use of helicopters as aerial bugging platforms and almost 100 undercover police and MI5 agents against a small group of anti-agreement republicans. This contrasts sharply to the invisible crimes of loyalism and indicates just how insecure the British believe the political settlement to be.
However there is another aspect to the report. The DUP wanted Britain to suspend Stormont and set up a permanent monitoring committee to periodically vet Sinn Fein and decide on their fitness for government. Instead we have a report which says that; "most members believe" that the army council remains the directing force within the provisional movement.
The slap in the face for unionism, contradicting many red lines that Robinson said he would never accept, follows an earlier rejection of calls for more welfare funding by Sinn Fein and growing threats from London that Stormont would be dissolved if agreement is not reached.
The British have reached their limit. After endless modifications of the agreement and endless bribes they are indicating that this process cannot continue. The unionists cannot constantly move it to the right until they arrive at the old Stormont. It folds or it stands on its own feet.
This presents problems for both Sinn Fein and the DUP. Sinn Fein must sell out the inner core of the IRA and dress up support for austerity as opposition. The problems for the DUP are more serious. They must acknowledge that there is no return to the old days of unbridled supremacy and sign up to Robinson's strategy of sharing out sectarian privilege while demanding the lion's share.
This is unlikely to work. Ultra sectarian and racist Ruth Patterson has already demanded Robinson's ousting. A controversial incitement by former minister Edwin Poots saying that DUP members had to "hold their noses" when dealing with Sinn Fein was aimed directly at Robinson.
The point is that if the struggle within the DUP becomes a split the peace process will automatically collapse. The vast majority of the unionists agree that an administration where they do not hold the First Ministerís position is simply unthinkable.
A strong plus for a revived administration is the unconditional support it receives from civic society. Peter Bunting, spokesperson for the unions, has on more than one occasion said that saving Stormont is the first priority. As the final element of a deal are stitched together Len McCluskey, secretary of UNITE, appeared at Stormont to argue that the executive could borrow money and run a Keynesian programme of economic stimulus. The unionís regional secretary Jimmy Kelly recognises the constrains of the block grant Ė in other words they accept that the austerity will be unleashed and will work with the executive to manage the cuts. Given that a new deal will have a crippling austerity and a pervasive austerity built in, the future for the working class looks grim.
On the other hand, the idea that the rickety and unstable settlement represented by the peace agreement can survive the coming attacks on the working class is fantasy.
However it requires a socialist movement to step outside the interlocking elements of bribery, corruption and secret deals that dominate civic society and which are the material basis of apparent stability. In the absence of such a movement, an economic crisis will simply pour petrol on what is already a muffled sectarian conflagration.
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