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Northern Ireland: Towards
Division Not Peace
Why is it important to look at this recent – and very lengthy – pamphlet from the Socialist Party’s leading figure in the North? After all, the SP is a very minor factor in the political life of Northern Ireland. There are two reasons. One is that the SP in the North faithfully reflects the consciousness of the trade union movement. And that isn’t a compliment to it either. The other is that the SP’s growing electoral strength in Dublin means many socialists in the South will look to it for some explanation of the North. Sadly they will be badly miseducated.
The most interesting point about the pamphlet is that the SP – which was so gung-ho for the Good Friday Agreement that its candidates in the Assembly election ran as “Pro-Agreement Socialist” – seems to have caught on that sectarianism is increasing rather than decreasing. You would think that the comrades might rethink their position. Not at all – according to Hadden, he was right then, is right now and always has been right. But what lies behind his call for the working class to unite and build a “real peace process”?
Predictably, the only practical alternative proposed is that people should “build the alternative” by joining the Socialist Party. But throughout there are signs that the SP does not stand above the sectarian fray as it pretends. One giveaway is that Hadden constantly refers to “Protestants” when he means loyalists. Another is that he retains his soft spot for the Progressive Unionist Party, which apparently had the potential to develop in a socialist direction if society had not polarised along sectarian lines. And why is the North polarised? Because of republican agitation! The peace process has failed because of the determination of Sinn Fein to oppress Protestants while keeping alive the myth that Catholics are all oppressed. Hadden’s whole “analysis” is built on this nonsense.
So on page 30 we find this gem: “There is a sense in which the Catholic working class are second-class citizens – as are Protestant workers. This is in the sense that all workers are second-class citizens under capitalism. The poverty and hardship that is endemic in Catholic working class areas is the product of a system based on private property and run for profit. Religious discrimination is now only a marginal factor.” Hadden’s argument appears to be a leftist version of that recently put forward by Unionist MLA Dermot Nesbitt, who has argued that discrimination does not exist, only the impartial workings of the labour market. Sadly, the figures call this into question. In 1995 an academic study in peaceline areas of North Belfast found that in Protestant areas a shocking 25% of heads of households were unemployed; in Catholic areas the figure was a catastrophic 38%. That, you would think, is a significant difference, a material factor.
Not at all, according to Hadden. “The British state… has – in order to try to achieve stability – set about dismantling the inbuilt discrimination of the Orange State and… while vestiges of the past still remain, has largely succeeded in doing so.” Now nobody claims that the blatant supremacism of the 1960s is still dominant, and there have been serious changes in employment patterns. Significantly, these changes have been concentrated in the public sector where most socialists work. There is still a high degree of segregation in private sector workplaces, and even in the public sector sectarianism is far from being a dead duck.
Again like Nesbitt, Hadden seems to be arguing that inequality is a matter of perception, something in Catholic workers’ heads, manufactured by the Sinn Fein grievance factory. “Working class Catholics continue to see themselves as part of a minority; an oppressed minority who are still very much second-class citizens within the state.” Maybe they imagine the pipe bombs. In the most disgraceful section of the pamphlet, he claims that the villains of the Holy Cross saga were not the loyalists who were terrorising small schoolgirls – their alienation has to be understood – but Sinn Fein for milking the situation. “The objective is to place the ideological straightjacket of nationalism around the Catholic working class and to prevent people recognising that those on the other side of the ‘interfaces’ suffer basically the same problems as them.”
Now it is certainly true that the Protestant residents of Glenbryn suffer serious deprivation. Unemployment is high and crime is rife. There are repeated clashes along the interface with Ardoyne, and loyalists are not to blame in all of those. Things have not been helped by the arrival in the area of UDA supporters driven out of the Shankill by the UVF in the last loyalist feud. That is the real background of Holy Cross, the attempt by the UDA to assert their rule over Glenbryn. And why do Ardoyne Catholics have little sympathy for the Glenbryn residents? Is it because they are dazzled by the nationalist rhetoric of Gerry Kelly? Or is it because the behaviour of many of the Glenbryn residents makes it difficult to feel sympathy for them? Hadden’s take on what he delicately calls the “dispute” is barely distinguishable from the respectable unionist politicians who rambled about Sinn Fein “manipulation” and claimed that the Glenbryn loyalists had been provoked by republicans into intimidating children. And it deserves just as much contempt.
And the dreary pamphlet goes on and on in a similar vein. On the issue of Orange marches, we are told that the Orange Order is not a fascist organisation – which is true – therefore it has a “right to march”. Catholic enclaves also have a “right” to oppose marches – but this is severely qualified by the claim that “‘No orange feet’ means more than ‘no Orangemen’, it means ‘no Protestants’ and it means this all year round, not just when there are parades.” You could be forgiven for wondering who the sectarians were in this situation. And while Hadden says piously that he rejects the concept of exclusively nationalist areas, on the preceding page he claims that Sinn Fein are deliberately organising Catholic encroachment into new areas, provocatively displaying tricolours and other republican emblems to intimidate Protestants out of mixed areas. Really? The greatest areas of demographic change have been in the middle-class areas and suburbs of Belfast. There are no tricolours to be seen in Malone or Stranmillis, no republican murals in Glengormley or Carryduff.
This pamphlet is not in fact a socialist analysis of the North but a farrago of unionist paranoia. If it wasn’t for the occasional references to Marxism, it could have been published by the Daily Telegraph.
Maybe one of these days, Sir Peter Hadden of Her Majesty’s Socialist Party will get that knighthood after all.
Reviewed by Andrew Johnson
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