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Night of the long knives

The rapid-fire ousting of DUP minister Edwin Poots, his sidekick Paul Girvan and the revolting Nelson McCausland, followed by a push from Poots to try and force Robinson’s resignation, need no explanation. Robinson’s strategy of pragmatism – of operating the powersharing arrangements to share out sectarian rights while humiliating Sinn Fein and grabbing the lion’s share of patronage and resources, has proved to much for a party that simply wants to assert sectarian dominance. The DUP is in meltdown and the whole Irish settlement is sliding towards collapse.

The DUP MLAs have met behind the scenes and have indicated that they consider Robinson a liability at the polls. This is exactly the mechanism that Robinson used to force out Ian Paisley. Unlike Paisley he is not waiting for the axe to fall and has struck first. Yet Robinson faces enormous odds. Unionist tolerance of the peace process is absolutely dependent on its being top dog. Any leader must win over enough of the far right to have an absolute majority in Stormont

This is not good news for the working class. The power behind the throne is the British state. They and their Dublin sidekicks see unionism as the bedrock of the current settlement. Unionist rejection of the settlement must be avoided at all costs. That means further concessions to the unionist right and greater sectarian privilege and sectarian division. Secretary of state Villiers has already conceded to a coalition of unionist political parties, the Orange order and paramilitaries to undercut the state mechanism overseeing sectarian parades. In the aftermath of the referendum in Scotland she is hinting at increased powers of patronage and the bribe of 12.5% corporation tax. British conciliation was the mechanism that saw Trimble pushed aside by Paisley—yet they have no choice if they are to conserve their fragile unionist base.

Right now the strongest hand that Britain has is the frantic support for the Stormont administration from the Catholic church and middle classes, closely followed up by the leadership of the Irish trade union movement. Sinn Fein’s tactic of threatening the unionists that they would refuse to sign off on welfare cuts if they did not come to heel is a busted flush.

The dogs of bigotry are out of the kennel and baying at the moon. They really are rabid enough to pull down the Stormont structures rather than concede anything to nationalists.

The only possible opposition is to step outside the structures of a pretended sectarian accommodation and assert the need for an end to imperialist rule and for a democratic and socialist solution in a 32 county state.


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