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Saving the Peace the informal agenda of the G8 summit

John McAnulty

4 July 2013

Editors note: this analysis was written before the announcement that British police would be deployed in Ireland over the 12th Orange demonstrations.

In terms of world politics the Lough Erne G8 meeting was a dud. Its main business was to whip up the flames of war against Syria. Although the US and Britain are increasing imperialist military intervention, they were unable to generate a wider support.

The other main issue was a choreographed pantomime, framed by straight men in the NGOs and Social Democracy, that set out an imaginary global strategy where the great powers would turn on the transnational companies that they represent and bring them to book over tax avoidance! This in a meeting where Ireland stands exposed as a tax haven, local politicians lobby for a lowering of corporation tax and Cameron threatens to withdraw from Europe if a minute transaction tax is applied to big finance! Clearly no-one remembers the Edinburgh G8, when we all solemnly agreed to make poverty history.

In fact the main significance of the G8 was its location. An informal agenda item was the need to shore up the local peace process. 

This Irish role of the G8 was not the subject of analysis, although politicians and media constantly referred to the showcasing of the North, it was assumed that this was entirely fortuitous and that the G8 was too large an entity to pay any attention to a scrap of land on the north-western corner of Ireland.

But the location of the conference was entirely at the gift of British Prime Minister Cameron to make the most effective political use of. And in the North he found much to worry about.

The truth is that the flag protests undid years of patient work and millions of pounds spent to establish the normality of society here. Internally enormous damage was done to the pretence that police and state would defend democratic rights. The icing on the cake was the reality that the riots were provoked by the leading party in the executive who fully support the sectarian demands of their supporters and utterly refuse to agree a programme of reform 15 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Much of this lies at the door of the British. At no time in 30 years of war did they discuss withdrawal from Ireland. When they were in a position to dictate terms they based their solution on partition. Of necessity this involved a sectarian solution with the unionists as top dogs. Bound by the contradictions of their own solution, they are reduced to chivvying the Unionists to show restraint while pressuring the nationalists to accept the triumphalist posturing demanded by loyalism. This strategy is strongly supported by the US, justifying a side trip by Obama on his way to the G8. This is because the Irish peace process has international significance as a successful example of conflict resolution used to bamboozle oppressed people across the world, with Martin McGuinness a frequent speaker lauding the wonders of the local settlement.

In the context of G8 this involved Cameron: 

· Showcasing the achievements of the peace process, 
· Highlighting the bright future of Business/Tourism 
· Deploying the state forces in a display of shock and awe.

The achievements of peace

Much was made of the "cohesion" statement of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness issued shortly before the G8. Yet the statement actually illustrates the unstable nature of the local settlement. It is 15 years late, all the major issues have been left to one side, it was only produced following enormous pressure from the British and the content is aspirational twaddle. For example, in relation to the increasing sectarianism of civil society and the growing number of apartheid "peace walls," the aspiration is that they be removed in a decade - with Robinson absent-mindedly remarking that they may be replaced by gates!

This level of achievement indicates the problem that the British face. The peace process was designed to preserve unionism, but it was imposed against their will and has constantly been pushed to the right, making the system more and more unstable.

The bright future 

Local capitalism has a single economic strategy - cut corporation tax! There are a few problems with the strategy:

It's one of the main factors in the Celtic Tiger boom and the subsequent collapse.

Even if successful, it would mean competing with a 26 county state with much greater levels of political stability.

It's not on offer. Tax levels must reflect the needs of the British state, not the local capitalists.

What was announced was a package of warmed over initiatives. The jewel in the crown was special enterprise zones - a proposal that led to an immediate row when it was announced that it would be taken from the environment portfolio to be administered by Robinson and McGuinness. Even among the MLAs the expectation was of another round of sectarian carve-ups and patronage with little overall economic impact.

The one claim of success in the growth of tourism was to be amplified by the G8 meeting. It was conveniently overlooked that the conference hotel was in receivership following the property crash.

In fact the increase in Tourism, which in any case leveled off last year, has a very simple mechanism - the insertion of public subsidy and the extraction of private profit. Event after event has been subsided culminating in the G8 meeting itself. The car crash of the Derry "UK city of culture" is being outdone by the farce of the bizarre flop of the World Police and Fire Games, a "D" celebrity of the event world brought here on a tide of money. 

Even if the industry were to overcome the damage of the flag protests, the fact is that the strategy is unsustainable. Belfast's Titanic Quarter has successfully attracted visitors, but they would need full bookings for a quarter of a century to recover the public investment.

Shock and Awe

So what is left is shock and awe.

The mass mobilisation of armed police in Belfast and Enniskillen, the mass invasion of British riot squads, the countless checkpoints, the investment in military technology, including a local drone system, the pop-up jails ready to round up protestors, the £60 million price tag, all those were so incredibly out of proportion that they called out for explanation.

The police claimed stupidity. It had proved impossible to estimate the threat to the conference. Given the revelations of mass surveillance by the state and the constant local spying, this can be dismissed. It's a claim made even more ludicrous when we consider that the protests were led by the local union bosses, who are defined by decades of social partnership with the state and could not have been seen by the state as a threat.  Nor does the stupidity defense explain the public nature of the mobilization. The police presence would have appeared less threatening parked a few streets away, instead of cheek by jowl with vastly outnumbered demonstrators.

No - the police staged a mass political demonstration to indicate the armed threat they could deploy. Who was the threat aimed at?

To some extent it can be claimed that it is a response to global instability and a growing unwillingness to accept public protests aimed at the G8 wherever it is held, yet that point was made more forcefully in London, where the police staged pre-emptive commando raids on protestors.

Locally one point can be established right away. The threat of force was not aimed at the Loyalists except in the most indirect of ways hinting that British police would be less open to be turned around by loyalist pressure. The massive police presence, hemming in the Belfast trade union demonstration, was totally unable to move a few dozen Loyalists staging a "flag" protest inches from the trade union rally. The fascists were able to spew hatred of trade unionism in general and Irish trade unionism in particular, waving the Israeli flag to insult some supporters of Palestinian rights and assert their support for an Israeli-style blitzkrieg against their nationalist opponents.

Britain is determined that the marching season should pass without major violence and the local administration scaffolded into some semblance of stability. The history of the Orange demonstrations and the recent flag protests show that they are also anxious that direct physical confrontation between the state and their loyalist base be avoided. That leaves only one option - protests must be quietly smothered by deploying overwhelming numbers of police while they hope that the immense bribes to the Orange and the Loyalist groups pay off.

As with many other aspects of Irish politics, there is a hidden dimension that must be included for a full understanding of events. The final element of the G8 protests was the absence of Sinn Fein from the ranks of the protesters. Before G8 an important part of their political strategy was to be present as part of the Left. They did this even when openly speaking out of both sides of their mouth - supporting austerity in Stormont and protesting it on the streets. 

The space for such posturing has narrowed. During G8 they were firmly on the side of the state, with Gerry Adams arm in arm with DUP minister Sammy Wilson, inside the Obama tent applauding the platitudes of US imperialism.


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