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End of the Republican road: fight for a workers’ united Ireland

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Sinn Fein’s decision to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland provided the DUP with the guarantee that Adams and Martin McGuinness had no intention of resisting British rule. It is this that forced Paisley and the majority of the DUP executive to form a devolved government with Sinn Fein on 8 May. But it will not bring equality, never mind a united Ireland to the oppressed nationalist minority in the North East.

The Assembly elections in Northern Ireland on 7 March produced an overwhelming vote for the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein. The DUP emerged as the largest party with 36 seats, then Sinn Fein with 28 seats, 18 for the Ulster Unionists and 16 for the SDLP. A power sharing Executive will be formed on 8 May.

Assembly to resume
The Assembly had been suspended since 2002 after unfounded allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont. The British government has ruled directly since then without any devolution of powers. It threatened the DUP that, if no devolved government had been agreed by 26 March, then direct rule from Westminster would resume. In the event, Tony Blair and Peter Hain accepted the DUP’s request for a delay until 8 May.

The DUP claimed that they wanted further evidence that Sinn Fein would co-operate with the police, and to secure an extra £1 billion in funding, and the rescinding of the water charges, initial bills for which were due to go out this week. It appears that Westminster and Dublin have come up with the money and an agreement has been reached to stop the water charges, which had become deeply unpopular.

However, the strong showing in the vote for the DUP in the elections is not synonymous with the desire to share power with Sinn Fein. In fact, the DUP has always asserted that it would never share office with Sinn Fein. Its project has been to secure majority - i.e. Protestant - rule and any power-sharing executive would be profoundly unstable, with Paisley constantly seeking to undermine the Sinn Fein presence.

Britain not neutral
The British state has not been and will not be neutral in this. It has always sided with the Unionists when they try to force more concessions from Sinn Fein. It has always used the police in this process. And it has always employed dirty tricks.

It should be remembered that it was the police that raided Sinn Fein’s offices in 2002 and triggered the suspension of Stormont. Three years later, the British state offered no evidence whatsoever to back up their charges, and Dennis Donaldson, one of the accused, admitted to being a British spy all along. Spies, double agents, lies and murders: British rule has always been present, just below the surface, during the peace process.

Neither has The Good Friday Agreement led to the two communities drawing closer together. All the elected MLAs have to register as Protestant, Catholic or Other, and all important legislation, including the status of the union with Britain, has to command support from each community. In other words, it entrenches the Orange veto against a united Ireland.

The election vote suggests that the Catholic community is very much in support of Sinn Fein’s strategy. It is clear that Catholics do not want a return to the war - the “troubles” - and have been lured towards Sinn Fein promises of a parliamentary road to a united Ireland. However, despite its vote, widespread concern does exist over Sinn Fein’s support for the PSNI. This is not surprising, given most Catholics’ loathing of their brutal and sectarian oppressors.

On the contrary, Sinn Fein’s u-turn has generated a fierce debate amongst republican activists, as evidenced by the Ex-Prisoners’ and Concerned Republicans’ public meeting in Derry, which was attended by over 400 people. Three hundred and thirty ex-prisoners, who carry a lot of moral weight in the community, signed a petition of in support of Peggy O’Hara’s election campaign. Youth in Derry have fought against the PSNI in large number last month.

Only the working class can secure self-determination
In Derry 4.4 per cent gave their first preferences to Peggy O’Hara standing on an anti-police and anti-Stormont ticket, similarly 4.4 per cent for Davy Hyland in Newry. However, neither candidate stood on a clear platform of mass action, leading from today’s struggles to a free 32-county united Ireland. On the contrary, their candidacies were marred by their failure to endorse an alternative to the dead-end guerrilla strategy of the last 35 years.

In the months to come, the likely forthcoming executive will be a highly unstable experiment. DUP will be constantly at war with its base over sharing power with Sinn Fein. On the republican side every police incursion into a Catholic area or recent arrests like those of Gary McGeough and Vincent McAnespie (over a shooting of a UDR soldier in 1981) will beg the question of Sinn Fein - why are we supporting the police? Of course it will be a government united in support of the capitalists and their policies not to mention all the attacks that will rain down on workers from rate rises to privatisations.

The task facing workers and youth in northern Ireland is to link the fight against the sectarian state and its police force to the struggle for a fundamental transformation in pay, jobs, housing, social services, and control in the workplace, opening the way to working class power. A revolutionary party that fights for a workers’ republic must be built in the many struggles against capitalism and British imperialism that will emerge in the coming period.

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