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Police forces on both sides of the Border in Ireland are stepping up their attacks on Republicans. The most recent raids in the South have included the lifting, in Dublin, of Brian Leeson, a leader of the republican socialist group Eirigi that campaigns against the British presence, as well as opposing the cuts and supporting the struggle of the Palestinians. Brian has now been released without charge.

The murder, in September, of Alan Ryan, a member of the Real IRA, by a drugs gang in Dublin was initially followed by several raids on the homes of ….. not the drugs gang but Republicans! Two hundred Gardai searched dozens of homes and 17 were arrested. Alan’s huge funeral was a Republican show of strength that obviously set alarm bells ringing in the heads of the political police.

Meanwhile, in the North, life goes on as usual. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (more popularly known as the RUC) has no problem emulating its southern counterparts. Here again, as in the South, Eirigi has been the target.

In Newry, Stephen Murney, an Eirigi member, was charged not with actual terrorism but with “collecting and distributing information likely to be of use to terrorists”. This seems to be a new test case that gives police powers to charge on the flimsiest of grounds. Stephen is a high profile activist in the town and has been constantly harassed by the police over the last two years in his attendance at pickets and protests in support of Republican prisoners.

Breandan MacCionnaith, speaking on behalf of Eirigi, accused the police of ‘a blatant but crude attempt at political censorship’. Dead right. This is no less than a concerted and coordinated attempt by both police forces to silence and bully opposition to the treatment of Republican prisoners and to the growing disenchantment with the peace process.

Republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail have fought a bitter battle against beatings and strip searching by the prison authorities. An agreement made in 2011 was never properly implemented and prisoners have been involved in a dirty protest reminiscent of the prisoners’ struggles in the 80’s. This protest has now been called off but it remains to be seen whether conditions improve. The fight for political status for these prisoners will go on.

Marian Price, the veteran Republican activist, has been imprisoned without trial since May 2011 and her health deteriorates by the day. Her long term solitary confinement is a form of torture. The authorities seem intent on breaking her body and spirit. The British government are denying they ever issued a royal pardon to her, saying it was a conditional release. Apparently, government lawyers couldn’t find the royal document as it was conveniently destroyed in 2010!

It is patently obvious that Marian’s detention is not about her being guilty of any serious crime but all about the British government’s desire to silence her. As Bernadette McAliskey commented at a protest in Belfast, ‘this is a clear message that no dissent will be tolerated. You challenge the status quo at your peril.’ In short, don’t oppose the Good Friday Agreement!

Ever since the undemocratic northern state was created in 1921, it has depended for its very existence on a huge infrastructure of repression. This included a Special Powers Act that was the envy of Apartheid South Africa and a fully armed local state militia to enforce the Act. The repression ensured that Catholics were treated in an inferior way when it came to jobs, housing, education and even voting, hence the sectarian nature of the state. Why? Because Catholics by and large identified with a 32 County united Ireland.

Internment without trial has been a recurring feature in the North. Right now, remand is being used as a cover for selective internment. There is continued imprisonment on the basis of secret evidence unrelated to any court procedure but approved by a government minister and a commission. Closed courts without juries can still be used. Pride of place, though, goes to the prison system, the traditional British solution to all those who dare challenge its rule in Ireland and where the whole policy of criminalising political opposition takes its most brutal form.

That is why the northern state can never be ‘normal’. A heightened level of repression is integral to its raison d’etre. It is in a permanent state of war against the aspirations of the minority nationalist community. It is also why Sinn Fein’s attempts to paper over the cracks are so futile. All the influence on police boards and devolved police powers in the world won’t change the nature of the state and its ultimate recourse to repression. The Good Friday Agreement actually reinforces the institutionalised sectarianism in the north. It defends the Unionist veto over the future of ‘Northern Ireland’, as such it can never challenge the source of sectarianism, which is the British-backed Orange state itself.

The present furore by Unionists over flying the Union Jack every day over Belfast City Hall is testimony to the crazed and sectarian nature of the northern state’s defenders. Even the pro-Union and moderate Alliance Party was subject to the Loyalist physical attacks usually reserved for Catholics. At a time when cuts are seriously damaging the living standards of Catholic and Protestant workers alike, the DUP and UUP-orchestrated flag protests are a convenient distraction. Indeed, Unionism and Loyalism as a whole have only ever served to obscure the true class interests of Protestant workers.

The Southern state, too, is no stranger to repression, or to collusion with its northern neighbour. Arising out of the Treaty in 1921, which copper fastened Partition, it was from birth a similarly confessional and pro-imperialist state. Armed by Britain, it brutally suppressed Republican opposition to the Treaty in a bloody civil war, executing more prisoners than the British. It became a safe haven for exploitation by British and Irish capitalists alike.

As the Free State grew into the truncated Irish Republic, the economy shifted from a semi-colony dominated by Britain to one subservient to US and European capital. At no point did successive Irish governments seriously contest Partition. On the contrary, they made every attempt to gag and imprison militant opposition to Partition, even going as far as to ban all RTE interviews with Sinn Fein during the 70’s and 80’s.

So, North/South collusion comes as no surprise. Indeed, as both economies reel from recession and as both governments seek to make workers pay for the bosses’ crisis, they will no doubt be sharing notes on how to stop any fight back. In response, workers north and south of the border need to share their solidarity and strike together all the way up to a General Strike to smash austerity.

A socialist answer to the crisis needs to be boldly put and articulated throughout Ireland. Part of that programme must focus on mobilising workers against repression. This may disappoint those socialists who fear contamination from struggles that are not purely ‘economic’. Yet any serious fight back by workers against austerity will inevitably lead to repression from the state and, therefore, to the necessity to defend workers’ organisations from the state and the bosses it defends.

The same treatment that is dished out to Republicans will be used against trade unionists. This does not mean that we have to agree with the politics and tactics of Republicanism, but it does mean that socialists have to be seen as the most steadfast fighters against injustice, including the age-old injustice of British occupation in Ireland.

Last year, the United Left Alliance (ULA) made an exciting entrance into the Irish political arena with its anti-cuts and anti-capitalist campaigning. It even posed the possibility of a new mass working class party. Now, however, its increasingly fragile nature gives cause for concern. Ultimately, avoiding an open discussion of what kind of party needs to be built, and on what kind of programme, can only weaken it further. Equally, in an economy ravaged by imperialism, avoiding a fight against state repression can only guarantee a future of declining relevance.

All socialists and trade unionists, including the constituent parts of the ULA, should be mounting campaigns against the repression of Republicans north and south of the Border. All socialists and trade unionists in Britain should similarly be speaking out against the continued incarceration of Irish Republicans in British jails.