Campaigning in our own interest

David Granville comments on the current state of the talks process and argues that British people need to continue to campaign on Ireland as an act of international solidarity and to protect their own interests.

DEPENDING ON where you look for pointers on progress, or lack of it, towards reviving the mothballed Good Friday peace process, readers could either imagine that we are the verge of a major breakthrough or, while vaguely possible, that such a development is unlikely for some time yet.

It is already clear that the Leeds Castle talks could have provided a new impetus to the Good Friday process, with both British and Irish governments publicly confirming that the IRA was prepared to make an unprecedented contribution towards revitalising it.

Although this floundered over the DUP insistence on scrapping key checks and balances within the Good Friday deal - specifically designed to prevent unionist domination, lack of progress on this issue has not prevented both British and Irish governments from presenting an upbeat view of possible developments in recent weeks.

British Northern Ireland proconsul Paul Murphy and the new Irish minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern have both expressed optimism that a breakthrough is possible in the near future.

Even Paisley's DUP, who have promised their supporters in the deep backwoods of unreconstructed supremacist unionism that their objective is to 're-negotiate' the Good Friday deal out of meaningful existence, appear to have adopted a more mellow and positive tone, in public at least.

Not only has the party now indicated that it is in favour of power sharing but, in an unprecedented move, has even travelled into the ungodly 'papish' badlands south of the border dividing the six counties of Northern Ireland from the 32-county Republic of Ireland to meet the Dublin government and promote 'good neighbourliness'.

While we must all hope that the times are finally a-changin', I doubt whether many serious observers of the peace process will be rushing off to their local betting shop to put this month's wages on it. Neither it would seem will any of the Sinn Fein negotiators.

Although the republican's standard approach is to play its cards close to its chest until the final 'i' s are dotted and the 't' s crossed, party leader leader Gerry Adams has expressed increasing irritation at the flurry of positive speculation, which he feels is unjustified.

Sinn Fein's more downbeat assessment is based on a number of factors, the most important being that despite the Leeds Castle talks and subsequent toing and froing in recent weeks between Downing Street, Belfast and Dublin, and despite the positive noises on power sharing emanating from the DUP and its 'charm offensive' south of the border, there is, as yet, no sign that the DUP are prepared to move beyond rhetoric to reality.

Although Sinn Fein and the DUP have worked alongside one another, and even co-operated, in local government for many years, Adams has also pointed out that the DUP steadfastly refuses to share power at local council level wherever it hold a majority.

In return, Sinn Fein has made it clear that any IRA offer to disband will be conditional on the upholding of the original Good Friday agreement in all its key elements.

The logic of any governmental optimism, Sinn Fein suggests, must therefore be based on a change of attitude by the DUP, whose main objective remains the consolidation of its position as unionist top dog - one which it still hopes to consolidate at the forthcoming Westminster elections. No such change is in evidence, republicans suggest.

However, what all this does show that, is that despite Paisley's bombast and rhetoric over the years in attempt to bludgeon his audiences into accepting the IRA as the main obstacle to peace, it is now clear that it is power sharing with Irish republicans and nationalists which lies at the heart of the DUP 'grievance'.

Which brings us back, as I have previously written, to what our government, the British government, is doing to ensure that the DUP is not allowed to scupper the Good Friday deal.

It also raises the important issue, raised by both Gerry Adams at the recent ESF and by Ken Keable in the Connolly Association pamphlet 'The Missing Piece in the Peace Process', of the need for people here in Britain to campaign for a lasting and peaceful settlement and not, as is largely the case at present, to simply to sit back on the basis that the Irish question is somehow 'sorted' or that nothing more is to be done about it.

Keable, an English socialist now living in the Republic of Ireland, argues that people in Britain should campaign for Irish unity and independence and British withdrawal, not simply as an act of international solidarity but in the democratic interests of people in Britain.

"The inclusion of this colonial remnant within the British state poisons our parliamentary democracy, poisons our systems of justice, undermines freedom of speech and threatens the civil rights of every British citizen. It impedes the forward march of democracy in Britain as well as Ireland," Keable states in his introduction to the Missing Piece pamphlet.

For those who either unsure of what Keable is on about, the following are just a few areas where the conflict in Ireland has had has had a direct impact on civil rights and democracy in Britain:

  • Attachment of state welfare benefits was pioneered in Northern Ireland by Ulster Unionist regime at Stormont in 1971 in an attempt to undermine a six-county rent strike in protest at the use of internment without trial. A variant of the legislation used in Northern Ireland, enabling the attachment of earnings and benefits, was introduced in Britain by the Tories during the anti-Poll Tax campaign - it remains widely used.
  • First used in another former British colony, Hong Kong, plastic bullets, have been responsible for the deaths of seventeen deaths in Northern Ireland, including nine children. They are now a part of the armoury of every police force in Britain. Similarly, CS gas has been widely used to quell civil disturbances in Northern Ireland. It has been used in Britain against a wide range of targets ranging from striking miners, to anti-Poll Tax protesters, football fans, anti-globalisation protesters and even farmers.
  • The use of so-called anti-terror legislation in the form of the Prevention of Terrorism Act both failed in its objectives and had a dramatic 'catch-all' intimidatory effect on Irish communities throughout Britain. A new variant anti-terror law (Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, 2001) introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, targets Britain's muslim communities in a similar way.
  • Introduced with disastrous effect in Northern Ireland in 1971, internment without trial, part of the armoury of oppression used by Britain over many generations of colonial conflict, has seen Belmarsh prison in London, where currently over a dozen foreign citizens are detailed without any prospect of a trial or imminent release, labelled as Britain's Guantanamo Bay.
  • The mistreatment and torture of prisoners in Iraq has come as no surprise to those Irish republicans who suffered a similar fate at the hands British-army-trained RUC officers in the notorious Castlereagh holding centre and elsewhere. Reports of interrogation techniques used in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison bear a striking similarity.

From Belfast to Basra via Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Aden and Oman, much of what is variously labelled as British 'counter-insurgency', 'anti-subversion' or 'peacekeeping' missions owe much to the strategies devised by Sir Frank Kitson, a retired general and ex-commander-in- chief of UK land forces.

Kitson, who was the commander of the British army's 39th Brigade , which included the 1st Batallion of the Parachutre Regiment, on Blooody Sunday wrote the counter-insurgency manual Low Intensity Operations. The book also sets out how the army should intervene 'to restore order' in situations where protests against legitimate grievances produce a situation "beyond the powers of the police to handle".

As Irish labour leader James Connolly famously once stated "The cause of Labour is the cause of Ireland", the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered." Unfortunately, the labour movement in Britain has rarely followed his advice.

When the bombs were going off and political violence resulting in death and serious injury was an everyday affair the British labour movement, with a few honourable exceptions - either didn't want to discuss Ireland for fear of creating divisions within their unions , or effectively prevented members from debating the issue by handing over a veto to Northern Ireland region or branches when setting agendas for debate at national conferences.

Now, post IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement, when the conditions have never been better for facilitating political debate, Ireland has dropped off unions' lists of pressing areas of concern.

Once again Ireland, and therefore Britain's responsibility, remains an effective no go area for most within the labour movement in Britain. This situation must be addressed.

The coming together of organisations such as the Connolly Association, the Agreed Ireland Forum and the Wolfe Tone Society at the recent ESF is a welcome sign, as was the involvement of trade unions such as Unison, the CWU and the RMT in various capacities in support of sessions promoting peace and supporting the Good Friday agreement.

The task for us now in Britain is to build on this and apply effective pressure on our government to fulfil its obligations - for our own sake as well as for peace in Ireland.

An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Morning Star

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-10-25 12:38:22.
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