The stalled peace process in Ireland

I have been hoping that Phillip would take tome out to comment on events in Ireland. However I will have a go and hopefully he will help out.

The so called peace process seems to have stalled. The Unionists wanted their pound of flesh - IRA arms before Sin Fein could enter the Assembly. The Assembly collapsed amid a Unionist boycott. Apparently the Unionists are delighted. This, according to them, has shown their independence and strength vis a vis the Blair govt and the Americans.

There is indeed an air of deja vu about it all. I am tempted to think that this is once more a rerun of the Home Rule fracas of last century and early this century. A Liberal British govt has come up with a plan for devolution in Ireland. The Unionists in N. Ireland have said "no" and they are backed by sections of the British Army and the Tory establishment. Faced with an attack from the Right the liberal Blair Govt has signalled it will back down. So the status quo is preserved in Ulster and Britain's oldest colony stays true and blue.

There are though interesting variations on the Catholic/nationalist side. The equivalent of the Redmondite right of 1914 is today John Hume and Seamus Mallon. The latter is a fairly insignificant figure. An ageing school master who was made deputy First Minster because Hume did not want the job. Hume is the real power broker in the Catholic right. After him though - la deluge. There is no alternative "moderate" Catholic leader. The king in waiting is Gerry Adams. Everyone knows this. However the unionists angled that they could split the moderate Catholic SDLP off and get them to form a government without Sinn Fein. John Major, the former Tory Prime Minister, made this plea publicly in a House of Commons debate last week in London.

However Mallon could not oblige. I have no doubt at all he wanted to. But it would have been electoral suicide to have excluded Adams and thrown in his lot with the Ulster Unionists. For out in the Catholic community there is growing anger at the refusal of the Unionists to compromise. In many ways the latter have been out maneuvered by the Adams end game.

I accept of course the analysis that the IRA were defeated by and large in the war with Britain. Yet Adams was able to launch the peace process initially catch the British government and the unionist establishment by surprise. But it is an end game he is playing. He had very few cards in his hand. However the dialectics of the peace process have enabled him to project himself as a leader and someone who must be listened to. However the establishment British and Unionist are most reluctant to deal with him. This is shown by the Nobel Ctee's refusal to grant him the Peace Prize, and here in Australia by the lackey Prime Minster's refusal to meet Adams on his visit. The Murdoch press too has been hostile.

So this is how I read events in N. Ireland. The unionist majority are badly split on how to proceed. They wish as always to serve British Imperialist interests. They have always benefited from this loyalty in the past. In the past they have simply said 'no' to any compromise with Irish Nationalism and Republicanism. As such they were the vanguard of British Imperialism.

But theirs is a residual loyalty which hardly suits the geo-historical needs of the present conjuncture. We are moving inexorably towards the creation of a super European state. Events in little Ulster seem decidedly out of step with developments in the EU. Nevertheless it is wrong to underestimate the power of the residual nor the non-synchronous. The Unionists can continue to block progress. They can continue to murder and intimidate. Though it should be noted that the Orange establishment kept a very tight control on the celebrations of the 12th. The wild Protestants were kept in line and not allowed off the leash. the reason for this is that the Unionists wanted to say no to the peace process, but that they wanted this refusal to be based on the IRA's refusal to hand over their guns. If there had been an orgy of anti-Catholic violence then the focus would have been clearly on their refusal to compromise.

Moreover such violence strengthens Sinn Fein and the IRA as protector o the Catholics. For south of the Border the Irish Bourgeoisie has little interest at all in the affairs of Northern Ireland. They long ago ceased to be nationalistic. the Catholic church too has long opposed Irish nationalism. It is only the lived experience of Northern Irish Catholics which has kept the flame of Irish Republicans alive. It is my guess that this flame will burn even brighter because of the Unionist refusal to go into a power sharing government with Adams. So the paradox seems to be that as the Unionist continue to be intransigent and the British refuse to really push them, then Sinn Fein grow ever stronger.

I have said that the Unionists remain split. I believe this to be true. They have united around the lowest common denominator of simply refusing to cooperate. But they are not a hegemonic force, in that they cannot produce a plan or a program relevant to the needs of Ulster/Ireland/Britain/Europe.

The Challenge for Sinn Fein though is for it to develop a political alternative to the "bomb versus constitution politics" duality which they have been trapped within for so long. By and large they remain heirs to the revolutionary tradition in Ireland. It is for them to play a role in bringing that tradition up to date.


 Gary McLennan