Arrogant Brexiteers better get used to the Irish standing up to them

December 6, 2017 at 10:38 am (Brexit, Europe, Ireland, nationalism, posted by JD, Tory scum)

Superb commentary by the Irish Independent‘s Colette Browne (5 Dec 2017)

 Theresa May and Leo Varadkar

The UK government’s arrogant colonial mindset, and its patronising belief that it knows best when it comes to Ireland, is the reason the Brexit negotiations are such an unmitigated omnishambles.

When the UK voted to leave the European Union, there was lots of frenzied waving of Union Jacks, lots of teary-eyed reminiscing about the glory days of empire and lots of fanciful bravado about the economic heights the UK would soar to – now that it wouldn’t have to carry the dead weight of the world’s biggest free market round its neck.

Some of its more zealously frothing-at-the-mouth pro-Brexit newspapers spent months fantasising about being able to change the colour of UK passports and commissioning a new Royal Yacht Britannia to cross the seas and provide a “showcase for everything that is best in Britain”. They’re going to call it Brexit-annia, by the way.

So much time was spent on fripperies and jingoistic fantasies that precisely zero thought was given to the messy mechanics of Brexit. How on earth could 45 years of ever-closer union be unwound in just two years?

Even less consideration was given to the Irish question. There was lots of talk about German cars and French wine – but the fact that an entire country was inconveniently affixed to one of its borders didn’t warrant any consideration from any of the geniuses who promoted Brexit.

In recent weeks it has become apparent why so little thought was given to Ireland by the current Tory government – most of its members couldn’t find it on a map and are embarrassingly ignorant about our people, our politics and our culture.

The Little Englanders who comprise the UK government didn’t think about Ireland because they don’t care about Ireland. They didn’t think that we’d dare to give them any trouble. They thought we’d doff the cap, raise them in salute and let our betters dictate the terms of any deal.

They articulated their vision for Brexit – a brave new world in which all of their fervent nationalistic delusions would become reality – and expect the Paddies to simply roll over and let them get on with it.

The wails of despair you now hear from senior Tories and their supporters, as the reality of securing Brexit proves much more difficult than merely holding a referendum, is the sound of those dreams dying.

For the first time in our long history with the UK, the supplicant has become the master – and the former master doesn’t like it.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, having barely had time to wipe the egg off his face after he suggested last week that the reason the Irish were being so intransigent was because of an upcoming presidential election that no one else knew about, boldly went on the record again yesterday to lambast our government’s obstinacy.

“I don’t see what we have got to sign up to. We have given them all the reassurances they have asked for. If Ireland wants to block us from going on to discussing trade, we will just get on and leave on World Trade organisation terms,” he told the ‘London Evening Standard’.

If you look closely at that statement, the visceral contempt for the Irish daring to protect the interests of its citizens actually drips from the page.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson was so enraged by the Irish Government’s rigidity that he threatened to veto any Brexit deal involving any reference to ‘regulatory alignment’ in Stormont – appearing to forget that there is no Stormont Assembly at the moment so the DUP can’t veto anything there.

Historians will look back on these botched Brexit negotiations as a case study of what happens when one side abandons all reason, logic and rationality as part of its negotiating strategy.

If anything, after the bedlam on display yesterday a deal enabling the British to move on to phase two of Brexit negotiations is further away than ever.

As soon as details of the proposed agreement with the Irish Government leaked out, that there would be regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the Scots, the mayor of London and the Welsh were all clamouring for similar deals.

In order to gauge the true extent of the dystopian nightmare that this creates for long-suffering British Prime Minister Theresa May, it is necessary to consider that the Welsh, unlike Scotland and the City of London, actually voted to leave the EU – but now apparently want a Brexit deal that entails them remaining, for all intents and purposes, in the single market and the customs union.

Faced with revolt from all corners of the UK, Mrs May did what she has become adept at in recent months – ran for cover, prevaricated and finally reneged on the agreement, with the result that nobody is happy.

Now, the true horror for Mrs May really begins, as she attempts to cobble together a deal that simply doesn’t exist – simultaneously keeping an open Border on this island while Northern Ireland moves, with the rest of the UK, outside the single market and customs union. Even European President Jean-Claude Juncker felt some sympathy for her predicament as he tried to cover her blushes, in a press conference yesterday, praising her as a “tough negotiator”.

There was no such sympathy on show in Dublin, where a blunt Leo Varadkar stated he was “surprised and disappointed” that a deal, which he was led to believe had been signed off, suddenly evaporated.

Embarrassingly for Mrs May, the man who turned up to Government Buildings yesterday morning wearing a crimson singlet and shorts ended the day looking more stately than she could manage.

Over the coming days, as the deadline to the December 14 date when a final decision will be made by the EU on the ability of the UK to proceed to the next phase of the Brexit talks approaches, expect lots of vitriol and venom to be spewed at the Irish from incensed Tory grandees and their Brexiteer chums.

They may not like this new assertive Ireland, but have only their own ignorance, pomposity and pretention to blame for the position they now find themselves in.

Ireland is a sovereign country intent on defending her interests. They better get used to it.

Permalink 13 Comments

Brexit and Ireland: DUP sabotages May’s deal

December 5, 2017 at 6:32 pm (Brexit, Europe, Ireland, Jim D, nationalism, sectarianism, Tory scum)

 
“I have in my hand a piece of paper”; cartoon: Martin Rowson (the Guardian)

Until the DUP vetoed it all, May appeared to be on the verge of putting the interests of the British people and the majority of Irish people, North and South, ahead of placating a minority of bigots in Northern Ireland and in the Commons (on both the DUP and the Tory benches).

In her response to the briefings coming from Brussels yesterday afternoon, DUP leader Arlene Foster restated that Northern Ireland “must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.”

The problem, as the DUP well knows, is that Northern Ireland is already an anomaly in all sorts of regards. (The DUP has, for example, been at the forefront of pushing to lower Northern Ireland’s corporation tax rate from the UK’s 18 per cent rate to match the 12.5 per cent found in the Irish Republic).

But the Brexiteers weren’t having it: if Northern Ireland is heading for a soft Brexit, they reasoned, what’s to stop the rest of the UK?  Paradoxically, but entirely logically, on this point, anti-Brexit people immediately agreed.

So May, in thrall to the DUP and her own hard-Brexit fanatics, has chosen ignominious capitulation to the DUP and the likes of Rees Mogg, risking the disaster that would be a hard border in Ireland. So much for taking back control.

All of which makes this article, first published back in in January by Workers Liberty, all the more prescient:

Brexit and Irish borders

By Micheál MacEoin

As the House of Lords EU Committee put it, with considerable understatement recently: UK-Irish relations “are often overlooked on the British side of the Irish sea”. Both before and after the EU referendum, the consequences of Brexit on Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have been an afterthought in the public debate. Often there has been no thought at all.

After the referendum result, Theresa May was quick to reassure Stormont that “nobody wants to return to the borders of the past”. Yet, under the pressure from the Tory right, and despite quietly believing in a Remain position during the campaign, the drift of May’s policy, however muddled, seems to be heading towards a so-called “hard Brexit”. Britain could, at the very least, leave the single market. From the Tory right in the cabinet, there have even been suggestions about leaving the customs union — a call which, when it came from Liam Fox in July, caused tension with Dublin government, which proclaimed itself “very surprised”.

The effect of leaving the single market and the customs union would be to entrench the border between the Republic of Ireland and the North. As a recent House of Lords EU committee report stated, “the only way to maintain an open border would be either for the UK to remain in the customs union or for EU partners to agree to a bilateral UK-Irish agreement on trade and customs.” The latter will not be forthcoming without some special dispensation for the Republic of Ireland during the negotiations between Britain and the 27 EU countries and, without it, some system of customs checks would seem inevitable at the border. Moreover, the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and the Republic of Ireland would be cast into doubt. One legal expert has suggested that: “In the event of a UK withdrawal, much would depend on the terms of its subsequent relationship to the EU. To the extent that customs checks applied to goods moving across the border on the island of Ireland, or to traffic between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, there would be pressure for controls on the movement of persons as well.”

Even if the CTA provisions, which have existed in some form or other since the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, are preserved, there will at least be some change to the ability of EU and Swiss/EEA citizens to move between the Republic of Ireland and Britain. Ironically given that the largest Unionist party, the DUP, supported British withdrawal from the EU, one option could mean border checks to enter Great Britain — not at the Irish Border but at ports and airports both North and South. It is this sort of Brexit which Irish capitalism fears most, as the UK is Ireland’s second largest EU trading partner after Belgium, and its key market for exports in the crucial agri-food and drinks sector. This is not to mention the potential complications for the close family and cultural ties between millions of workers in Ireland and the UK, and the position of Irish workers and students living in Britain.

The position of Northern Ireland is, typically, a complicated one. Economically, in the agri-food sector, £700 million of its annual £1.15 billion exports go to the Republic, and customs duties would reverse the moves towards greater economic integration since 1998. Perhaps the only growth industry from a return of a customs border would be organised criminal diesel smuggling. In an atmosphere of fiscal retrenchment, with no appetite for further funding for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, the effect would be to accelerate the Stormont Executive’s attacks on public sector workers, benefits and services, in a region that is already suffering from high levels of deprivation. Of importance, too, would be the effect a tangible border would have on politics in the North. In the short-term at least, it would puncture the optimistic nationalist assumption that economic growth plus demography would deliver a united Ireland. The almost invisible border, diminished in relative importance by its contextualisation within Britain and Ireland’s shared EU membership, would suddenly become a presence in everyday life once more.

This should worry Sinn Fein, which is already losing some working-class support in republican areas to People Before Profit on account of the Executive’s austerity measures. Part of the party’s appeal and prestige lies in its all-Ireland organisation, and the ostensible momentum towards Irish unity generated by its expanding vote share. Brexit could arrest this forward movement. At the same time, a majority of Northern Ireland voted to Remain, creating the potential for discontent with Brexit and with England as there has been in Scotland.

Those unionists who absurdly contend that Northern Ireland is straightforwardly a part of the UK will confront the fact that the six counties is near the bottom of the British government’s list of priorities. Many commentators have expressed alarm about the impact on the “peace process”.

Socialists should of course welcome the cessation of sectarian violence, and the opportunities it opens for the elaboration of working-class and socialist politics. The Good Friday Agreement itself, however, cannot be politically endorsed, as it fails to tackle the roots of the national question and has institutionalised sectarian politics at Stormont. Nevertheless, we should not be complacent about its incidental undoing in the maelstrom of a turbulent and unpredictable Brexit. Down that road lies potential sectarian polarisation and further attacks on workers, as the capitalist class off-loads of the cost of economic disruption. Rather, the overthrow of Stormont should be the positive work of conscious political forces: a working-class movement which, in advocating its replacement with a federal united Ireland with a measure of regional autonomy for Protestant-majority areas, would have the potential to unite workers across the sectarian divide.

Permalink 1 Comment

That UK-Irish border problem: the zeppelin solution

November 28, 2017 at 9:33 am (Beyond parody, Brexit, comedy, Europe, fantasy, Ireland, Jim D)

Above: one possible drawback

Zeppelins are part of a proposed solution to the UK-Ireland border problem after Brexit.

An influential British think tank has suggested that drones or airships could be used to monitor the Irish border after Brexit.

The Legatum Institute raised the possibility of patrolling the skies in a paper entitled Mutual Interest: How the UK and EU can resolve the Irish border issue after Brexit”. In the paper, they also suggest ground-based solutions, such as unattended ground sensors, cameras, and ground-wave radar. The think tank is considered influential with some government ministers, according to the BBC.

It states that “persistent surveillance of the border region” could be achieved through patrols by unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) or deployment of aerostats (airships or hot air balloons).

But it concedes “that these solutions are subject to a number of limitations, not least weather and cost”.

Still, it remains the most practical solution yet put forward by the British side, who after all, created the problem in the first place.

Other possible solutions include fairies.

H/t: Marina Hyde of the Graun (for the Zepplins) and Colin O’Driscoll (for the fairies)

Permalink 6 Comments

The Irish border problem: the dogs in the street know who’s to blame … but not Her Majesty’s Loyal Communist Party

November 20, 2017 at 9:10 pm (Brexit, CPB, Europe, Ireland, Jim D, nationalism, stalinism, statement of the bleedin' obvious, Tory scum)

 The highly fortified police station in the border village of Crossmaglen, Northern Ireland, in 2005. ‘Given that the border could not be secured with army watchtowers during the Troubles, it is not at all clear how a new policing operation will work.’ The highly fortified police station in the border village of Crossmaglen, Northern Ireland, in 2005. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The Irish have an expression, “even the dogs in the street know…”, meaning a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

Well, when it comes to the potential disaster that is the likely imposition of a hard border within the island of Ireland, the dogs in the streets of both parts of Ireland, know who to blame: the arrogant, careless Tory government and the lying Brexiteers who don’t give a toss about the Irish people, North or South.

If Theresa May had not given in to the Brexit-fanatics and, instead, made it clear that Britain would remain in the single market and/or customs union (a mix of the Norway and Turkish options), the Irish border problem and the threat to the peace process would not have arisen. But this has been ruled out by the UK government.

Which leaves just two further possible options for avoiding a hard border:

1/ A border down the Irish Sea, giving the North special status  with the single market and customs union. This is anathema to the DUP and unacceptable to the British government as it would be seen as dividing the UK .

2/ The Hammond plan for  the UK to remain within the single market and the customs union for a two year  (or longer) transitional period. But this is unacceptable to the Brexit-fanatics within the cabinet and the Tory party, although the Irish government strongly favours it.

These realities, and British (well, English) culpability for jeopardising the peace process, have been spelt out time and again, for instance by the respected Irish commentator Fintan O’Toole (here and here).

The people of Ireland, North and South, Protestant and Catholic, Loyalist and Republican, know this and overwhelmingly oppose Brexit. The dogs in the street know it. Only the Tories and their Brexit-fanatic press deny this reality (or simply choose to ignore it). Oh yes, and the Morning Star, mouthpiece of Her Majesty’s Loyal Communist Party, who dutifully toe the Tory /English nationalist line and manage to blame “Brussels”:

Border threats from Brussels


Nov
2017
Saturday 18th
posted by Morning Star in Editorial

IRISH Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney insist they will obstruct the next phase of London-Brussels negotiations without a British government assurance.

Varadkar told Theresa May: “Before we move into phase two talks on trade, we want to take off the table any suggestion that there would be a physical border, a hard border, new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.”

His stance is shared by Sinn Fein, whose leading MEP Martina Anderson held recent meetings with EU negotiator Michel Barnier and European Parliament co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt.

She told them that the Leave agenda pursued by the May government is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement, especially in view of the Tories’ dodgy deal with the DUP.

But where is the evidence that the British government or any significant player in either Britain or Ireland wants to change current Irish border arrangements?

What the Fine Gael-led Dublin government and Sinn Fein omit to mention is that the demand for a hard EU border comes from the EU Commission itself.

Brussels wants to site that border not on the already existing demarcation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic but between Northern Ireland and Britain.

It insists on a special arrangement for the six counties to place it inside the EU single market and customs union, effectively extending the EU in defiance of the UK leave vote.

Britain’s refusal to accept this formula is portrayed as a dangerous provocation that could scupper the Good Friday Agreement and reignite sectarian hostilities.

It is understandable that Sinn Fein, a party with Irish reunification at its heart, should adopt an EU ploy to effectively detach the six counties from the UK, but Fine Gael has a diametrically opposed historical record.

This EU negotiating ploy gives added strength to the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) view that “Irish interests are being used as a pawn in the ‘talks, no talks’ saga.”

While equally committed to the goal of a united Ireland, as is the Morning Star, the CPI monthly journal Socialist Voice reminds readers that the core tenets of socialism and republicanism are independence, sovereignty and democracy.

It points out that Ireland “cannot be a sovereign country under any imperialist apparatus,” whether dominated by Britain, the EU or the US.

“In the context of Brexit, to campaign for a united Ireland under the pretext of the six counties rejoining the EU shows the lack of ideological opposition to imperialism.”

The clear thinking of Irish communists, shared by their comrades in Britain, is in stark contrast to that of others on the left in both countries who see in the EU, through rose-tinted spectacles, an international co-operative body based on solidarity and respect for workers’ rights rather than a bloc devoted to the interests of transnational capital.

There is no truth in the EU assertion that having different tax systems in the two parts of Ireland makes a hard border inevitable.

The republic and the six counties already have different levels of corporation tax and VAT, but this has not prevented smooth cross-border trade.

Those flagging up future difficulties, which, given goodwill, are quite easily surmountable, do so to bolster different political ambitions.

UK voters have made their choice and will not favour efforts to thwart it just as the people of Ireland on either side of the currently hassle-free dividing line will not welcome duplicitous attempts to reintroduce a hard border.

Permalink 3 Comments

The DUP: the *really* nasty party

June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am (Christianity, Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, Tory scum)

By Micheál MacEoin
(This was written shortly before the desperate deal was finalised, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website):

The Conservative Party’s loss of their parliamentary majority has left Theresa May reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right organisation which has 10 MPs in the House of Commons. So who are the Tories’ new unionist bedfellows?The DUP has its roots in a politicised form of evangelical Protestantism which arose again in the 1950s and 60s, but has a long tradition in the Protestant areas of Ulster. In these years, the future DUP leader Ian Paisley was involved in a myriad of fringe loyalist organisations, which existed to protect Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland.

In March 1963, a slightly more liberal Unionist Party leader, Terence O’Neill, became the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His aim was to adopt a more moderate course in order to undercut support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and absorb sections of the Catholic middle class into the Northern Ireland state.

Paisley came to the fore as a rabble-rousing preacher, acting as a pole of attraction for discontent within working-class Protestantism. He articulated a form of religious-based Unionism with a more plebeian character than the aristocratic or business-oriented ruling Unionist Party. As O’Neill’s reforms encouraged the growth of a Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Paisley helped set up the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC), to co-ordinate street protests, rallies and counter-demonstrations against any moves towards liberalisation, ecumenism or attempted rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.The UCDC had an arms-length paramilitary section, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), led by Paisley’s longstanding ally, Noel Doherty.

Doherty was later jailed for his involvement in a bombing campaign in 1969 designed to undermine O’Neill, which was carried out with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Paisley implausibly denied knowledge of Doherty’s paramilitary activities. This is a pattern repeated by the DUP leader during the Troubles, of fraternising with violent loyalists while maintaining enough of a distance so as to deny knowledge of illegal or murderous acts. For example, in 1974, Paisley would sit on the so-called “Ulster Workers’ Council”, along with representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and other armed loyalist groups. It organised a general strike against the short-lived power-sharing executive, which in reality was initially more of a lock-out enforced by paramilitary intimidation.

Again, in 1986, Paisley was present at a huge meeting in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to establish Ulster Resistance, a vigilante group set up to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement which promised Dublin more of a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Paisley was famously recorded calling for a paramilitary “Third Force” to oppose Irish republicanism, before placing a red beret on his head and standing to attention. In 1987, the UVF and the UDA proceeded to smuggle weapons for Ulster Resistance from Lebanon in to Northern Ireland with the aid of Apartheid-era South African state agents. Most were intercepted, but some of the Ulster Resistance arms cache has never been found. By the late 1980s, pressure mounted on Paisley to condemn the group’s activities, which he did in 1989. Presumably, after calling for a paramilitary “Third Force”, Paisley only ever intended it to attack republicans peacefully, without weapons!

As the peace process took shape in the 1990s, the DUP came to the fore in opposing any agreement between unionists and republicans. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when even the UDA was formally in favour. This placed the party on the side of dissident anti-Agreement loyalists such as Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Indeed, in 1996, DUP representative Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright, mere months after the LVF murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

Support for the Good Friday Agreement fatally undermined Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in the years after 1998. Unionist support for the Agreement was already weak, and the UUP could not stand the pressure from the DUP, who attacked them for sharing power with republicans while there were continuing delays in the decommissioning of IRA weapons. By the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP had overtaken the UUP as Northern Ireland’s most popular unionist party, a position they further cemented in future European, local government and Westminster elections.

2007 marked a watershed for the DUP. Having effectively destroyed their electoral competitors, the road was open for Ian Paisley to cut an agreement with Sinn Fein, and share power with republicans for the first timeThe DUP, then, has its roots in an evangelical fringe of Ulster loyalism. What does it stand for today?

For one thing, the DUP’s position as the largest unionist party, with support rooted in both the working-class and the Protestant business class, has led it to adopt a pragmatic blend of neoliberal pro-business policies such as corporation tax cuts, with an often populist approach. Its opposition to Tory plans to cut winter fuel payments, for example, will allow the Tories an excuse to reverse on some of their more unpopular proposals to attack universal benefits.The DUP combines this right-wing economic pragmatism with a ferocious blend of religiously-inspired social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion in all circumstances. One-third of DUP members are drawn from the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church, founded by Ian Paisley, which accounts for only 1% of the Northern Ireland population. Half of its elected representatives are members of the Orange Order, a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organisation, and some are connected to pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation which exists to promote “the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”, including support for creationism.

The DUP voter base, however, which is now larger and more varied, does not necessarily share all of these sentiments, at least not to the same degree.Since becoming the dominant partner in government in Northern Ireland, the DUP’s time in office has also been plagued by a number of political and financial scandals, which will undoubtedly receive more UK-wide attention in light of recent events. These include connections between senior DUP figures and the sale of properties owned by the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), and an ongoing investigation into DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role in the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Despite the DUP’s reactionary positions on social issues, it is most likely that the party will push for financial concessions for Northern Ireland as the price of any confidence and supply deal.A 2015 DUP position paper outlined its priorities as being more capital spending for Northern Ireland, more funding for hospitals and schools, and cuts to air passenger duty. The DUP realises that social issues, such as same-sex marriage which it has repeatedly blocked, are devolved to Stormont. The party will gain little or nothing from drawing attention to these issues as part of a UK-wide deal with the Tories, and wants to present unionists as acting in the British “national interest”.

This does not, of course, mean that we should ignore the DUP’s social positions, or cease to condemn the Tories for cutting a desperate deal with such a reactionary party.It is possible, too, that the DUP will come under pressure from its own base, including the Orange Order, to push for concessions on contentious issues, such as parading, flags and other areas of symbolic cultural importances to unionists.

The DUP supported Brexit in 2016, but opposes a hard Border in Ireland because of the economic damage that customs duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic would inflict. However, its demands for a soft Border will be tricky to reconcile with its insistence that there be no new checks at ports and airports in Great Britain on citizens travelling from Northern Ireland into the UK after Britain exits the EU.

The increased importance of the Irish dimension will, then, serve to further complicate the already chaotic state of the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit.Finally, the prospect of a Tory government propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP puts profound strain on the already faltering power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and challenges some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement rests on the conceit that the British government is a “neutral broker” in the peace process. Republicans already deny that the Tories are in any sense neutral, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been widely attacked for showing a pro-unionist bias on issues such as the prosecutions of soldiers for activities during the Troubles. The fact of the Tories relying on DUP support for their parliamentary majority will complicate Brokenshire’s role in the ongoing negotiations between the parties at Stormont, especially if a condition of the DUP’s support for May is a statement ruling out any prospective vote on Irish unity.

Ironically, however, the DUP’s influence over the British government could hasten the return of Stormont’s power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein repeatedly rubbished any claim during the general election that Northern Ireland parties could wield any influence at Westminster. With the alternative to Stormont being direct rule from London by a DUP-backed Tory government, many Sinn Fein voters would understandably prefer Stormont as a lesser-evil. Republicans now too have reason to avoid a further Assembly election, as the DUP made a stunning comeback last week, increasing its support to unprecedented levels.

Any deal between the DUP and the Tories will be a limited one, restricted to votes of confidence such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget. On individual issues, the Tories will be weak, and open to attack. The labour movement, in the UK and Ireland, should drive a wedge between May and her DUP allies, using parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means to drive the Tories out of office.

Permalink 1 Comment

A last word from Martin McGuinness

March 25, 2017 at 7:24 pm (communalism, Europe, internationalism, Ireland, national liberation, posted by JD, republicanism)

This article first appeared in the New European, 19 August 2016:

Martin McGuinness on why Brexit is an affront to democracy

Martin McGuinness. Photo credit: Sinn Féin via Foter.com / CC BY

Fifty-six per cent of people in the north of Ireland voted to remain in the EU. The late Martin McGuinness, in an article written while he was still Deputy First Minister,  explains why Brexit is an affront to democracy and explores its consequences:

The island of Ireland is facing the biggest constitutional crisis since partition as a result of the Brexit referendum.

The British Government appears determined to usurp the democratic will of the people here by dragging the north of Ireland out of the European Union against our will.

That is an affront to democracy.

Fifty-six per cent of the people in the north of Ireland – unionist, nationalist and republicans – voted to remain in the EU. That mandate should be respected not dismissed.

However, the new British Prime Minister – who I met in recent days – seems determined to ignore that mandate.

And that should be of no surprise to anyone because this toxic debate was never about the desire of the people. It wasn’t even about Brussels bureaucrats or British sovereignty. It was a power play within the Tory party which unleashed and fed upon xenophobia and racism.

The dynamics which led to that schism within the Tory party are still there. They will continue to influence the Tory leadership in the time ahead and we are the collateral damage.

Because there is nothing good in Brexit for Ireland. There are no opportunities. There are no silver linings. Brexit is an economic, political and social catastrophe.

Due to our legacy of conflict and peripheral geography, the north of Ireland is particularly dependent on EU support.

Between 2014 and 2020, we were set to receive 3.5 billion euros in direct European funding. A sizeable portion of that will be at risk if we are forced out of Europe. Such funds will, of course, not be available at all in the years following 2020 and I don’t think that anyone seriously believes that the
British Government will reimburse these losses.

Certainly when I met with Mrs May she offered no guarantees about recompensing the North of Ireland for this loss.

The impact of losing billions from our economy will be a devastating blow in a region which is still emerging from a long and bitter conflict. We still suffer some of the highest levels of deprivation seen anywhere on these islands. We are dealing with the legacy of generations of neglect and under-investment from successive British governments, all of which has been compounded by the austerity agenda of the Tories.

In a society emerging from conflict, we need to be able to demonstrate that politics can deliver for people, that it can bring about positive change and consolidate the peace process. Our ability to do that has been crippled by the Tories and Brexit threatens to make a bad situation incalculably worse.

As well as these direct European funds, we are already losing an unquantifiable amount of private investment as foreign direct investors turn their attention to regions which can guarantee access to the European market.

The European Union has also been central to the peace agreements which have underpinned the incredible progress we have made in the past 20 years.

The role of Europe is written into the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit would directly challenge the integrity of that internationally-binding treaty and represent a major setback for the political process in the North.

It would undermine the all-Ireland bodies and co-operation created by the peace process and harden partition.

It would have huge consequences for human rights legislation which, again, is specifically referenced in the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

The most tangible aspect of that would be the return of any kind of border on the island of Ireland.

An EU frontier, hard or soft, stretching from Dundalk to Derry is something no one in Ireland wants.

And it’s all very well for Theresa May to say she doesn’t want a return to the borders of the past. But when she was Home Secretary, she was absolutely clear that Brexit would inevitably lead to renewed border checks of some form.

I fear that is exactly what will happen.

And the simple fact is that Theresa May hasn’t ruled a new border out because she can’t rule it out. It’s not within her gift to make that decision because this will be a matter for negotiation with the other EU member states. It will be one of the many prices of Brexit.

And that is the great folly of this entire issue. Brexit may well mean Brexit but nobody – Theresa May included – has any idea of what it will actually look like. It is abundantly clear from the engagements I have had with the highest levels of the Westminster government that they are scrambling in the dark. They have no demonstrable plan to plot a way through this crisis because they didn’t expect this to actually happen.

I personally warned David Cameron nine months ago that he was sleepwalking us all out of the European Union. He clearly didn’t think then that he would lose the referendum but that is precisely what transpired. The British Government recklessly dragged us all into the unknown and they did so for entirely self-serving reasons. It was a foolish attempt to placate UKIP racists and the loony-right within the Conservative Party.

Unfortunately, for us, we will be dealing with the consequences of that decision for generations.

From our perspective, what is needed now is an island-wide approach to dealing with the EU. That is why Sinn Féin called on the Taoiseach to establish an all-Ireland forum to discuss the impact of the referendum. That now needs to go ahead.

The Taoiseach and the Irish government need to play their part in ensuring that the democratic rights of all Irish citizens are protected, regardless of where they live on the island.

Despite the huge challenges Brexit presents, it has also led to a focus on the potential for building a new Ireland.

The people of the north voted to remain in the European Union and we have to explore all options to give effect to that mandate.

A debate has already begun across the country about what a new Ireland within the EU, would look like.

That debate needs to be as wide-ranging as possible, inclusive of the views of a wide range of civic and political opinion from right across Ireland.

The example from Scotland has shown that such a debate can be carried out in a mature, reasonable and sensible manner.

The Tories and the British Government have demonstrated, yet again, that they care little for the needs, entitlements and democratic wishes of the people in the north of Ireland.

I believe the people here see their future as part of Europe. As part of an outward-looking, positive and inclusive new Ireland.

The agenda being pursued by the Tories is contrary to all of that and it is time we had a genuine, mature and rational debate about how we make that happen. regions which can guarantee access to the European market.

Permalink 9 Comments

Martin McGuinness and “the hand of friendship to unionists”

March 21, 2017 at 6:50 am (communalism, From the archives, history, Ireland, Monarchy, nationalism, posted by JD, reformism, republicanism, RIP, strange situations)

Image result for picture Martin McGuinness met the Queen

By Sean Matgamna (first published in 2012)

In a hugely symbolic moment on 27 June, during a royal visit to Northern Ireland to mark her jubilee, the former commander of the IRA shook hands with the Queen.

The man who commanded the force responsible for, amongst other things, the death of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, exchanged a handshake with the woman whose armed forces murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers in his hometown of Derry. This was, all proportions guarded, a real life instance of David Low’s famous cartoon “Rendezvous” in which Hitler (“the bloody assassin of the workers”) greets Stalin as “the scum of the earth”.

The response of the press, in Britain, Ireland and internationally, was very positive.

The Guardian thought “it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles”. The Mirror contained an unusually calm and rational article from Tony Parsons who described it as “the end of something — the decades of hatred, loathing and bloodshed” as well as “the beginning of something, too — when the raw wounds of the past can perhaps begin to heal”.

The Belfast Telegraph, traditionally a Unionist paper, hailed the handshake as “bridging a gulf that spanned centuries”. The southern Irish press was unreservedly impressed. The New York Times called it “a remarkable sign of reconciliation for both figures”.

The working-class socialist response to this would seem to be fairly straightforward. McGuinness claims still to be a republican in both important senses of the word. As a “capital R” Republican he appeared to make peace with the highest symbol of British rule while her state and government continue to “occupy” the northern part of Ireland and deny his people self-determination.

Even more objectionable is his apparent suspension of “lower case” republicanism — the rejection of rule by hereditary, unelected privilege. Contempt for such an institution should be taken for granted by even the mildest democrat.

Didn’t McGuinness, by shaking the Queen’s hand, acknowledge both her right to rule and her government’s sway in Ireland?

A glance at the fiercest critics of this historic handshake is a reminder that things are more complicated.

Before the meeting the Daily Mail advised the Queen to burn her gloves after carrying out her “distasteful duty”. The Sun’s front page headline declared “We don’t blame you for wearing gloves M’am”. The Times cartoonist provided an image of the Queen putting on four pairs of gloves before shaking the bloodstained hand of McGuinness.

The idea that there might be plenty of blood on the monarch’s hands too didn’t occur to any of them.

The Daily Mail was the one paper that didn’t deem the occasion to be worth a front page story. Inside, though, they brought us arch-militarist Max Hastings under the headline “I’m sorry, even in the name of peace, it was wrong to shake his blood-soaked hand”.

Hunting for evidence that McGuinness, the deputy prime minister and latter-day conciliator, remained “a fanatic”, Hastings alighted on his principled decision not to take his full ministerial salary (£71,000).

For me, that is evidence that Sinn Fein retains some connection with its mainly working-class base. For Hastings, it shows “certitude about his own moral compass” and this, he claims, is “the foremost requirement of a fanatic”.

On what appears to be the opposite side of the spectrum, McGuinness and Sinn Fein have been attacked by harder line Irish Republicans for yet another betrayal. Protests were held by dissident republicans, and senior SF councillor Alison Morris resigned in opposition to the event.

It’s important to register clearly what the critics are opposed to. On the republican side it isn’t seriously claimed that McGuinness or his party have become soft on the monarchy. For certain McGuinness and Sinn Fein have rapidly acclimatised to being part of the establishment and clearly enjoy being normal bourgeois politicians. What took place on 27 June was, however, more than just a further shift down that road.

The justification given by Sinn Fein had nothing to do with either the Queen or British rule. McGuinness described his move as “in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity”. There is no reason not to take that rationale at face value. He went on to claim that this sort of symbolism had the potential to define “a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.

That view can be criticised as naive. It can be attacked as a top-down way of managing the communal differences without challenging the fundamental causes. In common with most elements of the “peace process” it seems to reinforce rather than undercut cultural division. It’s a different matter, however, to criticise it for “going too far” towards the unionists. The least bad fault with modern-day SF is that they are insufficiently intransigent nationalists. Yet that is the criticism most commonly levelled at them from the left.

And it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the visible discomfort this event has caused to the British right. The fact that their Queen has felt it necessary to shake the hand of the former IRA commander has opened a very old sore for reactionaries.

The most reliable of these, Peter Hitchens, summed up the problem in the Mail on Sunday. After a few predictable and gratuitous personal swipes at McGuinness he compressed all his familiar anxieties into this short sentence: “If anyone doubted that the Good Friday Agreement was a humiliating surrender by a once-great country to a criminal gang, they can’t doubt it now.”

The sort of Tories whom Hitchens and Hastings write for spent their formative years insisting that those who took up arms to fight British rule anywhere in the world were no more than criminals. They said it too of Mandela and the ANC. Time and again they have seen these claims crumble to dust as the era of direct imperialist rule has given way to triumphant independence movements. And it hurts deeply.

Hitchens’ adult life has been blighted by one episode after another of “humiliating surrender” by his “once-great country” to movements fighting to free their countries from colonial or racist rule (or “criminal gangs” as he prefers to put it).

But the Irish people have not yet won a united independent state. The British have not surrendered and nor would it matter much if they did. The key to Irish territorial unity is, and has for decades been, democratic unity between its people. What Martin McGuinness did on 27 June offended the sensibilities of democrats and socialists because of our contempt for the institution of monarchy. However, his motive at least was progressive.

It was also republican in the sense defined by the founder of modern Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone — “to replace the name Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name Irishman”. We should be bold enough to point that out.

Permalink 11 Comments

Remains of young children and babies found in sewage chambers at Tuam mother and baby home

March 5, 2017 at 10:59 am (Catholicism, child abuse, children, crime, Human rights, Ireland, posted by JD, religion, tragedy, women)

In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing.

PastedImage-93754 Source: MBHCOI.ie

  • Human remains found at site of Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam
  • They were discovered in what appears to be some type of sewage container
  • Scientific analysis puts the age of death between 35 foetal weeks and 2 to 3 years
  • Radiocarbon dating confirms the remains are from the time the home was in operation – many are likely to be from the 1950s.

THE COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION into Mother and Baby Homes has discovered a significant number of human remains in what appears to be a decommissioned sewage chamber in Tuam.

The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.

The structure where the remains were found is long and divided into 20 chambers. The Commission is not yet clear if it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.

A second structure discovered during excavations between November 2016 and February this year appeared to be a decommissioned septic tank which had been filled with rubble and debris and then covered with topsoil.

Image uploaded from iOS (1) The excavation area has now been sealed off Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.

State authorities have been asked to take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains and the North Galway Coroner has been informed. He will determine if there is to be any garda involvement in further investigations.

Speaking today, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the “sad and disturbing news” confirms rumours about the possibility of a mass grave at the site.

“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home. We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately,” she added.

Decisions have yet to be taken on whether more excavations will be required at other mother and baby home sites.

The Commission was established following a 2014 report in the Irish Mail on Sunday that 800 children died in the home and were interred in a mass grave.

Local historian Catherine Corless has spent years researching the home, even obtaining death certificates for each child who died there, in the hope of rectifying an injustice.

In a statement today, the Bon Secours order said:

“The Bon Secours sisters are fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were  returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”

Call for identification

The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said that they were saddened by the news.

They said that Tuam “is not an isolated case” and reiterated their call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations.

They said that they want the government to ensure that all children who died in Tuam,a nd all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified.

In addition, they urged an Garda Siochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.

They added:

We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care’ towards these children and their mothers.
In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.

With reporting by Aoife Barry

Read: She was right: How Catherine Corless uncovered what happened in Tuam>

Read: Nuns who ran Tuam home have ‘no comment’ to make on today’s revelations>

 

Permalink 18 Comments

Organising the Labour Party in Northern Ireland

February 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm (campaigning, class, democracy, Ireland, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity, Unite the union)

Leonie Hannan, Vice Chair of the Labour Party’s Belfast branch, spoke to the unofficial Momentum magazine, The Clarion.
For an open letter from Momentum supporters in Northern Ireland to the Momentum NC, arguing for their right to organise a group, see here. At present the Labour Party in Northern Ireland meets regularly, decides on policies, campaigns on issues and sends delegates to conference, but is not allowed (by the national Labour Party) to stand  candidates in any election.

lpni2

How has the Labour Party in Northern Ireland changed over the last eighteen months?

LPNI has changed in two main ways. First of all it has grown dramatically, from around 350 members back in May 2015 to over 3000 now. There was a first surge during and just after the leadership election in the summer of 2015 and then a second leap in membership prompted by the coup and the prospect of a challenge to the elected leadership.

This first change, in many ways, predicts the second – that the politics of the party here have shifted to the left and members have an appetite for active involvement in politics. It’s clear that people are joining because they are motivated by Corbyn’s leadership, his critique of society’s problems and the kinds of policies he is advancing. When the party was much smaller, it did not have the reach that we have now, it was in some ways quite de-politicised because the focus was trained almost exclusively on the right to stand in elections – which LPNI still does not have and which remains a very important issue for us.

However, despite this difficult context for Labour activism, now we are seeing new members who are primarily motivated by politics and the need to contribute to the Labour Party’s new direction – a direction which they see holds potential to address the serious problems facing society, problems that have been compounded by years of austerity and which have particularly acute ramifications in Northern Ireland.

What kind of people are involved and what motivates them?

Well this is the really interesting bit and points to how our increased membership can contribute significantly to our long-standing campaign for the right to stand candidates. LPNI attracts members from across communities, people who see the system isn’t working for them and who feel a profound disillusionment with sectarian politics. We have trade unionists joining us, we have BME members and many LGBT members too – who don’t always feel comfortable in some of the other political parties in this region.

We have members who might describe themselves as Republicans alongside those who hold Loyalist views and, of course, many in between and this is something quite unique in Northern Ireland. Something quite unusual and yet extremely powerful. For progressive politics to make an impact here, we have to draw people from across the sectarian divide around issues that affect all communities – the effects of poverty, loss of jobs, social, educational and health inequality, homophobia and racism and the continued repression of reproductive rights. The larger a party we are here in Northern Ireland, the more motivated activists we attract, then the greater pressure we can apply on the issue of our right to stand candidates. We are here, we are many, we are diverse and we need Labour representation.

Corbyn won 70pc of the vote in your nomination meeting – more than in his own CLP. Why such strong support?

He didn’t just win 70% of the vote at our meeting, he won 70% of the vote in the election itself. Moreover, he would have had an even higher share of the vote if the majority of our members had been able to use their vote. In the end, much less than a third of members could exercise a vote (because our membership is disproportionately new and therefore found itself subject to the NEC’s last minute rule changes). I just think this shows the way Corbyn’s political agenda resonates in Northern Ireland, which is a post-conflict society suffering deeply at the hands of its own power-sharing government and their implementation of Tory cuts.

In fact, at the nomination meeting, person after person stood up to say why they had been brought into politics (often for the first time and, for some, after decades of disillusionment with politics) by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They saw this change as offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the Labour Party as a political party for ordinary people; a party that would not put the needs of corporations above those of struggling workers.

How does the LP fit into, or stand out from, the framework of sectarian politics and the constitutional conflict in NI?

As I mentioned, LPNI draws its membership from both communities and provides a much-needed space for non-sectarian politics. In fact, its growth in membership speaks not only to the interest in Corbyn, but also to the disillusionment with Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly]. Effectively we have a government made of false opposites – Sinn Fein and the DUP power share, they govern together and they implement the Tory agenda. Of course, engaging with the Labour Party doesn’t preclude having a view on the Union, but in the end the Good Friday Agreement ensures that any change would have to have the consent of the people.

What is your relationship with the trade unions?

We have a really strong relationship with Unite, who provide us with space for our meetings, who campaign with us on local issues and who resolutely support the project of standing Labour candidates in NI. There is really high trade union membership here in Northern Ireland, many as part of affiliated unions and so it is a real disservice to those affiliated members not to have the possibility of full political representation.

Please explain about this issue of standing Labour candidates.

Historically, the Labour Party has tried to remain neutral in relation to Northern Irish politics, preferring to sustain a relationship with the Social Democratic and Labour Party instead. The SDLP are sometimes referred to as a ‘sister party’ and attend Labour Conference.

However, there are a number of problems with the SDLP in terms of Labour representation. First, they do not (and cannot) attract support from both communities because of their status as a nationalist party. They have their origins in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic community’s struggles in the 60s for equality. Today, their commitment to equality only goes so far, they describe themselves as a pro-life party and their spokespeople have continued a virulent attack on women’s rights by vocally supporting the current abortion law (women cannot even have an abortion in Northern Ireland in the circumstances of rape, incest, foetal abnormality or risk to a woman’s health – interesting considering the recent Polish women’s campaign).

Besides this key issue, the SDLP hold conservative views on a range of issues and just don’t offer a left-wing alternative to the ultra-conservatism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, founded by Ian Paisley). In these circumstances it is just not reasonable for the Labour Party to suggest that Northern Irish people should support the SDLP in the absence of Labour. I suppose the other simple point to make is that 3000 people didn’t just join the SDLP, they made themselves clear when they joined the Labour Party and I think they should be listened to.

What are the big issues the party, or its members, campaign/should be campaigning on over there?

Northern Ireland is an economically deprived region, a problem which fosters sectarian tension, and has suffered a series of devastating job losses. JTI Gallagher let workers go in May, Caterpillar announced job losses in September, cuts have been seen across the voluntary and community sectors, library service cuts and many more. There are also the same issues as elsewhere with un-unionised labour, which need to be tackled and LPNI is playing its part supporting worker organisation and strike action wherever possible.

The Momentum NC in February passed a document saying the organisation wouldn’t organise in NI. What’s your view on that?

We are writing a letter to the NC making our case for Momentum organisation in NI. The main point is that their decision not to organise is based on a a statement made by a Momentum national officer that Labour does not organise in NI. Well, as I have just explained – Labour absolutely does organise in this region and so there is no reason why Momentum should not also organise, especially so considering the motivation of the vast majority of our members. I regularly get forwarded emails received by Momentum from members in NI who are eager to be involved, the demand is there and it really should be met. Like the right to stand issue, it is a bit much to be told by people in England what we can and cannot hope to achieve over here in relation to Labour politics. Really, the people in England, both Momentum and Labour, ought to listen to the 3000 Northern Irish residents who are telling them very clearly what it is they need.

nilp

Northern Ireland Labour Party members protesting against cuts

Permalink 11 Comments

When Martin McGuinness met the Queen

January 22, 2017 at 4:38 pm (history, Ireland, Monarchy, posted by JD, republicanism, strange situations)

Image result for picture Martin McGuinness met the Queen

By Sean Matgamna (first published in 2012)

In a hugely symbolic moment on 27 June, during a royal visit to Northern Ireland to mark her jubilee, the former commander of the IRA shook hands with the Queen.

The man who commanded the force responsible for, amongst other things, the death of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, exchanged a handshake with the woman whose armed forces murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers in his hometown of Derry. This was, all proportions guarded, a real life instance of David Low’s famous cartoon “Rendezvous” in which Hitler (“the bloody assassin of the workers”) greets Stalin as “the scum of the earth”.

The response of the press, in Britain, Ireland and internationally, was very positive.

The Guardian thought “it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles”. The Mirror contained an unusually calm and rational article from Tony Parsons who described it as “the end of something — the decades of hatred, loathing and bloodshed” as well as “the beginning of something, too — when the raw wounds of the past can perhaps begin to heal”.

The Belfast Telegraph, traditionally a Unionist paper, hailed the handshake as “bridging a gulf that spanned centuries”. The southern Irish press was unreservedly impressed. The New York Times called it “a remarkable sign of reconciliation for both figures”.

The working-class socialist response to this would seem to be fairly straightforward. McGuinness claims still to be a republican in both important senses of the word. As a “capital R” Republican he appeared to make peace with the highest symbol of British rule while her state and government continue to “occupy” the northern part of Ireland and deny his people self-determination.

Even more objectionable is his apparent suspension of “lower case” republicanism — the rejection of rule by hereditary, unelected privilege. Contempt for such an institution should be taken for granted by even the mildest democrat.

Didn’t McGuinness, by shaking the Queen’s hand, acknowledge both her right to rule and her government’s sway in Ireland?

A glance at the fiercest critics of this historic handshake is a reminder that things are more complicated.

Before the meeting the Daily Mail advised the Queen to burn her gloves after carrying out her “distasteful duty”. The Sun’s front page headline declared “We don’t blame you for wearing gloves M’am”. The Times cartoonist provided an image of the Queen putting on four pairs of gloves before shaking the bloodstained hand of McGuinness.

The idea that there might be plenty of blood on the monarch’s hands too didn’t occur to any of them.

The Daily Mail was the one paper that didn’t deem the occasion to be worth a front page story. Inside, though, they brought us arch-militarist Max Hastings under the headline “I’m sorry, even in the name of peace, it was wrong to shake his blood-soaked hand”.

Hunting for evidence that McGuinness, the deputy prime minister and latter-day conciliator, remained “a fanatic”, Hastings alighted on his principled decision not to take his full ministerial salary (£71,000).

For me, that is evidence that Sinn Fein retains some connection with its mainly working-class base. For Hastings, it shows “certitude about his own moral compass” and this, he claims, is “the foremost requirement of a fanatic”.

On what appears to be the opposite side of the spectrum, McGuinness and Sinn Fein have been attacked by harder line Irish Republicans for yet another betrayal. Protests were held by dissident republicans, and senior SF councillor Alison Morris resigned in opposition to the event.

It’s important to register clearly what the critics are opposed to. On the republican side it isn’t seriously claimed that McGuinness or his party have become soft on the monarchy. For certain McGuinness and Sinn Fein have rapidly acclimatised to being part of the establishment and clearly enjoy being normal bourgeois politicians. What took place on 27 June was, however, more than just a further shift down that road.

The justification given by Sinn Fein had nothing to do with either the Queen or British rule. McGuinness described his move as “in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity”. There is no reason not to take that rationale at face value. He went on to claim that this sort of symbolism had the potential to define “a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.

That view can be criticised as naive. It can be attacked as a top-down way of managing the communal differences without challenging the fundamental causes. In common with most elements of the “peace process” it seems to reinforce rather than undercut cultural division. It’s a different matter, however, to criticise it for “going too far” towards the unionists. The least bad fault with modern-day SF is that they are insufficiently intransigent nationalists. Yet that is the criticism most commonly levelled at them from the left.

And it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the visible discomfort this event has caused to the British right. The fact that their Queen has felt it necessary to shake the hand of the former IRA commander has opened a very old sore for reactionaries.

The most reliable of these, Peter Hitchens, summed up the problem in the Mail on Sunday. After a few predictable and gratuitous personal swipes at McGuinness he compressed all his familiar anxieties into this short sentence: “If anyone doubted that the Good Friday Agreement was a humiliating surrender by a once-great country to a criminal gang, they can’t doubt it now.”

The sort of Tories whom Hitchens and Hastings write for spent their formative years insisting that those who took up arms to fight British rule anywhere in the world were no more than criminals. They said it too of Mandela and the ANC. Time and again they have seen these claims crumble to dust as the era of direct imperialist rule has given way to triumphant independence movements. And it hurts deeply.

Hitchens’ adult life has been blighted by one episode after another of “humiliating surrender” by his “once-great country” to movements fighting to free their countries from colonial or racist rule (or “criminal gangs” as he prefers to put it).

But the Irish people have not yet won a united independent state. The British have not surrendered and nor would it matter much if they did. The key to Irish territorial unity is, and has for decades been, democratic unity between its people. What Martin McGuinness did on 27 June offended the sensibilities of democrats and socialists because of our contempt for the institution of monarchy. However, his motive at least was progressive.

It was also republican in the sense defined by the founder of modern Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone — “to replace the name Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name Irishman”. We should be bold enough to point that out.

Permalink 5 Comments

Next page »