Troubles not over for the north of Ireland

ULSTER Loyalists last weekend rioted in east Belfast and one threw a lighted petrol bomb into a police car in which a policewoman was sitting.

Levels of violence in the British occupied six counties have been rising lately but for many it never stopped, even after the Good Friday Agreement. Sectarian attacks are rarely reported in the English media.

Nevertheless there have been positive shifts within the rank-and-file of the loyalist community away from extremism and violence. And leaders have taken positive steps to distance themselves from the British neo-Nazis who used to run guns for them. The New Communist Party has always supported the right of the whole Irish people to united and free nationhood under whatever government the people there choose to elect, as part of our general support for national liberation struggles throughout the world. When the nationalist community in the occupied north was utterly deprived of civil rights and took to armed struggle as the only means to achieve both civil rights and to shake off British occupation, we supported their decision. It has always been our position that the people in active struggle are in the best position to judge what strategy and tactics are appropriate at the time.

And the armed struggle did accomplish a major progressive shift in the situation in the north of Ireland. But it took a heavy toll in deaths, serious injury and constant fear.

In the early 1990s the leadership of Sinn Féin sent a proposal for talks to Prime Minister John Major. The New Worker was invited to photograph Gerry MacLoughlain on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street presenting the letter.

Major responded positively but the Ulster Unionist supporters of his own party laid out such impossible preconditions [effectively total surrender by the nationalists] to talks that the process came to nothing.

In 1997 the Labour government of Tony Blair was elected and one of the first things it did was to pick up the threads of this peace process. After long and difficult negotiations the Good Friday Agreement was hammered out. It has a lot of faults but it was presented to the people of Ireland, north and south of the border, nationalist and loyalist alike.

Overwhelmingly they all voted for it. The struggle for complete Irish freedom now passed from armed struggle into a peaceful, political phase. And our party still respects the judgement of the nationalist community and their elected representatives.

Sinn Féin’s involvement in the Northern Ireland Assembly has had a positive impact, especially in education, which has benefited all the working class people of the six counties. The demands for civil rights have been achieved — as much as can happen in a bourgeois democracy.

Nevertheless sectarian violence continues and the reunification of Ireland is yet to be achieved. And there are still a few in the nationalist community who would prefer to go back to the armed struggle.

We may understand their view but it is not the job of the NCP to tell the people of the occupied north of Ireland how to conduct their struggle — they’ve had enough of British people telling them what to do. The majority of nationalists clearly do not wish a return to the armed struggle now and we respect that. Sinn Féin continues to gain in the polls, north and south of the border; this would not happen if there was any significant level of support for a return to the armed struggle.

Our job is to campaign among the labour and trade union movement for pressure on the British government to completely withdraw its colonial occupation of the north of Ireland; that is our responsibility in the matter. We cannot see into the future and the armed struggle may be necessary again but that is for the people in the occupied six counties to decide.

In the meantime we base our demands on our own Government in respect of Ireland on those made by the elected representatives of the nationalist community there — in the same way that our demands for peace in the Middle East are based on the demands of the elected leaders of the Palestinian community in its struggle.