The Unionist argument is a dishonest blend of hot air and false scare-mongering. On the one hand it issues its demands for the speeding -- up of IRA "decommissioning" as if the IRA had been militarily defeated -- which is certainly not the case. And on the other hand it paints melodramatic pictures of Unionist politicians having to sit in the Assembly alongside people "with guns under the table".
The British government says nothing to put the record straight and pretends that it has to heed the Unionists' supposed fears and concerns. It has already come up with an impasse-breaking deal that effectively changes the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to further accommodate the demands of Loyalists, many of whom did not vote for the Agreement in the first place.
Unionist leader David Trimble is undoubtedly under pressure from within his own party. But the elements who are twisting his arm are those who want to resist the progressive changes the peace process will bring. They are afraid of losing their longstanding position of relative privilege in society and afraid of a developing dialogue between north and south in Ireland.
The hard-liners are not really worried about the clauses in the Agreement relating to weapons -- they are worried about all the clauses. They fear the peace and they fear the end of sectarianism.
Since they can hardly argue openly in favour of carrying on with the old practices of anti-Catholic discrimination and the continuation of an unreformed Protestant Police force, they pretend instead that they are the victims and that the threat to peace comes from the Republicans.
The facts deny this position. It was the IRA which took the initiative
for peace by declaring a ceasefire. This was not done from a position of
weakness but to make progress towards peace based on justice.
Loyalist extremists tried to provoke a breakdown of this ceasefire. And although this led for a short time to responses, such as the Omagh bombing, from Republicans who had broken away from the IRA, it failed to break the ceasefire and the IRA's determinationn to stand firm.
The Peace Process itself came as an initiative from the Nationalist SDLP and Sinn Fein and no one can doubt that these parties are committed to seeing the process through.
While the IRA has maintained its ceasefire the Loyalist paramilitary groups have continued to carry out sectarian killings, beatings, and burnings of Catholics and Republicans.
The over-riding need is not therefore the "decommissioning" of IRA weapons but the demilitarisation of the north of Ireland, including Loyalist weapons and the vast arsenal of the British Army.
The leaders of Sinn Fein have argued all along that peace can only be brought about by removing the causes of conflict. And that can only be achieved by tackling social inequality, injustice and mistrust.
It must also be remembered that the vast majority of people in the north of Ireland voted in favour ofthe Good Friday Agreement and want the Northern Ireland Assembly to go ahead.
All but the most extreme Loyalist bigots accept that such an Assembly has to embrace the representatives of Sinn Fein who have been duly elected at the polls and that the Nationalist community can no longer be sidelined by the majority.
For our part, we need to continue to raise the demand for Britain to get out of Ireland. It is Britain that has divided Ireland and fermented sectarianism for its own ends. It is Britain that has plundered Ireland for its own coffers and left a legacy of poverty on which sectarianism breeds. It is Britain that has ruled by the gun and created violence.
It is time for the people of Ireland to determine their own affairs. It is the time for peace!
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The UUP executive, as we went to press, quickly rejected the Northern Ireland Bill, declaring no change in their policy: The IRA must begin decommissioning before the UUP sits with Sinn Fein in a devolved Assembly Executive.
The three expected amendments specify: that weapons decommissioning must proceed according to a strict timetable; that any breach of the process automatically triggers the suspension of the Executive; and that the defaulting party is clearly identified.
Sinn Fein said these changes would breach the Good Friday Agreement and they will oppose them in any peaceful way possible at their disposal. Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said the General John de Chastelain Decommissioning body would also be compromised.
And Speaking on Channel Four TV news Wednesday, senior Sinn Fein negotiator Barbre de Burin said Sinn Fein were "very angry". The changes turn the Good Friday Agreement "on its head" and the process was "no longer inclusive". She said the British government had given to Unionism what they couldn't get in negotiations, their "failed agenda". This was going back to the Tory agenda, she said.
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble said that the Bill had not been thought through properly -- the government's proposed amendments showed that, he said.
Sinn Fein shadow Assembly member Alex Maskey said Wednesday evening that there was more than just the UUP in the talks, and the British government, by upholding the Unionist veto, is jeopardising the peace process.
Garvaghy Road observers report back
by Theo Russell
Irish activists gathered in London this week to hear a reportback from the 26-strong Friends of the Garvaghy Road observers delegation to the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, to coincide with the annual Orange Order march from the Drumcree Church on July 4.
The picture which emerged contrasted the high morale and unity of the nationalists of the Garvaghy Road with the broken spirit and rapidly dwindling presence of the Orange Order at the Drumcree Church.
Sally Richardson, of the Connolly Association, described the area as "crawling with army, police, and RUC men in dark grey boiler suits. You soon got used to the military presence, but you could never quite forget it. The people of the Garvaghy Road live like this all the time.
"There is no peace in the Garvaghy Road. People are under siege, confined to a ghetto where unemployment is around 50%. But It is a very strong community, very united, not browbeaten, not cowed, and determined not to allow the protestant bully-boys to have their way".
As she pointed ouf "the very people defending the area -- the British Army and the RUC -- are themselves part of the problem". As one of the locals said, "it's great to see you here, but we're dreading it when you've gone the RUC will be back to their usual form".
Jonathan Silverman, one of two delegates sponsored by the TGWU branch at Glaxo-Wellcome in Dartford, also praised the "incredible strength ana determination of the Garvaghy Road community, which is unbroken and unbreakable". Residents told him that there was little crime in the district, and house and car doors were generally left unlocked.
The area has no doctors' surgery, no supermarket, and no bank; its residents only make brief forays into Portadown during the week, and do most of their business in the neighbouring town of Lurgan. Only weeks ago a schoolboy who spent his bus fare on sweets was beaten up in Portadown, after Protestant boys spotted his school badge.
While the delegates were there an American woman observer received a head injury and a broken arm when she was attacked and pulled over the barricade by Loyalists. The delegates also saw the arrival of the pathetically small Protestant "Long March". Their banner called for "equal rights" -- exactly what the nationalists are demanding in the place of Protestant supremacy.
When Loyalist thugs attempted to break into the district through the St Johns cemetery, some of the RUC drafted in (backed up by Army units) wore balaclavas, so as not be recognised by local people. British soldiers were heard to say that if the RUC ran away, they intended to shoot them!
Members of the delegation were frequently urged by RUC officers to venture out from the barricades, but when one group did so they were immediately surrounded by a hostile and aggressive crowd. They didn't leave the area again until their convoy departed.
The Orange Order was born in 1795 in nearby Loughgall, and for 200 years people in the area have been murdered simply for being Catholic.
Jonathan Silverman was reminded by Breandan MacCionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition that the order came into existence as a counter-revolutionary organisation, in response to the emergence of a revolutionary movement -- the United Irishmen. The latter was, of course, led by Wolfe Tone -- a Protestant.
Sally Richardson described how the Orange Order had "narrowed down a long and diverse historical culture to the Orange sash and the Lambeg drum. Now they are presenting themselves as the victims of Catholics. The reality is that they are the victims of British rule and the Unionist establishment".
But the overwhelming impression gained by delegates was that Orangeism was a spent and bitterly divided force. They stressed that the majority of ordinary Protestants were appalled by the actions of the Orange and Loyalist street thugs; many have only recently had the confidence to speak their minds.
These weaknesses were visible at Drumcree: whereas last year some 25,000 Orangemen has gathered there, this year they were down to three or 4,000, and even they began drifting away almost as soon as they arrived.
Another delegate, Phil Edwards, said that "there is an enormous gap between the situation on the ground in Portadown and what was reported in the media. The aim of the Friends of the Garvaghy Road campaign is to challenge that media silence."
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by Ray Davies
AS a founder member of the newly constituted Peace Watch Cymru, I set out for Drumcree on 2 July from Caerphilly railway station and arrived in Belfast by ferry at 9.15 pm. I had made prior arrangements with the London-based Friends of Garvaghy Road Monitoring Group to meet there at the Grosvenor Road Leisure Centre on the Falls Road.
On disembarking, I looked around for a Republican black taxi but could only find a Unionist one. The driver would not venture down the Falls Rd but dropped me just outside.
After a half a mile walk I was directed to a Belfast councillor who was expecting me and who had arranged floor space for the night in the Leisure Centre. A quick cup of tea and a chat and then up to the Republican Club to meet the monitoring group.
We met the following morning at the Andersontown Council Office with other peace and human rights groups from the United States, Canada and Europe, including Amnesty International.
We left in a convoy of cars and vans and headed for the Garvaghy Road. Just outside Drumcree we were stopped by British troops but eventually were allowed to enter the restricted Republican area.
We received a warm welcome from the Garvaghy Rd Residents Committee and we were all very impressed by the organisation. A constant flow of sandwiches, coffee and cakes were supplied to the many visitors who came and went in their hundreds.
We made a quick tour of the Catholic enclave. Everywhere we looked there was barbed razor wire barricades, hundreds -- if not thousands -- of troops and RUC, armoured cars, rifles and water cannon.
If ever there was a siege situation of monumental proportions, it was here in Garvaghy Rd. On the other side of the coin, it was uncanny to see a woman tending her garden, putting washing on the line, with barricades to the side and back of her house, with armoured cars to the front, and children playing in and out of army vehicles -- as if this were a normal everyday situation.
Having established the potenential flashpoints, we went back to our HQ at the Community Centre where we had a long detailed briefing meeting.
Rules of observing were agreed; each shift was to last four hours, walkie talkies were issued and special clothing with the imprint, International Observer. We were given special ID to allow us to go through the police and army checkpoints (at our own risk).
I was given the 8-12 shift on the Saturday night at the police/army checkpoint near the entrance of Garvaghy Rd by St John's Catholic Church.
We met a young United States peace monitor who had been beaten up with a flag pole wielded by a Unionist thug who had jumped the barricade. We were just too late to intervene. We found out later that she had eight stitches to her head, a broken arm, and her specialised camera equipment worth £500 smashed.
A young Catholic altar boy who had just left Mass at the church, who tried to intervene, was also beaten.
A Loyalist pipe and drum band had just finished playing The Sash provocatively outside the Catholic Church while the residents were attending Mass. This song insults the Pope and the Catholic religion.
We felt that if this was a foretaste of what was to come, we would be in for a long hard weekend. We made our report which together with others, will eventually be sent to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
I spent the night in a safe house, sharing small children's bunkbeds with a big 6'6" 17 stone American peace monitor. He snored through the night and every time he moved I felt he was going to come down onto me, crashing through the top bunk.
Seven o'clock the next morning we had a cooked breakfast at the community centre, followed by a debriefing of the night before. There were new areas to monitor, and then two hours free. I talked with our good and courageous friends, Independent Councillor Joe Duffy and Brendan MacCionnaith.
The people of Churchill Park Estate opened up their hearts and their homes to us and shared generously what they had with us. Despite all they had suffered through the years, there was no real hatred of the Unionist people, buta great yearning for peace and justice.
I walked towards the church at Drumcree and was stopped by the RUC from going through the barrier, though my colleagues had gone through just minutes earlier. What I didn't realise was that a young boy had stuck a badge on my shirt "Ban the RUC". There was a strict rule operating, no provocative badges: so off it had to come.
At 11.30 am on Sunday we took up our positions near one of the flash points where the Orange Order march was to Pass at 12.
There were the usual gibes from some of the fringe Loyalist groups, such as: "fuck off you Fenian bastards", and "Bye Bye Rosemary" -- referring to the much loved Rosemary Nelson, the solicitor who had dedicated herself to defending her community and who was blown up just weeks earlier, murdered by a Loyalist death squad.
Tension was running high when the front of the Orange Order parade came into sight. Bands were playing, drums were beatng. Then as they came near the church, the drums stopped. The whole situation was eerie.
Thousands of Orangemen marched in relative silence, smiles on their faces, taking photographs of us and the military as if they had won some great victory. Then came the parade of the Long March for Unionist Civil Rights; their band paid little heed to the call for a dignified march as they pumped out their anti-Catholic tunes.
The worst was over. The 2000 Orangemen and their supporters were all now around the perimeter of Drumcree Church.
The picture presented to us from our viewpoint near the cemetery was for all the world like an army preparing for battle. Rows upon rows of men with their Orange regalia bands, working up the crowd with a tirade of marching tunes.
We were too far away to hear anything, so those monitors who were off duty went back to the Centre and watched the detachment of Orange Order leaders present a petition to the local commander of the RUC near the barricades.
At 4pm I had to leave my friends at Drumcree and make my way to Belfast. Everyone was worried as to what would happen during the long night ahead, but I had to catch the 7am ferry to Stranraer.
The whole weekend had been tense but pretty much low key. Most Garvaghy Rd residents were puzzled by the good behaviour of the Orangemen -- they were too well disciplined to be true.
Did they know something that the residents didn't know? Was there a promise made by Blair to allow them to march down the road at a later date? Only time will tell.
I left Drumcree feeling that our Human Rights Monitoring Group had done a worthwhile job of work.
We all hope that by next year sanity will prevail, and that the much sought after peace will be achieved through the Northern Ireland Assembly and the north/south institutions. Hopefully the next march will be to celebrate that peace -- so badly needed, so well deserved.
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By our Middle East Affairs Correspondent
TENS OF THOUSANDS of Iranians marched through the streets of the capital, Tehran, on Wednesday to demonstrate their support for the government after a week of student led unrest.
Five students have been killed and many more injured in clashes with the police and supporters of militant Islamic movements. All unauthorised demonstrations and protests have been banned and Iranian President Muhamad Khatami warns that his government will deal severely with any riot against the country's interests and the government's policies.
The demonstrators, including large numbers of students and young people, marched to Tehran University, in support of the call of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyid Ah Khamenei, and President Muhamad Khatami, to condemn the recent violence.
The night before, Ayatollah Khamenei addressed the nation denouncing the rioters as "vicious people, supported by certain bankrupt political groups and encouraged by foreign enemies." He said the "mean and wretched enemies of Islam and the revolution imagine that the revolution and faithful revolutionary people would let them pave the way for the dominance of the criminal United States over our beloved homeland through their mischievous acts."
Men and women dressed in traditional Islamic garb marched to the scene of fighting between students, police and Islamic fundamentalists earlier in the week chanting "Death to America!" and other anti-Western slogans. But the rally ended peacefully after hearing a political leader vow to crush any attempt to overthrow the Islamic system.
Hasan Rowhani, deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, praised the vigilance of students who had identified the "plots of the enemies". He said that "saboteurs and anarchists" would be confronted and made an example of and he called on the public to be vigilant to defend society.
The trouble began last week when Tehran University students led peaceful protests against the closure of a leading Liberal daily Salam the day after tough new censorship laws were passed in parliament by a majority of just ten votes.
The newspaper had previously exposed the involvement of hardLine Islamic figures in the government with death squads responsible for the murder of several liberal writers and opposition leaders last year.
But the protests escalated with others demanding an end to the Islamic republican system, leading to violent clashes with the police and supporters of Islamic movements.
On Monday militant Islamic students supported by the police stormed the University to break up a thousands- strong "reform" sit-in protest. The police used tear-gas and baton charges to take-over the campus and fifty students were arrested.
This was followed by more protests and calls for the sacking of the police chief who ordered his men in. At the same time some of the original student leaders, who called the protests in support of President Khatami's own reformist administration, rapidly distanced themselves from more strident demands for "democracy" -- particularly when they began to attract support from US government officials and the Western media -- though they refused to support the pro-government rally on Wednesday.
President Khatami won the elections two years ago on a platform of modest reform. But his moves against corruption in the government and secret police and his support for a relaxation of the rigid political and social system established after the 1979 Iranian revolution have put him into conflict with the hard-line Islamic clergy and their supporters.
Khatami has called on the people to distance themselves from the unrest and give the government a free hand to deal with the problem. But he conceded that the police raid on the university campus was "extraordinarily bitter and unacceptable". Khatami promised to seriously investigate the incident. Two senior police officers have been dismissed.
A Tehran students' committee set up on Tuesday and supported by most of the protest movement also denounced the unrest which has spread to other parts of the country. "The students will never support sabotage and riot in any form" they declared. But they are still calling for the dismissal of Tehran police chief Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian, the dismissal of hard-line Islamists from the police, and the transfer of police powers to the Interior Ministry.
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by Ray Jones
The New Labour Government went into its first part privatisation last Tuesday -- but hopefully not with a bang!
Even the Tories backed away from privatising the nuclear industry, but New Labour are going ahead and selling 49 per cent of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to the private sector and hope to make £1.5 billion out of it.
At least the government has resisted splitting BNFL into profitable and unprofitable sectors. Both the growing reprocessing business and the elderly Magnox reactors are included in the 49 percent.
Unfortunately the 49 per cent is probably just the beginning and it is predicted that the remaining 51 per cent will follow soon.
Of course, Stephen Byers, Trade and Industry Secretary, is demanding targets on productivity, cost-cutting, health and safety and the environment.
But BNFL's record in all these areas in the past leaves much to be desired and taking the industry out of public control is the last thing we need.
* Greenpeace campaigners are planning to use their vessel Rainbow Warrior to harass a British convoy of ships due to sail next week to Japan with enough plutonium to make 60 nuclear bombs.
The campaigners hope to harass the vessel throughout its 20,000-mile journey, raising the prospect of conflict at sea. They claim the shipment from the BNFL plant at Sellafield in Cumbria undermines efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Greenpeace says the shipments represent "a recipe for disaster" and wants them banned.
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