The murder of loyalist prisoner Billy "King Rat" Wright, supposedly by members of the maverick Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), gave the increasingly discontented loyalist paramilitary groups an excuse to launch a sectarian killing spree against Catholics. Thirteen Catholics have died in this latest outrage resulting in one unionist group being temporarily suspended from the peace talks for a fortnight.
Despite this extreme provocation, Sinn Fein called for the ceasefire to be maintained and made it absolutely clear it would not be driven away from the peace process it had worked so hard to create and keep alive.
It is therefore almost beyond belief that some Unionists are now alleging that the IRA was responsible for the recent murder of a loyalist and a drug dealer as a cunning ploy to get Sinn Fein expelled from the peace talks, claiming that Sinn Fein wants to leave the talks but doesn't want to admit to it -- the so-called "exit strategy".
The IRA denied carrying out the killings. The Unionists called on Britain to expel Sinn Fein from the talks. Britain responded by playing the part of Pontious Pilate and left the sectarian Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to say whether or not the IRA was responsible for the two deaths.
It came as no surprise to anyone that the RUC declared the IRA to be guilty. They even persuaded the Irish police to endorse their verdict.
Then, also as expected, the British government squeezed out a few crocodile tears and announced that Sinn Fein (who in any case are not the IRA) would be suspended from the peace talks.
Once again we see the Blair government, which is after all the colonial power, hiding itself behind the supporters of colonial rule -- the Unionists.
Sinn Fein is justifiably angry at the turn of events. It wants, and has always wanted, the peace talks to continue on an all-Party basis towards a just settlement. Without the inclusion of Sinn Fein the talks are meaningless and will achieve absolutely nothing.
Britain, on the other hand, wants an end to armed struggle but without fundamentally changing anything. Like all previous governments, its main concern is to maintain British rule and the partition of Ireland.
The working class in Britain has no vested interest in prolonging British rule in Ireland. On the contrary, Ireland's freedom will help to loosen the chains of imperialism from around our own necks.
We should not just sit and watch while the supporters of the Union, on both sides of the Irish Sea, weave their tangled webs of deceit around the peace process. Our demand is clear and direct -- Britain out of Ireland now! Only when Britain has left can lasting peace be built in Ireland based on justice and equality.
Raising the call for an end to British rule in Ireland also helps to expose the Blair government's efforts to palm the blame for Ireland's misery onto the victims of British oppression.
But this play-acting by the British government is wearing a bit thin these days. After all its other role these past few weeks is that of the big imperialist power, militarily capable of sending aircraft carriers, Tornado jets and troops to the Gulf and planning a massive aerial bombardment of Iraq.
And this is the real nature of the British state -- an imperialist power, with an awesome nuclear arsenal, hell-bent on defending the interests of the leading sections of the British capitalist class at all costs.
This includes attacking the interests of the British working class with programmes of public sector cuts, wage freezes, benefit cuts, worsening conditions of work and low taxation for the rich.
Just as working people need to stand in solidarity one with another in the day to day struggles so we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Ireland and the people of Iraq. Britain out of Ireland and British Hands Off Iraq!
Back in London 25 MPs opposed the drive to war in Parliament, voting against the government's motion endorsing the use of force against Iraq.
Twenty-one Labour MPs led by Tony Benn together with the four-strong Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru contingent voted against Blair's war-drive, which was predictably backed by the Tory and Liberal Democrat leadership.
Kofi Annan says he thinks he has a reasonable chance of success following Big Five agreement at UN Headquarters in New York on his terms of reference. But it's clear that Annan has been given little room to manoeuvre in his upcoming talks with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The Americans are demanding total compliance by Iraq on the weapons-inspection issue and they've been backed to the hilt by Britain. People's China, Russia and France are arguing for enlarging the teams to meet Iraq's demand for respect for their sovereignty -- the "Unscom-plus" idea which Britain hints it would go along with.
But the central Iraqi demand remains the lifting of the criminal
blockade which has led to the deaths of over 1.5 million people over the
past seven years due to lack of food and medicines.
People's China and Russia have issued a joint statement warning the Americans against using force against Iraq following a meeting between Chinese Premier Li Peng and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow last Tuesday.
They said: "Russia and China, as permanent members of the UN Security
Council, do not accept the use of force. We favour a political solution
to the crisis which would ensure Iraq carries out in full the relevant
decisions of the Council, guarantee the Iraqi potential for weapons of
mass destruction is eliminated and upen the way to lifting sanctions against
Iraq, above all the oil embargo".
Iraqi envoys are touring the Arab world calling for solidarity to stop new Anglo-American aggression. In the Sudan Iraqi Justice Minister Shabib al Maliki praised China, Russia and France for their work to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis -- a stand which was "positive and just". But he went on to say that Israel should be compelled to destroy the weapons of mass destruction its holds pointing out that Tel Aviv even refuses International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of its nuclear reactor at Dimona.
He called on all the Arabs to unify their stance, saying that
if Iraq was attacked it would be a confrontation aimed at the whole of
the Arab nation.
This was echoed by Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Department, in Cairo following talks with Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel Maguid.
"Arab solidarity and unity should be promoted in a bid to deter the United States and stop it from blackmailing the Arabs financially and politically," he said. This crisis was "fabricated by the US to cover up its failure in reviving the Middle Eastpeace process," he declared.
Throughout the Arab world support for Iraq is growing amongst
the masses. In Jordan thousands defied a government ban on demonstrations
to turn out in suppon of Iraq's defiant stand after Friday prayers last
week. In the Palestinian "autonomous" zones anti-American and pro-Iraqi
protests are going ahead and not one Arab state. with the dubious exception
of the puppet government of Kuwait is backing the new imperialist crusade.
Turkey and Iran are publicly opposed to the Anglo-American plan and many
other countries are refusing to toe the American line.
In Washington US President Bill Clinton went on television to make another naked threat to hit Iraq hard. But in he's been embarrassed by the considerable number of waverers in what the Americans consider to be their own camp.
The only states prepared to send even token forces to the Gulf to beef up the Anglo-American armada have been the weaker members of Nato and the remnants of Britain's "White Commonwealth" -- Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In the European Union Tony Blair is under fire for failing to
convene one meeting to try and reach a common EU stand -this during his
own six-month term as EU chair -- while toadying to Clinton in the White
The Iraqi people are bracing themselves for the worse. Mass demonstrations of support in Baghdad reflect the determination of the people in backing the Saddam Hussein governmentand demanding the end to sanctions.
Some aging anti-aircraft missiles are being deployed around the capital out of the weapons Iraq is still entitled to possess. But the country, virtually totally disarmed and crippled by sanetions, will be at the mercy of Western terret-bombing -- if it comes.
But in the United States, Britain and the rest of Europe the peace movement
is mobilising to stop the bombing and lift the sanctions on Iraq. (full
anti-war events round-up in our print edition)
PATIENTS At the Royal London Hospital and Barts will soon find themselves ferried to and from hospital in vehicles operated by M&L Cars, instead of the London Ambulance Service (LAS).
This follows the Royal Hospitals Trust awarding the contract, worth £l million annually, for the 120,000 trips a year (averaging over £8.33 per trip) to the cab firm as from 1 April.
The Hackney based company has already won two other contracts away from the LAS -- that of the Royal Brompton Hospital in west London and the Tower Hamlets Healthcare Trust in east London.
This means the contracts lost by LAS have a total value of £l.8 million. The loss of the Royal Hospitals contract makes some 20 ambulances redundant and threatens 34 jobs.
M&L is disputing whether the transfer-of-undertakings rules (Tupe) which protect workers wages and conditions if their jobs are privatised, apply in this case.
And it is uncertain whether M&L is up to the job. So far it has operated only "a very small fleet of cars and a few ambulances".
Many had hoped that the Labour government would put an end to compulsory competitive tendering. But the hospital trusts it seems, have not been informed.
And there are serious concerns over whether cab drivers will be able to provide the same service as trained ambulance drivers.
They will not of course be taking on any of the accident and emergency work. But it is only because the two different aspects of ambulance work have Seen separated like this thatit is possible to privatise the ferrying of non-emergency patients to and from hospital as part of the service.
M&L managing director Michael Byrne insists his staff wear a uniform, carry identification and are trained to standards recognised by the British Red Cross.
But that could mean just a dozen or so hour-long first aid classes.
There are many different recognised levels of first aid
One of the LAS staff whose job has been threatened by the change of contracts expressed serious concern at the private company's competence to provide a proper service.
Although the patients they will be carrying are not accident and emergency cases, nevertheless many will be seriously ill, elderly, disabled and so on.
And they will be taking people home after surgery. There is always a possibility of complications arising, especially now hospitals are under pressure to discharge patients as soon as possible to free up beds.
The ambulance drivers will need more than a first-aid certificate to know how to lift and assist these patients and how to cope if things go wrong.
The LAS staff are also very angry thaf after helping at major incidents like the docklands bombings, they have been "thrown on the scrap-heap".
If there is another major emergency, requiring many extra ambulance staff, they will not be able to call on cab drivers as a back-up.
But the hospital trust's authorisation officer, Howard Fell, is not worried. He said: "While the tendered price naturally formed part of our considerations, it was certainly not the overriding factor.
"We are entirely satisfied that our chosen partner is fully able to meet our service specifications and will strive to maintain, and where possible improve upon, the standards of service already in place."
Participants were presented by the British government on Monday with the Royal Ulster Constabulary' (RUC) "evidence" of the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) alleged killing of leading loyalist Robert Dougan and drug dealer Brendan Campbell earlier this month.
Sinn Fein is seeking an injunction, as we go to press, to prevent expulsion and to retain a position at the talks. The grounds include the fact that Sinn Fein was unable to cross-examine RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan and that the British government's action is contrary to natural justice.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said last Wednesday evening, as it became clear that a lengthy application to the High Court would not decide Sinn Fein's position at the talks until next week: "We're not walking away from the allegations against us" which, he emphasised, have been "totally rebutted".
The northern Ireland secretary Dr Mo Mowlem initiated proceedings by circulating a "Speaking Note" on Monday. The note sets out the Royal Ulster Constabulary's (RUC) position: that the murders were carried out by the IRA "based both on intelligence information available to him [chief constable Ronnie Flanagan] as well as "on evidence obtained in the course of the RUC's investigations to date into the two crimes."
Because a criminal charge has been laid in one of the murder cases, "it is not appropriate to go into further detail." It noted that the IRA did not deny their role in the killings in their 12 February statement reaffirming the ceasefire. The note "concurs" with the RUC's "assessment that the Provisional IRA were responsible for both these murders."
Gerry Adams questioned Mo Mowlem last Tuesday about the evidence which she said she could give no further information about because it was now subjudice. Gerry Adams responded: "The rules of subjudice do not apply in this jurisdiction", he said, "The British Secretary of State is entirely free of any related obligations".
Dismay and anger is spreading through the nationalist communities, who see the British government pushing a just all-inclusive settlement of the northern Ireland conflict further away; Mitchel McLaughlin, chairman of Sinn Fein. last weekend said it is in "calamitous jeopardy".
And on Tuesday he said that "if we are ejected in these circumstances, I think opinion within our electorate will be against us coming back to a process that is seen to be fraudulent." The Party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, said on Monday that they will not recognise the decision of a "kangeroo court" that kicks Sinn Fein out "at the behest of Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble".
And the UUP, adopting holier-than-thou righteousness waging its finger at Sinn Fein, while keeping silent about loyalist killings of Catholics, still refuses to negotiate directly with Sinn Fein -- the very source of the current crisis.
Instead, there's been an evolution in what Gerry Adams describes as Sinn Fein's supposed "exit strategy".
Since Gerry Adams first met Tony Blair in Downing Street last year, the UUP suggested Sinn Fein was looking for a way out because it refused to accept bilateral talks and wanted direct talks with the UUP.
Now, the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) leader Gary McMichael accuses Sinn Fein of looking for a way out of talks by calculated murdering of loyalists to end the peace process.
It mirrors, in fact, exactly the perpetual disruption tactics used by unionists inside and out since the process first began.
Gerry Adams in his Party's 11-page submission to talks last week, said
the UUP's pressure of threatening to withdraw from talks if Sinn Fein is
not expelled, is a "dominant" pressure on the British government.
Sinn Fein -- in fact the whole nationalist community -- have objections and concerns that are numerous and compelling:
Sinn Fein is not the IRA; it has no "organic" links as the Party's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness put it. And Gerry Adams said, on the day the IRA statement was announced (12.2.98), that Sinn Fein does "not speak for any armed group".
It's "democratic" mandate as the third largest party is proven and expanding as the last by election demonstrated, and its electoral base of 40 per cent of the nationalist community; or 172,500 people, speaks for itself. A telephone poll conducted by the Dublin-based Sunday Independent last weekend, showed that an overwhelming 78 percent of people favoured Sinn Fein remaining in talks.
No evidence has so far been presented to prove the IRA is responsible. There's duplicity here: "Nationalists will recall", Gerry Adams said last Friday, "that one year ago it was widely accepted that the various elements [UVF. UDA-UFF, Red Hand Commando] comprising the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) had all breached their cessations. A blind eye was turned to all of this."
While over the last 20 months many Catholics were killed before action was taken against the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and that was in the case of just three of the murders, Gerry Adams said on Tuesday: "In contrast four days after the killing of Brendan Campbell and three days after the killing of Robert Dougan, notice was givenby the British government ofa possible indictment of Sinn Fein."
The "forensic history" of loyalist murders of Cathohcs over a much longer period has not been presented by the RUC; and a far greater number of Catholics have been killed with virtually no investigations taking place. As Sinn Fein says, how many Catholics must die to match the attention paid to the death of a loyalist?
Nothing has yet been said about whether those now charged are accused of IRA membership, a point made by the former Irish Premier Albert Reynolds on the BBC last Tuesday morning.
Nevertheless, the RUC were quick to call the initial seven arrested as "IRA suspects". Something that Gerry Adams said originatedwith RUC media manipulation.
The RUC itself is a discredited and unreformable paramilitary force that in the eyes of nationalists, mustbe replaced. The British government's recent proposals aimed at 'reforming" the RUC, have been rejected by Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) as hopelessly inadequate. Do we hear the British government respending anew?
What credibility is there in "concurring" with the RUC chiefs' "evidence" when it as presently predominantly protestant constituted and organised, hasn't the slightest confidence of the Catholic and nationalist communities. On the contrary, they are connected by force and fear.
Regularly these communities -- men, women, children and families -- are harassassed and intimidated. Most of it goes unreported in British "mainstream" media.
Even the British government should be embarrassed by an incident two weeks ago today, in which a senior US official was stopped and questioned by British forces and the RUC.
Virginia Manuel of the US Commerce Department and another official were travelling with Mick Conlon, north Belfast councillor. En route, from one meeting to another on economic issues, they were stopped.
Virginia Manuel was challenged to explain her presence and illegally asked for her date of birth. The other US passenger was interrogated about how she could have got "such a nice car". Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly is calling for an explanation from the British government. And these US citizens had diplomatic protection.
Clearly, applying legalistic norms to RUC "evidence" in what is a political process -- one that should govern the RUC, not give unwarranted influence to a paramilitary police force in the talks -- conveniently stymies an all-party assessment of the issue and, nore significantly, presents participants with a de facto ultimatum: take the RUC's word for it.
All of this has a nasty whiff of the way British "justice" was meted out at the Guildford Four, and Birmingham Six "trials". Except the whole peace process, the future of Ireland and its nationalist community, even realist unionists, are in danger of being stitched up yet again.
In all the long months of hot air and paper mountains, progress on substantive issues can only be detected with Sherlock Holmes' magnifying glass, yet at this juncture, as very sensitive issues are discussed, the most decisive action the British government can make in a matter of days is to instigate the expulsion of the key component in the peace process.
And despite being a key party to the peace process, Gerry Adams
said they were "barred" from shaping the rules and procedures for the talks
process in the first place, but still, they accepted the circumstances.
So much for equality of treatment. The unionists want everything to run
to their agenda, and now the British government is making it official.
The company supplies frozen Indian meals to Sainsbury, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer and has a turnover of £25 million. Most of the workforce come from the local Asian community.
Already 90 per cent of its 300 workers have joined the GMB general union but the management is refusing to recognise it.
The workers say they sought union protection because of oppressive management, low pay and a system of favouritism.
The management says it does not want a "third party" involved in its affairs and has accused the union of intimidating workers to gain their support.
The chief shop steward and leader of the battle for union recognition is Rana Hussein.
He said: "The workers have voluntarily joined the union because they are sick and tired at the way they are treated by management.
Some are paid more money for doing the same job, we are not given full sick pay, and longer holidays are given to those who side with management."
The struggle began last October when 250 workers joined the union within two weeks.
Management reacted by offering to recognise an "in-house union".
Rana Hussein explained: "the management have been calling workers in individually and warning them of the dangers of union membership.
"I was offered the chance to form my own union, which the management said I could call 'Rana's union'".
"The whole thing is ridiculous because all we want is for our rights as workers to be respected."
Last year the average rate of pay was £2.50 an hour but it has now risen to £3.50 an hour. Some management favourites are paid a lot more.
Most workers say they need to work 80 hours a week to take home a decent pay packet.
The workers are also calling on the government to enact its promised legislation to force bosses to recognise a union where most of the workforce want it
Currently the Confederation of British Industry is arguing over how this should be measured.
But even by the meanest criteria, the workers at Noon's would