This is not because IRA weapons have been an obstacle to the peace process in reality -- far from it, the IRA ceasefire has held firm despite considerable provocations. But the issue of IRA weapons has been elevated and cynically used by opponents of the Agreement to undermine the peace process and thereby delay progress towards social justice.
Now there are no more excuses for the extreme sectarians in the Orange camp, including the loyalist terror gangs and the demagogic politicians who thrive on bigotry and hatred.
And there are no more excuses for the British govemment. Blair has welcomed the IRA initiative. Now the British government must stop dragging its feet and stop pandering to the most reactionary elements in the north of Ireland and those within the British ruling class opposed to any change in the situation.
In Belfast last Monday Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "Irish republicans hold that the British connection is the source of all our political ills. The British government has inflicted and continues to sustain historic wrongs upon the people of this island and even today there are elements within the British establishment which are against the peace process. . .
". . . So if the IRA takes an initiative on the arms issue then the British government needs to build upon the dynamic created by that. The British political leadership has to show by deeds, not just words, that they also want to take the gun out of Irish politics ...
And as we all know, the largest number of weapons in the north of Ireland are those belonging to the British Army. This state of affairs has to be brought to an end. Our Party's demand has been, and still is, for Britain to get out of Ireland and for the people of Ireland to be free to determine their own affairs.
Even under the present conditions of occupation, change can be forced onto the agenda because the British government is a part of the Good Friday Agreement -- it therefore cannot be permitted to act as though its troops and guns are not accountable, that British arms are not part of the equation while republican arms get counted for decommissioning.
Of course the weapons in loyalist hands are supposed to be subject to the terms of the Agreement as well. Much less is said about these arms even though recent and current outrages have been carried out by loyalist sectarian killers and paramilitaty organisations.
It is vital that loyalist arms are now a focus for decommissioning. Political life should be restored and the Assembly resumed. These measures could enable effective action to be taken to bring an end to the sectarian abuses and acts of violence being carried out by loyalists in north Belfast including the daily intimidation of little girls going to school.
But despite these problems, the IRA's initiative has brought movement and some progress. At long last the British government is talking about removing some of its military watchtowers from South Armagh. That's obviously good, providing Britain doesn't think it can stop at that and offer the dismantling of a few look-out posts as a sop to public opinion.
The British government also has to get its foot off the brake and enable progress to be made on the issue of policing. Loyalist objections can no longer be tolerated on this subject because a key component of the peace process is the creation of a non-sectarian police service that all communities can trust. Tinkering about with the old Royal Ulster Constabulary simply will not do and will not work.
The Good Friday Agreement was supported in the referendum by 70 per cent of the people of the north of Ireland. The majority who want peace must prevail. Britain has done enough harm to Ireland over the years -- the least it can do now is to defend the peace process and the Agreement and cease legitimising the reactionary minority who still believe their future lies somewhere under Britain's feet rather than standing on their own to build communities that are just for all.
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by our Middle East affairs correspondent
US IMPERIALISM is now resorting to terror bombing hitting a hospital in Herat and residential areas of Kabul in the third week of the Afghan war.
This saw a botched raid by American commandos near the city of Kandahar and renewed demands from international agencies for a halt to the bombing to allow relief aid to stave off famine inside Afghanistan.
American paras air-dropped on the outskirts of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar were pulled out quickly following gun-battles with the Afghan army and the Taliban militia.
The Afghans say they hit two helicopter gunships -- the wreckage of one was shown on Arab television. The Americans admit the loss of one and the death of two crewmen -- due, they claim, to a crash-landing when it returned to its base in Pakistan.
Two days later, the Taliban claimed a further success, downing a military transport helicopter and killing 20 to 25 American commandos. Kabul security say a "red-headed man", suspected of being a scout, has been seized.
US warplanes are hitting Taliban positions around Matare-Sharif- the strategic northern city which is the immediate objective of the Russian and Indian backed Northern Alliance. American bombers also hit Taliban positions near Kabul where their gunners face a Northern Alliance enclave some 45-km from the capital.
Now the US air force is hitting out wildly. Over a hundred civilians were killed in Herat during an air raid on Sunday when a hospital was hit. The Americans initially denied it but the Pentagon admitted later that a 1,000 tonne bomb had gone "astray".
The Pentagon, which also admitted to further "accidental" bombing of civilian areas in Kabul hypocritically stated that "as we always say, we regret any loss of civilian life". At the same time they're claiming the Taliban has ordered its fighters to disperse to civilian areas which can only mean that residential areas are going to become "legitimate" targets"
Afghans ready and waiting
In Kabul the Taliban government remains defiant. The Education Minister told the Muslim media "Our message to the Americans is, if they want to remain safe and sound, do not come to Afghanistan. The Afghans are ready and waiting to confront any attack against this country and the USA will suffer a very great number of victims if they decide to attack."
Taliban militiamen have beaten off two Northern Alliance thrusts in the far north and have mounted a small counter attack of their own.
Two warlords, General Dostum and the Massoud family, run the Alliance, the rump of the old mujahadeen government. Followers of Osama bin Laden assassinated General Massoud, the mujahadeen commander, in September.
General Dostum, who served the former communist government before changing sides, comes from one of the north Afghan minorities -- like the Massouds.
They've been promised more arms from Russia -- a long-time backer along with India and Turkey -- and they've been lobbying for American assistance. Some US aid -- in the form of "military advisers" may have already arrived but Washington is keener to cobble together a "broad" alliance of all the anti-Taliban factions around the ex-king and his exile court in Rome.
So far that's failed. The Alliance doesn't want the king back and the other factions don't want the Alliance and the mujahadeen back, mindful of the bloody conflicts ofthe warlords when the mujahadeen were last in power in the early 90s.
More British involvement
Fears that Britain was going to be sucked down further into the Afghan quagmire grew on Tuesday. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the press that no decision had been made on when and how many British troops would be involved in the war.
But he added in an interview with the BBC that "Clearly we are exploiting all the possibilities" and said the army was ready to move "at very short notice".
Some troops currently taking part in exercises in Oman have already been earmarked for the Afghan war. Defence sources, reported in London, said that a thousand soldiers from the Parachute Rgt, the Royal Marines and SAS were expected to take part in future US-planned raids together with the Gurkhas.
No to war
But opposition to the war is broadening. Some Labour MPs are already speaking out against the Blair leadership and the peace campaign is growing. Another big London demonstration is planned for November 18th and local protests and vigils are taking place up and down the country. The imperialists are talking about a war which could last years -- we must ensure it stops now before more lives are lost.
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by Caroline Colebrook
STAFF at three residential homes in Hartlepool are threatening industrial action next week in protest at changes to pay and conditions that will leave them worse off.
A total of 70 care assistants and other worker employed by Community Integrated Care Charlotte Grange, Gardner House and Throston Grange Court are planning their second strike action in two months because they say the "not-forprofit" organisation that runs the homes wants to slash their wages.
CIC, which is based in Merseyside, took control of the homes from Hartlepool Borough Council in 1999. All the staff, including care assistants and domestic and laundry staff had their terms and conditions protected in the transfer. But now CIC want to bring in a drastic restructuring of pay and conditions.
Edwin Jeffries, a local officer of the public sector union Unison, said: "The changes that CIC is proposing would mean a 60 per cent cut in gross pay for a number of staff who work nights and weekends.
"We want he employer to get round the table with us and retract the new terms of employment. If that does not happen there will be more days of industrial action. The first strike raised the profile ofwhat is happening.
CIC executive chair David Robertson said: "To ensure the long-term viability of these homes we had to make the unpleasant decision to bring the terms and conditions of the transferred staff into line with our other employees."
He blamed the financial pressure on a £1.5 million refurbishment of the homes to meet new Government standards and a shift in Government policy towards providing care for people in their own homes.
But this demonstrates that the current policy of setting up "not-for-profit" organisations as a halfway house to privatisation is a smokescreen, as we have seen for years with housIng associations.
These organisations have to exist in the competitive private sector. They have to borrow from banks - which do exist purely to make profits. And the banks can impose policies on these organisations to ensure the terms of loans are met. In other words, these organisations are merely flimsy fronts for the banks.
It also shows up Government promises made to trade union leaders at last month's Labour Party conference that workers wages and terms of employment would be protected if transferred from the public sector to the private sector -- or any half-way stage in between.
Just last week the Government plans to forge ahead with further privatisation of public services were boosted when the Business Services Association said it was willing to comply with the policy that all transferred workers must be paid wages "equivalent" to those in the public sector.
The BSA said it was willing to have the wages rule policed by the audit commission and the national audit office. It also promised to recognise trade unions -- though it is law they must do so anyway if most of the workers want it.
The TUC has welcomed this assurance even though it does not specify that new workers taken on would have the same protected pay and conditions.
If this does not happen, then situations like Hartlepool, where long-term workers are paid up to twice as much as new workers will become common. And bosses will seek to resolve it in the same way as CIC a couple of years along from the transfer.
BSA director Norman Rose said: "The contracting industry in the eighties and some of the nineties had a bad reputation, some of it deserved, for only being interested in cutting costs. We often bid at unrealistically low prices just to win the contract.
"We think we can achieve a decent rate of return over the length of a five-year contract through efficiency, different work practices, better technology and just a leading edge way of doing things."
In a couple of years, with unemployment rising as the economic downturn bites, it is easy to predict that "efficiency" and "different work practices" will translate -- as they did in the eighties and nineties -- into massive job cuts, with longer hourss and bigger workloads for those who remain in work.
New workers taken in will be on much lower terms and conditions.
We must not let the trade unions, which have begun a real fight against privatisation, be taken in by this confidence trick.
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by Steve Lawton
THE Irish Republican Army's crucial initiative in destroying some of its weapons, to the satisfaction of the commission overseeing weapons elimination, was, the IRA said on 23 October, "an unprecedented move... to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions."
That verdict, which commands republican and nationalist support, is set to decisively influence unionist and loyalist resistance.
General John de Chastelain, Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), made it clear that the IRA has verifiably completed a first act of putting an unspecified quantity of military hardware beyond use.
Rarely has the air been cleared so swiftly by the IRA; rarer still that there should be prompt backing from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble. But this move, the IRA said, was in recognition of the fact that the political process "is on the point of collapse."
Since the IRA ceasefire began seven years ago, this has to be the most important iron republicans have pulled out of the fire of British and unionist obstruction. It follows a consistent pattern of efforts to defend the threatened process: from cessation of armed conflict, to arms dump location and monitoring, through to the present actual weapons destruction.
The IRA pointed out that the arms issue was used by certain forces in the British "establishment" as a means to undermine progress: "It was for this reason," it said, "that decommissioning was introduced to the process by the British Government. It has been used since to prevent the changes which a lasting peace requires."
Irish premier Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed the new development as a significant landmark; President George Bush has also now. David Trimble said he will recommend to the full council of the UUP at the weekend that they should follow suit.
In any case, he has announced a reversal of the earlier withdrawal of their three ministers from the northern Ireland Assembly. This will break the pressure unionists had been building since last week against Sinn Fein. Dr John Reid, British northern Ireland minister, had said that unless this happens by Thursday, the institutions will again be suspended. David Trimble intends to return by then.
The Democratic Unionist Party had staged a follow-up walkout of its own two ministers after the UUP three withdrew. That occurred following the failure of a motion to exclude Sinn Fein from the northern Ireland Assembly Executive last week. But the DUP are now also expected to return to Stormont.
Sinn Fein chief negotiator and Education Minister Martin McGuinness visited New York just before the IRA announcement. He set the scene as a major clearing in the peace process emerged to enable the real issues enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement to be rescued.
In West Belfast, Gerry Adams said they both had had discussions with the IRA and that a "groundbreaking move" on the arms issue from the IRA would lift the dying peace process. This would "transform the situation", he said.
Martin McGuinness, at the same time back in New York, explained the context of what had to be done. He appealed "to friends of peace and equality and Irish freedom here in the United States to stand by the Good Friday Agreement at this most critical moment ofour nation's history."
He emphasised: "There will be a responsibility on all of us who support the peace process in Ireland, here in the US and internationally, to respond to that new and transformed situation to ensure that the change promised in the Good Friday Agreement is realised; that the rejectionists and the opponents of peace -- unionist, republican and the British establishment -- are faced down."
He said the peace process must move "decisively forward" and the Good Friday Agreement "belatedly but urgently implemented in full." For the British Government to seize the dynamic uncoiled by the IRA action, is the requirement now.
Any response must mean grappling with the kind of ground level sectarian hatred that loyalists still mete out to school children in the Ardoyne, north Belfast. From the point of view of residents suffering at the hands of loyalist thuggery, as primary children daily walk terrified to Holy Cross Primary school, it is how that IRA arms move is taken up that is critical to resolving the real issues within fractured communities.
Northern Ireland minister Dr John Reid officially revoked the loyalist 'ceasefire' of the largest paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). This puts them outside the law the moment guns appear and, from the moment they enter prison for getting caught doing so, the peace accord immunities will not apply.
What the British Government is contributing in this respect is beginning to emerge, and the overriding questions of British occupation -- the military and policing infrastructuree -- will be central to this new impetus.
The British Government has announced that four installations are to be dismantled and dismantling work began as we went to press. But the process of demilitarisation is rather more substantial than IRA guns: there are at least another 59 bases and towers and 13,600 British troops still in the north.
However September 11 may have concentrated some minds, the IRA move may represent the one particular signal that a constructive cross-community and cross-border political development is now solidly in prospect for all of the people on the island.
If, at this juncture, the IRA say peace was about to collapse -- and they have always meant what they sayy -- there clearly is barely any room left for endless shenanigans, in or out of the fragile northern Ireland Assembly. The British Government is delivering its verdict. But it won't be long before its intent is clear.
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by Daphne Liddle
THOUSANDS of new job cuts were announced last week as the global economic doivnturn gathers speed. The events of 11 September have hit some sectors badly; others are using it as an excuse to make cuts they were planning anyway.
But since the United States and Britain began their war on Afghanistan, any company that has an interest in defence or in biological or chemical warfare has seen its prospects rise.
Civil travel companies are doing badly after 11 September and this includes National Express, the former coach company that now has interests in rail and many investments in the US.
Its rail interests in Britain include the Gatwick Express, Silverlink, WAGN, Midland Mainline and Scotrail -- which have all suffered from speed restrictions in the wake of the Hatfield crash and lost passengers and revenue.
Last week its shares fell by 77 pence to 520 pence. Job cuts may be on the agenda.
Currently some 600 more telecom jobs are threatened as FCI Electronics threatens to transfer work from Glasgow to the Czech Republic, threatening 140 jobs. Also Matsushita said it will consider closing its Berkshire factory producing Panasonic mobile telephones another 450 jobs on the line.
The giant US printer Lexmark plans to cut 1,600 jobs globally, some of which will be in Britain.
Bankers Merrill Lynch are considering cutting 10,000 jobs worldwide. And even the Financial Times is laying-off staff because of the slump in advertising revenue.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is busy revising its production predictions downwards. International financier George Sores is warning that America, in recession, will drag the rest of the world down with it.
Companies are cutting back on recruiting according to a report from the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
British Nuclear Fuels limited is denying rumours of bankruptcy, but, like Railtrack a couple of weeks ago, it is depending on the taxpayer to underwrite its £34 billion liabilities and on making a profit out of the highly dangerous trade of nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield.
The insurance sector is in deep trouble with the cost of premiums for householders, motorists and holidaymakers likely to rise by 40 per cent. And Lloyd's is facing a record £5.4 billion total of claims after the 11 September events. These are the largest claims made in Lloyd's 300 year history and, according to experts, will "put a significant strain on its ability to pay".
Meanwhile drugs giant GlaxoSmitKline has clocked up a record profit -- up 17 per cent to £1.35 billion prre-tax for just three months -- and now plans to buy back some £4 billion of its shares.
But this company also records a slight downturn just after 11 September, due, it says, to people in America feeling too shocked to visit their doctor. But things are now returning to normal and the company is enjoying a boom in sales of anti-depressants in the US.
Some pharmaceutical companies, which process blood products, are also doing well out of a tripling of the number of US voluntary blood donors since 11 September.
High-tech companies selling video-conferencing equipment are doing very well out of the new reluctance to make unnecessary air journeys. For those flights that cannot be avoided, small executive jets have become very popular.
Security firms are doing very well. And of course defence companies are looking to the war on Afghanistan as a lifeline.
Civil airlines, hotel groups and anything to do with tourism is in trouble.
But for less obvious reasons, some companies are now booming, such as Tescos, United Utilities, Cadbury's and Barclays Bank. This effect may not last as once the mass redundancies take effect, public spending power will be severely cut.
And in the US, president Bush is about to repay Blair's fawning and subservience with drastic restriction on steel imports in a measure to Protect the industry in the US, after the International Trade Commission declared it had been "seriously injured" by cheap foreign imports.
The thieves are likely to fall out over this at the next meeting of the World Trade Organisation.
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