WHAT WE HAVE WE HOLD - INLA
29th April '01
Reproduced from North Belfast News (supplement of the Andersonstown News)
Journalist: Barry McCaffrey
The INLA will not disarm nor stand down its volunteers as part of the Good Friday Agreement, a spokesman for the INLA leadership told the North Belfast News last night.
In an extensive interview this week the leadership of the INLA stated: "The INLA will not stand down our volunteers, now or in the future, the history of sectarian attacks by loyalists show that it would be extreme folly for any republican grouping to even think of relaxing vigilance.
"The INLA has always said that our role was always more than that of a liberation army.
"We are a socialist army, we continue to recruit and to train our membership.
"The INLA will continue to exist now and in the future."
Revealing that it was monitoring ongoing loyalist attacks against the nationalist community, the spokesman said:
"We are concerned with the ongoing loyalist attacks on the nationalist working class and we constantly review the situation.
"If the people request our assistance we will take action on the basis of a measured response."
And insisting that it would not be decommissioning, the INLA man said: "The INLA has always believed that the issue of decommissioning is a non starter and one that is being used by the British and unionists to destabilise the current political climate.
"It is of absolutely no consequence on the ground, it is as easy to rearm as it is to decommission.
"As Irish republicans we have every right, not only to demand the dismantling of the British military machine, but also the disarming of the unionist community, which has been used by the British to undermine any potential Irish democracy.
"The decommissioning issue is clearly a red herring."
Full interview text...
As part of an ongoing look at how the various paramilitaries see the future, Barry McCaffrey speaks to the leadership of the INLA, and asks what the future holds in store for the republican grouping.
"It is nearly three years since the Irish National Liberation Army declared its ceasefire on the basis of the analysis of the IRSP.
"The outcome of the joint referenda was a clear result, it was we believe a clear indication by the people of Ireland that they wished political groupings to pursue their political campaigns rather than pursue their military ones.
"The INLA decided that it would respect the wishes of the people of Ireland and declared a cessation of our 24-year military campaign."
When asked could the organisation envisage a situation in which it would stand down the INLA leadership replied.
"The INLA will not stand down our volunteers, now or in the future, the history of sectarian attacks by loyalists show that it would be extreme folly for any republican grouping to even think of relaxing vigilance.
"The INLA has always said that our role was always more than that of a liberation army. "We are a socialist army, we continue to recruit and to train our membership.
"The INLA will continue to exist now and in the future."
And revealing that it would not sit by and allow loyalist attacks on nationalist areas, the INLA leadership warned:
"We are concerned with the ongoing loyalist attacks on the nationalist working class and we constantly review the situation.
"If the people request our assistance we will take action on the basis of a measured response. We listen with incredulity at calls for vigilance from nationalist councillors and MLA’s following loyalist attacks.
"The facts are that the nationalist working class have always had to be vigilant, from the day we were born it has been a necessity because of sectarian attacks, especially in North Belfast.
"We also refuse to buy into the idea of good loyalist paramilitary groups and bad loyalist groups.
"All loyalist paramilitary groupings have been involved in attacks on the nationalist community.
"The only difference between them is that some are pro-Agreement and others anti-Agreement, that difference is of no consequence to the INLA.
"We will meet loyalist aggression head on."
And the group's leadership insists that it can maintain its structures despite a number of well-publicised feuds over the last 30 years.
"The INLA has not suffered from breakaways or splits over its current political strategies. We have remained intact because of our political cohesion, we have not compromised or deviated from our core political values, which are socialist and republican.
"It is transparent there is only one INLA, dedicated and committed to our aims and objectives.
"However, we are not complacent and will continue to ensure that all members of the Republican Socialist Movement are treated equally, and that all views within the movement are respected equally.
"Collective leadership is a natural consequence of a collective movement and it has been the internal adherence to the collective view that has led this movement out of some of its darkest days into the relevant, vibrant and forward-thinking organisation that we are today."
In answer to speculation of decommissioning the INLA leadership insists that it will take no part in talks with General John De Chastelain.
"The INLA has always believed that the issue of decommissioning is a non starter and one that is being used by the British and Unionists to destabilise the current political climate.
"It is of absolutely no consequence on the ground, it is as easy to rearm as it is to decommission.
"As Irish republicans we have every right not only to demand the dismantling of the British military machine but also the disarming of the unionist community which has been used by the British to undermine any potential Irish democracy.
"The decommissioning issue is clearly a red herring."
But insisting that it will deal with any attempt to split its organisation, the spokesman said:
"Let us state clearly that any divisions within Irish republicanism that manifest themselves in internal violence are damaging to the republican cause.
"A cursory glance at the history of Irish republicanism over the past 30 years shows that there have been far too many divisions.
"In 1969 we had one Republican Movement, how many are there today? six or seven, not to mention those groups that have been disbanded.
"Diversity of thought among republicans is a good thing, but armed action of republicans against republicans is not.
"The word feud has become synonymous with us in the media, we welcome this chance to set the record straight. The Republican Socialist Movement as a whole, and the IRSP in particular, have come under attack on three occasions by those who did not want to see the politics of the RSM succeed.
"At no time had the INLA initiated these armed attacks on others and has only ever acted in defence of our right to organise.
"When the IRSP was founded it came under sustained attack by the forces of the Official IRA, many of our members were attacked and killed, we responded in defence of our people and our politics.
"In the 1980s in the wake of the paid-perjurer/supergrass trials it became apparent that some of our comrades had been using the armed struggle to mask some of their erstwhile deeds, such as robbery and extortion, that brought the entire RSM into disrepute.
"These people were dismissed from the Republican Socialist Movement, and went on to arm themselves under the name of the IPLO.
"One of their first actions was to abuse the tried and trusted republican intermediaries and lured the leadership of the RSM, who were keen to avoid armed conflict, into the Rosnaree hotel in Drogheda for a meeting to sort out differences peacefully.
"This was not to be, and a cowardly attack that broke all the rules of mediation was launched, resulting in the assassination of our comrades Ta Power and John O'Reilly. Faced with this onslaught the INLA responded in defence of our membership.
"It has to be said that during this time the INLA appealed to the wider Republican Movement to assist in bringing the activities of the IPLO to an end as they were involved in major organised crime and drug trafficking.
"This assistance was not forthcoming and the INLA had to deal with this problem on our own.
"The INLA position was vindicated many years later when the PIRA were forced to take action against the IPLO, but by that time the damage was done and our areas were already awash with anti-social behaviour and drugs.
"In the 1990s we again came under attack from dismissed members of our movement. This began with the declaring of a bogus ceasefire from the dock of a Dublin Court by senior members of the movement.
"A ceasefire that was not declared on the basis of republican socialist politics, but solely on the basis of releasing men from custody.
"There had been no internal debate with the RSM and the men had acted arbitrarily, without reference to their comrades.
"When they refused to explain their actions they were dismissed forthwith from the INLA. As far as we were concerned that was the end of the matter.
"The dismissed men under the direction of Hugh Torney commissioned, armed and gave intelligence to a drug dealer who then used this information to assassinate leading republican socialist Gino Gallagher at the Falls Road unemployment office.
"The INLA sought out those responsible and executed them as counter revolutionaries. The INLA has always emerged intact and dedicated to the politics of republican socialism, for that dedication we have paid a heavy price with some of our most foremost political strategists losing their lives, Seamus Costello, Ta Power and Gino Gallagher are a loss not only to the Republican Socialist Movement but a loss to the national liberation struggle as a whole.
"It suits many of our political opponents and their friends in the media to misrepresent our history as feud riven, we do not adhere to this view and if there are lessons to be learned, and there are always lessons to be learned, it is that if the Republican Socialist Movement comes under armed attack we will always act to protect our membership and defend our right to organise."
And the INLA leadership says that it is constantly monitoring the increase in anti-social crime, and in particular joyriding and drug dealing.
"There are many social problems faced by the working class community today.
"Community groups and community activists are working extremely hard to see that many of the social ills that have been inflicted on our communities are met face on.
"Republican socialists will continue to campaign and agitate for proper resources and facilities.
"Having said that there will always be the small minority who place themselves outside the community and will remain a problem, the INLA will act to support the community, not direct it.
"Anyone who tries to exploit the working class will find themselves in conflict with the INLA."
And defending the IRSP's analysis, that the Good Friday Agreement is fatally flawed, the spokesman said:
"The IRSP has shown itself not only to be resilient but more than capable of expounding its politics in the current political climate.
"At all times it is seeking to minimise the effect of conflict on the working class coupled with social policies that maximise and recognise the contribution of that class.
"It was to this end that the IRSP launched a major conflict resolution initiative within months of the INLA ceasefire declaration.
"The Charter for Non Aggression remains the only political document articulated by any political party or government in recent years aimed solely at conflict resolution and is not dependent on any political initiative or political compromise.
"The Charter for Non Aggression was not well received by the political establishment because individual parties and governments see the peace process as being a barter process where national and human rights are bartered against involvement in the political establishment, rather than a genuine conflict resolution process.
"With the issue of republican decommissioning again at the fore of the political process the IRSP has been firm in its view that British and loyalist weaponry has not been put under the same scrutiny.
"There has been no clamour for the decommissioning of these weapons because the British are still wedded to a military strategy in Ireland.
"While we have concerns with the confrontational role of both British and Irish nationalism, we believe that republican socialism remains a progressive and inclusive force within the dynamics of Irish politics, a progressive ideology that has yet to have the opportunity to assert itself.
"We believe that the Charter for Non Aggression is an initiative that is way ahead of its time and when people look at it free from prejudice they will realise its full potential.
"The IRSP is actively involved in a wide range of campaigns from local community groups, drug education, trade unions and other localised campaigns to campaigning for the retention of Irish neutrality from NATO.
"So the answer to your question is clearly yes, the IRSP's analysis of the Good Friday Agreement remains as valid today as it did three years ago.
"More than that, the IRSP has shown itself to be more than merely an anti-agreement party. It is actively pursuing the aims and objectives of republican socialism and it enjoys the full support of the INLA in the pursuance of our aims." And insisting that it will not accept any attempts to repackage the RUC, the spokesman said:
"The INLA has been quite clear and consistent in regards to the policing debate, the RUC in any way, shape or form, under any set of initials, wearing any uniform, is unacceptable to our people.
"Patten itself is a compromise, not on policing but on fair and equal policing, why should anyone have to make compromises to secure fair and equal policing is beyond us.
"The fact that the British could not deliver a fair police service, never mind implement the flawed Patten recommendations is a clear indication that the British are not serious about social change.
"They neither have the courage or the will to deliver this most basic tenant of civil rights.
"On the issue of local Restorative Justice schemes the jury is still out, without a doubt they are a wonderful opportunity for the community to operate a fair and equal system that seeks not to criminalise but to assist in the gelling of community spirit. Unfortunately, there is evidence that in the nationalist community that is being operated by people of a singular political affiliation and therefore it is dogged with allegations of favouritism and far from being a unifying community initiative it is proving to be a divisive and destructive force within the community.
"The issue of community policing needs to be taken away from singular political identities and applied evenly across the board by a wide range of community personnel.
"All is not lost on the issue of CRJ, but it will be, if it continues down its present course where it is viewed by most as another branch of a movement which persistently fails to deal with its own community offenders but has no problem in dishing out any amount of punishments to others outside their organisation.
"The very issue boils down to who is the community, we believe that all who live within a community are deserving of equal treatment, not just those who agree with a particular political viewpoint."
HUNGER STRIKERS' DEATHS LED TO 'BALLOT BOX' STRATEGY
29th April '01
By Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune (Ireland)
Twenty years ago this week the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died and by so doing changed the course of Irish politics, North and South. Sands and his colleagues went on the fateful protest, it must be remembered, in a bid to legitimise the IRA. It has to be one of the greatest ironies in Irish history that the long term effect of Sands' sacrifice may be the very opposite, that his death acted as midwife to the disintegration of the type of traditional republicanism which for so long found its purest expression in the Provisional IRA.
Successive British governments had instituted and upheld a prison policy which sought to characterise IRA prisoners as criminals by denying them civilian clothes and other concessions granted in the early 1970's. For the best part of four years the IRA prisoners resisted this firstly by refusing to wear prison garb and then by smearing their cells with excreta while outside the jail the IRA shot warders and Sinn Féin, reluctantly at first, organised street protests.
Had anyone other than Margaret Thatcher been prime minister in Britain at this point it is probable that the protest would have been prevented from deteriorating any further. One of those fudged settlements for which the British are famous could have been cobbled together and made acceptable to the prisoners, not least because the IRA leadership outside Long Kesh did not think that the ultimate protest, a hunger strike, could succeed. Fearing defeat in the jail and the reverberations this would have outside, the Army Council would have cut a deal.
It is another irony of the 1981 hunger strikes then that of all people Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, created the conditions which made the peace process possible. Had she succumbed to the advice pouring into her office from constitutional Nationalists in Ireland urging she make a compromise then Bobby Sands would possibly still be alive, the Fermanagh-South Tyrone by-election of 1981 would have produced a very different result and Sinn Féin's electoral adventure would have been a much more cautious and protracted affair.
It would have been many more years before the contradictions between the armalite and the ballot box would have made themselves felt, many more years before Gerry Adams and his close advisers would have been strong enough to steer the IRA down a road which left alone they would never have contemplated.
The hunger strikes brought to the surface two qualities in the Sinn Féin leadership which in later years would characterise and contribute to the success of the peace process. One was an extreme caution, the other the sort of ruthlessness which distinguishes those who shape history from ordinary mortals.
The caution was evident in the June 1981 general election in the Republic which robbed Charlie Haughey of office and put the Garret Fitzgerald-led Fine Gael-Labour coalition into government buildings. The H Block campaigners nominated prisoners to stand and two of them, Ciaran Doherty in Cavan-Monaghan and Paddy Agnew in Louth won seats.
It could have been very different had Gerry Adams, who effectively took the final decision on the matter, succumbed to advice to stand live, non-prisoner candidates pledged to take their seats in the Dail until the hunger strike was satisfactorily resolved. Those two seats would have given Haughey a working majority and later history, including the New Ireland Forum and the Hillsborough Agreement might have been very different.
Adams refused the advice because he was not sure that live candidates would win and because the strategy came perilously close to breaking the then sacred abstentionist rule. It wasn't so much that he was himself so attached to the abstentionist principle but that his IRA and Sinn Féin colleagues still were. It was too soon to jump that particular fence.
The same caution, the refusal to make a move until and unless the next five or six permutations have been worked out and all the risks isolated and dealt with, is one of the defining features of Sinn Féin's handling of the peace process. Gerry Adams' reluctance to step on lily pads is one of the reasons the peace process took so long to unfold, from the winter of 1982 to the summer of 1994, half the length of the Troubles. It explains why IRA decommissioning is similarly so protracted and drawn out.
The ruthlessness showed itself in July 1981 when after pressure from Fr Faul and relatives of the hunger strikers, Gerry Adams went in to the jail to talk to the protesting inmates. He went not with an order from the Army Council to end the protest, which at that point had just claimed its sixth victim, but to put the onus on the prisoners themselves to call a halt to the fast. Weighed down by Bobby Sands death and the five other prisoners who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their cause the surviving hunger strikers could give only one answer.
Was it just coincidence that within weeks Sands' election agent, Owen Carron was elected in his place as MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone? Was it co-incidence that the prisoners' reluctance to abandon the protest contributed enormously to that result? After all there can be little doubt that had the hunger strikers called off their fast in July, Carron would have been opposed in the by-election by the SDLP and Sinn Féin denied a real live MP when that autumn the Army Council and the Sinn Féin ard-fheis authorised the armalite and ballot box strategy. The rest, as they say, is history.
This then is the Bobby Sands legacy and it is no wonder that in this the twentieth anniversary of his death and that of his nine colleagues the Sinn Féin leadership has gone to extreme lengths to present themselves as the inheritors of their political mantle. To do otherwise would be to open up the whole event to critical and possibly telling examination. Dissident republicans argue that the peace process was a betrayal of what the hunger strikers died for but who can deny the straight line that links their deaths to the increasingly constitutional strategy contrived by the Sinn Féin leadership.
CELTIC 'FANS' TO DEFY BAN ON BIGOTRY
29th April '01
By Carlos Alba, Reproduced from Sunday Times (Scotland)
A CELTIC supporters' organisation with republican terrorist links is plotting to defy a club ban on sectarian activities.
Tiocfaidh Ar Lá - pronounced Chuckee aar laa - plans to reverse anti-sectarian reforms made by Celtic five years ago.
Its campaign will heighten tension in the run-up to today's Old Firm match at Ibrox. Sectarian abuse has been a factor in the killings of eight fans in the past five years.
The group, named after an IRA slogan which translates as Our Day Will Come, claims to represent the views of up to 15,000 fans, and believes Celtic's Irish nationalist traditions have been "sold out" by the club.
The Bhoys Against Bigotry campaign, introduced by former chief executive Fergus McCann in 1996, has all but eliminated sectarian chants at Celtic Park.
Closed-circuit television cameras and club stewards have been used to identify fans singing Irish rebel songs. Since then, more than 200 supporters have had their season tickets withdrawn and have been banned from the ground.
But an article in the latest issue of Tiocfaidh Ar Lá's TAL fanzine says: "We need to find other ways to defy the club's diktats. It is incumbent upon those organised groups of supporters within the stadium to make their voices heard and to collectively defy the club and the security."
The group is organised by members of the extreme left-wing splinter group Red Action, which has been involved in IRA bombings and street fights with fascist groups. Two Red Action members, Patrick Hayes and Jan Taylor, were the IRA's top mainland terrorists in the early 1990s. They were each jailed for 30 years for carrying out 25 attacks in London, including the Harrods bomb in 1993.
The TAL fanzine has existed since 1992, with 5,000 copies of each edition sold outside Celtic Park. The group claims it gets double that number of hits on its website.
The TAL fanzine editor, Stephen McAlese, said a growing number of fans were becoming disenchanted at the club's sanitised image and were keen to focus more on the issue of Irish republicanism.
"The club pays lip service to the club's Irish origins, but they want the whole thing depoliticised," he said.
"We are proud to be associated with people like Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers. We are proud to be associated with that kind of politics and that kind of struggle."
Celtic said anyone attempting to reintroduce sectarian songs would be ejected from the ground.
FUTILITY OF THE REAL IRA
23rd April '01
By Danny Morrison (Reproduced from The Observer, Sunday 22 April 2001)
Last Sunday the ongoing foot and mouth crisis meant that there were a limited number of Irish republican marches commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising.
The media was interested in the turn-out in Dublin for the 32-County Sovereignty Movement because of its alleged links to the Real IRA (there had been an explosion in London the night before), and to see if it would attract significant numbers (two hundred people showed up), and if a threatened picket by relatives of the Omagh bomb victims materialised.
But the largest number of commemorations with the highest attendance were those organised by the National Graves Association addressed by Sinn Fein speakers. At these marches were relatives of dead IRA Volunteers, former hunger strikers, ex-escapees, former prisoners in abundance, as well as thousands of supporters.
The speaker at the 32-CSM commemoration in Dublin said that they had small numbers and were being vilified just like the men and women of 1916. On other occasions dissidents have likened their splitting from mainstream republicans in Sinn Fein and the IRA as a re-run of the split in 1969. At that time the Republican Movement divided into the 'Officials' (who imploded several times before quickly bowing out of the struggle) and those colloquially referred to as 'the Provisionals' (today's Sinn Fein and IRA).
However, the Real IRA has not flourished in the way the IRA did after the split from the Officials. It will never be able to replicate the IRA's firepower and thus bring the British to the negotiating table. The 32-CSM has no popular support, has failed to produce a cogent leadership which can articulate a position beyond its obsession with Sinn Fein, and lacks a credible political programme.
Whereas the Officials went into decline after they cease-fired in 1972, Sinn Fein's popularity, North and South, has risen remarkably since the IRA's cessation of August 1994, to the extent where the party in the South may hold the balance of power after the next election. Dissidents rely on exploiting growing republican disquiet at Britain's mishandling of the peace process, but that anger is unlikely to be directed at the Sinn Fein leadership or be channelled into substantial support for dissidents.
In its constitution the 32-CSM pompously states: "We hold that all administrations and assemblies purporting to act as lawful government for the Irish people, or otherwise functioning as partitionist entities, to be illegal." But how can its leaders square this belated purism with the fact that for eleven years - from 1986 until 1997 - they remained part of the Republican Movement which had dropped its policy of abstentionism towards that 'partitionist' entity, the Dail? At least former president Ruairi O Bradaigh had the honesty to leave and form Republican Sinn Fein.
If the 32-CSM and the Real IRA really believes in the 1916 analogy then they should go back to first principles, should contest elections on an abstentionist ticket and set up an all-Ireland assembly in opposition to what the electorates, North and South, have overwhelmingly voted for - the Good Friday Agreement. Similarly, its members should refuse to recognise the courts. Of course, that would be absurd, and they know it.
Those who split from the Republican Movement in 1997 to form the Real IRA and the 32-CSM did so because they refused to go along with or respect the opinion of the majority of their comrades whom they categorise as 'stooges' of the leadership. As if activists and supporters are incapable of evaluating strategy and making up their own minds or have no right to defend the opinions they have reached.
The 32-CSM's principal alternative to the Sinn Fein project of bringing about a new Ireland is remarkably naïve: pressing Ireland's right to sovereignty and independence at the United Nations. Ask the Palestinians about UN Resolution 242 and what it has done for their freedom. Just last week Hizbullah guerrillas who attacked Israeli soldiers in a disputed border region were condemned by the UN because "the UN has determined the territory was conquered by Israel from Syria." I wouldn't trust the UN with my back garden never mind my country.
Tragically, the Real IRA will continue with its sporadic campaign, continue to kill innocent people and lose its own Volunteers to cemetery and jail until some member has the guts to face up to the futility of the campaign. They and the 32-CSM have no message for the unionist people, do not understand that the building of trust, the normalisation of relations with the unionists, preparatory cross-border social and economic harmonisation, the building of a strong, all-Ireland republican party, are all part of the struggle for Irish re-unification.
© Danny Morrison
© Danny Morrison
BRADFORD - CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST?
17th April '01
'Detecting unconscious racism while simultaneously dismissing in-your-face evidence of studied aggression is a balancing act British liberalism has finessed to an art' an article in Red Action commented only last month.
Police remarks following the race riot in Bradford at the weekend, that any racial motivation remains 'unclear', bears out that observation in the most graphic fashion imaginable.
Here you had a situation where an apparently chance encounter between an Asian and a white youth, flared almost instantly into a full blown riot, spontaneously drawing in hundreds of combatants eager to inflict serious injury on otherwise total strangers purely on the grounds of colour.
In the mayhem that followed cars were burnt out, pubs fire-bombed, minority owned take-aways set alight in retaliation and the police are completely mystified as to what might possibly have been the motivation?
A more vivid example of a 'race riot', even before anyone heard of William Macpherson, would be hard to find.
Generally since the Macpherson Report, police are encouraged to regard practically every fight between different ethnic groups, as the result of deep-seated racism on the part of one of the combatants. But in Bradford where the attackers and victims were selected on racial lines, there is head-scratching on the part of the media and the constabulary.
A more typical example is the trial of the Leeds United footballers, where the media for months stressed that Bowyer and Woodgate were on trial for 'attacking Asians' even though the police who had investigated it as 'a race hate crime', presented no evidence to the court to substantiate it.
The trial collapsed for that allegation being made by a Sunday paper anyway. Socialist Worker then ran a totally over the top centre spread in support of the Mirror allegations.
In the same week, another example of teasing out imaginary racism and as well as ignoring real racism, involved a ten year old being charged with 'racially aggravated assault' following a minor playground dispute where insults were exchanged. In response to being abused for being over-weight he called his tormentor 'a Paki bastard'. Had he left it at 'bastard' no charges would have been proffered.
In recent weeks we have also witnessed the ANL hysteria and the media frenzy generated by a couple of dozen NF marching through Bermondsey. Yet in Bradford where it is self-evidently an open and shut case of serious racial conflict, the police, media, and liberals prevaricate.
Similar contradictions can also be detected in the ANL pretence that Bermondsey is strategically important whereas Bexley, or Beckton, or Tipton where the BNP have clocked up 20% averages in recent local elections are all better ignored.
Warmly applauded by the Left, the Macpherson conclusion that urged that "any incident which is percieved to be racist by the victim or any other person" was to be treated as racist is now routine. On a roll, some members of the inquiry were tempted to go further, publicly wondering whether it might be possible 'to criminalise racist thinking'.
Objectively from any progressive perspective deliberately putting race at the centre of criminal, social, and media affairs as a matter of routine, effectively racialising debate around such issues is bound to end in disaster. For only one political tendency can ultimately benefit from such a preoccupation.
For instance as the law now stands there is a four-fold increase in the penalty attached to common assault if the Crown convinces a jury that racial epithets were used.
This is bad enough but it pales besides the 56-fold increase in the sentence for "racially aggravated" criminal damage. Currently, the maximum penalty for causing damage worth less than £5,000 is three months in prison. However if a racial element is suggested or proved the maximum sentence rises to 14 years. Should a sentence of anything like such magnitude ever be applied the political fall-out could be terminally disastrous - to the cause of anti-racism itself.
Meanwhile each idiotic episode supplies the right and the far-right with a fresh injection of self-righteousness and propaganda by which to legitimise its political existence.
It has been said before, but it is undeniably absolute madness.
In the meantime historic rises in reported racial incidents are 'welcomed' as proof of minority confidence in the police. What none in the race relation professionals seem at all keen to answer is at what stage the increase might cease to be welcomed and become a cause for concern?
Neither is any consideration even given to the possibility that a) the four fold rise in London might reflect how bad things always actually are, or b) racial incidents are being recorded at such a rate because racial conflict is itself on the increase.
Other surveys which show that 80% 'resent refugees' or that repatriation of all immigrants is still favoured by large sections of the population, even after being abandoned as too 'extreme' by BNP policy makers, are cast aside without comment by the CRE in favour of the pursuit of 'greater visibility for minority groups in sitcoms'.
Up to now any militant anti-fascist concerns, or criticisms of the Left for allowing or encouraging the displacement of class by race and total lack of priorities on display, has typically been met with the charge that it is the anti-fascists themsleves 'who are in need of race awareness training'!
Last summer merely for the fact of pointing out that slogans such as 'refugees welcome here' were not fact, and therefore likely to prove counterproductive propaganda wise, Red Action was accused of being 'national socialist'.
In recent weeks attention has been drawn to the implications of Beckton, Bermondsey, and now Bradford. For some this suggests an unhealthy obsession with race, but this is only because the situation on the ground is in many areas, unhealthy in the extreme.
'Race hate crime' is manufactured artificially where none exists, and where racial tensions exists in voluminous amounts liberalism turns a blind eye to the implications.
Hypocrisy and cowardice of such magnitude cannot hope to be credibly sustained indefinitely. Particularly as none of it is lost on the working class targets of the finger-wagging.
Only one thing remains certain - it will, it is safe to predict, 'all end in tears'.
IRA EASTER MESSAGE 2001
12th April '01
Reproduced from RM Distribution
The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann extends fraternal greetings to republican activists, supporters and friends at home and abroad.
We reaffirm our belief that the British government claim to a part of Ireland, its denial of self-determination to the people of the island of Ireland, the partition of our country and the maintenance of social and economic inequality are the root causes of conflict. We reaffirm our commitment to the national reunification of Ireland.
On this, the 85th anniversary of the Easter Rising, we remember all of those who have given their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. We salute the courage and fortitude of our Volunteers who have died in this phase of our historic struggle.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of our ten comrades who died on hunger strike in Long Kesh. We remember Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine. By their courageous actions and sacrifice they smashed the British government's attempt to criminalise our struggle for freedom. We also remember Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg. This generation of republicans hold all of those who died on hunger strike in the same regard as previous generations held the men executed in 1916.
We extend solidarity to their families and to the families of all our fallen comrades.
We also extend our solidarity to our imprisoned comrades at home and abroad and to their families. Many of our comrades have now been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement; the republican prisoners held in Castlerea should also be released.
Since 1994 the IRA has maintained cessations of military operations.
While not being party to the Good Friday Agreement, we have taken a number of unprecedented initiatives which further demonstrate our commitment to and desire for a permanent peace in Ireland.
We commend the resolve and discipline of our Volunteers in this period.
The political responsibility for ending the current crisis lies with the British government. There should be no attempt to renegotiate commitments previously made. Those who seek to defeat the IRA and Irish republicanism will not prevail.
Oglaigh na hEireann remains committed to the achievement of our republican objectives and the vision of an Irish Republic as outlined in the Proclamation of 1916.
Irish Republican Publicity Bureau,
THIRTY THOUSAND, FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY TWO…
11th April '01
By Danny Morrison (Reproduced from Andersonstown News, 9th April)
Twenty years ago today, 9th April, the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone went to the polls in a by-election to fill the seat held by the late Frank Maguire, an Independent MP, who died just five days after Bobby Sands began his hunger strike. Upon hearing of his death I doubt if any of us involved in the H-Block/Armagh campaign thought in terms of an election with a prisoner candidate. Firstly, the death of an MP does not automatically give rise to a by-election. A writ must be moved by an MP in the House of Commons to cause a by-election. Although republicans were friendly with some left-wing MPs, relations weren't of the nature that they would do your bidding. Besides, such a call would have presupposed the existence of a concrete plan or strategy - when there was none.
Bobby Sands' entry into Fermanagh and South Tyrone was an accident of history, and if there is one person who can be 'credited' with allowing that intervention then it is James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1981, and arguably one of that party's most stupid.
Molyneaux thought that the nationalist vote would be split between the SDLP and an Independent candidate and that a single unionist candidate, in the form of former party leader, Harry West, would take the seat. It was only when the election was called that the idea was suggested that the Smash H-Block/Armagh campaign should make an intervention. Around about the same time that Bernadette McAliskey let it be known that she was prepared to stand but would stand aside for a prisoner candidate, others, most notably, Jim Gibney from Sinn Fein, were suggesting that Bobby Sands should be put forward.
A meeting was held in Monaghan and, incredibly, a small minority of Fermanagh republicans actually favoured the candidature of Noel Maguire, the former dead MP' s brother. However, at the end of the meeting it was decided to stand Bobby Sands, provided he got a clear run against West. Noel Maguire, under tremendous emotional pressure, eventually withdrew his name and the SDLP, fearing a backlash, decided not to put up a candidate, though Austin Currie threatened to stand and SDLP councillor Tommy Murray who signed Bobby Sands' nomination papers was dismissed from the party.
I have never seen an election campaign like it. Thousands of activists were mobilised from across Ireland to go to Fermanagh and South Tyrone to help out in the postering and canvassing. In Dungannon and Enniskillen offices were opened round-the-clock. Some of us from Belfast went up, thinking we were going to teach the locals how to run an election. What we discovered was that working quietly away in the background for decades were people who had dedicated themselves to the electoral registers, ensuring that everyone of voting age was on the rolls, that the sick or those overseas were registered for postal votes, that people were trained in the science of organising an election and supervising the count. They were brilliant.
At after-Mass meetings people would emerge from chapel, stand and listen, applaud and then make generous contributions to the fighting fund. I remember a group of Belfast women return to the election office in Dungannon totally despondent about Bobby's chances after they got an extremely cold reception outside a church on the Ballygawley Road. Francie Molloy asked them to describe exactly where they had made the speeches. It turned out they had been addressing and leafleting parishioners leaving a Church of Ireland service!
In Enniskillen on the day of the count we felt in our bones that Bobby was going to win. You just knew it from the atmosphere, the people flocking to the polling stations, queueing to vote. In the afternoon when the returning officer declared the vote I couldn't contain myself and let out a huge yell.
For years the British government had been denigrating republicans, declaring they had no support, challenging them to go to the ballot box. Bobby Sands got 30,492, with a majority twice as large as Thatcher's in her constituency of Finchley. Bobby's election agent, Owen Carron, made Bobby's acceptance speech and called for dialogue to resolve the hunger strike. Harry West got up and began to make his victory speech, then appeared confused, then realised that the unthinkable had happened - Bobby Sands had won!
That night I came back to Belfast with Mr and Mrs Sands and Bobby's sister, Marcella, and went into town to do more interviews. In the car we discussed the impact of Bobby's victory and the hope it gave that his life might be saved, that Thatcher would be compelled to recognise his mandate. But that was not to be. Her reaction was to amend the Representation of the People Act so that no Irish political prisoner in any jail in the world could contest a Westminster election. British governments were later to continually amend electoral rules – on identification, on deposits, on local government oaths - all with the objective of excluding republicans, and all of which failed because Sinn Fein circumvented all obstacles by simply adopting a pragmatic approach.
Republicans and electoralism could have ended there in 1981, had not James Molyneaux, again inexplicably, moved another writ for another by-election! Because of the exclusion of prisoner candidates, this time Owen Carron, a member of Sinn Fein, standing on an anti-H-Block/Armagh prison ticket, was nominated and was elected, increasing Bobby's vote, in yet another dramatic election. Owen's election took place on 20th August, the day on which Mickey Devine became the last hunger striker to die.
In voting for Bobby Sands and Owen Carron the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone rejected British rule and asserted the integrity of the prisoners and the cause of Irish independence. They provided the springboard for the electoral rise of Sinn Fein and the empowerment of the general nationalist population in its unrelenting challenge to unionist and British misrule.
EXPOSED: THE HIDDEN RACISM OF SCOTLAND'S LEAFY SUBURBS
8th April '01
Reproduced from the Sunday Herald
Special Report. Opposition to mosque plans is evidence of a "nasty little trend".
By Neil Mackay Home Affairs Editor.
THE letters starting dropping through the doors a few weeks ago. They were filled with ominous warnings that there were plans to build a mosque in an empty field near Newton Mearns, the affluent middle-class suburb on the south side of Glasgow.
They made clear what the consequences would be: "A quick summary of this can only mean devaluation of your home". Every house got the anonymous letter, urging readers to campaign against the mosque by objecting in writing to the council.
Last Wednesday more than 300 of Newton Mearns's well-heeled residents crammed themselves into Mearns Primary School to stage a public meeting protesting against the mosque. Only a handful of Muslims turned up to campaign for the building to go ahead. The rest hadn't thought a place of worship could be so controversial.
Accusations of racism flew when the few Muslims in attendance heard their white neighbours call for the mosque to be scrapped. By Thursday, a day after Mearns Community Council decided a letter-writing campaign was needed, East Renfrewshire Council had received more than 150 objections.
When the mosque plans come before the council's planning committee in May, it is unlikely they will get the green light. Plans for low-cost houses, offices and a health centre, which are tied to the mosque development, will most likely be shelved too.
This is not the first time that middle-class Scotland has been accused of racism and hypocrisy. A previous attempt to set up an Islamic Centre in Newton Mearns was outlawed, and last year the Muslim community in Bearsden and Milngavie went through an almost identical fight when East Dunbartonshire Council took the side of protesters and scrapped plans for an Islamic Centre.
Of all the people the Sunday Herald spoke to in Newton Mearns, only one would go on the record and allow his name to be put alongside the statements he made. That was Huntley Gordon, the chairman of the Mearns Community Council. He claimed the mosque was not wanted as it was going to be built on a greenbelt area, would mean more traffic, and would encroach on an adjacent Christian cemetery. But from the field it would be built in, only a handful of houses are visible. It seems unlikely that the families who live in them could make up the large numbers who have now protested against the plans. Locals admit that objections have come from Newton Mearns residents who live far from the site, hinting that their motive is at best Nimby-ist - Not In My Back Yard - and at worst racist.
Gordon, a civil engineer, is certainly not a racist, and he denies that racism is behind residents' opposition. "The local authority should build community facilities for the whole community, not individual groups," he said. "I'm aware coloured representatives at the meeting were disappointed with our reaction."
However, his comments do not chime with those of his neighbours. "We are up in arms about this," said one advertising executive. "Over the last five years there has been an influx of Asians into Newton Mearns. Our property value has fallen. The homes Asians are living in look dreadful. A mosque would just accelerate the number of ethnics moving into this area.
"That means cultural change for us and that's not acceptable. Five years ago I would have said there was not a racist bone in my body, but resentment is running high in this area now."
One resident even claimed: "We don't want to be woken up at five in the morning with megaphones calling the faithful to prayer. We see Asian children in cars with no seatbelts and their parents aren't being arrested because the police dread being accused of racism. They don't pay VAT, tax, sit their driving tests or have insurance." Another resident went on: "I don't pay top-dollar mortgage rates just to have my property devalued. It will come to the stage where white people will move out. It seems Asians are a protected species these days. That's the problem with political correctness - the pendulum has swung too far."
To many people, this level of racist abuse and myth-making is almost unbelievable. Anyone saying such things publicly today would face prosecution under Britain's laws on race hatred. But to others this kind of venom is an everyday event.
Robina Qureshi runs Positive Action in Housing, a charity set up to end discrimination against ethnic minorities. "People seem shocked to hear that people in nice middle-class areas can say such things," she said. "They seem to see racism as confined to the end of some thug's boot. That is not how it works. The worst type of racism is the institutionalised racism of the middle classes. It is perpetrated by people who see themselves as tolerant, but once they are confronted with a black face their tolerance goes out the window.
"The difference between racism in the run-down schemes and racism in the leafy suburbs is one of degree. In Possil you might end up with a broken nose. In Newton Mearns you can lose your job, your house and your place of worship. A broken nose goes away, but you can't replace a job or a home. Middle-class racism is so much more dangerous. Most black people say that if you scratch the surface of a white person you will find the racist underneath. It looks like that's happened in Newton Mearns."
Qureshi, who was beaten in a racist attack in the affluent Glasgow suburb of Hyndland, knows what she's talking about. Every day she deals with people who have been racially intimidated. Race hate crime is three times higher in Scotland than it is in England. Latest figures show that in the first nine months of 1999 racial incidents rose to 435, compared to 267 for the same period in 1998. Reporting of race crime is now at its highest-ever level, even though crime is at its lowest in 20 years.
"Nowadays we have people from second and third-generation ethnic minorities getting great jobs and wanting to move to well-off areas," said Qureshi. "The more that happens, the more we will hear stories like this. I think this is just the start of a nasty little Scottish trend."
Every East Renfrewshire councillor refused to be interviewed by the Sunday Herald. Spokesman Hugh Doherty said it would be inappropriate for them to comment on the building of the mosque prior to the plans being considered by the council. Local MP Jim Murphy was "unavailable" for interview.
In Bearsden, the plans for an Islamic Centre were scrapped because many residents said it would be "incompatible" with the area. To Mohammed Ali, a local Islamic representative, such a comment is nothing less than middle-class code for racism. "It tells many stories," he said. "But principally it says, 'This area says no to multiculturalism.'
"We wanted this community to feel like our home, but if you are told you can't have your place of worship in your community, you are not likely to feel part of that community. We now feel like we have no place - our cultural life has been vastly impoverished.
"We should not be surprised that this happens in well-off areas such as Bearsden and Milngavie. Affluency does not bring wisdom; tolerance does not come with wealth.
"The growing Islamophobia of the West plays a major part in the problems faced by Muslim people in Britain. People see all Muslims as terrorists. Our Islamic Centre was going to be a place to pray, not a terrorist headquarters. If white people tried to understand us, they would realise that we are just like they are. Then they would stop pointlessly fearing us and hating us, and we could live and worship together in mutual friendship and respect."
THE LESSONS OF NEWHAM FOR ANTI-FASCISTS
8th April '01
Reproduced from Anti-Fascist Action (5th April)
The concerns raised by AFA about the way the Socialist Alliance reacted to the Newham by-election should have initiated a serious discussion within the Left and anti-fascist movement as to what is needed to beat the threat from the Far Right. Apart from a few lines agreeing with AFA in Weekly Worker and some comments on the UK Left discussion site, the targets of AFA's criticisms have remained completely silent. The Newham election may appear to have only limited significance, but in fact perfectly illustrates many of the key issues.
The local paper described the area in the south of the borough as "being in the top two per cent of the most deprived areas in the country and long term unemployment has become an accepted feature of life there. Poor housing stock, a lack of social amenities and a decline in essential services have all conspired to create an atmosphere of isolation and despair. The community regard themselves as the forgotten people of Newham and that feeling runs deep among the 16,000 living there." (Newham Recorder 29/3/01.) Perfect territory for the Left to attack the Labour run council you would think. But no, instead the East London Socialist Alliance called for a Labour vote.
As a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain said on the UK Left discussion site: "Given that the only reason that the BNP ever gets any halfway decent votes is because working class people feel they are being disenfranchised by Labour (old and new), it is therefore bizarre to then call for a vote for Labour to defeat the BNP!!"
And why did the Socialist Alliance back Labour? Because they placed race above class. Fearing their intervention might split the Labour vote and allow the BNP to win the seat, rather than out-radicalise the Far Right and win over working class voters from the BNP, they instead backed the class enemy. In a community where some resources are already allocated racial lines, a failure to be seen to be standing up for all sections of the community only helps those who seek to divide the working class into competing racial groups.
Having backed Labour in the election, it is hard to stomach the prospective Socialist Alliance candidate in the forthcoming general election claiming in a letter to the Newham Recorder (4/4/01) that: "Newham New Labour council's plan for Canning Town is nothing other than 'social cleansing' - push out working class people and bring in the rich and those for whom a flat or house is a 'property investment', not a place to live and bring up your family. The Socialist Alliance will stand with those fighting this 'social cleansing', and opposing Jim [Fitzpatrick MP] and his New Labour friends on Newham and Tower Hamlets councils at the general election."
The question is, will the 'working class people' referred to by the Socialist Alliance have any faith in an organisation that was launched with a fanfare to fight Labour, then decides to back Labour, and now announces it will stand against Labour in a few months time? This is hardly principled opposition designed to show the community you have their interests at heart.
Recent results in Austria should give encouragement to the Left. Although the Freedom Party still got over 20% of the vote in the Vienna elections, the 7% drop they did suffer was on account of their support for cuts in welfare spending which were unpopular with their working class supporters. The potential for a genuine progressive working class movement remains immense.
Unlike the Socialist Alliance, the Christian People's Alliance were keen to stand against Labour, their candidate speaking out against Labour's "gentrification" before the election, and afterwards said: "On the streets I heard a lot of hurt and anger. No one is upset about the need to do things for Canning Town, but the housing programme will destroy communities." (Newham Recorder, 4/4/01.) And what were the Socialist Alliance doing while this was going on? Backing the forces of 'social cleansing'!
The need for a consistent working class opposition to Labour becomes a priority when you look at the big picture. The latest Commission for Racial Equality survey found that "three quarters of white respondents thought that ethnic minority communities receive too much advice and assistance from the Government" and 20% of those surveyed were hostile to asylum seekers. These are the issues that the BNP will look to exploit and at the same time these are issues that the Left can challenge the fascists on. The BNP only appear radical in the absence of any alternative, a point AFA is totally confident on. Whether it is consistent support for local working class concerns or addressing the refugee situation with a working class friendly 'For the community - Against racism' approach, the Left could isolate the fascists from working class communities.
If, on the other hand, none of these lessons are learned and it remains 'business as usual' then projects like the Socialist Alliance will have no value for the anti-fascist movement. To make it a serious three-cornered fight in working class communities between Labour, the BNP and the Left (because this is the issue), then the Socialist Alliance will have to do a lot more than just turn up with a few slogans.
IS THIS THE SAME SOCIALIST ALLIANCE...?
6th April '01
In a strongly worded attack on the Labour Party in Newham in this weeks Newham Recorder, Dr Kamla Boomla, Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate wrote:
"Newhams New Labour councils plan for Canning Town is nothing more than "social cleansing" - push out working class people and bring in the rich and those for whom a flat or house is a "property investment" not a place to live and bring up a family".
"The Socialist Alliance" he continued "will stand with those fighting this "social cleansing", and oppose Jim and his New Labour friends at the General Election."
Is this the same Socialist Alliance who, rather than stand against the social cleansing policy of New Labour instead took a 'principled' decision to actually physically campaign on the ground for New Labour only last week?
Is this the same Socialist Alliance who opted to back a Tory defector against the Christian Alliance candidate, the sole candidate to oppose gentrification and reflect working class interests and concerns on the issue?
Is this the same Socialist Alliance when faced with a choice of boosting working class independence opted instead to maintain New Labour's monoply in one of the most discriminated against boroughs in the country?
Is this the same Socialist Alliance who possibly made that crucial 5% difference to reinforce the New Labour mandate on social cleansing?
Is this the same Socialist Alliance - or is it a different one?
LSA CATASTROPHE BECKONS IN 2002
2nd April '01
On Friday midday the results of the Beckton by-election were announced. This revealed that Labour retained its seat, winning 40% of the total, although run a close second by the Christian Alliance who clocked up an impressive 34%. The BNP came third with 17%, exactly half the total of the CPA candidate and approximately twice the Tories who trailed in fourth with 8%.
Of course as we know, the real story of the by-election was the failure of the London Socialist Alliance to put up a candidate at all. More startlingly, the local branch committed themselves to campaign for Labour, in the knowledge that the candidate was a Tory defector! What could be more ignominious for a nascent party which on occasion likes to present itself as revolutionary?
However the deafening silence that greeted Red Action criticism of the thinking behind the decision was at least as significant as the decision itself. On the UK Left site for example which has around a thousand posts a month, no one could bring themselves to even comment for fear they would be too closely associated with a Red Action analysis.
Indeed it was not until about a week later when an AFA analysis was presented that any response was forthcoming. Interestingly, the verdict was an overwhelmingly healthy contempt for the LSA's display of bogus anti-fascism.
Despite all this the election used as a snapshot carries two important messages for all concerned.
The primary one is that the unexpectedly strong showing of the Christian Alliance was due to it, rather than the LSA or for that matter the BNP, reflecting 'immediate working class interests'. It achieved this by the stance it adopted against the gentrification, or to give it its proper name the 'social cleansing' of the area by Labour. The BNP on the other hand sought to blame everything on asylum-seekers. In this instance, considering there is historically a particularly strong resonance for racist arguments in the area, (Beckton being the ward which came within a whisker of returning a BNP candidate in the mid-90's), this was very much a victory for 'class' over 'race'.
This is the lesson AFA has oft repeated but which continues to fall on deaf ears: Euro-nationalism as practised by Haider and the BNP amongst others, can expect to enjoy long term success only where working class interests are put to the side in the favour of the finger-wagging dressed up as anti-racism (Refugees Welcome Here!) recommended by the likes of the ANL, Searchlight and arguably the LSA. That is lesson one.
The second lesson is just as instructive. While it is true that both AFA and RA poured scorn on the formal reasons given by the LSA against standing, and thereby threatening to 'split the Labour vote', with the results in, the question that now needs to be asked is what difference an LSA candidate would have made? Not much, if the results of other recent forays are used as a gauge.
In the last two by-elections it has contested in the east London area before Christmas the LSA managed 55 and 60 votes respectively. On such a showing they would have come bottom of the poll behind the Tories on 79.
However in such a close fought election with a mere 58 votes between 1st and 2nd that 60 odd votes the LSA might have expected to accrue, presuming those votes came from Labour, might have been enough to hand victory to the one campaign that put working class interests to the fore. Instead as we know, the LSA committed itself to campaign for a Labour victory 'social cleansing'/'Tory defector' and all. Looked at in that way whatever influence the LSA call to vote Labour might have had it was, for both it and the working class locally, guaranteed to be an entirely negative one. An inauspicious verdict on a 'party' that made it's public debut in London less than nine months earlier. In truth depite taking roughly half the BNP vote then, the LSA has steadfastly refused, despite, or in some cases possibly in response to the efforts of Red Action delegates to introduce a modicum of reality to projections, to learn anything from it.
If anything, as the dissolving of the London Steering Committee would indicate, the body language is becoming even more closed and introspective. There is no possibility of this changing or being changed prior to the General Election on June 7th - and - may if anything be more conservative and defensive afterwards.
This would be bad enough if the survival of the Left as constituted were all that was at risk. However in just over twelve months the same LSA 'united front' is going to find itself confronted at a local council level across the capital in the council elections in May 2002, by what promises to be the most focused and ambitious electoral drive from the far-right for decades.
Quite correctly in contrast to the Socialist Alliance, the BNP has decided this rather that the General election offers it the the best chance to capture the anti-Labour protest vote. How will the LSA respond? Much will depend on how much influence Red Action delegates can bring to bear when democracy is 'returned' with the re-convening of the LSA Steering Committee in July.
As is stands now, as Beckton demonstrated, the LSA is spectacularly ill-equipped both phychologically or politically to deal with a head on challenge from the BNP. With the last three BNP council by-election results in and around London showing them with 27, 9, and 17 per cent respectively there will be a mere ten months from when the Steering Committee is re-convened in which to avoid comparative catastrophe. The forecast is, it must be said, not promising.
REID 'A THREAT TO AGREEMENT'
2nd April '01
By Martin McGuinness (Reproduced from Ireland On Sunday, 1st April)
IN A very short time, the British government's new secretary of
state in the North of Ireland, John Reid, has moved away from the
Good Friday agreement and significantly closer to the unionist
Sinn Féin has honoured all commitments entered into throughout the
peace process, including those in the agreement itself. We have
stretched our membership and constituency very considerably in the
course of this. By contrast, the British government and the UUP
have both acted in bad faith and in breach of the agreement on a
number of counts.
He has is moving closer to the policy approach adopted by the John
Major government which the Blair government discarded as unworkable
and counter-productive when it came to power in May 1997.
Mr Reid's remarks in recent weeks have to be seen in context.
In early 1995 - several months after the leadership of the IRA had
unilaterally called a total cessation of all military operations -
the then British secretary of state, Patrick Mayhew, visited
There he publicly enunciated the so-called "Washington principles",
which were, in effect, a demand for an IRA surrender as a pre-
condition to the commencement of negotiations.
These so-called "principles" were, in reality, a device by the
British government that have since been used by the Unionists to
try to block progress through the peace process.
Sinn Féin's position has been consistent. If we are to have a
successful peace process the issue of arms must be resolved - all
arms. Making an objective of the peace process into a pre-condition
is totally counter-productive.
And while the Blair government publicly moved away from Mr Mayhew's
pre-conditions, which had almost destroyed the peace process, the
securocrats have been unwavering in their pursuit of the political
defeat of Irish republicanism and an IRA surrender.
Six years on, John Reid has resurrected the Washington principles
and has been thematic in publicly restating these over a number of
On March 11, John Reid in an interview with David Frost, publicly
endorsed David Trimble's breach of the agreement. Mr Reid pointed
out that following the IRA re-engagement with the de Chastelain
commission by the IRA, David Trimble had said that if it:
"Continued in a more substantial fashion then he would respond
positively giving the Sinn Féin elected members their full place in
that process, so there was a small step forward ..."
In effect, Mr Reid backs David Trimble's actions against Sinn Féin
Subsequently, in the United States over the period of the St
Patrick's Day celebrations, John Reid told the Boston Globe that
Sinn Féin "still has a gun under the table". The Globe reporter
also claimed that Mr Reid told him that the progress of recent
years would be lost if the IRA does not surrender its weapons.
This open and unapologetic use of a unionist argument and language
again sets Mr Reid in behind the Trimble line.
And then on March 25, Reid told the BBC's On the Record: "We have
to have some movement of a substantial nature on decommissioning,"
and "- so we now have re-engagement with the Provisional IRA and
John de Chastelain".
"That must move on from the stage of talking about whether they
decommission to how they decommission ... and actual
decommissioning, right. And we have to set the target date."
This is pure Mayhew.
What has now emerged is a repackaged Washington principles scenario
in which the new British secretary of state is:
- Endorsing the UUP's breach of the agreement and of the law in
respect of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council;
- Falsely accusing Sinn Féin of being an armed organisation as a
camouflage for ignoring the democratic entitlements of the Sinn
Féin electorate and the UUP's breach of the agreement;
- Demanding the commencement of an IRA surrender, as a pre-
condition to David Trimble honouring his obligations under the
terms of the agreement;
- Seeking to blame Sinn Féin for any damage done to the agreement
by David Trimble's obduracy and the refusal of the British
Government to attempt to get him to live up to his obligations.
All of this, while blithely ignoring the fact that the refusal of
his government to honour the deal that it made with the IRA last
May - and which it still refuses to honour - opened up the space
for David Trimble to do what he has done and continues to do.
The British government reneged on its commitments to implement the
Patten recommendations on a new policing service and on
In other words, Mr Reid, like David Trimble, is attempting to
renegotiate the agreement; to resurrect pre-conditions which a Tory
government erected as a deliberate and effective block on progress.
And he has expressed all of this in very frank and forthright
This, I believe, warrants an equally frank and forthright response.
The agreement cannot possibly succeed unless all parties to it,
honour their commitments and obligations.
Sinn Féin has honoured all commitments entered into throughout the
peace process, including those in the agreement itself. We have
stretched our membership and constituency very considerably in the
course of this.
By contrast, the British government and the UUP have both acted in
bad faith and in breach of the agreement on a number of counts.
Most notable amongst these have been:
- The British government's enactment and implementation of
legislation to suspend the institutions;
- The British government's emasculation of the Patten
- The British government's failure to demilitarise, and
- The UUP's veto in respect of the All-Ireland Ministerial
I also have to say to John Reid that Sinn Féin will defend the
democratic entitlements of our electorate and the Good Friday
agreement, and will challenge any erosion or denial of this from
The impunity with which David Trimble has acted since last October
owes much to the encouragement he has received from the British
government, in particular. That is what forced Sinn Féin into court
on the issue.
John Reid's recent utterances will encourage Unionists to continue
to act unlawfully and with impunity.
Mr Reid has, furthermore, in his Boston Globe interview, moved even
more fully to embrace the wrecker's charter David Trimble unveiled
for his UUC meeting last October and which set as its chief
objective the placing of blame on Nationalists and Republicans.
A strategy for blame is a wrecker's strategy. Is this really where
Mr Reid wants to take the situation?
Copyright Ireland On Sunday 2001