News - October 2001


23rd Oct '01

Below is the full text of todays IRA statement :

The IRA is committed to our republican objectives and to the establishment of a united Ireland based on justice, equality and freedom.

In August 1994, against a backdrop of lengthy and intensive discussions involving the two governments and others, the leadership of the IRA called a complete cessation of military operations in order to create the dynamic for a peace process.

'Decommissioning' was no part of that. There was no ambiguity about this.

Unfortunately there are those within the British Establishment and the leadership of unionism who are fundamentally opposed to change.

At every opportunity they have used the issue of arms as an excuse to undermine and frustrate progress.

It was for this reason 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.

In order to overcome this and to encourage the changes necessary for a lasting peace the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann has taken a number of substantial initiatives.

These include our engagement with the IICD [decommissioning body] and the inspection of a number of arms dumps by the two International Inspectors, Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari.

No one should doubt the difficulties these initiatives cause for us, our volunteers and our support base.

The Political process is now on the point of collapse.

Such a collapse would certainly and eventually put the overall peace process in jeopardy.

There is a responsibility upon everyone seriously committed to a just peace to do our best to avoid this.

Therefore, in order to save the peace process we have implemented the scheme agreed with the IICD in August.

Our motivation is clear.

This unprecedented move is to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions.

Signed: P O'Neill.


22nd Oct '01

An address by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP at Conway Mill, Belfast

It is in many ways appropriate that I am making these remarks today in Conway Mill.

As many of you will know the network of homes which used to nestle in the shadow of this mill bore the brunt of an RUC and B Special led pogrom in 1969 against Catholics across this city - from Ardoyne in the north, through West Belfast, to the Short Strand in the east of the city.

Entire streets here in West Belfast and in North Belfast were burned to the ground, 7 people were killed and thousands of families fled the unionist mobs in what was, at that time, the biggest forced movement of civilians in Western Europe since the end of last world war.


A lot has happened since then.

In that time and indeed throughout the history of Ireland, there have been many defining moments. Sometimes these have been swamped and lost, not least in the last forty years because of the violent legacy of partition. But in the last decade or so the peace process has brought the people of this island to a series of crossroads.

These have uniquely offered up a choice, an opportunity to move forward to a better future, to stay stuck in the present or to slip back into the past.

The current crisis in the peace process has for many been a source of great frustration, annoyance and anger.

Nationalists and republicans see the potential of the peace process being frittered away by a British government not honouring its commitments, and a unionist leadership obstructing the fundamental change that is required.

Unionists tell us that they are prepared to share power with nationalists and republicans. They argue that they see the issue of IRA arms as crucial to this. For this reason David Trimble says he has triggered this latest crisis.

The British government's suspension of the institutions, its remilitarisation of many republican communities, its emasculation of the policing issue, and the premature movement by others towards this inadequate position, along with the loyalist campaigns have all created difficulties which are coming to a head.

From this clash of positions and perceptions has emerged a threat to the peace process that risks undoing the advances of the last decade.

This must not be allowed to succeed.

Our aim is to Save the Good Friday Agreement

Sinn Fein's commitment to the process is absolute. The initiatives we have taken, the initiatives we have encouraged others to take, including the IRA, have contributed decisively to the peace process.

Our focus in recent times has been on seeking a resolution to this crisis.

Our aim has been to save the Good Friday Agreement.

As you are all aware, your party leadership has been involved in intense negotiations with the Irish and British governments and with the leadership of the UUP.

I recently travelled to South Africa and spoke to former President Nelson Mandela and later to the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and others, about this crisis. I have spoken to President Mbeki again today.

Martin McGuinness has also been in discussions with President Bush's Special Ambassador Richard Haas. Martin is today in the USA in dialogue with political representatives there and with Irish America.

From South Africa to North America there are commitments and promises to support our efforts. I welcome these commitments. Sinn Fein have worked hard to secure them but while we recognise that international goodwill is crucial, on its own it is no substitute for good will and good faith efforts here at home.

Creating a New Context

So our approach has been to create a context in which politics work, in which institutions are stable, inclusive and sustained, and in which the process towards equality and justice is underpinned.

In our view it is not only possible but imperative that everyone committed to a new future play their part fully in bringing about the achievement of a lasting peace in Ireland.

The Sinn Fein leadership has been seeking to create a context in which all of the key players in this crisis can share in the effort to end it, and share in the effort to build trust and confidence.

If all the pro-Agreement parties genuinely have a vision of a peaceful future built on justice, equality and a respect for our diversity, then we must look to each other to find ways of realising that vision.

Republicans and nationalists want to be convinced that unionism is facing up to its responsibilities.

Most fair minded people on this island want to believe that a British government is prepared to usher in a new dispensation based on equality.


But Sinn Fein is not naive. Our strategy is determined by objective realities. It is guided among other things by the fact that the democratic rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans cannot be conditional. These rights are universal rights. They effect all citizens.

In the Good Friday Agreement matters such as policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda are stand alone issues. These are issues to be resolved in their own right.

We have put this to all of those we have been in negotiation with.

It is clear to the Sinn Fein leadership that the issue of IRA weapons has been used as an excuse to undermine the peace process as well as the Good Friday Agreement.

But at the same time I do not underestimate the emotiveness and confusions which arise at different phases in struggle and in particular the effects of media and propaganda spins. This is particularly so on the weapons issue.

Many republicans are angry at the unrelenting focus on silent IRA weapons. This is in marked contrast to the attitude to loyalist weapons and bombs in daily use, and the remilitarisation by the British Army of republican heartlands in the north.

The issue of all arms must be resolved. But not just IRA weapons - British weapons as well.

This is a necessary part of any conflict resolution process.

Talking to the IRA

Martin McGuinness and I have also held discussions with the IRA and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a groundbreaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation.

However, I do not underestimate the difficulties this involves for the Army. Genuine republicans will have concerns about such a move. It is to them that I address this section of my remarks.

The naysayers, the armchair generals and the begrudgers, and the enemies of Irish republicanism and of the peace process, will present a positive IRA move in disparaging terms. That is only to be expected.

Others will say that the IRA has acted under pressure. But everyone else knows that the IRA is not an organisation that bows to pressure or which moves on British or unionist terms. IRA volunteers have a view of themselves and a vision of the Ireland they want to be part of. This is what will shape their attitude to this issue.

Republicans in Ireland and elsewhere will have to strategically think this issue through.

We have all been part of something very powerful. Each of us have struggled in difficult and hard times.

We are now in a good but challenging period for Irish republicanism. We have made significant advances this year. There is a continued need for all of us to stay connected and to keep fulfilling our roles. Our focus is on building the peace. Everyone of us have a role in that daunting task. We have to ensure that we have done our utmost to prevent the situation from slipping back into conflict.

Our activists have been the heart beat of the struggle for justice and freedom. It is the sum total of all our efforts that drives this process forward, that advances our struggle, and which builds the political strength to achieve our goals.

In my view the IRA is genuinely committed to building a peace process in which the objectives of Irish republicanism can be argued and advanced.

The Army has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and patience and vision and I respect absolutely its right to make its own decision on this issue.

I would appeal to republicans to stay united. I would particularly appeal to IRA Volunteers and their families, and to the IRA support base, to stay together in comradeship. This is the time for commitment to the republican cause. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts.

The IRA must stand out as an example of a peoples army, in touch with the people, responsive to their needs and enjoying their genuine allegiance and support.

Responding with generosity and vision

But building a genuine process of change is not only the responsibility of republicans. A positive IRA move must be responded to with generosity and vision. The Church of Ireland Archbishop Robin Eames made this point in a recent helpful intervention. Generosity and vision on all sides can turn these current difficulties around and transform a crisis riven process into an organic and a people centred movement towards a democratic peace settlement.

None of this will be easy. Those of us who want the most change, who seek the transformation of society, are called upon to stretch ourselves again and again. Those who are against change or for minimum movement see no reason to embrace the current process. But unionism has to come to terms with the new realities and progressive leaders must embrace and be part of the new dispensation.

I have no intention of lecturing unionists on their responsibilities. Our collective responsibility at this time is to settle our differences and I appeal to the leaders of unionism to join with us in doing that so that all sections of our people can go forward on the basis of equality. I firmly believe that republicans have to listen and learn about how unionism views its relationship with the rest of the people of this island. I reiterate our commitment as Irish republicans to uphold the rights and entitlements of all citizens to civil and religious liberties.

Sinn Fein's strategy commits and compels us to be part of the effort to establish a fair and just society for all the people of this island. Our effort is to replace conflict and strife with genuine partnership and equality.

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. There are elements which against the changes that are necessary if new relationships are to be built within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

There is a responsibility upon the British Prime Minister to right the wrongs and to be part of building a new future. In fairness to Mr Blair he has spent a great deal of time on the issue of Ireland but in my view this British government has been too tactical in its approach. It has pandered too much to conservative elements within its own system and here in the north. It has not driven the process with the vigour and assertiveness that is required.

The Good Friday Agreement is after all an agreement that the British government is part of.

The implementation of that agreement is not secondary to the issue of IRA weapons.

It has been the consistent view of Sinn Fein that the arms question can be resolved as part of a collective move forward in which the issue of weapons is completely removed as a precondition for progress on all the other issues.

This how is the Good Friday Agreement deals with this matter. If the political process had developed as the Agreement demands much more progress would have been achieved on the arms issue and the peace process would have been consolidated by now.

So if the IRA takes yet another 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 that they accept the imperative of politics and the imperative of peace making.

The Irish government too is a party to the Good Friday Agreement, and it has a particular mandate and a responsibility to promote and defend Irish national and democratic interests, and to uphold the rights of all citizens and the sovereignty of the nation. These fundamental positions are above and beyond party politics.

My appeal therefore at this crucial time, at this defining moment, is to all of the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments to work together to ensure that we put crisis politics behind us. It will not be easy but this it what has to be done.

It would be easier for all of us to dwell on the past but it is also futile. It is harder and more difficult to build a new future. But that is what we are collectively mandated to do.

We are in a time when world events are dominated by imagery and stories of conflict and violence and terror. At this time these events are replicated locally in provocative and deadly sectarian actions, both in the intimidation of little school girls and in bomb and gun attacks on nationalist families.

This then is the time for all of us do everything in our power to make our peace process a success, for the benefit of all our own people, for adecent and just and democratic future and as a beacon of hope for people everywhere.

Sinn Féin Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1


19th Oct '01

Following the Ealing bomb and the arrests of the three republicans in Columbia, right-wing commentators sought to extract concessions from Irish republicanism. With the declaration of ‘war against terrorism’ the clamour became deafening. As part of a strategm of blaming republicans for the failure of the Peace Process and to maximize perceived advantage David Trimble has today withdrawn the Ulster Unionist Party’s three members from the Six-County Executive.

But as A.Shaw argues, the anti-IRA elements on left and right are all ignoring one elementary fact – unionism has nowhere else to go.

"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles" is a famous Sherlock Holmes quote. As in crime, as in politics, a truer understanding of the bigger picture can be found in the study of the small seemingly insignificant detail, the chance encounter, or the throwaway remark. Take for instance the Omagh bomb in 1998. It is not widely known, but the 700 pound car bomb left by the Real IRA, was parked directly and one must assume deliberately, outside the premises of a prominent Unionist, who had previously escaped attempts by the IRA to assassinate him on no less than - four previous occasions. A fairly obvious magnet for a bomb in Omagh one would have thought. The RUC evidently didn't think so. Neither did they act on the warning given, later putting their failure to to do so (as on many other occasions) to its 'imprecise nature'. So the RUC did not clear the area in the vicinity of the premises targeted, rather, it was more or less directly outside it ,the RUC instructed pedestrians to stand - for safety. Curiously, of the 29 people killed not one was a member of the RUC.

Then there was the incident, during the Drumcree standoff in July 1998, when quite by chance the BBC's Peter Taylor came across a most revealing encounter in a hotel foyer, featuring notorious UVF and MI5 assassin Billy Wright, and MP and soon to be UUP leader David Trimble. What to Taylor seemed most peculiar was not the so much the public nature of the meeting between the terrorist King Rat and his constituency MP Trimble, but the extraordinary body language of the men. Incredibly it appeared to Taylor, it was not Billy Wright but the - Nobel Peace Prize winning Q.C. - who was adopting the demeanor of deferential junior partner. A relationship, which when you think about it, could surely only exist if both were in agreement on the political fundamentals. In its own small way, it said a much as one needed to know about the prospects for the democratization of a six county statelet. Putting it bluntly, unionism and democracy are totally irreconcilable.

More recently, following the arrest of three republicans in Columbia, the ubiquitous 'security source' remarked that the arrests of the three alleged IRA members proved "the securocrats were right all along [and Blair wrong] on IRA intentions". Perhaps, but what that comment also unequivocally demonstrated is that at the very least, a significant section of the high command of the security services were, as republicans had long maintained, very seriously at odds with their political masters over the conduct, direction, and in truth the peace process itself.

An insight, that makes the revelations emerging about Omagh at least concievable. What so far has been established to the satisfaction of a Guardian investigation, is that the RUC were warned by a double agent within the Real IRA, working for RUC intelligence that 'something big was on' - a full two days before the bomb went off. This informant, using the name Kevin Fulton, even handed over the name and car number of the principle suspect. It is further suggested that yet - another- double agent working for another branch of the British war machine - actually constructed the bomb. Indeed the other agent may actually have been the suspect fingered by Fulton. "Preposterous" RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan said. "She hasn't a clue" former B special Ken, now Lord Maginness declared when Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan announced she was going to investigate the original claim. Almost to a man Ulster MP's denounced the proposed investigation as "absolutely scurrilous", a stance if adopted by anyone other than unionists would have had them screaming; "soft on terrorism", from the rooftops. Yet writing in Irish News on August 23 columnist Jude Collins states: "The first person I heard suggesting that the police knew about the Omagh bomb in advance was a unionist politician, a couple of years ago. It wasn't uncommon, he explained for the police or the army to let occasional attacks happen to protect police informers and agents. Shortly after, a nationalist politician and a second unionist politician confirmed this chilling view of security here. Muddies the good vs bad picture a bit doesn't it?"

More than a bit actually, as it opens up the possibility, that instead of just letting the occasional attack happen, the 'good guys' may also on occasion, in the best possible political taste of course, be tempted to set the odd ‘spectacular’ up.

Certainly it has never been adequately explained why the Real IRA would have targeted Omagh in the first place. For one thing the town is majority nationalist, with SF the biggest party on the local council. That in itself may have been provocation enough, as from the outset it was recognized in republican circles as an attack on the peace process, and the Republican leadership itself. One reason why when invited by British reporters to condemn the slaughter, to the media's surprise and no little disappointment, leading republicans did so with conviction and without caveat.

Adams had publicly stated, following a previous suspisciously timed explosion, that the bombers were working to a British securocrat agenda. Working to a securocrat agenda was of course the same as insisting the bombers were British agents per se.

Nevertheless, in a television interview in August, a ‘former’ British agent, using the name Michael Clarke indicated that a failure to stop the Omagh bomb maker points to a mole within the dissident grouping. "It makes perfect sense for the army or the intelligence services to allow the progress and delivery of a device of some nature to preserve and protect the safety of an agent he told Channel Four News. I believe that's possibly the case." The Republican News take on the same interview saw Clarke’s involvement as far more intimate: "nothing was done" about the Fulton warning because " he [Clarke] had warned British MOD that any action might jeopardize another undercover operative" (23.8.01)

Now the catalogue of collusion between Army, RUC, M15, and loyalists is lengthy and grisly. Few doubt for instance, Billy Wrights or Johnny Adairs links with the spooks. One commentator remarked that it was well known that the securocrats worked the UDA's C Company, which is controlled by Adair "like a foot pedal". Yet in a war against a common enemy, such realpolitik is hardly surprising

Except that up until the belated British recognition of the collapse of the UDA/LVF cease-fire there was supposedly - no war. It is ironically opposition to the peace process that has pulled the threads together. Today the Real IRA, the securocrats, and the UFF/LVF openly share a strategic enemy. And since the 1994 IRA cease-fire the same goal - the destruction of the SF sponsored peace process.

It is therefore not inconceivable that the manipulative relationship the UDA 'enjoys' with the security forces is matched by similar ‘sympathy’ for the absolutists on the other side of the divide. Even a south London street trader like Delboy would recognise the inherent logic: 'You know it makes sense Rodders'. If true, it would help explain the extraordinary coverage the Ealing bomb received. Here was a bomb that for a few days in August, almost rivaled the front-page news coverage of the World Trade Centre atrocity in September. Along with the screaming front-page headlines, there was of course the compulsory ‘expert’ analysis and editorial comment.

In an attempt to add some gravitas, 'Ealing could have been another Omagh' was much-used. Even the Sun broke with tradition and led with a political 'Bombers are Back!' headline. Over-reaching absurdly, RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan went as far as to claim the Real IRA was now more “impressive at this stage of its development” that the Provisional IRA had been in the early 1970's.

Then, gradually and discreetly, it trickled out that the Ealing bomb was nothing like Omagh. It was actually a tiny explosive charge, possibly as little as 5 kilos, making Omagh some 140 times bigger. Moreover the bulk of the Ealing bomb was made up, not of Semtex but - petrol. As a result there was no structural damage to the nearest buildings, nobody suffered ear damage as a result of the blast, and most significantly of all a man captured on a CCTV camera walking within yards of the explosion was not even blown off his feet.

Less partisan experts finally concluded that the timing and placement of the bomb was aimed solely at providing good quality footage for - the British media. And the media, presumably with a little encouragement, reciprocated. In any event from a Real IRA/Securocrat perspective 'Ealing' was a propaganda extravaganza. Understandably, the hype was enthusiastically, if a little inconsistently exploited by anti-GFA politicians of all shades. A line popular in the immediate aftermath, was to suggest that the bombing was triggered with the connivance of the SF/IRA thus breaching the cease-fire, while at the same time others were insisting that there was ‘little point negotiating with the Provos if the dissidents now enjoyed the greater capacity’.

To a refusenik, all were agreed that with terrorism at such 'a near all time high', any talk of reforming the RUC, much less demilitarisation would have to be put on hold. Boldly the UUP's Jeffrey Donaldson stated that what was needed now was - 'more troops not less!'

Hardly an encouragement to the IRA Army Council to make some gesture on decommissioning that the UUP, and in particularly Donaldson had been most vociferous in demanding only days before. When the IRA offer of August 8 was articulated, it was instantly rejected with Donaldson adding surreal pre-conditions. Any future decommisioning would need to be supervised by ‘responsible’ Unionist politicians including, he declared, himself.

Back in the real world, the London Evening Standard, a sister paper of the right-wing Daily Mail described the political situation as nothing less than "desperate". "Sinn Fein" it declared "was close to final victory which means the expulsion of the British from Northern Ireland." The IRA knows, it went on, "how empty are the Government's protestations of determination to see the struggle through, when in truth Mr. Blair would lead the British out tomorrow if he could."

Steadfastly defeatist, it further suggested Unionists "correctly perceive that once Ulster stops being a Protestant Statelet it is well down the track to becoming part of a united Ireland. The Unionists political assessment is hard to fault. Most decent people find it hard to take the spectacle of Sinn Fein and the IRA close to triumph. But that is where we now are." (9.8.2001)

Addressing the same theme in the Guardian the following day, Beatrix Campbell saw the possibility of the deal struck between London and Dublin in a similarly apocalyptic light. "Politically what it [the London-Dublin agreement] does - if the British government doesn't back off - is to position the British government where it never wanted to be: no longer the neutral broker trying to make the Paddies behave, but as a player in the past conflict, a subject as well as agent of change."

Being formally recognized as 'a player' would, if decommissioning continued to be regarded as a central Unionist demand, result in an equivalence being drawn not between the IRA and say the UFF as Unionists had always imagined, but would instead under the new dispensation, regard any trade off as a quid pro quo, between the two primary antagonists - the IRA and the British Army. An appalling vista sufficient to make even the most moderate Unionist gag.

As a representative of a beleaguered minority within Unionism, 'poor David' is kindly regarded in media circles as the epitome of moderation. But the evidence to support their judgment is scant. ‘Trimble the moderate’ has personally caused the institutions set up as part of GFA, and voted on, in what was effectively an all-Ireland referendum - to collapse - if the next impending deadline of November 3rd is included, on no less than four occassions in just over eighteen months. Too impatient to wait even for this deadline, Trimble has now totally retreated from a position of any power sharing with republicanism, returning the UUP along with the DUP to the absolutist position unionism held prior to the GFA, and in essence prior to 1969. What kind of democratic is that?

On the First Ministers own admission the current crisis can hardly be regarded as accidental or unforeseen either. Patently, it is all part of a Machiavellian plot to renegotiate the GFA on unionist terms. For in a letter circulated to the ruling Unionist body, before a key meeting convened almost a year to the day on October 27 2000, he outlined the strategy of which the essentials were, are; to create such a crisis, blame republicans, achieve suspension and tear up the Agreement.

In the letter Trimble pre-empted the events of the last few months since his resignation: "Tomorrow, I will outline a carefully considered response should republicanism continue to ignore its commitments of disarmament" he wrote. "The response is intended to increase pressure progressively on republican and nationalists. This might result in crisis for the Assembly and Executive. But if that arises we must do all we possibly can to place responsibility on republicans only in that way can suspension be achieved. Suspension is preferable to collapse, for it is the only way we can make progress afterwards."

Accordingly, when asked to comment just minutes after the IRA's unprecedented decommissioning offer of Augest 8, he reacted as if kicked: 'Yes, yes, that's all very well but there are other issues such as ...ahm ...policing...'

It would not take a detective of Sherlock Holmes acute observation to divine the glaringly obvious political cynicism behind the remark. If there was any doubt as to his lack of sincerity Trimble went one better on October 8 2001, when citing his abhorrence for all paramilitary weapons he enlisted the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party representatives, to table a motion calling for Sinn Fein (the biggest nationalist party) to be excluded due the a failure of the IRA to surrender its weapons! Clearly for 'Trimble the moderate' it is not republicans minus guns in the Executive, but the Executive minus republicans that remains the goal. For as all are aware and as the Evening Standard admitted unless the Six-Counties visibly remains a Protestant Statelet for a Protestant people, unionism is finished.

Understandably, the ground had to be prepared for the acceptance of a return to the demonisation and isolation of Republicanism. A shade too conveniently the FARC - IRA story presented the opportunity for the massed ranks of anti-Republicans to hit the ground running. The IRA were training the Colombians in exchange for drugs, both were working on a 'nuclear bomb' capable of 'vaporizing entire British cities', and perhaps more unbelievably, FARC were supposedly training the IRA on how to - make bombs!

In tandem every utterance of the Colombian regime, which has been condemned by Amnesty, Human Right Watch, and even the United Nations for its role in the formation of pro-state paramilitaries who have murdered thousands of opponents in the past decade, was treated as gospel. Of the Colombian arrests Trimble commented that republicans had "a mountain to climb" to regain the confidence of other parties. Since the World Trade Centre and the announcement of the ‘war against terrorism’ this metaphorical mountain has happily been identified to republicans as K2.

Of the repeated breaches in the UDA cease-fire, or the over 250 documented attacks by the UDA against Catholics in recent months, or the 15,000 UDA marching in military formation in mid-August, or of the civil rights symbolism surrounding the Holy Cross school, Trimble has made no comment. But then comment is unnecessary.

On the isolation front, the SDLP weighed in not once but twice; first demanding SF 'clarification' on Columbia, (even the language is imitative) and then lining up with Unionism in accepting the Pattenlite proposals on policing. Opportunist it maybe, but it could very well prove the last throw of the dice for the SDLP. The SDLP is an ageing party with an ageing constituency. It is something the resignation of Hume and Mallon will not correct. A recent study shows that of the 80,000 nationalists who have become voters since 1992 the vast majority, of all classes, voted SF. Having as it will have to, apologize for each and every RUC outrage from now on, the attempt to isolate republicanism can only hasten the Stoop Down Low Party's own isolation within nationalism. More bleakly for the 'stoops', despite the current impasses, events increasingly are being viewed from an all-Ireland perspective anyway. Which makes a political formation like the SDLP, restricted as it is to the Six Counties, look stale, out of touch, and anachronistic. And if this is true of the SDLP, Unionism stands equally exposed as anachronistic ideology, beached and friendless in the world.

Within SDLP calculations by embracing the RUC, it had hoped it would also lock itself into a concordat with the UPP. Which might have worked had Trimble ever been committed to the type of power sharing that democracy might demand, but unionism could not survive. So with that in mind, for the purposes of renegotiation, Trimble’s partner of choice is far more likely to be Paisley, rather than Mark Durkan, Hume's succesor.

Overwhelmingly British commentators, on both right and left, saw the Good Friday Agreement as a compromise necessary to accommodate Republicanism. With hindsight, it is evident it was largely constructed to accommodate a unionism - with nowhere else to go. Now the mass grave in Manhattan is no ‘trifle’ but neither it nor ‘a war against terrorism’ can hope, no matter how exquisite Unionist positional sense, to in anyway alter so ‘elementary’ a reality.


13th October '01

‘Uncommonly bad, but not extraordinarily unusual’

As befits a group with no record of any involvement in anti-fascism in two decades the ‘Alliance for Workers Liberty’ pamphlet entitled “How to beat the racists” is trite, ill-informed, outdated, revisionist, contradictory, and thoroughly abstract. It is uncommonly bad, but not sadly, extraordinarily unusual. Much the same pious nonsense can be read in many a liberal left publication. That said, we heartily recommend it to anyone concerned about the recent growth in influence of the BNP. For no matter how serious you consider the situation to be, this lazily written pamphlet is a timely warning that things are almost certainly a lot worse than you thought!

Right from the opening introduction you get the unavoidable feeling that anti-fascism is something the AWL would prefer not to be forced to even address, much less be obliged to implement as strategy. “If it were just a matter of a few freaks and lunatics, organizing on the fringes of society then racism and fascism could certainly be fought by occasional marches, a few posters, liberal speeches against racism, and a bit of street fighting here and there.” This is clearly the value the AWL saw in anti-fascism prior to June 7. Yet with the production of the pamphlet, the AWL must, one supposes, feel something else is happening that requires more that the minimalist complacency expressed in a sentence studded with give-aways like ‘occasional’, ‘a few’, ‘a bit’ and ‘here and there’.

The AWL undoubtedly feel something ‘needs to be done’, and with some urgency.

But do what exactly? And, just as importantly, by whom proves the tricky bit. For after reading all 34 pages it dawns that the AWL do not talk in clichés, they think in them too. Nonetheless despite or possibly because of the absence of any hands-on experience, the AWL sees itself best suited to filling the vacancy marked: master-strategist. As befits this self-designated role they begin with a reiteration of many unremarkable socialist and anti-racist demands over the last twenty years which is grandly presented as ‘a programme to beat the racism’.

It turns out unsurprisingly to be the seriously dog-eared lefty wish list. ‘A decent home for everyone’, ‘Jobs for all!’ ‘Restore the NHS’, ‘Tax the rich’ ‘scrap anti-trade union laws’, ‘Equality in the labour movement’, ‘united black and white workers defence squads to beat back the fascists’ of yore. Why these pleadings that they call ‘demands’ are likely to have any more resonance these days is not explained. Nor is there any attempt at analysis of the left and why it is visibly failing not just in Britain, but across Europe.

More than anything, there is throughout not a glimmer of understanding that it is precisely the left’s adherence to the type of tired, washed out formulae being recommended by them, that is in itself the primary reason the nationalist right has displaced unreconstructed socialism as the recognized radical alternative in so many countries across Europe - and why that pattern is threatening to repeat itself here.

Happily, despite their dissembling, the answers emerge anyway. In this, the AWL provides a service, albeit unwittingly. Effective anti-fascism is today absent in many parts of Europe. Put simply, reading this pamphlet explains - why.

“Fascism is” it informs us “a movement of immediate civil war against the left, against those whom the fascists wish to scapegoat, and against the working class, and war must be fought with war.” Strong stuff, but how in practical terms the BNP’s euro-nationalist strategy of strenuously avoiding confrontation at all costs, fits into the civil war paradigm is blithely ignored. Which means either the BNP are not fascists, (post-fascists?) or this is an unexpected call from the AWL for anti-fascism to get some serious retaliation in first. Fear not, exactly 20 words after the declaration of war, comes the instruction that “war knows tactics other than the offensive.”

It goes on “there is no principle which says that socialists have to strive to break up every fascist meeting. Such a principle would just consume our energies in endless chasing after right-wing cranks, and ill-chosen battles with the police. Tactically, it would also put us in a position where we seem not to be striking blows in a war for democratic rights against the fascists, but to be starting our own war against democratic rights.” Fascism may be a declaration of civil war but for the AWL the most important issue is that the anti-fascism does nothing that might be construed as an infringement on the democratic rights of - fascism! .

On the opposite page the headline ‘Self-defence is no offense’ catches the eye. Like the previous paragraph it begins promisingly. “The best way to “reason” with the thug who comes at you with a knife or a broken bottle is – as Leon Trotsky once put it to “acquaint his head with the pavement”. Written, it is fairly obvious, by someone who has never confronted a fascist, armed or not, it manages to infer that if the fascist was not the aggressor, was not armed, or was perhaps going about his business lawfully, there might possibly be something vaguely unethical about giving him a dig.

But then, to be fair, as is crystal throughout, when the AWL mention ‘defence’ it is to be taken - literally. That attack is the proven ‘first form’ of defence, it ever so reluctantly concedes: “we have the right to go on the offensive, to seek them out, when that makes sense.” Who confers these ‘rights’ is not discussed, while the firm impression remains, that for the AWL the time for ‘seeking them out’ would never arrive: for the AWL it would simply never ‘make sense’. Sure enough within a paragraph, the happy prospect of being bogged down in endless debate in trade union sub-committees is hastily articulated as an alternative.

Rather than confronting the fascists physically or by offering a practical alternative in working class communities, anti-fascism the AWL maintains would be best served by the “socialist left taking up the argument within the Labour movement for defence squads, patiently explaining why it is in the interest of white as well as black workers to smash the racists.” Again, it is not uncharitable to suggest that what most appeals to the AWL in the advocacy of this approach, is the ‘patience’ required to make it work. Who, if ‘socialists’ are to throw themselves wholeheartedly into convincing the labour movement (“to set up flying pickets against racism” no less) is then to be designated the task of ‘beating back the fascists’? Elementary really.

In practical terms all immediate ‘defence (that word again) work’ in places like Oldham, “has to be the work of militants from those communities”. Are these the same ‘militants’ who it is reputed attacked up to 30 pubs in the Oldham area during the summer? The same ‘militants’ who according to an Observer report launched an organization, modeled on C18 to fight fascists? Are these the ‘militants’ who made attempts to incinerate white working class people in a working mans club when it kicked off in Bradford?

Is it these people the AWL really wants as the anti-fascist leadership? If so, what the AWL envisage is not a recipe to beat the racists. It is rather something the BNP themselves in days past might have concocted - a formula for race war.

Even worse, the allocation of street-fighting duties to probable militant Muslims is no unthinking slip of the tongue. Horribly confused, as a result of having not seen active service in twenty years, the AWL seem to believe that normally or possibly ideally, the best fighters against the far-right are almost always drawn from ethnic backgrounds. Underlining that bias an article entitled “Lewisham: a turning point” describes the famous day in August 1977, the NF tried to march through the South-east London borough. “Hurling stones, bottles smoke bombs, large numbers of black youth joined the left-wing forces trying to break the police lines behind which the fascists were marching.” Naturally for the admiring AWL their involvement proved “decisive”. It carries on in the same laudatory vein: “The Battle of Lewisham was won by local people coming out in solidarity with anti-fascists demonstrators, and above all by Lewisham’s black youth.” ‘Above all’?

Absolute rot. While there were decidedly handy mobs of young blacks scattered here and there, their primary concern, both prior to the NF march and afterwards seemed to be with the police. On the corner where police lines were breached and the NF march broken, the ‘militants’ there were overwhelmingly white.

What’s more, for the twenty years afterwards, in the largely unheralded fight against fascism both sides drew heavily from within the white working class. This is of course the secret war against the far right the AWL have never heard of. Which is why the emergence, seemingly from nowhere, of the BNP comes as such a shock, and why also in the list of recommended addresses AFA is not even mentioned. Here you have the organisation that single-handedly took on and brought insurrectionary far-right organizations like the NF, Blood&Honour, BNP and C18 to their knees in the decade between 1985-95. To fascism’s utter chagrin the AFA strategy prevented it from dipping into the reactionary reservoir it knew existed. Imagine for a moment what the situation would be now, if like the AWL (and the majority of the Left) AFA sponsors too had concluded that confronting the far right would simply “consume our energies”?

One indication of the scale of the reservoir that the far-right was prevented from tapping into in that period can be gauged from race attacks/incidents estimates of the Runnymeade Trust, which showed a year on year rise from 70,000 in 1987 to a staggering 290,000 a decade later. Yet even with reaction taking electoral form, and figures from the Home Office for actual racist incidents which showing a ten fold increase from 4,383 in 1985, to 47, 814 in 2000, a startled AWL attempts to smooth away concern with the comment: “that this growth can be accounted for partly by an increased willingness to go to the police in the aftermath of the Macpherson Report”. Typically what proportion cannot be explained away in this fashion is not guessed at. Put bluntly, either the Home Office figures suggests that reality may be nearer the Runnymede Trust 1999 estimates, or even worse - in addition to them. Either way the rise can have little or nothing to do with confidence in the police, but is possibly reflective of a much greater and more general deterioration in inter-communal relations as witnessed in many northern towns during the summer.

If tempted to take liberals public ‘welcoming of increases in reported race attacks as a reflection of increased ethnic community confidence in the police’, seriously it should be remembered that Macpherson was implemented less than two years ago and so could have had no bearing whatsoever on the steady climb recorded up to 1999. Plus the fact that the likes of the AWL undermine their own case by insisting that Macpherson “despite the starkness of its findings did nothing to change” what it describes as a police force who “remain what they were when Stephen Lawrence was killed: armed, racist, and dangerous.” What their apparent stoicism in regard to the real state of play on the ground indicates is that not only is the liberal left found to be in denial once again; but the denial itself is prompted by the recognition that the ‘anti-racism’ it has designed and championed is not only not working, but is to all intents and purposes entrenching even greater working class division.

Up until June 7, the AWL would, more likely than not, claimed to have never heard of AFA. After all, why would there be a need for physical force anti-fascism or any serious analysis of BNP strategy, at a time when multiculturalism and anti-racism seemed to be universally popular and enjoying the support of the mass media and all mainstream parties? And the far-right was, well, ‘just a matter of a few freaks and lunatics organizing on the fringes of society, who could effortlessly be contained by occasional marches, a few posters, liberal speeches now and again and a bit of street-fighting here and there’?

In April 1994, with the BNP visibly wilting under the AFA cosh, came the announcement that it was to entirely withdraw from the streets. Objectively the declaration that there would be ‘no more marches, meetings punch-ups’ (though it went largely unnoticed on the left) coupled with the Clause Four controversy presented a once in a lifetime opportunity for unreconstructed socialism to regroup and take stock.

Ominously in the re-grouping that has taken place, first off with the defunct SLP and followed later by the Socialist Alliance an article of faith was that any theoretical stocktaking was verboten. What, and how high a price will be exacted by reality for this criminal obduracy will become clear on the morning after the local elections in 2002. If it turns out to be as bad as it can be, let no one dare say it has not been a long time coming, or that it is not richly deserved.