Socialist Worker

A divisive process in Northern Ireland

Issue No. 2044

Historic moments come and go in Northern Irish politics. Yet the sight of Republican Gerry Adams and Unionist Ian Paisley sitting down together to form a devolved government is an image that will last longer than most.

Tony Blair and Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain presented themselves as neutral peacemakers who had sorted out two warring tribes. But violence wasn’t introduced into Northern Ireland by the “terrorists” of the IRA.

From its creation by Britain, the Northern Ireland state was characterised by repression, sectarianism and poverty. The Catholic population of Northern Ireland was systematically discriminated against.

The IRA began a military campaign against a British occupation in the 1970s.

By the late 1980s both the British government and the Republicans had come to the conclusion that military victory was impossible. The compromise reached was intended to make sectarianism manageable for Britain.

Sinn Fein still has a radical tinge to its politics – which explains the strength of its support. But Irish politics is littered with parties that broke with Republicanism, ditched the gun and made peace with imperialism.

The question is not why won’t Ian Paisley shake hands with Gerry Adams, but why would any radical want to be in a government that included the veteran bigot Paisley?

Ordinary people in Northern Ireland have welcomed peace, but devolution is based on policing people apart. The consensus reinforces segregation by insisting that opposed “communities” must be represented by politicians who fight for one group against the other over limited resources.

After over a decade of peace, most people have seen their living standards fall. More than three quarters of people in Northern Ireland live below Britain’s average income.

The peace process is bringing Protestant and Catholic workers together in poverty.

Northern Ireland remains Britain’s political slum in which working people, Catholic and Protestant, pay the price for divide-and-rule.

The devolved government makes it all the more vital that the forces in Ireland committed to eradicating neoliberalism, bigotry, poverty and repression come together and pose an alternative.

Slavery and capitalism

Liberty fight goes on

Two hundred years ago a mighty movement that mobilised some of the poorest people in British society achieved a significant victory – it forced parliament to pass an act abolishing the British slave trade.

Last week Socialist Worker produced five pages of articles to help mark the occasion. As people in Britain commemorate the movement’s achievements, many see parallels with the abomination that was the slave trade in aspects of the modern world.

The bleeding dry of Africa through debt repayments and the willingness of our leaders to destroy the world for profit are just two of the many issues that outrage people. But the parallels drawn reflect the nature of the barbarism that surrounds us and the system that produced them.

The emerging capitalist system lay behind the Atlantic slave trade. Many in the British movement against slavery made a connection between their own conditions and lack of rights, and those of the slaves.

Today our struggle must be to rid the world of the system that gave us slavery – and that continues to wreck the lives of millions.

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What We Think
Sat 31 Mar 2007, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2044
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