As Unionists and Mandelson whip up row on weapons
Trimble tramples on hopes again
THE government, the Ulster Unionists and the media have all put the blame on the IRA for the current threat to peace in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson has threatened to suspend the new Assembly unless the IRA agrees to begin decommissioning its weapons. Mandelson called the IRA's refusal to hand in any weapons "contemptuous" and "a betrayal of the entire community of Northern Ireland" in parliament last week. Ulster Unionist politician Ken McGinnis claims the bomb planted by the Continuity IRA proved that the Unionists are right to demand the decommissioning of IRA weapons. But the Continuity IRA is a tiny breakaway group of Republicans opposed to the peace process. It does not represent anyone in Northern Ireland. The bombing was a futile gesture that offers no way forward. The IRA, however, has rigorously kept to its ceasefire for the last three years. Even the head of the RUC police force, Ronnie Flanagan, admits the IRA poses no threat to the peace. The Ulster Unionists, backed up by the British government, do not want a fair peace deal to end the conflict. They want to see the complete surrender of the IRA, despite the fact that this is unacceptable to much of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. The overwhelming majority of Catholics welcomed the IRA ceasefire enthusiastically and over 80 percent of Catholics voted for the Good Friday peace agreement. But they are not prepared to be trampled over by the Ulster Unionists. They know that since the partition of Ireland in 1921 the Unionists have had a monopoly of weapons of violence. They had their own armed and sectarian police force, the RUC, which terrorised, and continues to terrorise, Catholic areas. After 1969, when Cath olics began to fight back against discrimination and repression, the RUC was backed up by the full might of the British army.
The RUC and the British army acted together to keep the Catholic population down. They maintained a secret state of special branch and MI5 agents who used torture, false confessions and informers. Today that apparatus of repression is still in place. There are 140,000 licensed guns in Northern Ireland, mainly in the hands of Unionists.
Peter Mandelson has announced a name change and a reduction in the size of the RUC. But the force will remain armed. Not a single police officer will be brought to trial over collusion in the murder of civil rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson last year. Genuine peace cannot be achieved by the disarming of just one side in the conflict in Northern Ireland. David Trimble represents the section of Unionists who are prepared to share power with those parties which represent Catholics in Northern Ireland.
Trimble wants the political stability demanded by the businesses which are looking to make a profit in Northern Ireland. But he leads a party that was built on discrimination against Catholics and control of the police and state institutions.
Indeed Trimble himself built his career in the Unionist Party by whipping up anti-Catholic sectarianism. Today he is making decommissioning an issue in a bid to try to unite his party-and hang on to his own position. At least half of the Ulster Unionist Party are opposed to the peace agreement. They want to use the decommissioning issue to try to crush the IRA. These hardliners do not care if the price paid is the resumption of full scale war. David Trimble claims he wants peace, but he has put the whole peace process at risk by his demands for decommissioning. New Labour has endorsed his arguments. It must take its share of blame for risking the lives, hopes and futures of people in Northern Ireland.
Low pay haven
THE PROSPECT of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly has caused alarm. Workers in Northern Ireland want peace to continue.
But, like their counterparts in Britain and in Southern Ireland, they also want decent services, properly funded healthcare and jobs that pay more than poverty wages. That was the sentiment expressed by demonstrators outside Stormont Castle last week who were demanding the funding of school dinners. Poverty blights the lives of both Catholic and Protestant workers. A report by the Chief Medical Officer recently found that in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland people die seven and a half years earlier on average than those in wealthy areas.
Each year the school system fails over 70 percent of 11 year olds who are forced to take the 11-plus exam, which still operates in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly itself is not going to change these things. Its very first decision last November was to vote its members a pay rise of over 30 percent. The finance minister, Mark Durkan of the SDLP, declared at the end of last year that spending plans would not be changed. That leaves hospital, education and other services starved of resources. Most politicians want to get more investment from businesses attracted to Northern Ireland because of its low wages.
Wages in manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland are 30 percent less than in the US and 10 percent lower than in Britain. The Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment boasts that business investors "can achieve zero taxes for a number of years". But the peace has opened up the prospect of Catholic and Protestant workers uniting to win a better future. That is why the Unionists' threat to scupper the peace agreement could be a disaster for workers.