By Kevin Devine
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The Gerry and Ian roadshow

This article is over 16 years, 11 months old
Tony Blair hopes the Irish peace process will be seen as one of his greatest achievements.
Issue 314

According to his spin-doctors, the Great Communicator did what no British prime minister had been able to do before him: getting sworn enemies Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley to sit down together and form a devolved government in Northern Ireland.

On the face of it, the deal seems to represent some progress. Few would welcome a return to armed struggle. In that sense at least the political process is a step forward. But there are huge problems with the architecture of the deal, particularly the way in which it enshrines communal divisions.

One of the surest signs of this is the confirmation of DUP leader Ian Paisley as “First Minister”. Under normal circumstances, Paisley’s political funeral should have taken place decades ago.

However, British management of the peace process resurrected his fortunes. The DUP was traditionally the more intransigent of the Unionist parties. Paisley earned his spurs opposing civil rights in the 1960s, and in the 1970s he held talks with Loyalist paramilitaries in an attempt to forge unity against a resurgent Republican movement.

For most mainstream commentators Paisley’s sitting down with Adams is a real indicator of how far he has travelled. But in some ways it’s not that surprising. Civil rights MP Bernadette Devlin wrote in her 1969 autobiography, The Price of My Soul, that she often thought Paisley was more worried about socialism than nationalism or republicanism.

While this position downplays Paisley’s attachment to the Northern Ireland state – and his hatred of anyone opposing it – it contains a grain of truth. While Sinn FÃin’s stewardship of the campaign against British rule has allowed it continue to present a “left” face, it looks set to follow the example of its predecessors in Irish history in making its peace with imperialism.

Much of Sinn Féin’s politics is fairly conventional, which is why Adams and McGuiness can join forces with Paisley in calling for a reduction in corporation tax in a “race to the bottom” to attract foreign capital and allow it to compete on the same terms as the Southern state.

The impact of such neoliberal policies is likely to be devastating in Northern Ireland where average earnings are way below those in Britain and many areas have some of the highest unemployment rates in these islands. The danger is that working class people, both Catholic and Protestant, will pay the price for the compromises necessary to keep the Gerry and Ian show on the road.

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