Only the end of Partition will bring about a lasting peace
Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Sands died on hunger strike 40 years ago. Despite being elected to parliament he was allowed to die because Thatcher was determined not to concede to demands for political status for the IRA prisoners.
In the end the demands of the hunger strikers were conceded because even the stupidest member of the British ruling class came to understand that their intransigence had simply resulted in massively increased support for the IRA and Sinn Fein. In 1983 Gerry Adams was elected as MP for West Belfast displacing Gerry Fitt ‘the Brit’.
Of course Bobby Sands was deemed a ‘terrorist’ as have all those who took up arms against the British in the colonies. And Ireland was our oldest colony. If you are a British racist then the British army could do no wrong wherever it ventured whereas those who took up arms against it were always in the wrong.
Israel has the same policy today. Anyone who opposes Israel’s occupation army is considered a terrorist whereas Israel, despite its atrocities against children even is never considered a terrorist state.
However the days of Unionism are numbered. Britain no longer has a strategic interest in maintaining the union. British investment today is in the South not the North. The shipyards and engineering factories of Belfast are gone. That is why successive governments from Harold Wilson onwards have refused to resurrect the Protestant Supremacist police statelet that existed between 1921 and 1969.
Brexit has produced some uncomfortable truths for the Unionists. Large sections of the Protestant farming community look towards the South and the European Union today, not the mainland. That is why Boris Johnson, despite promises to the contrary, reneged on his promises to the DUP and placed a tariff border down the Irish sea in order that Northern Ireland could stay in the customs union.
The days of the Unionist veto are long since gone. The Protestant community itself was split during the 2016 referendum over Europe. The DUP, being a stupid party, never thought that Brexit would hasten the end of Unionism.
There is probably a majority for Irish unity today in the north of Ireland. I would expect that if such a referendum were held and Boris Johnson will resist one to the end, that a chunk of the Protestant community would also vote to unite.
History is against the Loyalists of Ulster. They are an anachronism of the Empire. The days of the Curragh Mutiny are long since gone. Of course the Protestant paramilitaries would promise civil war and violence should a referendum be held on the border.
When I visited Northern Ireland in the 1980s as part of a Labour Party delegation from Brighton we visited the headquarters of the UDA, a Protestant terrorist group who were legal at the time, because some forms of terrorism were acceptable to the British army.
Speaking to Andy Tyrie, the commander and John MacMichael, who was later assassinated by the IRA, was like being taken back in time. They looked to the golden days of Empire. They told us of the days in Liverpool when there was a sectarian Protestant party on the Council which allied with the Tories never asking themselves why working class people should vote Tory. In Liverpool that party disappeared but not in Northern Ireland.
The Protestant working class voted against its own interests and for Unionist parties allied to the Tories since 1922. That is the effect of settler colonialism. It creates an alliance between the settler working class and ruling class even if, as in the case of Northern Ireland the privileges that the Protestant working class gained over their Catholic neighbours were minimal.
The Good Friday agreement which ended the struggle of the IRA and led to a power sharing agreement in the Northern Ireland Assembly was in essence a palliative. The British ruling class was under immense pressure from the American ruling class to resolve the crisis, which Blair did. However the situation in the North has not been resolved as the latest riots demonstrated.
Beneath the surface the old antagonisms remain. The Protestant working class is embittered that they have been ‘sold out’ as if the British ruling class every owed any loyalty to those who pledged fealty to them.
At the heart of the problem is the border, Partition. Of course today it is a notional border without customs posts. It is a border without any natural geographical features such as rivers. Its basis for existing was the need to produce an artificial majority for the Protestants in the North.
As James Connolly, the revolutionary socialist who was executed for his part in the Easter Rising said, Partition would create ‘a carnival of reaction on both sides of the border’. He was of right in his prediction Not only in Ireland but India, Cyprus and Palestine. Partition and communalism were the favourite divide and rule tactics of the British in their efforts to maintain neo-colonial rule.
The British working class has never been distinguished by its support for the struggle of Irish people or the IRA but during the miners’ strike, when there were massive confrontations with the British state, the Police and reputedly the army in civilian uniforms, this began to break down,
I worked closely with miners from Kent coalfield and visited and stayed with strikers in Yorkshire. I heard repeatedly the same sentiment after the failed IRA attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984: ‘Pity they didn’t get her.’ Indeed to my surprise, as I was volunteering in an old peoples’ home at the time (when Councils ran such things) one of the cooks in the kitchen expressed her disappointment that Thatcher had survived.
During the bitterest episode of class struggle in the last century, elements of the British working class began to see that the struggle of colonial peoples against the British ruling class was also their struggle.
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