Throughout the life of this blog, we have been posting material about Ireland/Northern Ireland. The British ruling class has always taken a keen interest in developments there. However, such is the nature of the unionist state, that British governments have been successful for most of the time, in getting people in England, Scotland and Wales to view the situation as being  ‘over there’ and somehow disconnected from what happens ‘over here’. Now that May has made a deal with the DUP to keep the Tories in office, it becomes even more important to understand what is happening within the UK state we live in. Below we are posting three articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland). The first two look at the reality of the ‘Twelfth’ in Northern Ireland. The third looks at the likely impact of the DUP’s entry into mainstream British politics.


The ‘Twelfth’ bonfire in Belfast


In July Channel 4 sent a reporter to Belfast to investigate the annual bonfire bacchanalia of the “Eleventh Night” preceding the Orange marches. She walked about conducting “vox pop” interviews, meanwhile expressing concern at the background sectarianism and atmosphere of violence. Then she saw something she found incomprehensible. A bonfire was burning too close to buildings, but the fire service was hosing the buildings, not the bonfire.

This is a standard element of bonfire night. Last year two houses burnt to the ground without any attempt to douse the bonfire.

It tells us something important. The problem is not the obvious one of a sectarian bonfire. The problem is the sectarian state. The significance of the Eleventh bonfires lies in the fact that they occur immune from the normal constraints of a democratic state – in the almost complete absence of any restraint.  In fact that is the main point of the bonfires. The yearly event shows those at the bottom of the unionist all-class alliance that they remain kings of creation and the state forces and legal system will bend to their will as the police, fire, environmental agencies and local media recuse themselves from involvement.

This presents no problem at all to unionist politicians, who defend “Protestant culture” and have been recorded lighting the bonfires and winking at the many expressions of sectarian hatred heaped on the fire. It does represent a problem for Sinn Fein. How can we be “moving on” if the sectarian culture remains?

In response the nationalists have used their position in negotiations, in the executive and in local government to try on the one hand to persuade the state to set minimal red lines and on the other to bribe the Orange to behave better.

This strategy arrived at farcical limits in 2017.  Belfast City Council bonfire management policy turned out to extend to storing wood for the fires. It then appeared that many of the wooden pallets they were storing were stolen property. An embarrassing situation was resolved when an illegal paramilitary gang, linked to the government party, the DUP, stole the materials back again, although there was further embarrassment when a public car park was requisitioned by the gang to store the loot.

An angry Sinn Fein tried to rescue their reputation by obtaining an injunction to limit the height of two bonfires. The injunction was neither enforced nor obeyed. They then forced a by-law through Belfast City Council with powers to seize bonfire materials.

However by this stage the loyalist bonfire demonstrations were over and in any case there is no chance of council action against the Orange next year in the face of absolute opposition by the Unionist parties. In the meantime the occupants of Belfast city centre flats found that the authorities, so active in facilitating the fires, denied responsibility for the damage to their homes from a nearby fire.

Sinn Fein found themselves in a familiar situation of setting an example by confronting the supporters of Nationalist bonfires. Again this did not end well. They were forced to concede to a large contingent of nationalist youth in Derry and in Belfast there were riots and repetition of threats from Sinn Fein “socialists” that the parents of the youths involved would be evicted. However the chaotic resentment of the poorest sectors fell far short of providing a political opposition to nationalist complacency.

It should be pointed out that the Sinn Fein policy towards nationalist bonfires is quite different to the policy towards the Orange. They recognise “Orange Culture.” They do not want to prevent the bonfires but replace them with braziers and “Orangefest” activities.

On the other hand they utterly oppose commemoration of the introduction of internment without trial by the British. The alternative offered to the nationalist youth is the summer schools and discos – not alternative methods of defiance but to accept pacification, Sinn Fein’s view is that the national question has been resolved and that we now live in the best of all possible worlds.

The reformist socialist groups hardly covered themselves in glory. The Socialist Party yet again announced its neutrality by denouncing all …ALL… sectarianism from ALL sides. When the council initiative was announced they did not demand that council workers be protected in carrying out their duties but that they should not be “put in the front line.” The SWP supported Sinn Fein, under the illusion that putting “trade union and community” at the end of a resolution made it left wing. They demurred from the eviction threats, arguing that more social services were the answer, but held to their position that there was no political justification for these sorts of nationalist demonstrations in the new Northern Ireland.

The socialist position surely, is basically a democratic one. If people want to commemorate with bonfires they should have them. They would have to be held away from buildings and laws relating to incitement of racism, sectarianism and the issue of environmental controls should apply.

If the organisers of bonfires are exempt from law and regulation then that is because we live in a sectarian state. Socialists should oppose the state, not wring their hands in the ashes of the fires.


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Emma Little Pengelly supports the flying of UVF flags over houses in South Belfast


Triangle of hate – or is it a quadrilateral?

The DUP-Conservative party pact in Britain led to a greater than usual focus on Orange demonstrations in Ireland and to expressions of horror and disgust at what was observed. There was widespread horror at the expressions of sectarian and racist hatred around the Orange celebrations, combined with incredulity at the impunity of the organisers in relation to fire safety and pollution laws and the collaboration of local councils in paying grants and storing wood.

In response to criticism MP Emma Pengelly fulfilled her role as the Kellyanne Conway of the DUP. The mob were expressing their culture. It was the freedom of expression guaranteed in a liberal democracy. In any case the British left were just the same when they hoisted placards denouncing the DUP. This is standard Loyalist fare. They can hardly oppose sectarianism, so they claim that everyone is sectarian.

In this unionism has an unlikely supporter. The local Socialist Party chose the day after the loyalist Woodstock of sectarianism to proclaim yet again that sectarianism came from all sides. They and their friends in the trade union bureaucracy regularly sanctify themselves as non-sectarian while proclaiming neutrality at its actual expression.

A more clear-headed analysis was presented by the socialist Richard Seymour. Drawing on his own boyhood experience, he describes the mix around the bonfire; the drunken sectarian mob, the paramilitaries in the shadows, who enforce sectarianism with a mixture of murder and intimidation. They stood in a triangle of hatred with the bowler-hatted Orange Order and unionist parties.  Local TV glossed over the frequent violence and presented a picture of harmless cultural Orangefest. One important element of the triangle is deniability. The unionist parties claim that they have nothing to do with the Loyal Orders. They in turn say they have nothing to do with the bonfires or have any responsibility for the marching bands, frequently recruited directly from paramilitary groups.

Dr Pangloss and the optimistic scenario

Local nationalist commentator Brian Feeney offered the most optimistic scenario. The Loyal Orders are declining in numbers and have less popular support. The state has gently intervened to calm the most violent flashpoints. Although the exhibitions at the bonfires are disappointing, we can look forward to a calm future.

There are two faults with this position. It ignores the role of Sinn Fein and the and the Catholic Church in policing the nationalist working class and preventing protest. It also ignores the role of the British. Very gentle pressure against the most violent loyalists is accompanied by a torrent of bribes. For example, it cost a £50 million bribe to the loyalists and “balancing” restrictions on Republican marches to guarantee a peaceful march at Belfast’s Ardoyne interface.

It turns out that the triangle of hatred is actually a quadilateral. The constant flow of  cash and the manoeuvring of police and the undemocratic Parades Commission underline  the constant presence of the state. The British solution to the Irish question is an attempt to establish peace while preserving partition and sectarian division.


This explains the inability to apply any restraint to the use of flags and emblems as methods of intimidation, to the racist and sectarian slogans, to the impunity applied to fire regulations and pollution laws. It even explains the constant flow of grants to the bonfire builders.

This year was especially farcical. Belfast Council was discovered to be storing bonfire materials, some of which were stolen. The materials were stolen back by the UDA, a paramilitary group in open alliance with the DUP and in receipt of millions of public funds, and were stored in a public car park, taken over with no comment or action from the police. The council was granted an injunction to restrict the further growth in the size of the enormous fires. One group breached the order without any state response. Another group complied by building two fires.

The farce reached its height when the fires were lit. In the past homes have burnt down with the state standing to one side. On this occasion a fire beside an apartment block in Belfast threatened conflagration. The Fire Brigade, as is traditional, ignored the bonfire and sprayed down the apartments. The result was cracked windows and warped frames. A demand from residents for compensation led to an immediate denial of responsibility from the Northern Ireland Office. As they are responsible for the chain of collusion that led to the damage, it is hard to see what grounds the denial is based on.

Back to the ‘50s?

The end result of British sponsorship of Orangeism would be a return to the society that existed before the troubles – relatively peaceful but utterly sectarian. Ongoing exasperation from the nationalist population and growing political instability make this a pipedream.


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Conservative Party/DUP deal – the Irish Question returns to bite the British elite

In the aftermath of the June’s British general election the Democratic Unionist Party’s website crashed and many other reference websites came under severe pressure. The question, from British media and political currents, was simply: “who are the DUP?”

Those in the know accuse the questioners of colonial arrogance. Having smothered the Irish issue the British ruling class has felt free to forget all details of their sectarian slum. One of the main elements of the new alliance is that it signals the return of the Irish Question to British politics. There is blowback in the sense that the DUP reactionaries are now in a position to help enforce the oppression of the British working class. It will take some time before it becomes a major issue. Sinn Fein’s support for the Irish settlement has turned what was once very extensive solidarity into silence. It makes it more or less impossible for the British left to mount any critique of the peace process and normalises the behaviour of the Orange beast. Why should it be so terrible for the Tories to deal with the DUP when Sinn Fein have been doing it for over a decade?

So when the story of the DUP spilled across the screens of the British political class the response was horror. “These people are monsters!”

The wrong monster

However initially the wrong monster was recognized. It is true that the spectrum of their bigotry covers LGBT rights, woman’s rights, creationism and climate change denial.  However this must be taken in context.  Loyalism generally is a criminal conspiracy in alliance with street mobs and paramilitaries to deny an Irish democracy and to crush civil rights and workers’ rights. Its pragmatic attachment to power and to asserting sectarian rights in the six county area makes it largely indifferent to broader ideological currents.

British fascist currents have sought for years to establish a base in the North, but have been unable to establish any sizeable one. Although the DUP see themselves as a current within British conservatism, they have never been able to consistently ally with other currents.

The letter to the Scottish government by Arlene Foster, trying to prevent gay couples from having civil partnerships converted to marriages in Scotland, may be seen as a desire to extend their influence in Britain. However, pressure from a handful of bigots would be enough to trigger such a letter.  In a past vote to support  Brown’s Labour government the DUP settled for exclusion of the six county area from abortion rights legislation rather than attempt to push back in Britain itself.  That deal illustrated the parochialism of the DUP. It also illustrated the utter indifference of the British ruling class to the rights of those living in the colony. The Tories, by accepting Labour’s “Irish solution” to abortion rights, are attempting to head off the criticism in this area. A similar mechanism may be used to settle LGBT rights.

The Monster in Ireland

The real issue of a Conservative/DUP pact is the increased power of the Orange monster in Ireland. Nationalists complain that a deal greatly increases the power and patronage of the loyalists and that by itself obliterates equality provisions in the political structures. There will be private side deals that help cement the DUP/Orange/Loyalist paramilitary alliance.

Just how far society has gone in institutionalising sectarianism is revealed by police refusal to intervene when a middle class housing estate in Belfast, specifically set up as a shared space, was bedecked by paramilitary flags.  DUP MP Emma Pengelly then toured the area offering support to the loyalists, many of whom had publicly helped in her election.

The levels of collaboration reached farcical levels when it was revealed that Belfast Council was storing bonfire materials for loyalists, that much of the material was stolen and the issue being resolved by the UDA “stealing” the wood back from the depot.  Loyalists have now requisitioned a public car park for a bonfire site.  The Council have tried to establish credibility by a court order restricting the most dangerous bonfires, but enforcement depends on a police force who steadfastly refuse to act against loyalists.

There may be issues, such as the persistent demand for an Orange march at Drumcree, that are too toxic for the British to move on, but there will be a political stasis that will embolden the right and increases levels of intimidation

Grin and bear it

Sinn Fein will have to grin and bear it. Despite all the elements of the deal that openly adopt the positions of unionist reaction, despite a formal declaration from the Britain government that they are not bound by a commitment to neutrality on partition contained inside the Agreement, all sections of Irish capital attest the impartiality of the British and the sacred nature of the Good Friday Agreement as an international agreement.

Sinn Fein will not break with the institutions nor lead their followers onto the streets.  Their political strategy is based in the executive, getting their share of the cash and using patronage to hold their core support. Adams is trying to construct a new ideology to justify the U-turn, calling for new ways to embrace the Orange. However he now faces a risk from his own supporters, who voted in large numbers to insist that elements of the political agreement that Sinn Fein had allowed to let slide now be implemented. At the same time it has now become clear that the DUP demand for supremacy is not negotiable and that the British stand four-square with them. The danger lies in believing that the British position is a result of the DUP pact. It is in fact built into British strategy over the history of the Troubles. A new settlement would involve further concessions, confirming Sinn Fein as a loyal and subordinate opposition.

In Britain the alliance with the DUP will have a much greater impact than in the past. This is because the Conservative party has moved to the far right and because party and country are fragmented. Elements of greater state spying and repression, impunity for state forces, the military compact and the open expression of sectarianism and racism will open the door for the Trumpist wing of the Conservative party.  All the more so in Ireland where policies such as the military compact will no longer be the platitude it is in Britain but  the spearhead of state sponsored discrimination in favour of current and former members of the state forces.


However the link carries great danger for the Conservative Party. They have spent decades resurrecting themselves as the people’s party – not the nasty party. The British Left now have an open goal to force much of the population to flee screaming from the Tories.

Overall, the Tory/DUP deal is but one sign of political chaos. If anyone were willing to look closely at it they would see it contradicts the basis of the Irish political settlement and will inevitably lead to its collapse. In Britain the deal will act as an accelerator, speeding up the division between right and left.

The Corbyn phenomenon is the first step in rediscovery of class. As part of that journey the Irish Question must be rediscovered and cancerous effects of colonialism on British and Irish workers challenged again.


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