Feb 19 2019

BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND

The E&L blog  has been reporting the situation in Ireland since we started up. However, during  current Brexit negotiations , the  ‘backstop’ has pushed the issue of Northern Ireland to the fore. We are publishing two articles which share a lot in common in their analysis of Ireland, but which offer differing perspectives on the role of the EU. The first is written by David Jamieson and first appeared on the Commonspace blog. The second is written by Allan Armstrong and forms the seventh chapter of his new pamphlet From Blatcherism to Maybynism.

 

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  1. ANALYSIS – MICRO-POLITICS ISN’T ENOUGH – WE MUST ADDRESS

THE  PARTITION OF IRELAND

 

Debates around the UK border in Ireland and the so called ‘backstop’ bring the crisis elements of the British state into sharper focus. Continue reading “BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND”

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Nov 14 2009

August 1969

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 7:25 pm

Patricia Campbell reviews a crucial event in Irish history which occurred 40 years ago. This article first appeared in Fourthwrite (Summer 2009)

August 1969 was the year that transformed the face of the North forever. The civil rights marches of the previous year had launched a movement for change that the Stormont regime found impossible to cope with through normal democratic process.

Used for decades to having its every order obeyed, or at least having those who objected compelled to fall in line, the Unionist Party and its machinery of power decided to resort to the old tactic of subjugation through force. People demanding that antidemocratic practices end would be driven off the streets and battered into acquiescence – or pay a heavy price for challenging the authority of the regime. This method had worked in the past. In fact the very state had come into being through the bloody intimidation of that section of the population that had objected to its formation in the first place.

British governments in 1920/21/22 had allowed James Craig and his colleagues in the Unionist Party to use widespread sectarian violence in order to establish a 6-County state. Between July 1920 and July 1922, 453 people had been killed in Belfast, 37 members of the Crown forces and 417 civilians; 257 Catholics and 157 Protestants and two of no known religion. Of the city’s 93,000 Catholic inhabitants, 11,000 had been forced from their jobs and 23,000 driven from their homes. This was the environment in which the northern state was created.

During the early months of 1969, supporters of the unionist state had viciously attacked a series of peaceful demonstrations. A march by students in January was ambushed outside Derry and clearly identified among the attackers were numerous members of the police reserve, the ‘B’ Special. In incident after incident for the following few months, thus the level of violence increased. The RUC riot squad was responsible for a number of deaths when members of the force used their batons on civilians in Derry City, Dungiven, Co. Derry and Coalisland, Co. Tyrone.

When the Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA) was formed in July of 1969, it decided to organise a defence of the Bogside in order to prevent further lethal attack by the RUCC and ‘B’ Specials. The Stormont regime was unwilling to curb the activities of any of its supporters and made no attempt to prevent the Apprentice Boys parade taking place in Derry on 12 August. There was little doubt that rioting was going to break out when thousands of unionists began strutting along the city walls, reminding the inhabitants of their second class status in Northern Ireland. As the Apprentice Boys march was coming to an end the expected happened and fighting between the RUC and local residents intensified.

Unlike previous occasions, the RUC met with stiff resistance from the people of the Bogside and found it impossible to gain control of the area as the DCDA organisation proved effective. Key to the success of the defenders was their decision to occupy the high flats in the centre of the district and use is as a strong point to hurl stones and Molotov cocktails down on the advancing police below.

The struggle lasted throughout the night and into the next day and still the RUC was unable to penetrate the Bogside. Tension grew throughout the North as all sides watched the conflict develop. Nationalists and republicans were anxious to see what could be done to help the defenders while Unionism was becoming increasingly hysterical as it watched its absolute authority being challenged on the streets.

Grassroots unionism was demanding that live ammunition be used against the Bogsiders but Stormont’s cabinet knew that with the world watching so closely, it would be a gross mistake. With the situation under scrutiny, the Unionist regime understood that Britain would exact a very high price from the Belfast parliament if its police force were to be seen to carry out a Sharpville style massacre in Derry with the world’s press watching.

Under increasing siege

With the Bogsider defenders under increasing siege, word was circulated in all nationalist and republican areas that it would be necessary to organise demonstrations to take pressure off the people in Derry. Demonstrations were organised in nationalist towns across the North and RUC and ‘B’ Specials were dispatched to contain the events. In town after town these events grew increasingly violent. Police and ‘B’ Specials began to use the live ammunition that their supporters had been demanding and gunshot casualties were inflicted on nationalist civilians in several towns. In Armagh city ‘B’ specials shot and killed a Catholic civilian making his way home from a local bar.

The greatest violence, however, broke out on the night of the 14th August in Belfast. A protest march had taken place on the 13 and in its aftermath the IRA exchanged gunfire with the RUC, wounding one constable. On the night of the 14th crowds of unionists gathered in the Shankill area and other unionist districts. As daylight began to fade, shooting broke out. Desultory at first and growing in intensity as time went by. As darkness fell, the RUC sent armoured cars equipped with heavy machine guns into the lower Falls and Ardoyne firing into houses and killing several of the occupants.

As the armoured cars raced through the narrow streets they had little difficulty winning control of these districts. Once in charge, the RUC started to systematically shoot out street lighting. With the streets in darkness and the inhabitants terrified, crowds of unionist arsonists supported by off duty ‘B’ Specials started to pour into the lower Falls and Ardoyne and other nationalist areas in Belfast. IRA units in Belfast were seriously under resourced in August 1969. The republican army’s head quarters staff had taken a decision to reduce its arsenal in Belfast in order to ensure that local unit commanders would not precipitate a sectarian blood bath by undisciplined operations. The decision was well meant and had a certain logic in light of the progress of the civil rights movement but in the context of Northern Irish reality it was a mistaken and naive judgement.

Badly outnumbered they put up a spirited resistance to the counter revolutionary assault and joined by veteran members of the organisation prevented a much greater amount of damage being inflicted on the nationalist community.

It was nevertheless, beyond doubt that the nationalist communities in the Falls and Ardoyne areas had suffered greatly with a huge number of homes burned out and many families driven from their property. The trauma was enormous and evoked memories of the worst days of the 1920s. Within days efforts were being made to find arms and to organise military defence of these districts. The IRAwas to split over the issue and in practice this period signalled the end of peaceful, non-insurrectionary protest.

The British government sent troops into Derry and Belfast but refused to curb the powers of the Stormont regime. In time it became obvious that London had little interest in radically reforming Northern Ireland and the Home Secretary of the time, Jim Callaghan, told nationalist politicians that theycould have ‘reform’ but it had to happen within the parameters of a Stormont regime. This dictate of ‘any colour you like so long as it’s orange’ was to ensure that the very existence of the state had to be challenged if change was to occur and that is exactly what was to happen. Nothing was the same after August 1969. The Orange state was in free-fall.

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Mar 20 2009

Challenging Normalisation On The Streets Of Belfast

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:56 pm

A month has now passed since the controversial British military ‘homecoming parade’ in Belfast. While there was considerable media hype in the run-up to the November 2nd military display, there was a noticeable lack of any in-depth analysis as to why the parade was organised in the first place.

Instead, the corporate media ran endless stories on the potential for trouble and clashes between those who supported the parade and those who did not. In focusing on this angle, journalists were only regurgitating the spin of the PSNI and the larger political parties. In the days running up to the parade, talk of “troublemakers” and “dissidents” planning every manner of mayhem filled the column inches. When that mayhem failed to materialise, the media quickly moved on, without ever questioning what the true purpose of the military parade actually was.

So what was the real agenda behind the military display of November 2nd?

The answer is simple. Those who invited the British military into Belfast city centre used the cover of a ‘homecoming parade’ to further the long-standing strategy of Normalisation in Ireland. What, after all, could be more normal than the British army marching the streets of a ‘British’ city? It should be remembered that the original plan for this parade would have seen hundreds of armed troops marching, while military aircraft performed a fly-over across the city. What more powerful image of ‘normality’ could there have been?

This is the context in which éirígí announced its intention to oppose the parade when the idea was first mooted in August of this year. Had it taken place without opposition it would have represented much more than the illusion of normality; it would in fact have demonstrated a high degree of actual normality.

Thankfully, this did not happen. The parade was opposed, and not only by éirígí. By the time the RIR and other British military units marched onto the streets of Belfast a number of political parties, anti-state violence groups and other progressives had come out in opposition to it. At four separate locations across the city, hundreds of republicans and socialists attended protests opposing the triumphalist display.

While the parade went ahead despite these protests, it only did so by mobilising the entire spectrum of unionism and, in doing so, demonstrated the fundamentally abnormal nature of the Six County state. In the weeks running up to the parade, mainstream unionism in the form of the DUP and UUP, ex-British soldiers’ associations and the unionist death squads all worked tirelessly to mobilise their respective supporters.

In many unionist areas, the literal writing on the wall encouraged people to demonstrate their support for the British army and its exploits in Afghanistan and Iraq. In cyber space, a virtual call to arms was issued across social networking websites.

On the morning of November 2nd, thousands of supporters of the RIR lined the route of the parade. Among the crowds, the city councillors who extended the invite to the British army stood shoulder to shoulder with members of Britain’s death squads.

Notorious sectarian killers from Britain’s unofficial militias were lauded as heroes as they sauntered down the street just minutes ahead of their comrades in the official militia passed by. Members of the PSNI stood nonchalantly by as hundreds of thugs chanted sectarian slogans and hurled the vilest of abuse, as well as actual missiles, at the victims of British state violence.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of PSNI members manned a security ring around Belfast city centre to ensure that no protester could get close to the parade. Surveillance helicopters buzzed overhead, providing up to the minute information for the riot-gear clad paramilitary police on the ground.

While this show of combined strength was nominally in support of British soldiers returning from Afghanistan, it was actually intended to send a message to nationalist and republican Ireland. And the message was clear. Forty years after the civil rights movement was attacked by Stormont, the RUC, the B-Specials and the Paisleyite mobs, it was still business as usual.

Despite all of the superficial changes of the last forty years, it was clear on November 2nd that nothing has really changed. When faced with the prospect of peaceful protests against imperialism, Britain responded with the mobilisation of both its official and unofficial forces. The images of heavily armed PSNI members facing unarmed protesters while sectarian mobs howl in the background was reminiscent of the black and white footage of four decades ago.

In an ironic twist, those who hoped to further the Normalisation agenda have only succeeded in highlighting just how abnormal life in the Six Counties actually is. Those who planned a propaganda coup of ‘Ireland at peace’ instead got a propaganda disaster. The hoped for fly-by of the RAF was replaced by hovering surveillance helicopters. The hoped for television footage of crowds cheering the British army was replaced by footage of yobs jeering the relatives of that army’s Irish victims.

While the damage to Normalisation caused by November 2nd should not be overestimated, it would be equally wrong to underplay it. The events of that day clearly demonstrated how relatively small numbers of people can challenge the Normalisation strategy and, in the process, expose the continuing abnormality of the British occupation.

The challenge now facing republicanism is to follow November 2 with other initiatives to re-build popular opposition to British rule.

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