Aug 04 2017

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE REALITY OF NORTHERN IRELAND

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

1. BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES 

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.

 

This article was first posted at:- http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentBonfireOfTheVanities.html

 

2. THE TWELFTH IN IRELAND

Emma Little Pengelly supports there 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. Continue reading “TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE REALITY OF NORTHERN IRELAND”

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Nov 08 2015

SAVING STORMONT: THE LAST HURRAH?

The RCN has continually emphasised the significance of political developments in Northern Ireland. In contrast to England and Wales, where conservative unionism remains dominant, and Scotland where a hybrid constitutional nationalism/liberal unionism is dominant, in Northern Ireland reactionary unionism has become the predominant political force. Together the Ulster unionist parties and the loyalists been able to push back the post-1997 Good Friday Agreement component of the UK state’s ‘New Unionist’ Peace Process and Devolution-all-round settlement. UKIP intends to use this model to extend its own reactionary unionist offensive across the UK.  This article, from Socialist Democracy (Ireland)  shows how the UK state has used the Ulster unionists’ current offensive directed against Sinn Fein, to further its austerity programme, in return for more political concessions to entrench the political position of reactionary unionists and loyalists. 

Ultra-sectarian Ruth Patterson of the DUP challenges party leader, Peter Robinson. from the further Right

Ultra-sectarian Ruth Patterson of the DUP challenges party leader, Peter Robinson. from the further Right

SAVING STORMONT: THE LAST HURRAH

The results of the report by a British government monitoring panel caused bemusement among observers inside and outside Ireland. Following the statement of a few truisms – the IRA still exist, the loyalist gangs are still active – the Democratic Unionist Party, who had been blocking the operation of the local Assembly by resigning their positions and re-appointing themselves in a weekly cycle, returned to their positions full-time.
Continue reading “SAVING STORMONT: THE LAST HURRAH?”

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Aug 05 2015

WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

Gavin Bowd’s book Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right has given succour to unionist opponents of Scottish self-determination. Allan Armstrong (RCN) provides a republican and international socialist critique.

WHAT THE FUK?

Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

th-5

 

1) What is a fascist organisation?

Gavin Bowd’s book, Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right, contains a lot of useful material about far right writings, culture and organisation in Scotland since the 1920s. However, Bowd does not define what he means by fascism, nor distinguish it from other forms of reactionary or right populist politics. These often invoke similar chauvinist, ethnic or racist themes. The purpose behind Bowd’s lack of clarity over the political basis of fascism only emerges gradually.
Continue reading “WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right”

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Apr 20 2015

LIVING THE PEACE PROCESS IN REVERSE

The following extract is taken from an article by Robbie McVeigh, entitled Living the peace process in reverse: racist violence and British nationalism in Northern Ireland, in the current issue of Race & Class (Volume 56, April-June 2015, no. 4).

Virtually the whole of the Left has ignored the broader implications of the new pan-unionist alliance (UKIP, Tory Right and Ulster unionists and loyalists), which is challenging the current British ruling class ‘New Unionist’ ‘devolution-all-round’ and Peace Process settlement from the Right. Robbie McVeigh, however, makes specific reference to the new political situation created in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. In doing this he is connecting to the arguments made on this blog that have highlighted this. He specifically points to the history of British ruling class sponsorship of  such reactionary forces, pointing out, not only several historical precedents, but the current collusion between the security forces in Northern Ireland and racist and bigoted unionism and loyalism, including its paramiltary manifestations.

This extract is followed by links to other articles on this blog making similar connections.

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LIVING THE PEACE PROCESS IN REVERSE

Robbie McVeigh

Robbie McVeigh

 

“It is important to remember that loyalism is a core component of British nationalism. This is an assessment of loyalism as a historical political formation, both as part of the politics of the British in Ireland and also of Britishness itself. It is anti-democratic ,racist, authoritarian populism. Moreover, it isn’t simply something belonging to the most reactionary elements of the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland, it is a British phenomenon. In other words, it isn’t rooted in the most lumpen elements of loyalist paramilitarism – although these provide useful allies – but in the most developed forms of British nationalism. Its genealogy can be traced to Randolph Churchill, with his cynical strategy of ‘playing the Orange Card’, through Lord Claude Hamilton to Enoch Powell; from the Curragh Mutiny to the Ulster Workers’ Strike. When the British Establishment rejects the consequences of formal democracy, this is what it looks like: a toxic cocktail of racism, sectarianism, anti-Catholicism, unionism, jingoism, militarism and paramilitarism.
Continue reading “LIVING THE PEACE PROCESS IN REVERSE”

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Mar 16 2015

THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’

After analysing the role of the constitutional nationalists of the SNP, the liberal and conservative unionists amongst  the Conservatives, Labour and Lib-Dems and the reactionary unionists led by UKIP, and their attempt to roll back Scotland’s ‘Democratic Revolution’ (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/), Allan Armstrong (RCN) examines the problematic role of the Left in the UK in challenging this.

 

 1. The UK constitutional issue will be central to the General Election campaign

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The continuing political impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ [1] can be seen in the run-up to the May Westminster General Election. The Conservative Party has produced a Westminster General Election poster, which highlights the importance they give to the issue of the future of the UK. It conjures up a diabolic alliance between Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond and Gerry Adams (the latter two apparently pulling the strings behind-the-scenes, since Salmond now holds no post within the SNP leadership, and Adams sits in the Irish Dail [2]).

Continue reading “THE LEFT IN THE UK, THE 2015 GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WIDER IMPACT OF SCOTLAND’S ‘DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION’”

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Oct 11 2014

AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 18th REFERENDUM VOTE – A socialist republican response

In the aftermath of the September 18th Scottish independence referendum, Allan Armstrong(RCN) updates his  earlier piece (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/09/03/up-to-and-beyond-the-september-18th-independence-referendum-a-socialist-republican-perspective/).

 

A Movement-in-the-making

The campaign for Scottish independence has been the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these islands since the Irish War of Independence. In terms of electoral participation it was unprecedented. Voter registration was 97% and voter turnout was 85%.

The ‘Yes’ alliance faced the biggest ruling class offensive, backed by the UK state, since the Miners’ Strike. Only this time it brought together the combined Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’ ‘No’ alliance, UKIP, Ulster unionists, the Orange Order, other Loyalists, British fascists, the BBC, the Pope and the Free Presbyterian Church, and the US and Chinese governments!

Continue reading “AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 18th REFERENDUM VOTE – A socialist republican response”

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Jan 24 2013

Belfast – “the carnival of reaction” continues

James Fearon has sent the following article to Socialist Democracy (Ireland). We are reposting it here as a follow- up to our other articles covering the Belfast flag riots. These riots have exposed the continuing sectarian nature of the Northern Ireland statelet, and the UK state’s role in maintaining Loyalism as a back-up defence for British rule.

Happier days for Loyalists - Union Jack flies over Belfast City Chambers

Happier days for Loyalists – Union Jack flies over Belfast City Chambers

While northern middle class Nationalism stamps its feet in chagrin at the unwillingness of their Unionist counterparts to call Loyalist protests to heel it is forced to ignore an increasing body of evidence that contradicts its view of Unionism. Widespread among the chattering classes is the view that the issue of the Irish relationship with British imperialism has been put on a stable footing.

In this perspective the North of Ireland, despite some anomalies, is now a place in which the Catholic middle class, increasingly happy with a ‘Northern Irish’ identity, has a considerable stake, and the relationship with comfortable middle class Unionism, based on ‘parity of esteem’, is at the beginning of a long period of steady, prosperous evolution.

What a shock the flag issue has been for them. Nationalist spokespeople react with genuine surprise and abhorrence at the destabilising effects of the protests but it is not so much the display of plebeian bigotry that upsets them but the fact that that bigotry, and more especially the reaction to it, represents the reality of the Northern state, a reality that the Catholic middle class felt that they had the capacity to move beyond.

Continue reading “Belfast – “the carnival of reaction” continues”

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Jan 10 2013

THE BELFAST FLAG RIOTS AND THE SCOTTISH DIMENSION

James Slaven of the James Connolly Society updates us on the situation arising from the Loyalist flag riots in Belfast and their attempts to link up with Scottish Loyalists and other neo-fascists.

Loyalists show their allegiances- Union Jack, Red Hand of Ulster and the Saltire

Loyalists show their allegiances – Union Jack, Red Hand of Ulster and the Saltire

The unionist protests across the Six Counties over the decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the number of days the union flag is flown over City Hall are now in their second month. The most serious trouble has centred on parts of Belfast where the UVF have been orchestrating a campaign of riots and sectarian terror directed at areas such as the Short Strand. While much of the media has ignored or downplayed the seriousness of the rioting (the BBC has insisted on calling them protests not riots) it is worth exploring the significance of recent events.

The catalyst for the latest unionist violence was the democratic decision of Belfast City Council to stop flying the union flag over City Hall every day. Instead councillors voted to fly the union flag only on designated days such as Betty Battenburg’s birthday. This decision merely brought the Council into line with other cities and indeed with Stormont. One fact that seems to have been overlooked in the furore is that Sinn Fein voted in favour of flying the British union flag over Belfast City Hall on the designated days.

Continue reading “THE BELFAST FLAG RIOTS AND THE SCOTTISH DIMENSION”

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