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 fappeared 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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Apr 18 2016

ORANGE SKIRMISH HIGHLIGHTS THE ONGOING SECTARIAN FRACTURES IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND

We are posting this recent article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) about the  current situation in Northern Ireland. This is a another contribution to the series of articles we have posted about the domination of reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland, and its possible knock-on effects in the rest of the UK.

 

ORANGE SKIRMISH HIGHLIGHTS THE ONGOING SECTARIAN FRACTURES IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND

PSNI oversee Orange Order march on Ormeau Road

PSNI oversee Orange Order march on Ormeau Road

The skirmish on Belfast’s Ormeau Road between the police and Orange marchers seems inexplicable to those outside the sectarian society.
Continue reading “ORANGE SKIRMISH HIGHLIGHTS THE ONGOING SECTARIAN FRACTURES IN THE NORTH OF IRELAND”

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Sep 01 2015

THE IMPACT OF REACTIONARY UNIONISM ON UK POLITICS

In the struggle over the future of the UK, the main battle is being conducted between the SNP pushing for a liberal unionist ‘Devo-Max’ agenda (looking for support from a possibly Corbyn-led Labour Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens) and the conservative unionist alliance led by David Cameron, with the tacit acceptance of  ‘One Nation’ Labour and the Lib-Dems. However, there is a third unionist force, the reactionary unionists consisting of UKIP, the Tory Right and Ulster unionists, backed by the loyalists.

The following two articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) cover recent events which show the impact of reactionary unionism in the ‘Six Counties’. Here, reactionary unionism continues to make political advances, seeking to undermine the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). These articles show how Sinn Fein’s acceptance of a liberal-unionist road to Irish unity through the devolved institutions of the UK state (i.e. Stormont) is looking increasingly like a dead-end. The UK state is using the threat posed by reactionary unionism to dictate the political direction of events, even threatening to evict Sinn Fein from the post-GFA political set-up, if it does not fully cooperate. As the first article shows, the killing of Kevin McGuigan is the latest stick being used to attack Sinn Fein.

Reactionary unionism can not be ignored over here, because UKIP, in particular, seeks to use Northern Ireland as a model of how to undermine the current liberal unionist ‘Devolution-all-round’ political settlement, the better to clamp down on any more radical alternatives. And when the chips are down, conservative and even liberal unionists will also turn to reactionary unionism for support. Glasgow Labour Council’s current flirtations with the Orange Order and other loyalists are just one indiction of this.  

The forthcoming European referendum will largely be fought on conservative unionist (Cameron and his Labour and Lib-Dem allies from the old ‘Better Together’ alliance) versus reactionary unionist (UKIP and the Tory Right) terms. The prospect of the ‘Six Counties’ breaking their current links with the 26 Counties within the EU is a particularly enticing prospect for reactionary unionists and loyalists. They want to turn the clock back and reintroduce old-style Partition.  

As republican socialists we need to mount our own ‘internationalism from below’ alliance covering not only Scotland, England, Wales and the whole of Ireland, to counter the threat of  reactionary and conservative unionism and the limitations of liberal unionism. This needs to be extended to bring together the European Left to defend migrant workers and asylum seekers, targeted both by the reactionary and conservative unionists, with minimal opposition from liberal unionists.

 

1) THE KILLING OF KEVIN McGUIGAN – DON’T SPECULATE

The Stormont road to a united Ireland?

The Stormont road to a united Ireland?

In October 2013 Kevin Kearney was shot dead in North Belfast by an anti-agreement republican group. Immediately after the killing Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein identified the group responsible and provided detailed information about the background.
Continue reading “THE IMPACT OF REACTIONARY UNIONISM ON UK POLITICS”

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Aug 10 2014

THE FURTHER DECLINE OF THE ‘NEW UNIONIST’ SETTLEMENT IN NORTHERN IRELAND

In the following two articles from Socialist Democracy (Ireland), John McAnulty of chronicles the further decline of the ‘New Unionist’ settlement in Northern Ireland.

 

1) ON THE RUNS – CONCESSIONS TO SINN FEIN WERE MERE SMOKE AND MIRRORS

Lady Justice Hallet, author of 'On the Runs'

Lady Justice Hallet, author of ‘On the Runs’

 

When Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was nominated to head an enquiry into child sexual abuse by leading politicians, there was an outcry that objected to her on the grounds of her position within the establishment. The victims objected to a “safe pair of hands” guiding the enquiry.

Continue reading “THE FURTHER DECLINE OF THE ‘NEW UNIONIST’ SETTLEMENT IN NORTHERN IRELAND”

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Feb 26 2014

EIRIGI ELECTION WORKERS ASSAULTED BY GARDA SPECIAL BRANCH

Many socialists are aware of the continued repressive role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (the old RUC) when it comes to dealing with legal Republican opposition in the ‘Six Counties’. However, this article highlights the role of the Irish police force, the garda, in its attempts to suppress legal political activity in the ’26 counties’. Eirigi is a socialist republican organisation, with a councillor, Louise Minihan, on Dublin City Council.

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Louise Minihan, eirigi councillor for Ballyfermot, Dublin

Louise Minihan, eirigi councillor for Ballyfermot, Dublin

On Thursday evening (February 6) two éirígí election workers were assaulted by a member of the Garda Special Detective Unit – more commonly known as the ‘Special Branch’. The assaults mark a significant escalation in the ongoing campaign of harassment of éirígí activists by the Dublin government’s political police.

Continue reading “EIRIGI ELECTION WORKERS ASSAULTED BY GARDA SPECIAL BRANCH”

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Feb 07 2014

HUMAN RIGHTS ARE UNDER THREAT IN NORTH OF IRELAND


New York based Sandy Boyer is the co-host of “Radio Free Eireann” broadcast Saturdays at 1pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, or wbai.org. He has helped to mobilize support for political prisoners including Marian Price, Roisin McAliskey, the Birmingham 6, Pol Brennan and Joe Doherty. Here he outlines the continued threat to human rights in Northern Ireland.

 

Fifteen years ago, the Good Friday Agreement promised a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Today there is still no Bill of Rights, and human rights are under a severe and sustained attack.

Continue reading “HUMAN RIGHTS ARE UNDER THREAT IN NORTH OF IRELAND”

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Jun 17 2013

G8 SUMMIT AT ENNISKILLEN

The G8 summit was held  in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, from June 17th – 18th. It is eight years since the G8 summit held at Gleneagles in July 2005. Emancipation & Liberation covered that summit quite extensively in issue no. 11 (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/category/publications/emancipation-liberation/issue-11/). Little has changed.

The first article by John McAnulty of  Socialist Democracy (Ireland) shows the wider significance of the Enniskillen location chosen for this summit. This venue was chosen to help prop of the UK-Irish government Peace Process in the North and to maintain this as an international example of imperialist conflict resolution. As the second report, this time from eirigi highlights, massive amounts have been spent on security, with police and other security forces mobilised from across the UK. Significantly, police forces from across the UK, are now also being sent to help the PSNI manage the annual Orange Order sectarian Unionist/Loyalist supremacist marches. Legitimate attempts to protest  at Enniskillen and Belfast were clamped down on by the police, just as they were in Edinburgh and Auchterarder in 2005.  

This is followed by two earlier articles. One from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) highlights the significance of the choice of venue for the British government, and Ireland’s current position, subjected both to EU and US/British imperialism. Another from eirigi, makes an overall political assessment of the two day event.

Continue reading “G8 SUMMIT AT ENNISKILLEN”

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Mar 18 2013

TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT BRITISH LAW

The article below highlights the state harassment of eirigi activist, Stephen Murney from Newry. Eirigi is a legal socialist republican organisation with members in both parts of Ireland. This article shows how the British state is determined to marginalise all criticism of its current Northern Ireland set-up, by going to elaborate lengths to create the illusion that any  criticism it objects to is  ‘terrorist activity’.

Demonstration in Newry in support of Stephen Murney

Demonstration in Newry in support of Stephen Murney

On the morning  of February 21st, in Newry court-house, éirígí activist Stephen Murney faced additional charges following his removal from Maghaberry prison by the PSNI the previous day and his subsequent detention at Antrim interrogation centre. Half an hour before the actual hearing, the court-room had been filled to capacity by Stephen’s family, friends and party comrades.

These latest charges directly relate to other charges against Stephen and demonstrate an attempt by the PSNI and Six County prosecution service to bolster what is widely recognised as an already weak case solely initiated as a blatant and crude attempt at political censorship.

The new charges included one relating to a single photograph, which Stephen has already been charged with possessing. On the basis, that having taken a photograph with which he had previously been charged with possessing last year, the prosecution now accused Stephen of “collecting information which may be of use to terrorists and possession of articles which may be of use to terrorists”.

Continue reading “TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT BRITISH LAW”

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Nov 14 2009

Can the SNP deliver independence?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 7:15 pm

We assess the politics behind the SNP government’s proposed independence referendum and its likelihood of success.

Megrahi, behind-the-scenes deals and the ‘liberal’ US onslaught

Political developments in Scotland are hotting-up in the aftermath of the decision by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s Justice Minister, to release Abdelbaset Ali-Mohamed al-Megrahi, the so-called Libyan bomber, on compassionate grounds.

Whatever the undisclosed background negotiations behind this move, involving New Labour at Westminster and SNP at Holyrood, the political fallout has been considerable. Earlier negotiations between the British and Libyan government, involving Tony Blair and Jack Straw, had strongly implied a prisoner transfer agreement. Megrahi would finish his sentence in Libya, in return for BP oil concessions. The Scottish government thwarted this. It denied any right to the British government to interfere with the decision taken by the Scottish judiciary, which had been given original responsibility for Megrahi’s trial, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, in 2000-1.

What has become abundantly clear is that Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson wanted Megrahi released before his death, to ensure that British corporate interests in Libya weren’t jeopardised if he died in a British jail. MacAskill’s willingness to take responsibility for Megrahi’s release was an added bonus for the New Labour-led British government. It meant that the SNP-led Scottish government could take all the blame, when the right wing press, both in Britain and the US, orchestrated the howls of outrage about ‘weakness’ in the face of terrorism.

It is possible that the SNP leadership thought that, with Barack Obama as President, the new US Democrat government would welcome MacAskill’s compassionate approach. After all Obama had personally given an undertaking to the Moslem world in Cairo on June 4th that he represented a new type of American leader. However, as the continuing war in Afghanistan (and now Pakistan), the continued build up of pressure on Iran, and the US’s failure to discipline Netanyahu in the face of continued Israeli settlements on the West Bank demonstrate, Obama is only trying to re-brand US imperialism, not challenge it.

So ‘liberal’ Obama, Hilary Clinton, and the late Ted Kennedy, led the attack on the Scottish government. Meanwhile, the rabid American Right soon ended any delusions about the longstanding affectionate ties between Scotland and the US. In their eyes, Scotland replaced France as the country all ‘good American’s love to hate. Only now it is the Scots who are ‘haggis-eating surrender monkeys’. Back in Scotland, the British unionist parties, New Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dem, characteristically decided to echo the sentiments emanating from the US. They launched an attack on the Scottish government and the nationalist SNP.

The SNP recovers from the attacks and announces its independence referendum

The SNP has been trying for years to win the approval of corporate America, with the prospect of low business taxation and the attempted cultivation of Scottish-American business figures and politicians. Donald Trump, the dodgy property speculator, has been assiduously wooed. Therefore, defending MacAskill’s decision in the face of blatant US imperial pressure did not come easily to the SNP leadership, particularly after the display of Scottish saltires being waved at Tripoli’s airport, welcoming Megrahi upon his return. After all, MacAskill still insisted that he acted solely on compassionate grounds, and that he upheld the Scottish court’s extremely dubious decision that Megrahi was guilty. MacAskill didn’t want to tread on the toes of the Scottish legal establishment.

Early opinion polls seemed to indicate that MacAskill was indeed isolated. However, the Church of Scotland, followed by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, gave their public backing to MacAskill. Whilst this was undoubtedly embarrassing to sections of the unionist alliance, it was the decision of Nelson Mandela to support MacAskill that turned the tables. Within days, support for MacAskill’s decision had risen to 45% in Scotland.

Sensing a possible drubbing in any Scottish General Election their actions might precipitate, the unionist opposition retreated from a vote of ‘No confidence’ in MacAskill at Holyrood. They settled for a motion condemning the Scottish government’s handling of the affair. Although the unionist parties have an overall majority in Holyrood, their alliance began to break up. Former Scottish Labour Ministers, Henry McLeish and Malcolm Chisholm, backed MacAskill, and the Conservatives decided to switch the focus of attention to Gordon Brown and Westminster Government involvement in Megrahi’s release.

It was in this context that the SNP Government announced next year’s legislative programme on September 3rd, with its proposal for a referendum on Scottish independence given flagship status. Now the unionist parties can kill this off at the first hurdle, by using their majority to vote down any such bill in Holyrood. Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, Alex Salmond well knows this, but has likely calculated on there being a British Conservative Government under David Cameron next year. This could place the SNP in a good position before the next Holyrood General Election in 2011, especially with an impotent New Labour in ‘opposition’ at Westminster.

The November 12th Glasgow North East by-election

However, a more immediate by-election battle is taking place in Glasgow North East on November 12th, after the resignation of the disgraced Westminster Speaker, Michael Martin. With the SNP not wanting to be portrayed as the ‘Orange’ party (Labour’s main accusation against it, when it stood against Scottish party leader, Helen Liddell, in the notorious Monklands East by-election in 1994) their leadership is taking no chances. It has adopted David Kerr as candidate. He is a member of Opus Dei!

Glasgow City Council is one of the few Scottish councils still under Labour control, so the SNP cannot so easily be held responsible for the type of unpopular local policies, which contributed to their surprise defeat in the Glenrothes by-election last November. So, Labour has now switched its focus to an alleged SNP bias against Glasgow city, highlighted by the Scottish Government’s decision to cancel the planned Glasgow airport rail link.

The SNP strategy of trying to appeal to all Scots, regardless of class, has also come unstuck. The introduction of new local service charges for pensioners in Fife was just one indicator of where the SNP’s real loyalties lie. In Edinburgh they share responsibility with the Lib-Dems for the council’s attempt to impose draconian pay cuts on refuse disposal workers, with the threat of privatisation looming. In West Dunbartonshire, they have suspended SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, for nine months, for his tireless commitment to working class communities.

The long honeymoon, enjoyed by the current SNP government, is now under strain. The SNP is wedded to a neo-liberal economic model, which once placed failed corporations such as the Royal Bank of Scotland in the driving seat of their proposed new Scottish economy, and lauded the successes of the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’. Today, the SNP meekly accepts its role in administering the Westminster government’s measures to deal with the current crisis – massive public spending cuts to bail out the bankers.

The Scottish government has also frozen council taxes now for three years. This further contributes to the squeeze on social spending. Added to all this, the full consequences of the SNP’s fawning before Trump means that the Scottish government looks prepared to back a compulsory purchase order to evict residents from their homes in Aberdeenshire to make way for Trump’s new golf course and leisure complex –the new Clearances.

The build-up of reactionary forces and the divided Left

Although the prime press interest in Glasgow North East will be the battle between New Labour and the SNP, there will be other significant political struggles going on. In the last election here, the Conservatives did not field a candidate, following the mainstream parties’ convention of not standing against the Speaker. This left the way open for the Scottish Unionists to stand. They represent that traditional Orange wing, abandoned by the Conservatives, when the party broke their link with the Ulster Unionist Party in the 1970’s. David Cameron has recently reforged that alliance. Official British Conservative backing for a Protestant unionist party in ‘the Six Counties’ will have knock on effects in Glasgow, where sectarian divisions still exist.

However, the Orange Order in Scotland is still not prepared to throw its weight fully behind the Tories. Grand Master, Ian Wilson, has said the Order will be backing the Labour Party, wherever they are best placed to defeat the SNP in elections. Labour remains Scotland’s premier Unionist party.

Both the previous New Labour/Lib-Dem and current SNP Scottish governments at Holyrood have promoted a bureaucratic and moralistic campaign against sectarianism in Scotland, based on the false notion that there is a ‘war between two tribes’, Protestant and Catholic or, sometimes more simply, between Rangers and Celtic. The real underlying issue is support for, or opposition to, the British occupation of part of Ireland. One of the aims of this official ‘anti-sectarian’ campaign is to cutback on the many Orange Order and the handful of Irish Republican marches held in Scotland’s Central Belt. This will become a focus of opposition for hard line loyalists. There is also the planned provocation in Glasgow, organised by the fascist Islamophobic English Defence League’s satellite organisation, the ‘Scottish Defence League’ (SDL), on November 14th.

The BNP are standing in the Glasgow North East by-election. They would love to have the sort of clout that loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrated, when the PSNI meekly bowed before their intimidation of Roma families in Belfast. Furthermore, despite BNP denials, there is obviously an overlap between BNP and EDL/SDL. Like the loyalists in ‘the Six Counties’, they have shown a growing admiration for the apartheid state of Israel and its brutal methods. So, it is only an inner hard core of Nazi ‘Sieg Heiling’, swastika worshippers that cling on to the old anti-semitism. The majority of Union Jack waving fascists find plenty to celebrate in the history of British unionism and imperialism.

Furthermore, there are other nasty links being forged. The mainstream, usually socially liberal, Church of Scotland is under growing attack by the reactionary Fellowship of Confessing Churches (FCC), with 45 parishes threatening to break away, unless the Church publicly condemns homosexuality. The FCC is backed by Sam Cole, DUP councillor and Orange Lodge chaplain, along with Maurice Bradley, former mayor of Coleraine, Danny Kennedy, Ulster Unionist depute leader, Sir David McNee, former Chief Constable of Strathclyde, and a hundred members of the ultra-conservative Presbyterian Church of America, which also opposes the ordination of women ministers.

Tragically, the Left today is divided in Scotland. In the last Glasgow North East election, the SSP easily defeated both the Scottish Unionists and the BNP, although Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was able to do better still and get 14% of the vote, in the confusion caused by the absence of an official Labour candidate, with Michael Martin standing solely as the Speaker. The SLP has left no organisation on the ground and is, in effect, now only one man’s vanity party.

The concern now is that, with a Left split between the SSP, Solidarity/Tommy Sheridan party and the SLP, the BNP’s vote could overtake the Socialist vote. Whilst Sheridan will cultivate the celebrity vote, he faces competition from John Smeaton, the ‘people’s hero’. Meanwhile, John Swinburne, the ex-MSP, from the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, and Mikey Hughes, former Big Brother runner-up, campaigning for the disabled, are also standing. More worrying than any likely BNP vote in itself, would be the opportunity this could provide them to become the ‘shock troops’ of hard right unionism in Scotland, at a time when the issue of Scottish independence is coming to the fore.

When Nick Griffin visited Scotland on October 28th, he said he supported a referendum for Scottish independence. However, he made it quite clear that the BNP would strongly oppose those campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. He is lining himself up with ultra unionists like the Tory, Michael Forsyth, and New Labour’s Wendy Alexander, who also want a referendum campaign to see off any threat of Scottish independence for the foreseeable future. You can rest assured, whatever differences they still have, that these ultra-unionists don’t intend to confine their opposition to polite democratic debate – and the BNP are signalling that their services can be called upon to defend the Union.

The SNP unprepared for the British state counter-attack – a socialist republican and ‘internationalism from below’ approach needed

The SNP remains a thoroughly constitutionalist party, and has indicated, by its recently declared support for the British monarchy, its complete willingness to play politics by Westminster rules. The problem is, that the British ruling class only play be these rules when it suits them. When their state is under threat, both Conservative and Labour governments have shown their preparedness to utilise the antidemocratic Crown Powers to thwart any challenges, as any Republican living in Ireland can testify. If necessary, they would not be averse to covertly encouraging British loyalists, as the British state’s continued financial support for their organisations in ‘the Six Counties’ demonstrates.

Furthermore, the SNP’s complete lack of appreciation of the continued imperial role of British troops in the world is highlighted by its continued support for the British Army’s Scottish regiments. SNP Westminster defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, has announced that ‘English’ troops would be welcome to remain in Scotland after ‘independence’. It probably won’t be long before the SNP retreats further to accommodate US imperialism. They could settle for Scotland being removed from the NATO frontline to become a ‘supporting’ state within NATO’s Orwellian renamed second tier, ‘The Partnership for Peace’. NATO bases in Scotland would still remain available for imperial use.

Scotland, with its North Sea Oil, and its numerous British and NATO military bases, is far more central to ruling class interests, than ‘the Six Counties’. It is unlikely that the British state will just wait until the Scottish independence referendum bill comes to Holyrood. US and British security services are probably preparing a strategy, using both official and unofficial forces, to marginalise the threat of the break-up of the UK and the potential loss of NATO bases.

Although there is no deep-seated tradition of independent republican organisations in Scotland, there is nevertheless widespread popular support for a Scottish Republic. Furthermore, this is strongly linked to support for public services provided on the basis of need, and opposition to British and American imperial wars. A vote for the SNP has sometimes expressed this feeling in a sentimental way. As the SNP moves further to the Right such support is becoming as undeserved as a vote for Labour from those hoping to improve their lives.

It is the job of socialist republicans to organise such sentiments in an effective way, by linking everyday struggles, such as the ‘Save Our Schools’ campaign in Glasgow today, with the demand for a Scottish Republic tomorrow, when the SNP independence referendum comes up against British unionist intransigence. Only the SSP links its support for independence with opposition to all imperialist wars, whether or not they are sanctioned by the UN – a thoroughly undemocratic body, which is nothing other than a plaything of the imperial powers. In contrast, the SNP stance on the ongoing US/British war in Afghanistan has been profoundly ambiguous.

Since the British state and its Irish government allies coordinate their actions through the ‘Peace Process’ and Devolution-all-round; and both the British and Scottish TUCs and the Irish CTU promote ‘social partnerships’, which subordinate workers’ interests to those of the bosses; whilst the BNP and loyalists are trying to cement links ‘across the border’ and ‘across the water’, it becomes all the more imperative that Socialists in these islands organise ourselves on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ to more effectively promote working class interests throughout these islands. We need to build on the success of last year’s Republican Socialist Convention.

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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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