Apr 15 2019


The following article from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) highlights the impact of the reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland.  The Good Friday Agreement,  with its official  recognition of Unionists and Nationalists in a reformed Stormont, acted as liberal mask for the continued sectarian order in Northern Ireland. This placed the UK government in the position of ‘neutral’ arbiter, the better to ensure its continued rule. With the DUP now in alliance with May’s post-Brexit vote Conservative government, reactionary unionists see no need to maintain the liberal facade. Growing UK centralisation of power was always a central feature of Brexit, and its implications are not confined to Ireland.




A common myth regarding the northern state is that it has been without a government since the Stormont Assembly and executive collapsed in early 2017.  Accompanying this is the claim every that every ill in society (from sectarian intimidation to a failing health service) is down to (or at the very least made worse) by the absence of devolved government.  What usually follows from this is a call for Stormont to be restored as a means to bring about some improvement.  This is a call that is made unambiguously and unconditionally by the trade unions. It is also a call that is made by the left groups (albeit dressed up in rhetoric about fighting austerity or securing civil rights). The underlying assumptions here are that the political institutions brought into existence by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) can shield the working class to some degree or even be a vehicle for reforms.

The problem is that such assumptions about the governmental structures in the north are without foundation.  The Stormont Executive and Assembly – throughout the period of their existence – had a very poor record on public services , extending rights or  countering sectarianism.  As the devolved institutions matured they actually got worse and at the time of their collapse had become a by word for incompetence, corruption, sectarian patronage and austerity.  Indeed, it was this decay (highlighted by the Renewable Heat Incentive  scandal – ‘Cash for Ash’)  that provoked the revolt in Sinn Fein’s support base that forced the party to pull out of the Executive and bring down the institutions.  The proposition that a restoration of Stormont will improve conditions for people in the north is fanciful.

Equally as fanciful is the claim that there is no government in the northern state.  Local politicians may be out of office but the most important organs of the state – the civil service, police, courts etc – continue to function.   As in any other capitalist society there is an apparatus of class rule that continues to operate irrespective of what party is in government or even if there is a government at all.  The critical point to be made in relation to Northern Ireland is that there certainly is a government that is exercising authority – and that is the British government.  While it may not be direct rule in its full form it is still rule by Britain.  While the local civil service may be one step removed from London it is there that its political direction is being set.

As time progresses the guiding hand of the British government becomes more visible as it takes on greater powers and responsibilities.   The most recent example of this is the unveiling of an annual budget for Stormont by the Secretary of State (SoS).  This is the third such annual budget that has been introduced at Westminster since the collapse of the local institutions.  The actual legal basis for such interventions is dubious with the legislation allowing for this only being passed last October.  Under its provisions civil servants are permitted to make decisions in the “public interest” and under guidelines set by the SoS.   The legislation included a talks timetable for the restoration of devolution running from January to March and allowing an extension to August after which an election must be called.  Of course this falls completely outside of the terms of the GFA – demonstrating the degree to which the British government can make things up as it goes along and also retrospectively justify any decision it has taken in the past.  For all of the talk (particularly around Brexit) about the GFA being an internationally recognised treaty experience has shown that any of its provisions be overturned at Westminster and that Britain as a state is not bound by it in any way.

In terms of substance the budget introduced by the SoS carries on the policies of austerity.  In cash terms it is around £11.bn which is similar to previous years – but when inflation and demand pressures are taken into account it represents further financial tightening.   For example, the health service is set for a 6% cash increase, but when inflation is factored in the uplift equates to around 2% in real terms.  Meanwhile education gets a 3.2% boost – but that works out at a 0.7% cut when inflation and this year’s in-year spending is factored.  Overall, the budget falls far short of the coast projection of £11.9bn that is needed to fund public services.  This is despite the additional £140m this year from the Treasury  as part of the DUP’s supply an confidence deal.  Indeed, as most of the £1bn of that deal falls outside regular departmental budgets  – and is ring-fenced for infrastructure projects – its impact on the day to day running of public services has been limited.  Also underpinning the budget is an assumption that £320m of efficiency saving can be found –  most of this is focused on the health service and the implementation of the privatisation policies  in the Bengoa Report.   The budget also raises rates with  domestic rates set to rise by almost 5% and business rates by just under 2%.   Overall, what the budget  signals is not just a continuation of austerity but also an extension of control by the British government over taxation and spending in the north.

It is not just financial matters on which Westminster has intervened.   The SoS has also made extensive use of the power of appointment contained in recent legislation.   Used initially to reconstitute the Policing Board this has extended to cover the appointments of the attorney general, senior police officers,  members of the Probation Board and the post of Police Ombudsman.  The power to appoint members of the Judicial Appointments Commission – the body which appoints judges – has already been transferred to the Lord Chancellor in London.  This is not confined to the policing/judicial field but across the public sector.  The SoS has now taken  the power to appoint a member of the Victims’ Commission, a member or chair of the Livestock and Meat Commission or a member, chair or vice-chair of the Housing Executive.

The role of British government in the north will expand greatly in any post Brexit scenario in which a large amount of new legislation, regulations and government orders which will become necessary.  It has been reported in the Irish Times that in such a scenario direct rule in its fullest form would be introduced.   According to same report the Irish government is viewing  such a development as “ an administrative necessity rather than a political move”.

This response really shows the weakness and complicity of the Irish ruling elite in regards  to the north.  Despite the earlier rhetoric about a return to direct rule being unacceptable and not allowing people to lose out  under Brexit this is exactly what is coming to pass.   The reintroduction of direct rule would be of huge political significance – marking the formal end of the Good Friday Agreement process after many years of decay.  This would be a new situation in which any pretence of neutrality on the part of Britain or any attempt at power sharing will have been completely abandoned.  This will have the support of the majority of unionists who have moved decisively against devolution and in favour of direct rule.  Indeed, the immediate introduction of direct rule is now the main demand  from all the unionist parties.

Brexit (particularly a no-deal Brexit) will reinforce this by creating economic barriers and divergence between north and south.  Rather than the border being blurred out  by European integration it will now become increasing visible.  All the nationalist assumptions about how the peace process would developed have been completely overturned.  The latest grasping of straws – that somehow Brexit will boost nationalist sentiment and hasten a united Ireland – is likely to prove as illusory.   All of this – which is reflected in the muted response of Sinn Fein to the moves towards direct rule – points to the broader weakness of Irish nationalism and its inability to challenge the power of Britain and its unionist allies.




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Jan 22 2019


We are posting two articles from the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) website, highlighting the problems faced by  the current Fine Gael  government in  the Dail and the lack of enthusiasm for reviving Stormont in Belfast.



Varadkar (Fine Gael) and Martin (Fianna Fail) agree deal at the Dail

A de facto government of national unity in Ireland weakens capitalism and poses a sharp challenge for the opposition.

In mid-December Fianna Fail and Fine Gael agreed a new confidence and supply agreement, maintaining the minority Fine Gael government in place until 2020. The event went almost unnoticed, with smiles from both parties, claims that the agreement was forced by the national interest and the imminence of Brexit. The smaller parties cried foul from the sidelines, having been deprived of an election contest. Continue reading “FAILING GOVERNMENTS IN IRELAND – SOUTH AND NORTH”

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Nov 23 2018


We posting to articles from the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) website on the current political situation South and North. The first looks at the recent Presidential election; the second at the collapse of Stormont.


Sinn Fein presidentail candidate. Liadh Ni Riada, appealing to the lowest common denominator in ‘A New Ireland’ – but no mention of Sinn Fein!

Throughout the presidential election one could only watch open mouthed as RTE, an organisation usually incapable of reporting real events, spent day after day in minute analysis of a nothing burger election.

The clear favourite was Michael D Higgins who has left his Labour Party days long behind to become a living figurehead representing more or less nothing. The other candidates were self-publicists and reality stars with the exception of the Sinn Fein candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, who successfully imitated the bland conservatism of her opponents. It is hardly a surprise that a minority of the population struggled to get as far as the polling booth as a wave of apathy swept the state. Continue reading “AN IRELAND UPDATE – SOUTH AND NORTH”

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Oct 03 2018


The following review from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) is of the film Ballymurphy Precedent made by Callum Macrae for Channel Four.




The Ballymurphy massacre has the simplest of all dramatic structures. It is a narrative built around a chronology – a three-day assault by the British Army on a Belfast housing estate following the introduction of internment that left ten unarmed civilians dead and many others badly injured. This story is told through a mixture of stock footage, interviews, re-enactment of events and documentary evidence. Continue reading “REVIEW: BALLYMURPHY PRECEDENT (Channel Four)”

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Jul 19 2018


Socialist Democracy (Ireland) updates us on the consequences of the continuing slide to Right in the Six Counties.



Belfast bonfire, 2018


Irish nationalism endorses Orange intimidation

If one thing links the political systems on both sides of the Irish border it is political corruption. Corruption so open, invasive and blatant that it would be comic if not so harmful. However the northern corruption has the added dimension of ongoing capitulation to loyalism, a capitulation that offers effective impunity to loyalist groups and has now reached the stage where the paramilitaries, in collaboration with the Democratic Unionist Party, are given a free hand to write the rules to suit themselves, setting the scene for the coming bonfire and Orange marching festival. Continue reading ““WE ARE THE SACRIFICE””

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Apr 22 2018


We are posting this article on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement from Socialist Democracy (Ireland). 



20th Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement


Aren’t we still great

In some Roman societies of late antiquity, after a death the body would remain for a time in the family home.  It would be placed in a sarcophagus and treated as still present in the family.  A rich individual would have a funeral mask painted on the face of the sarcophagus and triumphs and achievements carved in bas-relief around the sides.  Both image and carvings would be enhanced to exaggerate the importance of the individual and his achievements. Continue reading “20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT”

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Feb 25 2018



Socialist Democracy (Ireland) have posted two articles  the following  the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. These were first posted at:- 

http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentIrishSettlementFoundersOnTheRockOfLanguageRights.html http://socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentClassPoliticsVersusModernity.html




When Sinn Fein collapsed the Stormont executive in early 2017 they put forward a very simple case. The Irish peace process was based on legal documents and international treaties and on a series of agreements and promises that had constantly been broken. If the process and the institutions were to survive it was time to live up to the existing agreements before moving on. This involved resolving state killings, reducing sectarian provocations, and accepting a level of gay rights such as gay marriage and an Irish Language Act. Continue reading “THE END OF THE ROAD – THE COLLAPSE OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND EXECUTIVE”

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Feb 25 2018


In early February, writing a platform piece in Belfast’s Irish News, Bernadette McAliskey reacted to Sinn Fein claims that they had led the early civil rights struggle. Socialist Democracy member, John McAnulty says Bernadette was absolutely right to slap down these absurd claims by a group that was not formed until years later. However much of the debate around civil rights is as relevant today and  John has added his own comments below.




Setting the record straight

Bernadette McAliskey in Platform (reprinted from Irish News 9/2/18)

In August 1968 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organised its first march from Coalisland to Dungannon. On February 6 1972, NICRA organised what was effectively its last civil rights march, in Newry, to protest the State killing of unarmed civilians taking part in the Derry march on what became Bloody Sunday. Continue reading “BERNADETTE MCALISKEY, SINN FEIN AND CIVIL RIGHTS”

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Aug 09 2017


Socialists are now confronted with the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the re-emergence of British Left social democracy. This first part of this article by Allan Armstrong will examine the significance of this and make a critical appraisal of their future prospects in the face of the current global multi-faceted political, economic, social, cultural and environmental crisis.

Contents of Part 1

   1.      From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in  Scotland.

   2.     The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left social democracy

   3.     The prospects for Corbyn and British Left social democracy when handling economic and social issues

   4.    The limitations of Corbyn and British Left social democracy when dealing with matters of state

             A.  Brexit

             B. The National Question

a.  Conservative, liberal and unionist attempts to maintain the unity of the UK state since the nineteenth  century

               b.  Corbyn and the National Question in Ireland

               c.  Corbyn and the National Question in Scotland

               d.  Corbyn and the National Question in Wales



1. From May 2007 to June 2017 – the SNP rules the social democratic roost in Scotland

i.     Following the demise of New Labour and its successor, ‘One Nation’ Labour, the SNP has been the most effective upholder of social democracy in the UK. In 2007, the SNP won 363 council seats; 425 in 2012, and 431 in 2017. In 2007, the SNP won 47 MSPs; 69 in 2011; and 63 in 2016, (still easily the largest party at Holyrood). In 2010, the SNP won 6 MPs; 56 out of 59 in 2015, but fell back to 35 in 2017 (still having the largest number of MPs from Scotland by some way). Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY”

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May 25 2017


The Radical Independence Campaign- Edinburgh has produced the following statement in response to forthcoming Westminster General Election.



Theresa May’s forthcoming general election is not a normal election. It is being called in defiance of the Tories’ own 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act. It bears a strong resemblance to a presidential-style plebiscite. But in the absence of actual presidential powers, such as those now wielded by Trump in the USA, May still wants to be able to override Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont altogether. Continue reading “RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION”

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