Northern Ireland's impasse

Last month, Northern Ireland exploded into violence again. Petrol bombs, blazing buildings, and RUC brutality against protesters were all in evidence in the wake of the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry.

This reflects a deteriorating situation, where the suspension of the Northern Ireland assembly and the impasse over decommissioning has threatened renewed violence across the province.

Tony Blair, who was desperate to get an agreement over the Assembly, was determined after a "cooling off" period over the summer to end the logjam come September. Both Dublin and London are doing everything possible to get the "peace process" back on track.

However, the Good Friday Agreement was "all things to all men". For a temporary period, given the capitulation of the IRA, the deal could be made to work. Despite repeated delays, the Assembly was set up with the participation of Unionist and Nationalist parties. However, given the ambiguity of the agreement, a single issue could derail the whole process. Decommissioning proved to be the sticking point. Both the Unionist parties and Sinn Fein are sticking to their interpretations. Trimble is forced to harden his position on decommissioning given the opposition within his ranks and the threat from Paisley's Democratic Unionists. While Adams says the agreement allows him to take up the Executive seats before decommissioning takes place.

Unionism has fought a rear guard struggle to maintain its privileged position against the discriminated Catholic minority. It was and remains a bastion of bigoted reaction. However, under the pressure of the British government, it has been forced, kicking and screaming, to make concessions.

Nevertheless, greater concessions were squeezed from the IRA. After 25 years of "armed struggle" to bring about a united Ireland, they finally declared the war to be over. Their campaign of individual terrorism, as we explained, was utterly counter-productive and served to widen the sectarian divide. It was a dead-end. The idea of a united Ireland has never been further away. The whole IRA campaign was a disaster from start to finish. It was this eventual realisation by Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership that produced the IRA cease-fire in 1974.

After 25 years, and nowhere near their goals, the struggle gave rise to exhaustion. After years of violence and repression, there was a feeling of war weariness. There was a desire for peace within the two communities.

Both Adams and McGuiness were eager to abandon the military struggle for a political settlement that would bring Sinn Fein to "official" politics, and all the trappings that went with it. In seeking a deal, they opened up secret discussions with the Major government and let it be known "the war is over".

So after 25 years, and three thousand dead, what has the IRA achieved? In reality, they have abandoned everything for two seats in the Executive, which they are now forced to haggle over. They have promises of links with the Irish Republic and reform of the RUC. After all that sacrifice, they have been handed scraps from the table.

The methods of individual terrorism employed by the IRA lead to the strengthening of the state and a greater division between ordinary Catholics and Protestants. In fact all the divisions have been reinforced. Last year's tragedy at Omagh illustrated the point. The segregation of the different communities has reached new levels, with families still being driven out of their homes under the threat of sectarian violence.

The promise that the IRA will decommission by next May is an open question. However, as the Economist stated: "Like the governments and most nationalists, Mr Chastelain (the head of the decommissioning process) believes there has been a major republican shift." (10th July).

Nevertheless, given the opposition, this will lead to further splits within its ranks, possibly towards the Real or Continuity IRA. Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership are eager to assume respectable parliamentary careers within the Assembly. There is no way they want to return to the position of the past.

However, despite their rhetoric of "a new type of politics", even if they are to take up their Executive seats, it will not lead to a New Ireland. Despite some concessions over cross-border bodies and the like, this is a far cry from a united Ireland. It is certainly no stepping stone to Irish unity. The Protestant majority, fearing discrimination, would never allow it

Even if they manage to cobble together shaky agreements at the top, sectarian divisions will still remain. Distrust and insecurity not only remain but have even been heightened. While sectarianism was originally fostered by British imperialism as part of its divide and rule policy in Ireland, it has evolved into an uncontrollable monster. The role of the sectarian parties, both Orange and Green, in order to gain greater leverage, has been to deliberately stoke up sectarian feelings. Sectarian shootings and beatings still continue.

The whole rotten political structure in Northern Ireland is based upon sectarianism. They all accept the divisions and serve to reinforce them for their own ends.

Sinn Fein's perspective of a united Ireland is in ruins. Under present conditions, a capitalist united Ireland is ruled out. A million armed Protestants is a guarantee against it. The unity of Ireland can only be brought about by the socialist revolution in the North and South, as well as in Britain. Despite all the cheering of the sects, the strategy of the IRA as the Marxists explained in advance has been a disaster. It has pushed back the goal of Irish unity for years.

Only the working class can resolve the national question. Only class unity can cut across the sectarian divide. The only organisations in the North that comprise Catholics and Protestants are the trade unions. If they were to take up the struggle on class issues, they could unite the working class in the North in action. Linked to this must be the establishment of a Party of Labour, to represent the interests of the working class as a whole. This can be the spring board for a socialist programme.

The great Irish Marxist James Connolly, saw the national question as a class question. He explained:

"We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman - hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared.

"The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour."