Settlement in sight

Ireland’s ‘peace’ process

Last week’s historic meeting between Sinn Fein leaders and Tony Blair confirmed once again that the imperialist-sponsored ‘peace process’ is still on track.

Gerry Adams, accompanied by Martin McGuinness and five other leading SF members, shook the British prime minister’s hand in Downing Street. He was the first republican of such status to do so since Michael Collins in 1921. Collins signed a deal with Lloyd George which led to the partition of Ireland - and his own assassination.

That is why Adams described that occasion as “unfinished business”. However, there is no possibility of the present process leading to a united sovereign Ireland - certainly not one achieved through the revolutionary defeat of the British state. No real negotiations took place, but the meeting was important from the British point of view, in that it was seen as drawing SF yet further away from armed struggle; and from a republican viewpoint, it raised the stature of SF leaders as ‘respectable’ politicians, fit for mainstream bourgeois politics.

There were two potential hitches before the talks began. First, there was the ‘revelation’ that both Adams and McGuinness are members of the IRA’s Army Council. Secondly, there was the ‘unfortunate’ escape from the Maze prison of IRA member Liam Averell the previous day. When asked about this incident, Adams had replied by wishing his comrade “good luck”, a response Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam described as “not helpful”.

Nevertheless, there was no question of the talks being postponed. The importance for the British establishment in engaging with Sinn Fein lies precisely in their close connection with the IRA - if Adams cannot deliver a settlement, negotiation would be pointless.

Earlier there had been another historic meeting. Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern met Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in Belfast City Hall, once a bastion of unionist exclusivity. Direct talks between Trimble and Adams are also likely in the very near future. The unionist leader began to prepare his hard-line loyalist supporters for this eventuality by speaking of Sinn Fein in a rather more measured tone than his usual extreme condemnation.

In an interview with Irish tele-vision he said:

“So many things are possible. We have seen actually in the past people who have forsaken terrorism and genuinely changed into democrats ... It is perfectly possible that Gerry Adams can follow that path. And in that sense I do not rule this [a meeting with Adams] out. It is possible.”

The UUP has also been preparing its followers for acceptance of some kind of all-Ireland institution as part of a settlement through floating the idea of what might be termed a ‘council of the British Isles’. Under this arrangement the new Irish body would be linked in some way with the new Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly. Such a scheme would dovetail perfectly with Blair’s plans to forge a new consensus under a reformed UK state, while simultaneously reinforcing British imperialist domination over the whole of Ireland.

Of course none of this will be easy to deliver. While a new Ulster Workers’ Council-type rebellion looks unlikely at the moment, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party is waiting in the wings to take advantage of any slip-up in the hope of leading a loyalist mass movement to sabotage the whole deal.

Republican dissidents too, while still in a minority, could attract any spontaneous nationalist mood of discontent. The Continuity Army Council has already shown its capability for limited military action, which has led in the past to IRA threats to kill its leaders.

Last week the sister of Bobby Sands, the heroic IRA hunger striker, announced the formation of the 32-County Sovereignty Committee. Bernadette Sands McKevitt told Irish radio: “What is now on offer is more or less a modernised version of partition. So therefore we feel it is not actually a solution.”

She is absolutely right.

Jim Blackstock