‘Peace process’ thrown into crisis

The killings in Ireland over the Christmas period threw the establishment into turmoil. But does that mean the whole ‘peace process’ will collapse?

No one should mourn the death of loyalist paramilitary Billy Wright, killed by three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in Belfast’s Long Kesh prison.

Wright was a leading exponent and practitioner of mass terror, personally responsible for the murder of at least 25 catholics, most of whom had no connection whatsoever with any political organisation, let alone republican fighting groups. His victims included children and a pregnant woman. He was proud to be known as King Rat. Christopher McWilliams, one of the three Inla prisoners charged with Wright’s murder, stated on his appearance in court that the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader had continued to order killings from his prison cell.

But there was a definite logic behind Wright’s thinking, which he spelt out in 1994: “These actions brought home to catholics that the IRA was the source of all violence,” he said. “They knew that if the IRA did something, the catholic community would suffer.” This logic was also recognised by the British state, which has been happy to leave the loyalist terror gangs on a long leash.

The incident was a devastating blow to the British state’s much vaunted “top security”, immediately following the earlier escape of Liam Averell from the same jail. According to Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, Inla inmates were in error given the previous day a copy of loyalist prisoners’ schedule of visitors, in addition to a list of their own visitors. This certainly gives the lie to the notion that the action had been carefully planned in advance.

Nevertheless that did not stop The Times from going even further: “Many unionists will know only too well that the Inla rarely takes so much as target practice without IRA approval, and will conclude that Wright’s killing was another stage in the republican strategy of destabilising Northern Ireland” (December 29). The Times editorial would have us believe that his death, far from resulting from an act spontaneously carried out on the ground, had been sanctioned by Gerry Adams himself.

The entire unionist spectrum was happy to go along with the conspiracy theory, but the LVF used it as ‘justification’ for resuming their murderous random, indiscriminate attacks on catholics, which led to the deaths of two men and the wounding of eight other people. It was entirely coincidental that their first victim, Seamus Dillon, had previously served a life sentence for an IRA killing.

The Times, calling for a new initiative to boost the ‘peace process’, claimed: “The big danger is the perception that the Stormont talks are going nowhere, which plays into the hands of extremists on both sides.” Ironically that was the line also being pushed by Sinn Fein, which called on the three ‘constitutional’ unionist parties to enter into serious negotiations.

Yet there is no doubt that the IRA is under extreme pressure to strike back at the loyalist murder gangs. Many volunteers must be utterly frustrated by the news that the oppressive forces of the British state are to step up their ‘protection’ of catholics. The IRA prided itself in being able to provide real protection itself. For this reason it is republicans even more than loyalists who must receive British concessions at this time. It is significant that bourgeois commentators are now beginning to raise the possibility of the release of political prisoners under some kind of licence as a way of ensuring that the people who matter are drawn into serious negotiations.

The latest events have also put the two bigger loyalist paramilitary groupings under great pressure. Prisoners belonging to both the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association announced they were “withholding support” from the ‘peace process’, despite the best efforts of Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist Party’s ‘security’ spokesperson. The Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the UVF, has decided to stay away from next week’s resumed talks at Stormont. Nevertheless its representatives were due to meet senior Irish government figures this week - a sure sign that the PUP still believes an all-Ireland settlement can be reached under British imperialist hegemony.

In addition rumours have continued to circulate that members of the UDA were involved in the LVF’s second attack on new year’s eve. If that were the case, it would disqualify its partners in the Ulster Democratic Party from the talks. But the UDP did not immediately indicate its withdrawal from Stormont.

Despite the commotion in the loyalist camp, the main players that the British must keep on board are of course Sinn Fein/IRA. No settlement can be reached without the main representatives of republican resistance to British imperialism. The loyalists can cause problems, but they remain in essence supporters of imperialism. The state can always hope to buy them off through a combination of stick and carrot.

That is why talk of the ending of the ‘peace process’ is misplaced. There have been many setbacks and no doubt these will continue. But when both the principal adversaries - the British state and Sinn Fein/IRA - are determined on a settlement from above, only the actions of the masses from below will be able to stop it.

Jim Blackstock