New strategy: INLA calls ‘complete ceasefire’

The peace bandwagon is gaining momentum. The response of communists and revolutionaries will be crucial

The two weeks since the Omagh bomb have seen a clear strengthening of the British-Irish Agreement and the forces that back it, together with the complete marginalisation of anti-agreement republicans.

Far from wrecking the Good Friday deal, as the bombers had hoped, the August 15 attack has boosted its chances immeasurably. The sheer weight of nationalist opposition to its action forced the Real IRA to make a 180-degree turn. It went within 24 hours from talking of the “ongoing” war against the British occupation of the Six Counties to the “suspension” of military operations. Another factor influencing the ceasefire decision was pressure from Sinn Féin/IRA. According to a republican quoted in The Guardian, “They were made an offer they couldn’t refuse.” With the Real IRA in complete disarray - along with its allies in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement - there is little doubt that its ceasefire will be permanent. The Irish National Liberation Army also announced a “complete ceasefire”.

The Sovereignty Movement was founded last year on the rejection of the peace process and the necessity of armed struggle to achieve a united Ireland. Yet last week its co-leader, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, rang an Irish radio phone-in to profess her belief in a “peaceful route” to Irish unity. She said of the Omagh bombing: “It is condemned. We will not condone it. The loss of innocent lives cannot be justified.” But this statement was not enough to prevent the hounding of herself and Michael McKevitt from Dundalk, renowned for its traditional support for intransigent republicanism.

The peace bandwagon is gaining momentum. SF/IRA’s central role is becoming more and more explicit. No longer the ‘mindless thugs’ with allegedly no support in the community, the IRA has become the ‘acceptable face of terrorism’. SF is well on the way to achieving the bourgeois respectability it craves.

Tony Blair went out of his way to clear both organisations of any connection with Omagh. Indeed he implied that their transition to exclusively peaceful means was complete. Writing in the Belfast Irish News, he said: “Some want to say it is all really the work of Sinn Féin/IRA. But it was the RUC chief constable, a man of utter integrity, who told me yesterday that they were not connected with it, either explicitly or implicitly, and that there was no evidence it was their material that was used for the bomb. And indeed the purpose of the renegades is clear: to wreck the process we have started, to stop the Good Friday agreement, to portray Sinn Féin as traitors to the cause” (August 18).

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, had earlier attempted to imply the kind of link so clearly rejected by Blair. If only the IRA had decommissioned its arms, he said, Omagh would have been “impossible”. However, in reality this is yet another plea for the IRA to make at least a symbolic hand-over of weapons. That would help relieve the pressure he has been feeling from Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party and his own right wing. Such a gesture would clear the way for SF to participate in the Stormont government, as provided in the British-Irish Agreement.

The combination of Blair’s praise and Trimble’s cajoling could well have the desired effect. After all, as The Guardian states, SF’s condemnation of the Omagh bomb “is seen as a step on the way to breaking the impasse over the proposed Northern Ireland cabinet” (August 19).

Notwithstanding his attempt to besmirch SF/IRA with the Omagh mud, Trimble went out of his way to attend the catholic funeral in the Republic of three boys killed by the bomb. He sat just a few metres from SF president Gerry Adams in the Buncrana church. His presence was doubly significant in that he could have chosen to attend instead a protestant funeral in the Six Counties. It symbolised not only the all-Ireland nature of the imperialist settlement, but also its inclusion of imperialism’s former enemies.

It is not only intransigent nationalists who have been marginalised by the Omagh shock waves. Extreme unionists have also been wrong-footed. Their call for the early release of IRA prisoners to be abandoned seemed particularly inept and out of place. Peter Robinson, the DUP deputy leader, even made a pathetic call for the Irish border to be sealed - flying in the face of the peace consensus epitomised by Trimble’s solemn appearance in Buncrana.

The Daily Telegraph too seemed to have lost all sense of reality, declaring that “everyone can see that terrorism is winning in Ulster” (August 22). Despite acknowledging that the Good Friday agreement is likely to produce an imperialist stability, the Telegraph cannot bring itself to accept that imperialism was unable to inflict a military defeat on the IRA. It called on Blair to “halt the prisoner releases, and insist on decommissioning”. But these two demands are not necessarily linked, since “to turn loose convicted murderers, many of whom sympathise with the dissidents who planted the Omagh bomb, is madness”. The Telegraph wants to wish away Blair’s inability to forcibly disarm the IRA, apparently believing that decommissioning can steam ahead without a single IRA prisoner being set free in exchange.

Ironically, calls for the introduction of the type of measure long advocated by The Daily Telegraph are now finding a ready response in the aftermath of Omagh. Both the British and Irish parliaments are to be recalled next week in order to rush through new legislation. According to the Irish taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the proposed measures will be “extremely draconian” - ie, thoroughly anti-democratic. Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam boasted that the changes would result in the “strongest ever anti-terrorist measures across the whole of the island”.

In addition to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which already gives the police wide-ranging powers to stop and search, arrest, question and detain suspects, a new batch of measures are to be introduced. Speaking in Belfast, Blair declared a further assault on the right to silence, together with what is euphemistically described as ‘lowering the standards of proof’ of membership of an illegal organisation. This actually means that no proof at all is required to convict - merely the sworn statement of a chief superintendent in the Six Counties. In other words, it amounts to internment under another name.

In the Republic of Ireland internment is still on the statute book, although it was never used during the revolutionary situation that gripped the Six Counties from 1969. It is the isolation of the dissident republican minority which has made these measures not only possible, but workable. Whereas the imprisonment without trial of 600 nationalists in 1971 only succeeded in boosting recruitment to the IRA, today only a handful of Real IRA and Continuity Army Council militants would be lifted. As Ian Aitken wrote in The Guardian, “What we are talking about now is, by common consent, a few score at the most. Even the ordinary citizens of Dundalk know who they are, and want to see the back of them” (August 25).

Aitken was not the only one to sing the praises of internment. Trimble called on the British government to follow the Republic’s lead and reintroduce it in the Six Counties - otherwise ‘terrorists’ would simply move up north to escape detention. He was of course implying despite himself that greater institutionalised north-south coordination was desirable.

Like Trimble’s UUP, SF is banking everything on the Good Friday deal. That is why Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were at first extremely reluctant to oppose the anti-democratic measures. Not wishing to appear to protect the Real IRA, they contented themselves with questioning the wisdom and necessity of the proposals. No doubt recalling how their own comrades have previously borne the brunt of the state’s onslaught, they later expressed more forceful opposition. Despite that, today, far from waging war against the British state, SF is on the verge of participating in its institutions at the highest level - the Stormont government.

SF/IRA’s abandonment of revolutionary anti-imperialism has left a vacuum. The Real IRA and the CAC have clearly demonstrated that individual acts of terror and ‘business as usual’ nationalism are at present unable to fill the void. The Irish Republican Socialist Party seems at last to have recognised this.

Its military wing, the Irish National Liberation Army, announced that it had “accepted the advice and analysis” of the IRSP in declaring its “complete ceasefire”. To underline the finality of this announcement INLA apologised for “grievous errors in the prosecution of the war”. Quite rightly however, the statement added that INLA “had nothing to apologise for in taking the war to the British and their loyalist henchmen”.

Belatedly recognising the ending of the revolutionary situation (“the political situation has changed”), the INLA leaders correctly stated that “armed struggle can never be the only option for revolutionaries”. Unfortunately all too often in the past self-declared Irish socialists have relied almost exclusively on military methods, in practice constituting themselves as no more than the left wing of nationalism.

IRSP leaders have declared themselves in favour of Marxism, Leninism and the working class. They are formally committed to the idea of a Communist Party. They, along with all Irish revolutionaries and socialists, must ensure that 30 years of struggle are not wasted. In the new situation, just as much as before, their central task is the striving for working class hegemony, building on the achievements of the last three decades. However, the INLA and IRSP statements contain no hint of the strategy necessary in the changed circumstances. INLA refers to allowing “the working classes the time and opportunity to advance their demands and their needs”. The IRSP talks vaguely of a commitment to “agitate for and represent Irish working class interests” (see p6 for full statements).

For revolutionaries who recognise that the armed struggle has reached a dead end, for those who want to break out of the sterile confines of nationalism, there is a logical next step. The ending of the revolutionary situation in the Six Counties, and therefore its possible spread to the south, means that Ireland is no longer the exception to the rule. Communists must as a first principle organise against their own state.

There must be a political struggle, uniting revolutionaries against the British state on both sides of the Irish Sea. The working class must lead a single struggle for democracy, for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, for a united Ireland. We need a Communist Party of the United Kingdom

Jim Blackstock