Ireland’s new challenge

AS DISCUSSIONS with government representatives at last got under way, Sinn Fein was adopting a distinctly ‘harder’ attitude, epitomised by its symbolic protest at the Belfast investment conference. This particularly applies on the question of self-determination.

At the time of the ceasefire declaration, leaders of the organisation were stressing that there were differing understandings of the term. “There are possibly other ways to achieve self-determination than through a united Ireland immediately,” one supporter told us (see Weekly Worker September 22). Now the call is for an end to British jurisdiction “in the shortest possible time consistent with obtaining maximum consent to the process”.

The change in emphasis is not only related to the opening of negotiations. There is also a real need to retain the support of republican activists. While the mass of the nationalist population in the Six Counties is relieved that the killing has stopped and is in support of the ‘peace process’, discontent among the more politically aware is growing as a result of continuing harassment by both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British army.

In Belfast the First Paras, the battalion responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, has been let loose on the streets again, much to the fury of the local population. Last month John Hillick, a young man on his way to work, was severely beaten by these thugs in the worst such incident.

The RUC has also been intensifying its harassment. Community activist Kevin McQuillan describes their position as “Jekyll and Hyde”: “On the one hand they have been told to ‘be nice’ as part of imperialism’s ‘hearts and minds’ campaign, but on the other they fear for their own jobs if ‘security’ improves.”

Kevin himself was arrested in November and detained for two hours under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on his return to Ireland from a visit to Britain. “My exclusion order was lifted out of the blue in October, but this did not stop the RUC grilling me in a most abusive manner in an attempt to get my views on the ‘peace process’. I told them I had no opinion I wished to share with them.”

The RUC’s situation is a reflection of the quandary of much of the protestant population. With such a large percentage of workers employed directly or indirectly by the ‘security’ forces, their winding down will add another layer to the Six Counties’ already sky-high un-employment levels.

Protestant discontent will provide new opportunities to campaign on class issues. While workers have traditionally been won to unionism and even to support the paramilitary terrorists of the UVF and UDA, it is not inevitable that this will continue.

The greatest challenge facing communists in the Six Counties in their coming fight will be to transform a situation where Catholics dare not set foot in protestant areas to one where workers can be won to a united Communist Party embracing the whole working class.

Alan Fox