Unionist fury threatens Major

A negotiated settlement will have to keep Unionists on board, and will leave British imperialism intact

THE LEAKED draft of the Anglo-Irish joint framework document caused such outrage among unionist politicians that John Major was forced to make an emergency broadcast on TV and radio on Wednesday night.

The document, resulting from discussions between the British and Irish governments, is to provide the basis for ‘peace’ talks. But, just a week after John Major promised unionists that the framework document would contain “no proposals” for a joint all-Ireland authority, The Times published a ‘leaked’ draft in direct contradiction. A new unelected body would be created, answerable to both the Dail and a new Northern Ireland Assembly. At first it would have powers to harmonise agriculture, trade, health and education, and to deal with the European Union in those fields. Later its powers would be extended.

Major is of course concerned to keep the ‘peace process’ on track. British imperialism has too much at stake to allow it to fail. But he is also concerned for the survival of his government, now very much dependent on unionist support. That is why he felt it necessary to take up prime broadcasting time in his attempt to reassure the Six County protestants.

Not that he said anything that went beyond the usual platitudes. He correctly stated that agreement on “areas for cooperation” between Britain and Ireland was “not a new idea”, and added that any cross-border body “must be accountable” to the new northern assembly, which could not be overridden by Britain or Ireland.

It is very likely that Major will succeed in keeping the unionists on board. The marginalising of hard-line protestant opinion is well illustrated by the reaction to the Belfast visit earlier this week of Bertie Ahern, leader of the Irish opposition Fianna Fail party. Although he had talks at Belfast City Hall with unionist leaders, there was hardly a squeak of protest from Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists. Just a short time ago such an event would have seen the mobilisation of hundreds of protesters.

Meanwhile, the row continues over the likely release of private Lee Clegg, murderer of a Belfast joy rider.

Republicans are rightly incensed by the campaign to free only the second British soldier to be convicted of any of the 300 ‘security force’ killings in the Six Counties. Many civilians, including children, are numbered among their tally, most notoriously on Bloody Sunday. Yet those who resisted British repression are labelled ‘terrorists’ - over 300 Irish fighters, several framed by the British state, received life sentences.

At the same time, however, many of these prisoners of war will have to be released if the ‘peace process’ is to make any progress. The Clegg campaign could well be used to appease anti-IRA opinion before that occurs.

Des Wilson, campaigning priest and community leader in West Belfast, told me that many people would have no difficulty with Clegg’s release if it coincided with that of prisoners right across the board - especially in view of the fact that many of them are innocent of any ‘crime’.

“The myth of the ‘brave, valiant paratroopers’ has been well and truly shattered and the concept of ‘British justice’ is in shreds,” he said. “The military has lost ground and their morale is low. They have been forced to pull out of a situation they couldn’t control without achieving any victory. So the campaign around Clegg is partly concerned with the military’s own independent influence as one of the pillars of the establishment. It is not only in Russia where the army jostles for influence.”

Despite John Major’s present difficulties, the bourgeoisie will not allow the ‘peace process’ to fail. The settlement will contain an all-Ireland element, but British imperialism is undoubtedly firmly in control.

The question remains how best to achieve workers’ unity, both within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. That is the only force able to stop imperialism in its tracks.

Peter Manson