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The Ceasefire: Not a Stepping Stone to a United Ireland

Gerry Downing

WHEN MICHAEL COLLINS, the effective leader of the IRA from 1918 to his death in 1923, argued for the Treaty with Britain, he said it would be a "stepping stone to the Republic". Collins and the "free-staters" had come to adopt the position of those Irish capitalists whose economic interests were most closely tied to Britain. Basically they had accepted that the war was unwinnable, that partition of the country could not be avoided, and that compromise in the short term would lead to a negotiated settlement in which "the Republic" would be achieved in the long term.

The similarities between Collins and Adams are obvious, but today there is even less on offer to the northern Nationalists (or Loyalist workers for that matter) than there was back then. Adams has clearly signalled that he is willing to abandon the struggle and settle for less than a united Ireland. Some type of interim settlement within the present boundaries is contemplated. But the very existence of the state is dependent on the oppression of and discrimination against the Nationalist community. The unwritten subtext of the negotiations is that, while the Nationalist middle class will gain some increased economic opportunities in return for supporting the state, the working class and poor will have to wait. The politicians of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin will be rewarded for this settlement with some role in administrating the state. The northern capitalists will gain from increased cross-border trade with the booming economy of the south and the peace brought about through the re-stabilisation of the state.

However, as in the whole of Ireland in 1923, once the struggle is demobilised and the new status quo consolidated then defeat will have been imposed. In whatever distorted way, the existence and actions of the IRA represent the unyielding determination of Nationalist workers and poor never to return peacefully to the status of second class citizens. That they will be forced to do so is the goal of British imperialism in the North. Once a "settlement" is arrived at and a referendum held then "peace" will predominate and the hard-line Republicans will be marginalised. A short, sharp and very one-sided civil war could not then be ruled out, and is perhaps inevitable.

It would be short and sharp because there is little political clarity amongst oppositionists. It is true that a large section of the base of the Republican movement understand that to reform the Orange state is to undermine the very reason for its existence and that Unionists will never willingly allow this. It is also true that an ever-larger section of the Republican movement, including many of the former category, understand that bombings by active service units simply produce a stand-off situation which never changes the balance of forces on the ground. For instance, in the wake of Drumcree 3 Sinn Féin did mobilise their mass base and this did force concessions from the Unionists. But the leaked British "game plan" for Drumcree showed that the state forces would always back their "own" Unionist supporters against the "seditious" Nationalists when the chips were down. I take the view that Mowlam was duped here, that she really did believe she was in charge and could order the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army to block the march. As the RUC certainly now will not perform such a function (after last year’s rumoured mutiny and the intimidation and murder of RUC officers by Loyalists) she was faced with the reality of what the state forces’ attitude is to a Labour government – I think the British Army commander refused her instruction, thus humiliating her, and that the leaking of the "game plan" was a cover for this.

So the reality on the ground contradicts all the carefully-laid plans and negotiations. The gruesome murders and ethnic cleansing by Loyalist thugs continue. It is still the case that only faced with the destruction of the state by a mass movement led by the working class will the Orange monolith begin to fracture, the killer gangs become isolated and the best elements of the Protestant community come to support Ireland’s right to self-determination, giving a mighty impulse to the struggle for revolutionary socialism.