Ireland: call a congress of Republicans and socialists

Submitted by Matthew on 21 December, 2009 - 8:52 Author: Rayner Lysaght

There was always a probability that the ceasefire would break down. The British went too far and the Irish government could not provide sufficient reassurances for the IRA. It is understandable that the British want to keep the Unionists on side.

The statement clarified matters but the ceasefire will be hard to restore.

The resumption of the military campaign won the restoration of talks. Generally it is not going to work. My position is much the same as Bernadette McAliskey’s, who has called for a ceasefire, and a congress of Republicans, socialists and anti-imperialists to work out what to do next.

I do not think that many people in the Republican movement really believe that they can bomb their way to an united Ireland. Right now they are trying to bomb their way to the negotiating table. What happens at the negotiating table is an open question. I think there is a very large element among the Republicans — I don’t know if it includes the leaders, Adams or McGuinness — who would be prepared to see a settlement leaving the six counties intact but with guarantees of Catholic equality, in short a genuine settlement such as was negotiated in 1973 at Sunningdale, a proper Bill of Rights, a situation where the field in Northern Ireland was level. That would allow discussion about the pros and cons of a united Ireland without the interests being balanced on the other side.

If the British pulled out, they would probably leave plenty of arms in the hands of the Protestants. Whether the Protestants would use them is an interesting question — whether they want to be British more than they want to have ascendancy. Up to now, since the union with Britain, the two have gone hand in hand and intermingled.

There are two sides to this. There is the British withdrawal and there is the issue of a united Ireland. At the moment the one thing that is clear is that the Southern bourgeoisie do not want the north. They are the people who will decide —not Sinn Fein, or the SDLP.

A united Ireland is not really part of the perspective of the southern national bourgeoisie. It’s something that they would like. In the same way, in the dusty corners of Whitehall there are aging people who would like to restore the full parliamentary union with Ireland. The bourgeoisie in the south is not strong. The only way it sees uniting Ireland is through Europe. But it is more interested in Europe than in a united Ireland.

The left in Ireland is arguing that there has to be discussions between the left and the Republicans in a congress. The pressure of years has forced the dichotomy — the separation of Republicanism and socialism — to develop, even more so than in Connolly’s time. I’m not immediately optimistic that we can re-establish a revolutionary perspective. If there is an outbreak of industrial militancy in the Republic maybe it will be different.

The industrial militancy will create circumstances in which people will look suspiciously at the state. At the moment, unfortunately, the main force holding to a critique of both states in Ireland is the Republican movement.

We have spoken with the real leaders of conscious Protestant workers in the north — we don’t mean Billy Hutchinson either, but various groups that have come out of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. There are people who have an idea that you can still have a fully democratic society within Northern Ireland framework. I don’t agree with them, but they are socialists.

A way to relate to the Protestants? Well, the Bolsheviks weren’t very keen on federalism in Ireland. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics wasn’t conceived as a federation, except of nations. The question is, are the Protestants a nation? They’ve always identified themselves as a pressure group for Britain. And Britain has been subsidising, defending and keeping the place going. It’s possible if Britain went away there could be — as a number of socialists think — an independent Six County state. That would imply there was a national characteristic to the Protestants. But we don’t know. One-off mobilisations — against for instance the Anglo-Irish deal — are not proof of Protestant-Unionist national identity.

Rayner Lysaght, author of The Republic of Ireland and other works, is a Welsh socialist long domiciled in Dublin, and a supporter of the Mandelite “Fourth International.”

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