There were undertakings given before the IRA ceasefire took effect that there would be all-party talks within three months of an ending of the military campaign. After the ceasefire took effect the British government began to raise all sorts of questions that they had not previously mentioned. Is the ceasefire “permanent”? Well, how permanent is permanent?
Then they demanded the decommissioning of weapons. But there had been no mention of such a demand in the Downing Street declaration or the Framework Document. It was made quite clear by Adams that the IRA were not going to deliver before there was a movement towards all-party talks or a settlement in the offing.
So the ceasefire broke down because of an act of bad faith by the British government.
Now they are punishing Sinn Fein for their association with the IRA. Sinn Fein has been excluded from all talks prior to 10 June. This is no way to solve the problem. Sinn Fein represent about 40% of the nationalist population of the North. That is not an insignificant mandate.
We should not view Sinn Fein and the IRA as one organisation. The IRA have the same republican objectives as Sinn Fein, but they have a predilection to use the gun rather than negotiations.
The big bomb in London has completely changed the attitude of the British government towards dealing with Sinn Fein/IRA. And how has this miraculous change of heart and date for all-party talks been brought about? By the bombing in London. The British government does not care about bombs going off in Ireland, but it certainly does care about bombs going off in London. Is this not always the way? The British have been stampeded again by violence: they were like that over the fall of Stormont , and they responded in the same way to the violence of the guerrilla war of the IRA.
Northern Ireland was always a political slum. The Nationalist community always faced political inequality: constituencies were gerrymandered on the basis of sectarian headcounting; they were repressed. The degree of discrimination and repression was such that it was impossible to make political progress in a constitutional way.
The IRA are engaged in a revolutionary nationalist struggle. It is impossible to separate the liberation of the Irish working class from the task of dealing with the remnants of imperialism.
It seems as if some of the fringe unionist parties have some roots in the working class — but for all that they are still unionists. They are still prepared to defend the union with Britain.
What is the way forward? Well, joint sovereignty of Britain and Ireland over Northern Ireland is not an ideal solution but it would — immediately — help to guarantee the rights of the nationalist community. The germ of this concept is in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, where it was stated that the Irish government could become the guarantor of the rights of the Northern minority.
The left in the North is all but extirpated. I do not see any other choice than to back the SDLP-Sinn Fein-Irish government moves to secure some movement. There is no other practical alternative.
Immediately we need to demand space for the Nationalist community. That means release of prisoners, and end to discrimination and the removal of armed RUC and British soldiers from the streets in the North.
The problem is that the working class is divided. There are large sections which do not support basic socialist concepts. The most central feature of socialism is that there must be the democratic right to decide for yourself what to do. On this basis the population of the whole of Ireland should decide the political status of the North. However the unionists would not allow an all-Ireland plebiscite to determine whether or not they should leave the union.
Matt Merrigan was for many years a Dublin official of the AT&GWU. In the ’40s he was a member of the Irish section of the Fourth International, finally backing the current of post-Trotsky Trotskyism identified with the name of Max Shachtman.