The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
No sign yet of an end to the Cold War
Anthony McIntyre • Parliamentary Brief Summer 2003

Ten years after Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was spotted by a journalist in the company of SDLP leader John Hume, speculation about the Northern Irish peace process is as rife now as it was then. It is amazing that something generally viewed as terminally boring can still draw media interest — like a moth to the flame. Whatever the reason for this the politicians will take enormous succour from it given that the peace process has come to define them. Who would be interested in them otherwise?

There are some who believe that the peace process may be slipping off the radar screen. It would be more accurate to view the institutional framework that supports the Good Friday Agreement as being in greater danger of facing such a fate. The peace process is here to stay.

As the utterly hopeless campaign of physical force by republicans has demonstrated all too readily, any resumption of an armed struggle by the IRA would be doomed to failure. It would be lacking in both ethical justification and popular backing. Consequently it would negatively impact on Sinn Fein’s ever-increasing support, forcing the party back into the ghetto from which it has so assiduously devised an escape.

The problems confronting the Good Friday Agreement are growing more intractable by the day. At one point it could have been plausibly argued that a major public act of IRA decommissioning could have kept the show on the road. That is no longer an option.

That section within unionism who would have been amenable to such a gesture has been considerably weakened by the recent challenges to the leadership standing of David Trimble. There are now strong grounds for believing that the anti-Trimble lobby has as the objective of its strategy a permanent situation of direct rule which would preclude any return to a devolved parliament.

In this sense it is no great surprise to find the anti-Trimble lobby aided in their manoeuverings by the former party leader and integrationist Jim Molyneaux. Direct rule suits many unionists. It means less hesitancy about the strength of the union, a perspective reinforced by not having to share power with Sinn Fein. For republicans it would mean that their reward for fighting the war was an end to the war. The balance sheet — a comprehensive victory for unionism.

The unionist demands for more are coming at a time when Sinn Fein may be finding itself in a position to give less. This tends to leave the gap unbridgeable. The Sinn Fein leadership is determined to see the re-establishment of the political institutions. But by it having failed to rein in the IRA sufficiently those unionists who share Sinn Fein’s enthusiasm for the institutions are finding
themselves in a very vulnerable position within their own community.

Sinn Fein, while usually adept at getting its own grass roots to perform summersaults and slaughter republicanism’s own sacred cows, is finding itself confronted by a reluctance on the ground to embrace the repressive structures of the state.

The republican base simply does not share its leaders’ eagerness to support a renamed RUC. The force by continuing to conduct highly visible raids on working class homes in nationalist communities, while effectively allowing organised crime to flourish, serves to reinforce a hostility towards the policing structures.

An additional constraint on Sinn Fein is the growing unease within its grass roots at the volatile situation in Maghaberry Prison. Republican prisoners there are on no-wash protest and Security Minister Jane Kennedy’s absurdly intransigent defence of the prison regime — in language borrowed directly from the Northern Ireland Office’s prison handbook of the 1970s and 1980s — is doing
little to allay a widespread suspicion that republican prisoners are being maltreated.

With talk of possible hunger strikes floating ominously in public discourse, Sinn Fein representatives have been straining at the leash to have the situation resolved before the prison situation spirals out of control with the potential to recreate the precarious polarised situation that prevailed during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes.

An autonomous republican grass roots pursuing a confrontational protest agenda is the last thing the party leadership wants. This has been evidenced by the party’s determination to curb any disturbances during this month’s Orange marches.

Overall, it appears that republicanism’s options are being whittled down to the point where only the complete disappearance of the IRA as a military force will loosen up the process sufficiently to allow republicans to make an unassailable case for the return of devolved government.

From the British Government’s point of view the peace process was the cul de sac into which the IRA could be safely corralled. As this becomes more evident to republican grass roots opinion the Sinn Fein leadership’s ability to bite the bullet for one last time is being called into question.

Our interminable conflict it seems is set to stay in Cold War mode for some time to come and the British and Irish premiers may give up on any notion of discarding their Northern Irish season tickets.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

11 September 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Seconds Out for Round Thirteen
Eamon Sweeney


UN Report on Human Development
Liam O Ruairc


No Sign Yet of an End to the Cold War
Anthony McIntyre


West Belfast - The Politics of Childhood
Davy Carlin


Review of Eoin O'Broin's Matxinada
Douglas Hamilton


Help Renew the Republican Dream
Gerry Ruddy


Three Meeting Announcements
Belfast & Dublin


7 September 2003


Bush, Coke-a-Cola and the Nazis
Eamonn McCann


A Regime of Silence
Anthony McIntyre


Lower Falls Memories
Kathleen O'Halloran


My Axis of Evil
Pedram Moallemian


In Memory of Israfil Shiri 1973-2003
Debbie Grue


IRPWA Calls on Paul Murphy to Reveal Recommendations
Martin Mulholland


A Letter to Mr Foley
Matthew Kavanagh




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