An open letter to British trade unionists, from an Irish socialist living in England, after the killing of two children by an IRA bomb in Warrington, in March 1993.
Socialist Organiser 557, 1 April 1993
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Like everyone else whose human feelings are not blocked or numbed by national hatred or chauvinistic self righteousness, you are horrified and angry over the IRA bomb in Warrington which exploded in a crowed of weekend shoppers and killed two children.
I understand those feelings, and I share them. So, evidently, do most Irish people, here and in the two parts of Ireland. Upwards of 20,000 people marched through Dublin last Sunday to condemn the IRA's bombing campaign.
What happened in Warrington was monstrous and unforgivable. The so-called Irish Republican Army, who think they are Irish patriots, are a disgrace to Ireland and to Irish Republicanism. That they now say, faced with a howling gale of outrage, that "they won't do it again" - in British cities - shows how far they are from coherence or sense.
Does the outcry against this killing of small children surprise them? Or did they think they could go on letting off bombs in crowded streets without things like this happening?
As Socialist Organiser has said more than once in the last few months, the miracle is that there has not been a massacre on the scale of the Birmingham pub bombs of 1974 or the Enniskillen Remembrance Day slaughter of Protestants/Unionists in 1987. Instead there was the "small" massacre of the children in Warrington.
Yet condemning a deed like Warrington is easy. It is even cheap. Northern Ireland Protestants cannot but reflect that most of those who condemn Warrington have been pretty blasé about numerous horrors in Northern Ireland, where over 100 children have died during the last 20-odd years.
Northern Ireland Catholics and many of the Irish in this country will remember how little comment the killing of small Catholic children by police and army plastic or rubber bullets in Northern Ireland has evoked.
More needs to be said. If you'll let me, I want to say some of it.
I came to England as a child. As a working-class socialist, that is, an internationalist, I believe - and I have believed it all my life, from the age of 15 - that I have more in common with you than I have with any member of the Irish boss class.
Still, I am Irish. I consider myself an Irish patriot and an Irish Republican - in the older sense of "patriot", one who loves his own people, without hatred or animosity towards any other people; and the proper Irish (Wolfe Tone) sense of Republican, one who believes in uniting the peoples of Ireland in a democratic state free from outside control and from any form of oligarchic domination.
As an Irish patriot, my quarrel with the Provisional IRA is that they divide the people of Ireland.
Their military campaign is counter-productive and anti-Republican. "Success" for it could only mean sectarian civil war and repartition in Northern Ireland.
It would be good if the IRA's latest terrible deed in Warrington should provoke such popular anger as to stop their futile military campaign. It would be good - but it is not likely!
The mass outrage and the choking angry sense of horror are real: but the campaign is being orchestrated and used. It is being used by the Establishment in defence of the status quo in Northern Ireland, and in support of the idea that the status quo is the best thing possible.
It is not! The two dead children in Warrington are being used to sell a great lie. It is because the status quo is not liveable for the people of Northern Ireland that the IRA thrives and the Orange sectarian assassins who have killed five people since the Warrington bomb find refuge in the Protestant community.
We have been here before. Something remarkably similar happened 15 years ago.
A mass movement for "peace", the "Peace People", mushroomed overnight into a strong political force,-and then declined.
That movement too was set off when young children were killed - by an IRA car out of control in Belfast after a gun-fight with police.
The children's aunt, Mairead Corrigan, and another woman, Betty Williams, organised the outpouring of helpless anger in a demand for "peace".
Nothing came of it. People marched on big demonstrations, called for peace, and prayed for it - but they had no idea of how to get peace. They found themselves being used by the Establishment as a political bludgeon against the Provisional IRA, and as an emotion-charged vehicle for reinforcing the great lie that the status quo in Northern Ireland would be all right if only the "men of violence" would go away.
The IRA is not a fundamental cause of these horrors. It is a symptom, a by-product.
That "peace movement" was not even an effective bludgeon against the IRA. The Provisionals bent a little with the wind of public anger. But when the peace movement, impotent to do anything, subsided, the IRA was still there, and it is there now.
Will it be different this time? I hope so, but I doubt it. The "peace" movement in the South of Ireland is new - the war in the North spilling over into the South in an unexpected and for the Provos an unwelcome way.
But the IRA does not depend on opinion in the South. Their electoral support there is less than two per cent. What matters is their support in Ihe Catholic ghettoes in the North.
At the end of the day, all this outcry will not affect events - unless it should prove to be the prelude to an attempt to introduce internment in North and South simultaneously. That must be a real possibility. Will it do any good? No!
Read the following, which I take from an editorial in the Sunday Express (28 March).
"Yesterday Irish Premier Albert Reynolds reacted to this new mood by calling for a renewed effort to find a political settlement in Northern Ireland. So far as it went, his reaction was welcome. But it is all so predictable.
"What is required now is not some great new hunt for some great new political initiative. There is only one solution to the current slaughter...
"The entire pressure of both governments should instead be directed against the gunmen. They are the sworn enemy of both countries. They have no political justification whatsoever for their disgusting trade. They are driven by a blood lust, not some high-flown moral crusade".
That note, that tone, that attitude, that "law and order" prescription has, I believe, killed far more children - Irish children - and adults - Irish adults - than the Provisional IRA's bombs ever did. It is the age-old voice and tone and prescription of the British Establishment - of those who are responsible for what is happening in Northern Ireland and for what happens when Northern Ireland comes to Warrington.
The Provisional IRA is a symptom, a by-product, of something else. The real villains do not speak in the slogans of the Provisional IRA but in the voice of the Sunday Express, and of the British Establishment of which it is one of the ornaments. -
These things need to be said now, and it is fitting that Socialist Organiser should say them - since we have had to spend a lot of space in recent years belabouring the Provisional IRA and criticising the historical ignorance, romantic political stupidity, and habitual irresponsibility of the British left where Ireland is concerned.
For where do the Warrington, London, Manchester and other bombs come from? Where does the Provisional IRA come from?
The Provisional IRA arose, won large-scale support (about a third of the Catholic half-million in Northern Ireland support it), and most likely will continue to keep that support, because of what the British ruling class has done to Ireland.
The men and women of the Provisional IRA, people who start out dedicating themselves to the high and splendid ideal of the unification and independence of Ireland, wind up planting bombs in British shopping centres or shooting down Protestant Irishmen who do not share their politics or their tradition - often shooting them in their own houses in front of their small children - because of what the British ruling class has done to our country.
The British ruling class - with the once reluctant but now case-hardened support of the Catholic Irish boss class, Ireland's yahoo bourgeoisie - have locked the people of Northern Ireland into an impossible constitutional arrangement, into a Northern Ireland which is a narrow bear pit for its two antagonistic communities, Protestant and Catholic, and for all of its people.
The Catholic minority in that Six Counties entity is now a massive 40%. They have always been the majority in about half the land area of the "Protestant state", in the areas adjoining the "little Republic" of 26 counties.
Those Catholics were kept against their will in a hostile state. For the first 50 years they lived as second class citizens, terrorised by British-armed Protestant-sectarian special police and subject to special laws under which they could be interned without charge or trial, and many were.
When they revolted in the late 1960s - at first demanding equality within the Six Counties state, or, as some of them said, "British standards" - they were met with the heavy hand of first the Orange and then the British state.
Internment camps were set up. Large-scale repression hit the Catholics with such force that it drove many of them to acceptance of the Provisional IRA.
On 30 January 1972 in Derry the British Army opened fire on an unarmed political demonstration, killing fourteen, among them a number of teenagers.
Since then there has been - essentially - deadlock. The Six Counties state is maintained at whatever cost. It is now a gigantic ghetto and an economic slum. The British state guards the border and patrols the streets, as of a great prison compound.
Prospects? The 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement gives Dublin a political say in the running of the Six Counties. It has changed nothing very much.
Now there is - let us be clear about it - in Ireland a real minority problem: the problem of how the one million strong Protestant minority relates to the Catholic majority on the island. The decisive opposition to a united Ireland comes not from Britain but from one million Irish people.
The evidence suggests that Britain would like to get out. But Britain is locked into maintaining the Six Counties/26 Counties status quo, than which it is hard to imagine a worse "solution" to Ireland's minority/majority problem.
Instead of the peoples of Ireland being allowed to work out their own relations to each other, establishing a modus vivendi over time, Ireland was artificially split in two by partition - and in such a way that the Catholic minority in the Protestant state is a much bigger proportion of the Six Counties population than all the Protestants of Ireland would be as a proportion of a 32-counties United Ireland.
That alone shows up the absurdity of the present arrangements - out of which came desperate men and women with bombs to kill children in Warrington.
Britain, the British ruling class, created this monstrous arrangement. They - the fathers and grandfathers of those whose voice echoes in the Sunday Express editorial - did not do it by sweet reason or by democratic parliamentary procedures. They carved up Ireland by way of a bloody terroristic war against the supporters of the democratically elected Dublin government, whose territory they occupied. British gangs - the Black and Tans are the best known - raged around Ireland shooting at random, pillaging and burning rural factories, towns, and even the whole centre of Cork City.
They got the Irish bourgeoisie to agree - temporarily, they said - to the present partition by the credible threat to wage, as the only alternative, a renewed "terrible and bloody" war against the people of southern Ireland, which the British Army was still occupying.
During those 1921 negotiations, in which nationalist Ireland's representatives talked with a British gun to their heads, and a powerful British army still in occupation of all Ireland, the British state was making detailed plans for that war. The plans included - as has since been revealed by way of official state papers - preparations to round up a proportion of the southern Irish population and imprison them in "concentration centres".
All the people of Northern Ireland - Protestant majority as well as the artificially created Northern Ireland Catholic minority - are now the victims of that brutal imperialist "settlement" of the "Irish Question" in 1921-22.
The history of Ireland's relations with England is, as I guess you will know in general, a terrible history. It is a history of the conquest and then the enslaving and repeated robbing - with vast recurrent slaughters - of the people of the smaller island. Wars of genocide were waged; for centuries the whole Catholic people were treated as the South American Indians were treated by the Spanish conquistadors or the South African black people by the whites.
And, after the Celtic people of Ireland, surviving the massacres and the centuries of slavery in our own country, finally won a half-acceptable settlement with the powerful British Empire 70 years ago, it proved not to be a settlement. Partition bred strife, hatred, and murder.
It is not, as the canting hypocrites in the British press say, a collective Celtic Irish neurosis about ancient wrongs that generates continuing conflict. Not ancient wrong but continuing present wrong generates events like Warrington.
The British ruling class's continuing crime against Ireland - and against the people of guiltless Warrington and other places - is that it continues to maintain an untenable status quo.
What, you will ask, is the alternative, given that the fundamental problem in Northern Ireland is the determination of the one million Protestants that it should remain as it is?
The only way out is through the creation of a free United Ireland within which the Protestant-majority areas would have regional autonomy. Ties of some confederal sort between that United Ireland and Britain would give further guarantees to the Protestants that this solution aimed to do away with the oppression of the Northern Catholics, but not to replace it by making the Protestants a new oppressed minority.
The programme of a federal united Ireland is not a magic solution to be presented to Westminster and Dublin - but it is the only solid political base on which a united Catholic-Protestant workers' movement can be built and can give answers to the national and communal conflicts which are torturing Ireland, and, now, killing British children.
Our concern - yours as well as mine, as trade unionists and socialists - is not with the uniting or the separation of territory. We are concerned with the uniting of people.
The great Irish Republican James Connolly - the trade union leader whom the British ruling class shot at the public urging of the Dublin Catholic capitalists - once rebuked ancestors of the Provisional IRA, saying: "Ireland apart from her people means nothing to me".
The task is to find a way of uniting the Irish people. Our ideas about some form of federal Ireland would allow socialists - British as well as Irish - to talk to our class in Northern Ireland across the sectarian divide.
I put nothing forward as a panacea, or an "easy" solution. No such thing exists. Above all else, however, British socialists and trade unionists need to resist the British ruling class - whose ideas are also expressed within the right wing of the Labour Party.
Resist their propaganda. Know that more repression in Northern Ireland is not the answer. Don't let the Express and the Sun and the other callous lying hypocrites brainwash you.
Maintain and develop the unity of British and Irish workers in the labour movement of this country. Argue for a consistently democratic solution to the majority-minority conflict in Ireland, and specifically in Northern Ireland.
The Provisional IRA is a symptom, not the root cause, of Northern Ireland's problem. The British Establishment - and their Irish bourgeois collaborators - are the biggest villains in this tragedy.