Ireland

Submitted by Anon on 5 March, 2006 - 11:30

Northern Ireland is in chronic communal conflict. For there to be a democratic solution, a wider framework than Northern Ireland is needed.

The only programme which accommodates the rights of both communities without infringing on the rights of either is a federal united Ireland with regional autonomy for the mainly Protestant north-east, linked in a voluntary confederation with Britain. That is a programme on which class-conscious Irish workers, Protestant and Catholic, can be united. And only a united working class can win full democracy and the socialist "levelling-up" which makes it viable.

For long, long years the Irish majority fought to throw off British rule. But over the centuries, mainly through free movement of people over the narrow seas between Ireland and Britain, a national minority identifying itself as British also grew up in Ireland. In much of the island it was a thin privileged layer. In the north-east it was a compact majority.

The British Marxists of the late 19th and early 20th century (the Social Democratic Federation) rightly championed "Home Rule" for the "Ulster-Scots" or Protestant north-east at the same time as they fought for national rights for the Irish majority. Republican leaders in Ireland's war of independence, such as Eamon de Valera, were open to such a "federal united Ireland" settlement.

But the British-imposed settlement to the war of independence - the Partition of 1921-2 - worsened and further complicated the majority/minority within Ireland, rather than resolving it. It created Northern Ireland as a "Protestant state" - where Catholics, people who felt part of the Irish majority, were the majority in the bigger part of the state's territory and in the state's second city.

The Catholics were cowed for half a century. When they rose up, demanding equal rights, in the late 1960s, the Northern Ireland state became ungovernable. For almost all the time since then it has been under direct rule from London to keep the lid on, or subject to one failed political experiment after another. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, an exercise in institutionalising sectarianism from above, is another of those failed experiments.

The Catholic minority in Northern Ireland resents a political set-up which traps them in a state they find alien and oppressive. The Protestant majority has made it clear it will fight arms in hand against inclusion in a Catholic-dominated Irish state.

Northern Ireland could only become a fully-fledged "Protestant state" by the Catholics submitting and becoming assimilated, marginalised or driven out. The Catholics, part of a big majority across the whole island and aware that the border defining Northern Ireland is artificial, would not submit. Result: civil war to drive out the Catholics, mass slaughter, big population movements and repartition.

Equally, if Catholics were to become a majority in Northern Ireland - some people think demography is moving that way - then they could not simply vote the Protestants under Dublin rule without violent conflict.

There is no way out without uniting, organising, and mobilising Irish workers on a programme which respects the rights of both communities.