By Colin Foster
The postponement of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections signifies that the London-Dublin "Good Friday" plan of 1998 to reshape Ireland, bit by bit, from above, is stalled for another long period, at least.
It has been overshadowed, however, by the disputed claims that the British state has had an agent acting as the Provisional IRA's chief of internal security. In that capacity, the man is said to have helped torture and kill other British agents and informers - as well, of course, as IRA people who just got unlucky.
For sure the British state has a long history of bloody covert operations in Northern Ireland. In the 1970s the British army set up republicans as targets for the Loyalist armed groups to kill. Later, the SAS operated undercover with a "shoot-to-kill" policy against those they suspected to be key republican activists.
Nothing less than that sort of policy would serve to hold together the Northern Ireland state and suppress the communal conflict generated by the unviable nature of that political unit, botched as it was to maximise the degree of strategic control Britain could retain in Ireland after the War of Independence.
That military-strategic foothold is no longer important to Britain, and London is now trying to co-operate with Dublin to reshape Ireland, maybe eventually to reunify the island.
Now as then, however, policy is one of arbitrage from above, without regard to the democratic rights of the communities.
Only a free united Ireland, with regional autonomy for the mainly-Protestant north-east, and linked to Britain and Europe, can provide a framework for reconciliation. And only a working-class armed with a programme of consistent democracy can lead a struggle for that outcome.
By Colin Foster