Clearly the IRA were responsible for the physical breakdown of the ceasefire. But the underlying reason for the collapse of the peace process was the intransigence of the British government — their refusal to move on the question of talks while continually shifting the goal posts.
The on-going sectarian obstinacy of local politicians also continued unabated.
This led to genuine frustrations within the Republican movement. Republicans felt the talks were being deliberately stalled and that the process was going nowhere. However, these frustrations in no way justified the IRA’s resumption of the military campaign. The bombings can achieve nothing positive for working-class people.
John Major’s mission has been to string things out for as long as possible. He wanted to let the paramilitary activity recede as far as possible into the past, to create a different atmosphere for discussions. He felt that in this way he could get more of his own way in the talks. So he has been playing for time. However, the policy of continually pushing the Republican movement to the wire came apart when they pushed them too far.
Traditionally the only two choices which are presented to the people are: either the status quo — which is unacceptable to a large section of the working-class of the Catholic minority — or the idea of a Catholic united Ireland, which is unacceptable to Protestants.
There is no long-term, lasting capitalist solution to the conflict in Ireland.
I think it is possible that the various political groupings might reach an agreement. But such a deal would not resolve the underlying problems of poverty and the built-in injustices of the six county state.
I think that the problem the Republican movement faced was that they were in a dead end with their military strategy — it simply could not deliver a united Ireland, or progress towards it. So in the place of the military campaign they took up the strategy of Adams: of linking up with the right-wing political establishment in the South, with the US administration and with the SDLP in Northern Ireland. This is also a dead end because it doesn’t offer anything to Catholic working-class people of the North. The common interests of Catholic and Protestant workers must be put to the forefront in a common struggle for socialism.
The Protestant people are not a distinct nationality separate from Catholics. The day-to-day living conditions of Protestants and working-class Catholic people are very largely the same. These people have much more in common than they have to divide them. On the basis of putting the struggle for a decent, socialist society to the forefront, it will be possible to achieve unity and agreement on a solution to the national question. Militant Labour advocates a socialist Ireland. Our preference would be for a single state, but the precise relationships could be discussed within the working class; we believe any disagreements could be resolved amicably.
We argue for a united, socialist Ireland within a socialist federation of Britain and Ireland. We have never advocated a federal solution in Ireland. But in order to overcome the doubts and reservations of Protestant workers we have to guarantee that there would be no coercion. If they maintain their opposition to one Irish state, we must make it clear that we respect their wishes. At this moment in time we think that it is better from all points of view to maintain our position and argue for a single state, not a federation.
In fact a federation would not mean a federation of northern Ireland and southern Ireland — the Catholics wouldn’t accept that. It would mean the re-partition of Ireland. While this could be accomplished on the basis of socialism, on a capitalist basis it would mean bloodbath.
During the last two weeks of February, the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in the face of British government intransigence has stimulated one of the biggest mass movements in our history. People have come out onto the streets in opposition to the resumption of violence. They have stopped the IRA in their tracks. The lesson for socialists is that the future doesn’t lie with the traditional politicians or the government. The future lies with building on the mass movement of working-class people, and out of this creating a new politics based on class, not religion.
Peter Hadden is a leading member of the Northern Ireland “Militant Labour” group.