Northern Ireland: the working class has been cannon fodder

Submitted by Matthew on 21 December, 2009 - 5:49 Author: Davey Adams

The Protestant community, I think, was very angry about the breaking of the ceasefire. It must be said that people in the Nationalist community are angry too. Even the letters page of An Phoblacht [Sinn Fein’s weekly paper] is full of criticism of the IRA’s decision to end the ceasefire. The weight of opinion within their community and the opinion that they have always cared about internationally will push them in the direction of the resumption of the ceasefire.

The IRA seemingly broke the ceasefire because there was no substantial movement within the peace process towards all-party negotiations. Whether that was the actual reason remains to be seen. I have a notion that there might have been a combination of factors involved.

I believe John Major made a mistake in the House of Commons but not for the reason that the IRA would give — ignoring the Mitchell report’s main recommendations. Even though Sinn Fein had given some sort of nod of approval towards the Mitchell report, I believe the Republicans would have found Mitchell very hard to accept. But John Major let them off the hook, by giving them an excuse to concentrate on attacking the proposals for elections.

The UDP was never enamoured of the proposal to hold elections and made that quite plain and public. We don’t feel that they are necessary at this stage in the process of conflict resolution. I can give you reasons.

• One, they run the risk of excluding key players from the process.

• Secondly there is the time factor.

• Thirdly we are concerned that they may be used as a stalling device.

But having said this, we are realistic and pragmatic enough to realise that everyone else seems to be on board, and we’ll have to live with it.

What the two Prime Ministers produced the other day was a collection of proposals which they had extracted from all the different parties. It was an amalgam of different parties’ ideas about the best way forward.

At times, we were as frustrated and as angry as anyone about the slow progress of the whole peace process. We had always said, let’s get into all-party negotiations straight away, and deal with the issues.

The role of the working class in Northern Ireland is vital. We have provided, for both sections of the community, almost without exception, the cannon fodder in this conflict for the past twenty-five years and longer.

We want to get towards class-based parties. That has to be our objective. All class politics here has been overwhelmed, swamped for years, by the constitutional issues. If we can reach a position where there is some form of consensus on the constitutional issue then we can concentrate on the bread and butter issues that effect everyone, everyday of their lives.

I hope we will reach an agreed settlement, of whatever description, so that real politics will break out in Northern Ireland. There will then be a realignment towards left, right and centre politics as happens in all other normal societies.

There have been subtle changes taking place within the broad, Unionist, bloc these last few years. And also within the broad, Republican and Nationalist bloc. Nationalism now fully admits that any sort of imposed united Ireland just wouldn’t work; Unionism and Loyalism admit privately — and in many cases publicly — that there has to be a recognition of the nationalist aspirations of the people that share Northern Ireland with us. Somewhere in the middle there is common ground where agreement can be reached. The principle of consent has been accepted almost universally. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that we can all move to a position where compromise rooted in realities dictates the form of a settlement — as opposed to everyone’s extreme idea of how they would like things to be. We all have to deal with what is possible as opposed to what is desirable.

To some extent the peace process is taking place over the heads of the people in Northern Ireland. We have to reach a position where people are comfortable with the fact that there cannot be a change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority. There has to be recognition that not only are we neighbours with the Irish Republic, but we also have links through the EC . We can be at least as friendly towards each other as other neighbouring countries are within the EC.

Davey Adams is a Senior Officer of the UDP.

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