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Northern Ireland: An Agreement Based On Division
THE DRAMATIC events of the last few weeks have kept the faltering 'peace process' on the road. The first act of IRA decommissioning and the decisions of the Women's Coalition and the Alliance Party to redesignate as unionist helped re-elect David Trimble as First Minister.
Ciaran Mulholland, Belfast
The way in which Trimble's re-election was secured however leaves him open to attack from Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and its allies.
The fact that the IRA has decommissioned even a small amount of armaments is of huge importance. Decommissioning is of symbolic value only but the strength of this symbolism should not be underestimated. No previous generation of Republican activists have ever gone down this path.
The IRA probably took a decision to at least partially disarm some time ago but they came under intense pressure to do so after the 11 September attacks. Their backers in the US would tolerate no other course of action and made this quite clear.
More importantly, the Republican leadership are firmly wedded to their current strategy and were prepared to move on the issue of decommissioning to this end. They are facing an imminent general election in the South and calculate that disarming will boost their prospects.
Dissident Republicans have reacted in predictable fashion. They have accused Adams and McGuinness of betrayal and have launched a series of attacks to assert their claim to the mantle of genuine Republicanism. The Real IRA was probably behind the car bomb attack in Birmingham and the Continuity IRA behind the shooting dead of an ex-UDA (Protestant paramilitary organisation) member in Strabane. These attacks are likely to lead to reprisals from the UDA, reprisals that the dissidents will welcome.
Whilst there is some disquiet in Republican areas most see little alternative. Mass defections to the dissidents are extremely unlikely.
The re-election of Trimble as First Minister will stabilise the institutions established under the Good Friday agreement, for now. A clear majority of the population want this though they are far from enthusiastic or hopeful for the future.
Trimble's position is not strong however. His opponents will make great play of his failure to garner the votes of a majority of unionist Assembly members and will be positioning themselves for a further push against him. Fresh elections are due in 18 months.
It is possible that relative peace and stability will boost Trimble but it is more likely that the DUP will continue to gain. It is even possible that the anti-agreement forces can find an issue around which to make a stand and which mobilises opposition on the streets, repeating the collapse of the Sunningdale Excutive in 1974.
WHATEVER AGREEMENT has been reached at Stormont will not cut across the increasing polarisation on the streets. The conflict that has rocked north Belfast on a nightly basis over the last few months is a clear indication of where things are going.
There are local factors at play in north Belfast, in particular tensions both within the UDA and between the UDA and the UVF but the events of the last few months have deeper roots than this. Perceptions are all important and the perception of Protestants in the area is that they are being pushed out. The conflict has not disappeared; rather it has been transformed into a conflict over territory.
Ultimately the Agreement will fail. It is based on division which it copper fastens. It does provide a breathing space however and an opportunity to see the main parties in action. The local parties have their hands on the levers of power at last.
They can no longer criticise from the sidelines but now must take a stand on social and economic issues. Without exception the main parties have lined up in favour of the system. They have nothing to offer ordinary working people.
When the situation unravels it will not be to the advantage of the working class.
The Socialist Party is striving now to provide an alternative through both our own efforts and through linking up with genuine activists who are seeking a way forward.
There are real opportunities to extend working class unity, especially in the workplace and amongst the minority of young people who consciously reject sectarianism. The key is to seize these opportunities.
In The Socialist 9 November 2001: