Editorial from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
As we write, there has been no positive response from the IRA/Sinn Fein to the Downing Street Declaration. The Declaration itself is a contradictory and meaningless example of highly polished diplomatic draughtsmanship. It is designed to act as a political sedative while allowing the politicians to vacate the hooks to which they have become inextricably fixed by earlier actions and utterances. Indeed, we could damn the document with the same comment that Thatcher applied to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, of which she was co-sponsor: "We are dealing, not with facts, but with perceptions". In other words, not with reality hut with illusions.
The leadership of the Provos, a small number of political dinosaurs ushered on to the stage of history by bigots like Paisley and the more extreme wing of Ulster Unionism, are savouring their moment of media hype. Gerry Adams paid a publicity-seeking visit to the USA. Given that he had no intelligent contribution to make, it seemed a long way to go to repeat the old nationalist shibboleths. Though the opposition to his being allowed to go exposed how relentlessly vicious Ulster Unionism continues to be when its enemies are allowed a platform.
Thousands of people have been slaughtered. Tens of thousands have been injured. Scores, if not hundreds, have had their lives disastrously downgraded by loss of limbs. Some have died from punishment shootings and hundreds of young people are suffering the after-effects of kneecappings and other grotesque forms of punishment. Thousands more have been, or are, imprisoned. In any terms that is a terrible price to pay and it is not unreasonable for us to ask what it is all for.
The only visible dividend from this catalogue of horror is a bitter, mindlessly bitter, legacy of hatred affecting the most depressed section of the working class, divided into tribal quarrels that feed on the latest atrocity. Violence as a political weapon, used by loyalist and nationalist, has only created a situation where it is difficult to discern any logical formula for future peace and stability, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the island of Ireland.
As far as the provisional IRA activists and their politicians are concerned, their current deliberations on the Downing Street Declaration can only be concerned with their probable political fortunes if violence is removed from the political scene. Without the police Holding Centres and the thuggery of the so-called security forces and with, especially, the speedy release of all political prisoners, Provo power and influence would quickly diminish. Their very localized political effectiveness today is dependent on the same sort of discriminatory sectarian politics as the more loathsome elements of ward-healing Unionism used in the past, carried out against the sinister silhouette of the gunman. In a climate of peace, the Provos have nothing to offer.
What’s it all about? Certainly not about ending the grim economic facts that oppress political life in Northern Ireland. The British Exchequer contributes some £3.5 billion annually to keep the Province in its present impoverished position. If the Provos could force Britain to disengage from Northern Ireland, the resulting gain to the Exchequer would have a dramatic effect on the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement and the fortunes of the Major government! But in a recent opinion poll in the Republic of Ireland 71 percent said they would not be prepared to meet the per capita tax of about £1,000 per annum to subsidize Irish unity.
More than 20 percent of the people in Northern Ireland are living below the poverty line. The jobs of many of the more prosperous are underwritten by the troubles. Despite emigration, an even larger percentage of people in the Republic are on or below the poverty line. Given all this, one can only wonder at the naivete of a political movement that thinks our first priority is killing one another in order to have the postboxes a uniform colour or the pattern of the flag over the dole office changed.
Northern Ireland must surely represent a classic case study that exposes the bankruptcy of political violence as a weapon for the promotion of any cause. Together with the brutality and utter stupidity of Paisleyite bigotry, the IRA must stand as an implacable enemy of the unity it professes. And even more so of that more important, working class unity without which we can not hope to establish socialism and get rid of the evils of capitalism.