Ireland: After recent elections in the north

The power-sharing executive involving Sinn Fein, the DUP and others, that should emerge from last week’s elections to Stormont, will be called on to apply the anti-working class policies dictated from London. Socialist Republicans now face the task of offering a class alternative.

The votes are counted. The talking begins to form a local administration for Northern Ireland/Six Counties. The winners prepare for power while the losers lick their wounds. But in a telling remark a newly elected DUP Assembly member said that the differences between the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and the UUP [Ulster Unionist Party] were that the DUP had "the personal touch."

Indeed it will become increasingly difficult as the years go on to differentiate between the five main parties, the DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP, SDLP and Alliance. Already they are lining up to put their snouts in the trough of Chancellor Gordon Brown as they seek sweeteners in the form of "a peace dividend" of £1 Billion to share power with each other. In the past they have introduced pro-capitalist policies in the form of public private partnerships and there is no clear differentiation in the economic policies they have advocated. Of course the reality is that they will introduce and implement the economic policies dictated by the British Government and which have their origins in the policies of the international capitalist bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank. Those with the republican traditions who still harbour illusions in the radicalism of Sinn Fein should note the pathetic performances of Gerry Adams on TV in the 26 Counties/Irish Republic when he floundered when pressed on specific policies to deal with issues such as health.

When the IRSP took up a principled position of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement we were vilified by some on the left and by Sinn Fein (P) as warmongers and anti -peace. But we clearly indicated we opposed the GFA because it endorsed the British policy of divide and rule. It institutionalised sectarianism, cemented British rule in a part of Ireland, and endorsed partition.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Condition after condition was put on Sinn Fein, which saw massive decommissioning and eventually endorsement of the PSNI [The new police force that has replaced the old RUC].

Faced with a set up that forced them into choosing sectarian camps the vast majority of the voting population chose to vote for the party that seemed the strongest to represent their sectarian interests. Hence the great success of the DUP and Sinn Fein in the elections taking just under 60% of the seats available. But before getting carried away, supporters of Sinn Fein should note the actions of the PSNI during the elections. The arrest of a candidate outside the count, and the arrest of the husband of a Sinn Fein councillor was the PSNI sticking two fingers up to those Shinners [Sinn Fein] who talked about putting manners on the Police. The reality is that the boot is on the other foot.

However there was little joy for anti-policing candidates or indeed candidates from the left. Below we print their votes. It makes sorry reading.

Republican Sinn Fein:
West Belfast: Geraldine Taylor, 427 votes (1.3%)
Mid Ulster: Brendan McLaughlin, 437 votes (1.0%)
Upper Bann: Barry Toman: 386 votes (0.9%)
East Londonderry: Michael McGonigle, 393 votes (1.2%)
Fermanagh South Tyrone: Michael McManus, 431 votes (0.9%)
West Tyrone, Joe O Neill, 448 votes (1.1%)

Dissident Provos:
North Antrim: Paul McGlinchey, 383 votes (0.9%)
Newry and Armagh: Davy Highland, 2188 votes (4.4%)
Fermanagh South Tyrone: Gerry McGeough, 814 votes (1.8%)

Other Republican Independents:
South Down: Martin Cunningham, 434 votes (0.9%)
Foyle: Peggy O Hara, 1789 votes (4.4%)

Workers Party:
West Belfast John Lowry (Workers Party) 434 Votes (1.26%)
East Belfast- Joe Bell (Workers Party) 107 votes (0.35%)
South Belfast Paddy Lynn (Workers Party) 123 Votes (0.40)
North Belfast John Lavery (Workers Party) 139(0.46%)
Lagan Valley John Magee (Workers Party) 83 Votes (0.19%)
South Antrim Marcella Delaney (Workers Party) 89Votes(0.23%)

Socialist Party:

South Belfast Jim Barbour (Socialist Party) 248 Votes (0.81%)
East Belfast Thomas Black (Socialist Party) 225 Votes (0.75 %)

Labour:

South Down Malachi Curran (Labour) 123 Votes (0.26%)

Socialist Environmental Alliance:

Foyle Eamon McCann (Socialist Environmental Alliance) 2045 Votes (4.5%)

People before Profit:

West Belfast Sean Mitchell (People before Profit 744 Votes (2.17%)

It is clear from these results that there is little or no support for those Republicans who cling to the old certainties that the Provo movement once clung to. Indeed it is extraordinary that the group we refer to above as the Provo Dissidents only realised within the last year what the implications of the Good Friday Agreement were. Did they really believe the Provo internal propaganda that they were moving the struggle forward by recognising the police, decommissioning the IRA (P) and implementing pro-capitalist policies when in power?

Republican Sinn Fein's complaints that they were denied proper coverage in the media is really a pathetic attempt to hide the reality that they have little support from Republicans within the nationalist community. Their obsession with "English" as in their statement of Friday 9th of March, 07, "To consolidate English rule" and "by unscrupulous English governments." is a blatant attempt to appeal to a reactionary form of nationalism playing up people's dislike of the English, a view shared by many people worldwide. But what about not only British Imperialism but also world imperialism? And it ignores the reactionary nature of the ruling classes in Scotland and Wales who have embraced imperialism, as indeed did the Ulster bourgeoisie. But their position is fundamentally wrong because they ignore or downplay the class struggle. They have forgotten every thing James Connolly wrote about, especially the bit about the flags and post boxes! "Imperialism would still rule you" The national question will be solved with the victory of socialism and not before.

Both the Workers' Party and the Socialist Party performed poorly and in some cases it looked as if only their relatives voted for them. Splendid isolation may protect the purity of one's politics but seemingly cuts no ice with a working class deeply divided and stuck into two sectarian camps. Ignoring or downplaying the reality of the sectarian divisions by abstract appeals to class unity in party statements and papers without actual action and unrelated to actual conditions on the ground is just another form of left liberalism. Both these organisations are in grave danger of simply becoming sects.

But from a socialist perspective there were some bright spots. The vote for Eamon McCann in Foyle showed the value of campaigning on real issues following long sustained work on class politics. While the IRSP has strong reservations about the stance of the SEA on key issues such as imperialism, the national question, and broad fronts we applaud their work on key class issues. That is also probably why the People Before Profit got such a comparatively high vote in West Belfast. They emphasised the issue of water charges, which will affect every working class family if implemented. That obviously has struck a cord with much right across the sectarian divide. That discontent must be built upon.

The vote for Peggy O Hara was extraordinary given that there was no electoral experience from her team but the enthusiasm and dedication of her workers tapped into an emotion that needs to be built upon. The alliance between the IRSP/32CSM [32 Counties Sovereignty Movement] and Concerned Republicans shows what can be achieved among Republicans on a platform that dealt with key issues of concerns for republicans but avoided a knee jerk anti Sinn Fein bashing approach. The comparative success of the Peggy O'Hara campaign has led some republicans to believe that a new Irish republican alliance (Ira) can be build as a political party. Such a venture would ignore the ideological differences that exist between the existing forces. For its part the IRSP will continue to do what it has been doing over the past 11 years, while others stood on the sidelines, building a credible left revolutionary force advocating the Connolly/Costello road to revolution. The gradual build up organisationally of the IRSP in Derry over the last five years undoubtedly added to the vitality of the Peggy O'Hara campaign. It has established a base that can be built upon. Now the IRSP need to push positive policies, approaches and ideas from an anti-imperialist and socialist perspective rather than get diverted down cul-de-sacs.

The overwhelming victory of Sinn Fein is not a cause for despair for republicans or socialists. Rather it is an opportunity for the left to take stock and also take advantage of the stance and compromises that that organisation will have to make to exercise power. In the south of Ireland nearly one third of the electorate vote for a range of parties and individuals that can be broadly classified as "left". As the economic conditions worsen in both parts of Ireland, as witnessed by the loss of 900 hundred jobs in the Munster area announced last week, the discontent of the masses will become evident. Already a number of rises in the interest on mortgages in both parts of Ireland has dramatically increased the cost of living for thousands. Spiralling house prices in the North has meant that four out of five houses now sold go to property speculators. Dublin house prices mean that locals cannot afford to buy in Dublin. Young married couples are finding it increasingly difficult to secure suitable accommodation. The privatisation of public utilities and the cutting back of all the gains of the working class over the past [thirty] years is on the agenda of all capitalist Governments. The coming election in the South will make no fundamental changes regardless of which coalition is stuck together. The new Government will carry out the policies of globalisation at the bidding of the capitalist classes.

Now is the time for the left and republican left to build alliances that can channel the coming discontent into political advances for the working class. The door is now opening for the resurgence of the left because with new administrations looming in the North and South with no essential differences in policy but to implement pro-big business policies the left can now become, in the unions and on the streets, and hopefully in the electoral field, a real opposition to the pro-capitalist policies of the new regimes.

[Originally published in The Plough, Vol. 4- No 7, Monday 12th March 2007, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party]