The resignation of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister has triggered a new election and brought the ‘Northern Ireland’ power sharing executive at Stormont crashing down. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) ensure that the Executive cannot function if either of the two main parties refuse to take part.
The ‘Cash for Ash’ heating scandal appeared to be the last straw for Sinn Fein. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and First Minister Arlene Foster was directly responsible for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme (read scam) which has meant users i.e. mainly DUP members and cronies, could earn more cash than the fuel they burned, to the taxpayer’s’ cost of £500 million and rising.
McGuinness had merely asked for the First Minister to step down whilst an investigation takes place. Her arrogance denied even this course of action. Typical again of this bigot was her response to a Sinn Fein demand for an Irish Language Act saying, ‘if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more’.
McGuinness has also resigned as leader of Sinn Fein due to ill health and replaced by Michelle O’Neil. Sinn Fein has threatened ‘no going back to the status quo’ as they have only now discovered after ten years partnership in government with the DUP that they need ‘equality and parity of esteem’ between the two traditions in the north. There is a real chance that the new Assembly will not have an Executive and direct rule from Westminster would then ensue.
Sinn Fein anger
So what has caused this abrupt and angry turn by Sinn Fein? Clearly the DUP had botched up big time but what’s new? The essence of the Stormont/GFA regime is an agreement to distribute resources on a sectarian basis. In the interests of keeping the peace process on board and keeping their own share of the spoils Sinn Fein have looked the other way at previous DUP scandals. Witness the recent handing over of £5 million from the Social Investment Fund to paramilitary loyalist community groups. Notorious Bangor UDA criminal Dee Stitt, who has a say on SIF funding allocation, posing with Arlene Foster for photos is hard to beat!
It should also be remembered that Michelle O’Neil as Minister for Agriculture had promoted the scheme and Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy had urged Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell to extend the scheme for another two weeks!
So reports that Sinn Fein members were furious were not wide of the mark. Clearly ten years of ‘peace’ has not decreased sectarianism and has tested the patience of many Sinn Fein supporters. Add into the mix draconian austerity implemented by the DUP/Sinn Fein Executive and you then see why working class republicans feel let down. Little wonder that the anti austerity People before Profit (PbP) snatched two MLA election victories in Sinn Fein ‘territory’ in last year’s election.
Sinn Fein, against the backdrop of a 56% Remain vote in the North, which they correctly supported unlike the DUP (and PbP), are now addressing their base and railing against the economic drawbacks of a Brexit (severe for the north most definitely), calling for a border poll on Irish unity and fighting for the EU to consider the north a ‘specially designated area’. This may well shore up their vote in the coming election but the DUP might not be so lucky as rival Unionist parties seek to exploit the scandals.
A period of instability looms. Doubt hangs over the formation of a new power sharing government. Brexit may well have implications for the GFA anyway, undermining its human rights elements e.g. removing Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights. Sinn Fein will no doubt seek to renegotiate the peace process anew diverting attention from its responsibility of shoring up Stormont and austerity this past ten years. But underlying any new deal will still be Sinn Fein’s acceptance of the Unionist veto on a united Ireland.
PbP cul de sac
Clearly a vote for Sinn Fein is little more than a vote for the Unionist veto and austerity. Posing as an alternative to the austerity of the DUP/SF saw PbP gain two elected representatives in Republican areas at the last election. Unfortunately this SWP front with its two MLA’s has never spelt out how to stop austerity creating the illusion that electoral representation at Stormont can beat it back.
What should have been fought for? A real fight back by workers must see a militant campaign of direct action against every single cut to public services. A workers’ enquiry must be organised to expose the corruption and scandals at Stormont. Councils of action must be built in every locality to coordinate strikes and occupations against all the cuts, against any attempt to make workers pay for the cost of the scandals and against all future cuts including those that will inevitably follow the ending of EU funds (up to £2.5 billion).
At a time when the fall of the Executive poses the question of the very nature of Stormont and the Good Friday Agreement, PbP refuses to call for the abolition of it and the sectarian state that it represents. No matter how many times PbP denounce sectarianism its failure to call for the removal of source of it – British occupation – will see it dodge once again the national question just when the border is put back on the agenda again.
The PbP do feel the horror of a ‘hard border’, which was always a likely outcome of Brexit, but this sits rather at odds with their endorsement of Brexit. Quite apart from the completely reactionary consequences of Brexit in Britain, the rise in racist attacks and shifting the whole political climate rightwards, the outcome for Ireland either side of the border is equally disastrous. Border areas will especially suffer but a ‘hard border’ with its controls and costs will affect trade and movement between the two economies not to mention the end of EU funding.
Stormont is a reflection of a deeply sectarian society. The peace process has sought to paper over the cracks unsuccessfully. The DUP’s coalition with Sinn Fein is a charade betraying a completely contemptuous attitude to nationalist concerns, always looking to stir the pot of sectarianism as in orchestrating the flag protests and dismissing the Irish language. Their support for Brexit amid all the reactionary consequences of it was hardly surprising.
The state of ‘Northern Ireland’ is not a nation and its origins lie in the attempt to stop the nation of Ireland from consummating its national revolution against Britain. The discrimination against those who consider themselves Irish, be it social, economic or political bias, has always been such an integral part of the artificial sectarian northern state.
This atypical part of the ‘UK’ still relies on a special repressive system, often used as a laboratory for repression in Britain. That is why despite the GFA, or maybe because of it, the North still has internment on remand, strip searching in the jails, one judge juryless Diplock courts, constant hounding and haranguing of Republican activists and the incarceration of Republicans such as Tony Taylor and the Craigavon Two in what can only be described as colossal miscarriages of justice.
If you accede to the Unionist veto, as Sinn fein has done, then you will inevitably, as the junior partner, be dragged ever rightwards.They get their share of sectarian patronage but the sectarian essence of the northern state remains. This farce must stop, Stormont needs to be abolished. Britain should withdraw and allow the Irish people as a whole to determine the future of the six counties of ‘Northern Ireland’.
A mobilised working class north and south of the Border is a prerequisite to point any united Ireland towards a Workers’ Republic. Only a socialist solution can ensure that exploitation and oppression on both sides of the border are consigned to the dustbin of history!