29 April 2004 Edition
Putting the Peace Process between hammer and anvil
DECLAN KEARNEY, Chairperson, Cúige na Sé Chondae, assesses current British strategy in the wake of last week's IMC report and calls on republicans to mobilise to maximise popular support for the Peace Process.
Tony Blair let the cat out of the bag on Wednesday 21 April when he followed the Independent Monitoring Commission [IMC] report by announcing that it would now become central to the future of the Peace Process. That statement decisively confirmed a strategic shift in British policy. Whether or not any tendency in Downing Street remains committed to conflict resolution in Ireland, a politico-military agenda is now clearly in overall ascendancy, driven by the security and intelligence agencies and the NIO.
Blair's remarks, the content and thrust of the IMC report, and the undisguised threats of John Grieve and John Alderdice, were greeted with universal anger by republican and nationalist Ireland. The British are moving inexorably towards a position that is prepared to hold hostage the logic and momentum of the Peace Process to their governing objective of defeating the popularisation of republicanism and growth of Sinn Féin throughout Ireland.
Those nationalists who made themselves complicit with the report and its stated future intentions will in time be obliged to take stock of a tactical decision that will place them in hock to the outworking of a wider politico-military strategy, which has the potential to reduce the Peace Process to a game of Russian roulette. This tactical approach of the Fianna Fáil/PD Government and the SDLP may yet lock them into an irreversible role, with massive strategic ramifications for their respective electoral and political futures North and South.
Although there is an historical inevitability about the prevailing crisis, it should in no way deflect the significance of the strategic issues that republican activists and supporters now face.
HAMMER AND ANVIL
The only surprise in the IMC report was that its authors chose to reveal so immediately the explicit anti-republican raison d'être for the body. The context finds its origins in Blair's 'fork in the road' speech in October 2002, but Michael McDowell and Hugh Orde have more recently painted it up.
The British are rolling out a classical hammer and anvil strategy in the Six Counties. A number of key developments bear out this assessment over recent weeks.
• The upsurge of British military activity all along the border, and in particular Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.
• A programme of attempts to entrap and recruit informers by the PSNI, to a marked degree in County Armagh and South Down.
• Increased levels of aggressive undercover PSNI and military surveillance within rural nationalist areas.
All of this factors into the current volatile mix of unionism from which extends a consistent pattern of sectarian violence against ordinary Catholics, including physical assaults, intimidation, petrol and pipe-bomb attacks, shootings, and, most recently the specific targeting of Sinn Féin members in Derry City and county. Political unionism has kept the temperature boiling within its own community as it lurches further to the right, with David Trimble making increasingly bellicose and irrational statements to remain relevant, and the DUP toughening up its bottom line positions in respect to the restoration of the political institutions.
Meanwhile, the role of the security and intelligence agencies remains dominant. Recent reports suggest an increased responsibility for MI5 in the North, and Special Branch has reconstructed itself within the PSNI's Regional Crime, Regional Intelligence Units and REMIT (Regional Major Investigations Team). The latter has been central to the operations executed since 2002 to destabilise the Peace Process; to say nothing of their ongoing activities.
TALKS PROSPECTS DIMINISHING
The cumulative effect of all these factors dovetails with this latest phase of the process, which can be charted back to the subversion by both governments of the 21 October 2003 negotiated commitments. Whether or not new talks do occur between now and the end of the year, Dublin's decision to have the planned Lancaster House talks cancelled casts a serious doubt over whether any will exists to inject political dynamic towards renewed early negotiations. Inevitably, many republicans will be inherently sceptical about the two governments, particularly in terms of trusting them to honour any outcomes.
By any objective measure, the political landscape exhibits a rapidly diminishing prospect for any type of negotiations, parallel with an evident escalation in British military and security activities, and concurrent unionist violence. These hammer and anvil techniques, now personified by the central role accorded the IMC, and active Dublin Government compliance, represent the clearest indicators of a policy decision by the British to place the Good Friday Agreement [GFA] into cold storage and revert increasingly to permanent direct rule again.
BRITISH AND 'CONSTITUTIONAL' NATIONALIST INTENTIONS?
So, there is much validity to expressed concerns about the future and hope for the Peace Process from a republican and nationalist perspective. The fact is that many ordinary nationalists are now questioning how the coalition government and the SDLP can place their own electoral self-interests above nationalist rights, the peace process itself, and act in total subordination to a new British politico-military strategy. Many more are discussing the ominous question of whether the British have in fact chosen to set aside conflict resolution and instead embark on a war footing, presumably aimed at attempting to provoke conflict with the IRA.
These are questions only so-called constitutional nationalist and British politicians can answer, but the disbelief within broad public opinion, and republican and nationalist anger, is fully justified.
Nevertheless, the profit for our struggle in such levels of anger is limited. Republican activists need to be analysing the situation with very long heads and a forensic objectivity. Our various political opponents have realigned to the extent of threatening the future of the Peace Process and compromising the integrity of the GFA. This is as a consequence of the success of republican strategy and growth in support for Sinn Féin throughout the island.
A CARNIVAL OF REACTION
The mounting challenge to partition and popular momentum for a united Ireland championed by republicans will continue to be opposed by Britain, unionism, and those elements of nationalism that feel electorally threatened by Sinn Féin. James Connolly predicted in 1914 a carnival of reaction developing from the onset of partition, with long-term consequences for national democracy. A latter-day carnival of reaction now builds as a result of the same diverse political forces tactically uniting in opposition to Sinn Féin and against the achievement of Irish independence and establishment of the Republic.
Republican activists and popular nationalist opinion need to be focused on recognising that this period represents a strategic offensive against Sinn Féin and our electorate. And there is undoubtedly much more to come. Government agencies that have been involved in long-term, structured collusion, bringing down power sharing executives and cancelling democratic elections, are capable of doing anything.
MOBILISING POPULAR DEMOCRATIC OPINION
In response, republicans need to be about organising popular anger into popular action. Whilst the weight of opposition to this struggle is considerable, our strategy remains intact; but it now requires a step change in order to defend the strategic progress secured to date towards a united Ireland.
The battle for hearts and minds in Ireland is now not only about winning more and more support to our strategy and vision of independence and sovereignty, but immediately mobilising democratic popular opinion against the inherent reactionary politics being played out by the two governments and unionism.
Our political activism in all its forms, in terms of cumann activity, publicity work and international lobbying, need to be geared to galvanising domestic and international popular opinion in support of conflict resolution and a democratic peace process. The role of MLAs, TDs and councillors is key to this work. None of us should underestimate the terminal intentions of current British strategy towards the entire peace process, because their policy makers calculate that its destabilisation represents the best means to undermine the momentum for a united Ireland.
Our task then is to maximise popular support for sustaining a democratic peace and conflict resolution process, and in defence of Sinn Féin's mandate. In the immediate term, three events present key opportunities to do so. A truly national effort needs to be applied to bring thousands of nationalists into Belfast city centre on 9 May to honour the 1981 Hunger Strikers and also, in light of events in the last fortnight, to send a clear signal to the British that republicans remain resilient and undeterred in the face of reactionary provocation.
The European and local government elections in June give Sinn Féin the opportunity to record an historic mandate for our politics throughout the island and by electing two MEPs to strengthen our struggle internationally. And within a week of these elections a further national mobilisation at Bodenstown creates the opportunity to demonstrate thousands of republicans once more in defence of our struggle and in support of a democratic peace process.
In the current circumstances, these three coming events assume an even sharper relevance for the struggle and they now need to be organisationally seized upon as the means with which to mobilise republicans demonstratively and electorally against this British offensive.
Let us use these events and the coming period to turn our spotlight, the spotlight of popular democratic opinion, back upon the reactionary and anti-democratic offensive of the British and their stooges, and the anti-nationalist and seoinín conduct of the Fianna Fáil/PD Government and the SDLP.