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13 October 2005 Edition

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Opinion: The Beginning of the End?

Wider factors are acting in favour of republican objectives but we need to build for re-unification, while reaching out to unionists



It is often all too easy for republicans to feel we're getting sucked into institutions which are not taking where we want to be. It's not always easy to see much return from electoral successes and the party rarely seems to deliver on its radical image.

Part of the problem is viewing our progress purely in terms of what we deliver ourselves. This is natural for republicans raised with the armed struggle — the IRA was going to deliver a military victory. No one would do it for us. We were alone.

The current context is very different. I believe a major part of why we are succeeding is because we are swimming with the current of history. The dominant economic forces in Ireland and internationally demand integration and economic unity. The Irish economy is too small to be messing with a border. Workers are needed in the South and northerners need work. As sure as night follows day political structures will follow economics.

So there are wider, economic factors at play. Of course, republicans are the key agents of change and it won't necessarily happen without us. It is possible that the Dublin Government might support all-Ireland economics while maintaining partition for a long period.

I think many republicans are aware of this analysis. But what has made me think again is the recent flare up of unionist violence. It would appear that long before the realities of longer-term economic change impact on political structures, the internal contradictions within unionism will reach antagonism.

Unionism cannot live with equality, particularly in the context of ever-hastening economic and social integration. When the Six Counties were established Winston Churchi, the North has been significantly compromised — cross-border bodies, all-Ireland Ministerial Council, parallel consent, section 75 Equality Duties. Of course no-one can claim that discrimination is done away with — in fact it's not much better than it ever was -- no more than anyone can claim that the judiciary or police have been reformed out of their old existence, yet. But what matters is that the openings for effective struggle are there and that republicans are dominant and proactive and building our own hegemony.

The Irish nation has awakened to the new reality and there is a growing sense of an all-Ireland polity where the unionists are becoming uncomfortably close to the right-wing in Dublin.

The Good Friday Agreement promised an opening for a peaceful struggle towards a new beginning. Each aspect of unionist hegemony was challenged. We are only now beginning to see this delivered: demilitarisation, the disbandment of the RIR, the potential reform of the PSNI and judiciary; the inability of the Orange Order to lord it over nationalists. Each strut that provided overall stability is being attacked by equality — and that's the beauty of it — that the demand for equality is sufficient to undermine the basis of partition.

While changes to the state and its apparatus are the elements that might have caused the greatest unionist ire, I believe that the most significant factor is the social and economic changes that we have seen in the last ten years. Nationalists who, for generations could not access opportunities for employment from the state, got educated and went out and started their own successful businesses — often maintaining employment across large stretches around the border. The 26-County economy, for years an excuse for unionists to oppose unity, has powered ahead of the dying northern economy. Nationalist culture and self-confidence has rocketed as reflected in the incredible performances of teams from Tyrone and Armagh in winning All-Ireland Football Championships.

In the face of all this, the old unionist monolith that cemented working-class Protestants into a cross-class alliance with the body-politic of political unionism: big land-owners, property developers and the upper-business class.

Unionism has moved further to the right in response to the Peace Process. Growing alienation and a lack of credible leadership have pushed the 'grunts' onto the streets. Party political unionism has responded to this crisis by allying themselves to a campaign to reinvigorate unionist 'identity' printing 200,000 Love Ulster newsletters to spread the good news.

The problem is that in their crude use of violence, the unionist political class and their paramilitary buddies have exposed their true nature. True, many Protestant supporters of unionism will turn a blind eye but there is a significant and growing section which will be increasingly disgusted and alienated at the sight of automatic rounds being fired by loyalists at 'their' police force.

The danger for unionism is that the internal contradictions within their cross-class bloc are going to become much more difficult to control. Despite all their paper-thin denunciations of the violence, unionist politicians are clearly trying to make political capital from it. But no room for such gains can exist if the British are serious about equality. Will the modernising British state under Blair, or the embattled Bush Administration, want to be held back by a bunch of bigots wanting to be left alone to live in the 17th Century?

What's critical here is that republicans and nationalists do our best to reach out to Protestants who may be sickened by what they're seeing.

There is a clear and positive role for the Irish Government in reaching out to Northern Protestants too. We are in a much different context than before the IRA statement: across the North there appears to be a generalised thaw in inter-community relations. This needs to be investigated and worked upon. We need to be the catalysts for change.

Things are moving forward apace and our heads need to be lifted to the range of tasks in hand. The struggle continues and victory may be closer than we expect. There are wider factors acting in our favour but we need to get active in engaging and building a growing community for re-unification, reaching out to disillusioned former unionists.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
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