11 December 2008 Edition
Leeds Labour Forum welcomes Alex Maskey
Addressing a predominantly young audience, Alex Maskey outlined the background to the recent period of struggle for Irish self-determination, giving a vivid picture of the phases of the last 40 years, from the fight for civil rights through to the development of the Peace Process.
He said the strategy of British imperialism in Ireland – as elsewhere – was the classic colonial tactic of divide and conquer, and he quoted James Connolly’s famous statement that partition would result in “a carnival of reaction”, North and South, pointing out that today “we are still dealing with that carnival of reaction”.
The South Belfast MLA described the rise of the civil rights movement in Ireland and the inspiration taken from the civil rights movement in the United States and elsewhere, and the radical student protests across Europe; the brutal response from the British state and subsequent resurgence of militant republicanism. He told his young listeners: “It rapidly became clear that the British Army were there to repress and deny rights – not to defend.”
He outlined the key turning point in the political struggle in the early 1980s, with the 1981 Hunger Strike, and the need to “internationalise” the struggle, which changed the balance of forces. The Peace Process was, he said, “about the reversal of the colonial strategy of divide and conquer”. Bringing things up to date, he said that, in the current process, in the Assembly, the Executive, and elsewhere, “every decision has to be predicated on justice and equality” and “all the goals which underpin the Peace Process have to be delivered”.
Colin Burgeon MP said that many could identify with the politics outlined.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
The discussion from the floor covered a wide range of issues, with many clearly coming to an understanding of Ireland and the importance for progressive people in Britain to challenge the role of the British Government for the first time.
A wide range of questions and points raised included employment discrimination, how to engage with unionism and deal with the legacy of the Plantationist policy, how Sinn Féin relates to the trade unions and to young people, how to maintain an engagement with the grassroots, British political parties organising in the North, Europe, and what Sinn Féin’s strategy is for self-determination.
In summary, Alex Maskey said that a crucial part of the campaigning work in the next period is to open up a discussion on Irish unity and the future of the relationship between Britain and Ireland. He stressed the need for people in Britain to engage in this and to raise all of the issues at many levels, to put pressure on the British Government, and that it is in the best interests of everyone to discuss now how to disengage, given the historic inevitability of Irish unity.
“The task,” Alex Maskey said, “is to re-energise and remind people of the importance of sovereignty and self-determination.”