AP 3 - 2022 - 200-2

8 May 1997 Edition

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Labouring in hope

Fern Lane of Fuascailt wonders will Labour's victory be good for Ireland

The British general election, we were told, was about trust, hope and a better deal for everyone, rather than for a privileged elite. Strange then how all the parties managed to avoid talking about Ireland during the campaign since these are the very qualities which have been missing from the social and political landscape of the North of Ireland for as long as anyone can remember. Hope, trust and equality are matters of life and death here, not just the odd penny on or off income tax, or which MP made a few quid on the sly.

The defining characteristics of the Major administration in its approach to Ireland were, of course, the exact opposite - duplicity, intransigence and the cynical use of the Orange card.

A prime indicator of the government's attitude to Ireland was its treatment of republican prisoners. The vindictive and punitive conditions under which those in English jails were, and are, held was evidence that the British never had a genuine desire to achieve peace. A more revealing indication of the government's real intentions was that during the IRA ceasefire conditions for those in English jails, already appalling, steadily worsened.

But in Labour's crushing of the Conservatives there may be some cause for hope.

Firstly, that the tedious masculinist posturing of the British state, embodied in the likes of Michael Mates and Andrew Hunter as well as in leaders of the Unionist parties - which ultimately dictated policy on the Six Counties and which manifested itself in a crude desire to defeat republicans rather than to negotiate with them - can end with the appointment of Mo Mowlam.

Secondly, that she will learn from the failure of the policies dreamed up by Major and Mayhew (with the strategic intervention of Trimble) which her party solidly supported, and start talking more about what can be done and less about what can't.

And thirdly, that she will recognise that democracy is not a concept which can be picked up and then dropped at will; with the election of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin's mandate to negotiate can no longer be disregarded.

And, just as Conservative policy on Ireland could be gauged by the treatment of political prisoners, so will the Labour government's intentions be assessed likewise. How it responds to the disgraceful treatment of Roisín McAliskey will be instructive, as will its willingness to implement the European ruling on the transfer of prisoners. Then there is the small matter of that legislative gem, the PTA...

Labour's themes of hope, trust and greater equality won it the British general election; put into practice they could also win peace for the people of the Six Counties.

An Phoblacht
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