Chapter 7 – Stalemate

No force could find a way to break the entrenched stalemate which followed the Anglo Irish Agreement. The British ruling class, their hands still sore from the effects of their most recent policy failure, began to frankly admit that there was no answer to the problem.

Nor could any of the political parties or the Dublin government find a way out. And illusions held by both republican and loyalist paramilitary leaders that their respective forces might achieve a breakthrough were quickly shattered.

In 1987 the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance co-operated to rob a Portadown bank and used the money to buy arms in South Africa. The cache was divided between the three groups and, although most of the UDA’s share was intercepted by the state, the loyalists found themselves for the first time in possession of a plentiful supply of modem weapons.

But it takes more than guns to make an army. When the mass resistance of Protestants to the Anglo Irish Agreement died down, the UDA and UVF ended up back in the situation they had been in before. Ulster Resistance fell away as the DUP politicians began to pull back from it. The other newly formed group, the Ulster Clubs, eventually disappeared as a force.

The UVF retained its core of activists, especially in Belfast and the Portadown / Mid-Ulster area, and it carried on with its campaign of sectarian assassinations. It remained small, secretive and quite isolated.

The UDA suffered serious setbacks in the late ’80s. Television’s The Cook Report exposed their crude methods of extortion, only one of many illegal fund raising methods used by all the paramilitaries. Divisions over the effects of this on the organisation’s image and over the fact that there was co-operation with republican groups in organizing rackets, led to internal disputes. John McMichael, leader of the UDA’s murder wing, the UFF, was assassinated by the IRA but with the probable assistance of UDA members. The man believed to be responsible, arch racketeer Jim Craig, was later shot by the UDA itself.

On top of these problems came a police probe into links between loyalist paramilitaries and sections of the state forces. There was clear evidence of collusion in the assassination of Catholics. The result of this inquiry was that a large section of the UDA leadership were imprisoned in 1990. The following year saw the ousting of the UDA’s commander, Andy Tyrie. Tyrie had been at the top of the organisation since 1973, a remarkably long shelf life for a paramilitary leader. He was replaced by a younger leadership who were not satisfied with the organisation’s killing rate.

For the IRA things were to turn out no better. After the hunger strikes the dual ‘ballot box and armalite’ tactic was launched. Within the movement and among its supporters, there were high hopes of what could be achieved. Central to the political strategy were two things the need to displace the SDLP as the main nationalist party in the North and the need to make a political breakthrough in the South.

Sinn Fein’s policy was that candidates elected either to Westminster or the southern Dail (parliament) would refuse to take their seats. The new northern leadership around Gerry Adams, who had taken over as President of Sinn Fein in 1983, while they supported this in relation to Westminster, saw it as a barrier to any electoral success in the South. They understood that old republican arguments that the pail, was an “illegitimate, partitionist parliament”, sounded to most people in the South as the language of cranks.

So determined were they to get rid of this policy and clear the way for the political successes they thought would come, they were even prepared to risk a split in Sinn Fein and the IRA.

In 1986 an IRA convention accepted that abstention in relation to the South would go, but only after concessions were made to hardliners. These included more hardliners in the IRA leadership and more freedom to local units.

The issue was then taken to a Sinn Fein Ard Fhéis in November where a 429-161 majority backed the anti-abstentionist wing led by Gerry Adams. There was a walk out by the old guard who set up a rival organisation, Republican Sinn Fein.

Having gone to these lengths to get their way the performance of Sinn Fein in subsequent southern elections was a bitter disappointment. In the 1987 general election they got a tiny 1.7% of the total vote and had no-one elected. In 1989 their vote shrank to 1.2% and again they won no seats.

Sinn Fein’s results in the North were more mixed. Their 1983 general election result, 103,000 votes or 13.4% of the total poll, was to be the summit of their success. After this the gap between them and the SDLP widened. In the 1985 district council elections, the SDLP won 42 more seats than Sinn Fein. In 1993, the SDLP ended with 75 more seats than their rivals.

With the SDLP consistently ahead in elections, Sinn Fein’s early hopes of overtaking them could not be sustained. On the other hand Sinn Fein remained a considerable force. In the working class Catholic areas of Belfast they had a clear-cut majority. The 1993 local elections gave them 10 seats on Belfast Council as compared to 9 for the SDLP. The British government’s attempts to dislodge and marginalize them through initiatives like the Anglo Irish Agreement, had failed. They could not be pushed back, but this was only a partial consolation to their leadership who, by the 1990s, had run out of ideas of how to take them forward.

The 1986 split in Sinn Fein did not produce a split in the IRA. One reason was that at this time a new military offensive was in preparation. The long war strategy had been pursued for ten years. Mostly it had been a low-key campaign, punctuated from time to time by spectacular operations such as the 1984 bombing of the Tory leadership in the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

No matter how spectacular the operation, the British ruling class remained unmoved. The Provisional campaign represented no fundamental danger to their interests. Even if it took the lives of a few cabinet ministers, capitalism would remain intact. Within Britain, IRA actions produced hostility from British workers, not the hoped for pressure on the government to withdraw. The long war was going nowhere.

Libyan Arms

Within the IRA there was frustration and pressure for a military escalation. In place of the long war there was to be a final push. Echoing earlier propaganda, there was talk of ‘Victory in ’86’. The basis for this was the decision by the Ghadaffi government in Libya to donate 240 tons of arms and explosives to the IRA – Ghadaffi’s thank you to Thatcher for her decision to allow US planes to take off from British bases to bomb Tripoli. About half of these weapons eventually got through.

The first of the arms shipments was smuggled in 1986 – just as the movement was debating abstention. Their arrival was enough to convince hardliners opposed to ending abstention that at least there would be no softening of the military campaign.

As with the loyalists, so with the IRA it was to be a case that weapons do not make a war. The mood did not exist among the Catholic population for a return to the early 1970s. The secretive nature of the IRA, the cell led structure which limited recruits, the tactic of individual terrorism, all made it impossible to put into use a hoard of weapons, more suited to the needs of the army of a small country.

The IRA came up against the limits of its own tactics. It also encountered a state which had refined its methods of dealing with them. The army, using the SAS and other undercover units, replied with a ruthless shoot to kill policy. Between May 1987 and May 1988 nineteen IRA activists were killed, a severe toll on a small organisation.

Even bristling with modem weapons, a ‘big push’ was beyond the IRA’s reach. They were forced back to the long war, not so much out of choice but because there was no other strategy on offer.

Economic factors also weighed against the Provisionals – and the other paramilitaries for a time. While the world economic boom of the 1980s largely missed out on the North it did have some effects.

These were concentrated mainly in retail and entertainment. Tory attacks on living standards were continued, but the cuts in public spending were, at first, not so severe as in Britain. They held back on some of their most vicious policies – the poll tax for example was not introduced in Northern Ireland. The huge subvention, or handout, given each year by the British Treasury to balance Northern Ireland’s books rose dramatically, to almost £2 billion in 1988-89.

All this kept the public sector, which employed 40% of the workforce, afloat. Public sector wages in turn boosted the shops, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and pubs. Belfast and Derry city centers underwent a transformation with new buildings, modern shopping complexes, new restaurants, refurbished pubs and new cinemas.

The poverty and unemployment in the working class estates in Derry remained. Derry, despite its facelift, was a city of deprivation. A report in a community magazine Fingerpost published in 1994, found that seven of the ten most deprived wards in Northern Ireland were in John Hume’s Derry constituency of Foyle. Hume’s much publicized schemes for investment such as the Derry-Boston Venture scheme, helped create only a ‘shopping mall economy’, based on low investment and high profits. Still, the sense of revival in Derry was strong enough to affect the Provisionals.

Massive car bombs in Belfast’s city center achieved nothing but a loss of support. The change to the center of Derry, which had been a bombed out shell for most of the 1970s, was one reason why IRA activity there all but spluttered to a complete halt.

For the ruling class this was a period of relative stability, the death rate stayed at less than 100 per year, an ‘acceptable level of violence’ for Westminster politicians. Northern Ireland as an issue went to the background of British politics.

The IRA could not be beaten in the sense that the army could eliminate them, that much was clear. But neither could they win. This was now beginning to be understood by a section of its own leadership, forced back to a long war which had no end in sight.

Sensing that a change was taking place within the IRA the British government adopted a new approach. The IRA could not be crushed. The attempt through the Anglo Irish Agreement to marginalize Sinn Fein had not worked. The alternative was to try to draw the republican movement into the ‘safe’ world of establishment politics.

Tory Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, made a Significant speech in 1990 which was both a challenge and an overture to the IRA. He repeated, a little more precisely, the message which had been contained in the Sunningdale discussion and the Anglo Irish Agreement.

“The British government has no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland, our role is to help, enable and encourage. Britain’s purpose, as I have sought to describe it, is not to occupy, oppress or exploit, but to ensure democratic debate and free democratic choice”.

And, “An Irish republicanism seen to have finally renounced violence, would be able, like other parties, to seek a role in the peaceful political life of the community. In Northern Ireland it is not the aspiration to a sovereign united Ireland against which we set our face, but its violent expression.[17]

Gerry Adams, rather than reject these comments, said they had to be tested. A major discussion within the IRA at the time ended with the dropping of the demand for British withdrawal as the condition for a ceasefire. The new objective was that Britain should concede ‘the right of Irish people to self-determination’.

Hume / Adams Talks

John Hume, in discussions with Gerry Adams in 1988 and 1993, concentrated on the theme that Britain wanted to pull out and that the IRA campaign was therefore a nonsense. It was the Protestants, not the British, who had to be convinced, or in republican language, ‘persuaded’. By 1993 it was clear that a big section of the IRA leadership had come to accept this.

Secret talks between the government and the IRA during the first half of 1993, angled around what might be the terms of a ceasefire. Negotiations were also opened up, via intermediaries, between the Dublin government and the loyalist paramilitaries. The fruits of all this, as far as the British and Irish governments were concerned, was the December 1993 Downing Street Declaration.

The core of this document was a rehash of what had been said, more than once, before. The Irish government, using a wording designed to meet demands made to them by loyalist paramilitaries, accepted that Irish unity could only come about with the consent of the people of the North. The British government reaffirmed that it would accept the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland either to retain the link with Britain or join a united Ireland.

All that was new was the language it used. A key section read: “The British government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone by agreement between the two parts respectively to exercise their right to self determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given North and South to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish.”[18]

Not a sentence which would win any literary awards! The meaning hidden behind this jumble of words and phrases is straightforward; no change without the consent of the majority in the North. However the phrase “the right to self determination” was new to British ministerial language and was thrown in as a bait to hook the IRA into a ceasefire.

Learning from Thatcher’s mistake with the Anglo Irish Agreement, the government were this time careful to consult with the bigger unionist party, the Official Unionists, and to win their support in advance. This, plus assurances from John Major that the Declaration secured the union with Britain for the foreseeable future, was enough to prevent a huge Protestant backlash. Protestants had strong misgivings but not enough to take to the streets or turn in any numbers to the paramilitaries. A mood of weariness and disgust at the sectarian violence and a strong desire for peace existed in both communities and translated into a feeling that the Declaration should be given a chance. Paisley’s DUP roared its defiance but the majority of Protestants remained unmoved.

By the time the Declaration was issued a large section of the republican leadership favored a ceasefire. Although it offered republicans nothing of substance that was new, they chose not to reject it outright. Instead they sought ‘clarification’ of some of its implications from the British and Irish governments. This was largely to buy extra time to prepare the IRA ranks for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile the process of enticing the Sinn Fein leadership into the world of establishment politics continued apace. The Irish government dropped its broadcasting ban and on January 19th, Gerry Adams gave his first interview on a Dublin radio station.

Adams found himself the focus of the world’s media when a decision by the Clinton administration allowed him to make a two day visit to the United States where he was feted by Irish American politicians and capitalists. The British government offered no more than token condemnation.

After this the statements of Sinn Fein’s leading spokespersons were particularly conciliatory. Party national chairman, Tom Hartley, declared in March that Sinn Fein would have to make compromises and that “there can be no victories”.[19]

On 30 March the IRA announced a three day Easter ceasefire. Although publicly dismissed by the British government as insufficient, the main Irish American political organisations, including the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs called on the British to give a ‘positive response’.

By May the British government had decided to provide written answers to twenty questions submitted by Sinn Fein on the Downing Street Declaration. This clarification, when it was eventually given on 24 May, said nothing that was new.

“Unarmed Strategies”

By the time a special Sinn Fein conference was held in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, to discuss the Declaration and its ‘clarification’, the IRA were already on the road to a ceasefire. The conference rejected the Declaration, but the tone of the leadership speeches was conciliatory. They were by now committed to what they would term “the unarmed strategies of republicanism” to carry forward their struggle. For them the days of the’ armed struggle’ were over. The arrival in Belfast, late in August, of a United States delegation made up of wealthy businessmen, William Flynn of Mutual of America and Charles Feeney head of the multinational, General Atlantic, plus former Congressman Bruce Morrison then poised to join the Clinton administration as Federal Housing Finance Chairman, signaled the end. They came equipped with much publicized but very vague promises of US government aid as well as an influx of US private investment should the IRA call a halt.

By the time the US delegation left it was all signed, sealed and delivered. As August came to a close, and amid intense speculation that the campaign was to be ended, an IRA statement was issued which began: “Recognizing the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly”.[20]

As to what had been achieved by the long IRA campaign the statement had the following to say: “Our struggle has seen many gains and advances made by nationalists and for the democratic position. We believe that an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created. We are therefore entering into a new situation in a spirit of determination and confidence determined that the injustices which created this conflict will be removed and confident in the strength and justice of our struggle to achieve this”.[21]

A similar upbeat tone was struck in the working class Catholic areas of West and North Belfast where Sinn Fein celebrations included car cavalcades adorned with tricolors. The main mood was of intense relief that at last the campaign was over, but this was topped with a deliberately injected sense that, if not a victory, then at least substantial gains had been won.

Certainly there was a justifiable cause for pride in these working class Catholic areas which for decades had endured hardship, suffering and repression. Despite all that first the Unionists, and then the British state, had heaped upon them, their spirit of resistance remained unbroken.

There would be no return to the days when Catholics were second class citizens, in a Unionist state. Never again would the blatant discrimination in jobs and housing or the political discrimination which maintained the Unionist fur-coat brigade in power, be tolerated.

Contrary to what was believed by many of those celebrating the ceasefire, these gains were not the result of the IRA campaign. In reality, the days of Unionist hegemony and Catholic submission were numbered from the moment that the blows of RUC truncheons rained down on the skulls of civil rights protesters in Derry’s Duke Street on that fateful Saturday afternoon in October, 1968.

The mass resistance of the Catholic working class which followed and which has been sustained with ebbs and flows and in various forms ever since, was responsible for the changes which were brought about. At the very best, the IRA campaign was a blunt instrument of the resistance. At worst it was counterproductive serving only to strengthen the state by providing it with the excuse to develop its repressive apparatus and its brutal methods of containment. The IRA campaign deflected from the much more effective mass forms of struggle, demonstrations, public protests and civil disobedience. It enraged and antagonized Protestant workers and in this way dramatically deepened the division between Protestant and Catholic workers. By setting back the prospect of a united class movement it reinforced, rather than weakened, the position of capitalism in Ireland.

Given the ending of the campaign it is correct and necessary to draw a balance sheet. That drawn by the republican leadership is flawed in analysis and false in estimation.

The British government recognized that they could not finally eradicate the IRA by military means. Their adversary had the arsenal of weapons and the ability to continue with a low level campaign for as long as they retained the will.

So the Tories were prepared to discuss with the IRA leadership and to hold out on the prospect of concessions on the release of prisoners, on ‘demilitarization’, i.e. the closure of army bases and phased pull out of the British troops, on lifting the TV ban on Sinn Fein, on opening border roads, on the inclusion of Sinn Fein leaders in talks after what they called a ‘decontamination’ period, and on other such issues.

This is no more than the Heath government was prepared to offer twenty years earlier. On the fundamental national question the position of the British ruling class remained as it had been in the 1960s – they would prefer to withdraw but the fact of Protestant resistance made this impossible. Instead they would seek a constitutional compromise along the lines of the fudge of the Downing Street Declaration, itself an updated rehash of what they had attempted with the Sunningdale agreement more than two decades previous. Even while speaking to supporters celebrating the ceasefire announcement, Gerry Adams acknowledged that on what he called the ‘core issues’ of British withdrawal, the right of the Irish people to self determination and the call for the British to ‘persuade’ Protestants to accept a united Ireland there had been no movement.

Tragedy of Campaign

The IRA campaign represented an enormous effort which achieved, in the end, no more than a return to what had been on offer at the beginning. We are left to imagine what might have been achieved had this effort, with all the sacrifice, determination and endurance which made it up, had been put instead into a mass struggle for socialism. The greatest tragedy of the Provos’ campaign is that it wasted and ultimately sapped the revolutionary will of two generations of Catholic youth.

The ceasefire was a retreat, not an advance and certainly not a victory. The IRA had shifted their ground considerably, the British government hardly at all. The real reason for the ceasefire – by the same leaders who after 1975, had said, ‘no more ceasefires until British withdrawal’ – was because of the impasse of the military campaign, the failure to make the hoped-for political breakthrough, especially in the South, and because Gerry Adams and others around him had developed illusions that progress could be made in other ways.

The 1980s saw a clear shift to the right at the top of the republican movement. Sinn Fein and the IRA had always been nationalist not socialist organisations. Because their support came from working class areas where socialist traditions were strong, their nationalism had to be dressed up in a disguise of radical, even socialist sounding language. By the late 1980s and especially after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and then Russia, this radical pretense was abandoned.

Foreign ‘Allies’

The words ‘Sinn Fein’ translated into English mean ‘ourselves alone’. Into the 1990s, and with their failure to make the hoped for headway either militarily or politically, ‘ourselves alone’, was no longer the motto adopted in practice.

A major Sinn Fein policy document, Towards a Lasting Peace, issued in February, 1992, called on bodies such as the United Nations to help solve the problem. The spectacle of what appeared to be settlements in South Africa and the Middle East, with the ANC and the PLO brought in from the cold, strengthened illusions in a negotiated deal possibly brokered by outside bodies.

One body courted by Sinn Fein is the US government. During his US visit early in 1994 Gerry Adams publicly welcomed the idea of the Clinton administration becoming involved. The backing given by the wealthy Irish/American political establishment who formerly bestowed their favours on John Hume and the SDLP, is a key component of Sinn Fein’s new ‘unarmed strategy’.

Meanwhile the Sinn Fein leaders have done an abrupt about face in their attitude to their former adversaries in the SDLP in the North and to the political representatives of Irish capitalism in the South.

In the past they denounced these people as ‘constitutional nationalists’ who would only deliver compromise and betrayal. In the period leading up to the ceasefire all this changed. John Hume and Gerry Adams adopted a joint position in a document agreed between them in September 1993 but never published. After the Downing Street declaration the Dublin government issued a proposal for a Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Sinn Fein’s anxiety to enter this body so as to be part of a joint nationalist bloc with the SDLP, Fianna Fail and the other right wing parties of Irish capitalism, further explains the urgency with which its leaders pursued a ceasefire.

Although the ending of the campaign was followed by talk of demonstrations and mass activity to pursue Sinn Fein’s demands, it is clear that this is not the main thread of the new ‘unarmed strategy of republicanism’. Sinn Fein has placed its main hopes of progress in the forging of this new nationalist bloc with the SDLP and Fianna Fail in Ireland and on the support it can get from the Clinton administration and from people like the Kennedys and other wealthy Irish Americans.

Behind this is the idea that a formidable body of nationalist opinion backed by world powers will pressurize the British, and that the British in turn will pressurize or ‘persuade’ the Protestants. Out of all this Sinn Fein hope for a constitutional settlement and step by step progress to complete separation from Britain and to the achievement of what they call, somewhat vaguely, a ‘new’ Ireland.

All this is a deception. Their entry into a nationalist bloc with former political adversaries is a neatly designed trap which will oblige them to dance to the political tune of the SDLP and Fianna Fail, not vice versa.

All of the other nationalist parties have come to accept the idea of no change to the existing constitutional position without the consent of a majority of people in the North. Even if they do not openly agree with this – and there are indications that they will – Sinn Fein will have to go along with this idea in practice as the price of their involvement in Dublin’s new Forum. Only a few years ago such a thing would have been denounced by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and co. as ‘capitulation to partition’, ‘acceptance of the Unionist veto’, etc. Then the only decision they would have accepted was that of the Irish people as a whole, not of the “six county enclave” in the North.

This new nationalist talking shop will neither solve the day to day problems, nor meet the aspirations of Catholic working class people in the North. Nor will the institutions of world capitalism offer a solution. Insofar as the Palestinians or the black working class of South Africa have taken a step forward it has been as a result of their own mass heroic actions, the Intifada and the years of strikes and mass struggles in South Africa. It has not come as a gift from world imperialism, who have only intervened to cut a deal in order to preserve their interests and bring stability for capitalism these regions. For the Palestinians and South African masses there has been no delivery from the fundamental problems of mass poverty an injustice.

The United Nations could no more guarantee democratic rights or resolve the national conflict in Ireland than it could in Iraq during and after the Gulf war, in the former Yugoslavia, in Somalia or anywhere else. Clinton’s efforts to strangle what remains of the Cuban revolution through its blockade, carried out just as the US delegation visited Ireland in August, shows the real face of US imperialism – no friend or ally of the working class of Ireland or any other country.

The armed struggle was a dead end but the unarmed strategy of reliance on false friends in Dublin and Washington will likewise prove just as much of a blind alley. This is not to minimize the consequences of the ceasefire. In a sense the Troubles, in the form in which they have taken for a quarter century ended at midnight on August 31st when the IRA put its momentous decision into effect.

In Protestant working class areas the immediate reaction was of anger and uncertainty. This was exacerbated by the sight of Sinn Fein celebrations, which to many Protestant workers appeared to be little more than nationalist coat trailing. Protestants were deeply suspicious that some deal had been struck with the IRA behind the scenes. It did not seem possible that the organisation they saw as a ruthless and determined enemy would just give up.

On the other hand the possibility of a ceasefire which might hold was to be welcomed. As among the Catholic working class so in Protestant working class areas there was a strong desire for peace. While still suspicious that some trick was in the offing most people, even in hardline areas like the Shankill were prepared to wait and see. Paisley’s bombastic warnings of civil war were well wide of the mark.

As the IRA ceasefire continued, with no major concessions yet apparent, Protestant anger lessened. More and more the attitude developed that all paramilitary activity should now stop.

Loyalist Paramilitaries

The UDA and UVF had little option but to acknowledge and respond to this mood. In the previous twelve months the Protestant working class had served notice that there are limits to what they will tolerate being carried out in their name.

On October 10th, 1993, a botched IRA bomb blew up a fishmongers shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road. Nine people (ten including the bomber), out shopping on a Saturday morning, were killed in an atrocity reminiscent of the first years of the Troubles.

One week later the UDA hit back gunning down seven people in a quiet country bar in Greysteel, Co. Derry. Other revenge attacks were carried out in Belfast. Well known community activists in the Shankill, horrified at what was happening, met with local paramilitary leaders and told them that unless the revenge atrocities were stopped they would mobilize the people of the area against them. This was a warming which the local paramilitaries had to take seriously.

In May 1994 a UVF unit operating inside the Harland and Wolff shipyard murdered a middle-aged Catholic who had worked for years in the yard. His body was found lying in the hold of a ship where he had been working. Shop stewards responded by calling a mass meeting of the entire, overwhelmingly Protestant, workforce on the following morning. A proposal for a protest strike was carried and every single worker in the yard, in a fabulous display of solidarity, downed tools and walked out.

Had the UDA and UVF answered the IRA ceasefire with a new round of assassinations and atrocities they would have met with a similar reaction of revulsion and protest from within their own areas. This fact gave the UVF and the UDA little option but to call a ceasefire. At a press conference on 13 October, the Combined Loyalist Military Command, representing the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commandos, announced that from midnight that night, these bodies would suspend their campaigns for as long as the IRA ceasefire held. So after 25 years and almost 3,350 dead, paramilitary activity, certainly on the scale of the past, has been ended for a period at least.

All the talk is now of the ‘Peace Process’ and of the terms of a settlement. Agreement on a new assembly with powers to administer local services and an arrangement that the perks of power be shared between unionists and nationalists is likely.

Some Dublin involvement in the affairs of the North will be sanctioned, with joint North/ South committees to oversee matters of common interest, tourism, economic development, agriculture etc.

As to the constitutional position the British government have hinted that the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which legislated for partition could be amended to state that, should a majority in the North wish to break with Britain and join a united Ireland they would be free to do so.

To the Southern Irish ruling class the territorial claim over the North contained in Articles 2 & 3 of their constitution has never had any practical meaning. Until now the anti-imperialist traditions felt deeply by the population have prevented them scrapping this claim. Rather they have been obliged to continue with anti-British posturing with which they have been increasingly ill at ease. Now, as part of what they can advertise as an overall ‘settlement’ they would be only too prepared to replace these articles with a general aspiration for eventual Irish unity, but only by the consent of the majority in the North.

If the paramilitary guns stay silent the British government would draw back its repressive apparatus. Sinn Fein, suitably ‘de-contaminated’, would be included in talks and encouraged to take their seats in a new Northern Assembly, to argue their case from within. De-militarisation would mean the withdrawal of troops from Catholic areas, possibly eventually from the streets altogether. The military forts and offensive watchtowers which dot the landscape would largely disappear. The RUC, still unacceptable in Catholic areas, would probably be given a facelift, possibly through a change of name, new monitoring procedures and appeals for Catholics to join.

A referendum on an eventual package of measures backed by the major parties might well be passed – and, if so, would certainly reinforce such an agreement for a period.


  1. The Irish Times (10 November 1990)
  2. The Downing Street Declaration of December, 1993.
  3. The Irish Times (23 March 1994)
  4. IRA Ceasefire Statement (31 August 1994)
  5. Ibid.