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Proletarian issue 2 (October 2004)
Ireland in the spotlight
"English rule in Ireland is but the symbol of the fact that English conquerors in the past forced upon this country a property system founded upon spoliation, fraud and murder; that, as the present-day exercise of the 'rights of property' so originated involves the continual practice of legalised spoliation and fraud, English rule is found to be the most suitable form of government by which the spoliation can be protected, and an English army the most pliant tool with which to execute judicial murder when the fears of the propertied classes demand it." (James Connolly)
The continuing occupation by British imperialism of six counties in the north-eastern part of Ireland has again been thrown into stark relief in recent weeks.

First we learn that the cretinous, reactionary demagogue Rev Ian Paisley and his 'Democratic' Unionist Party (DUP) have scuppered any immediate possibility of reimplementing the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), almost inevitably leading to a further extension of 'direct rule' from Westminster and making a bad joke of the very first clause in that agreement, which calls for recognition of "the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland".

Unionists exercise veto over peace talks

The GFA is, of course, an historic compromise; we need only look at its reference to the wishes of "the people of Northern Ireland" rather than those of the people of Ireland as a whole. Its endorsement at the polling stations by a clear majority of voters in the six counties is a fact, though. But it is not a fact that has prevented Tony Blair and 26 counties Taoiseach [premier] Bertie Ahern from allowing the DUP (which has never accepted the GFA but which had more seats in the last Northern Ireland Assembly than the other loyalist party, the allegedly pro-agreement UUP) to dictate impossible terms at multi-party talks held at Leeds Castle, Kent, thus leading to a complete impasse.

This represents a considerable annoyance for the more realistic sections of the British ruling class, which had clearly been trying to convince Paisley to climb on board the Good Friday boat. After all, direct rule - something that still looks like colonial administration 800 years after the English first conquered Ireland - has got to be bad for business in these enlightened times.

In Blair and Ahern's behind-the-scenes discussions with the reverend gentleman, one can imagine a sub-text running something like this: the anachronistic and quasi-fascist 'culture' of the Orange Order would continue to be respected (but perhaps it would be best to tone down some of the more provocative marches come next July); the property rights of the landlords and small capitalists who back the DUP camp would, through 'power-sharing', be more secure as the six counties shed its (all too accurate) image as a semi-feudal, apartheid statelet where catholics are forever consigned to second-class citizenship. This 'move into the 21st century' would naturally involve the further 'decommissioning' of weapons, but only those of the Irish Republican Army. Mere lip service would be paid to the arms held by the loyalist paramilitaries and, quite obviously, those in the possession of the British army and the rebranded Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) - the former RUC - would remain sacrosanct. Forces of law and order, and all that.

Sinn Féin, the voice of Irish national liberation for very nearly a century now, has an understandably different take on matters.

Prior to the inconclusive end of the talks, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams - representing what has again become the largest and most influential nationalist party throughout Ireland's thirty-two counties, it having put the toothless and collaborationist SDLP in the shade in the north - said that it is "not credible for the British government to claim that the outstanding issues of the GFA are now reduced to 'paramilitarism' and 'power sharing'".

"These matters certainly must be resolved," he continued, "but so must all of the issues which are the responsibilities of the two governments. These include human rights, demilitarisation, representation by elected representatives for the north in the Oireachtas [26 counties parliament], and outstanding matters on policing - including an enquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane."

Pat Finucane - state murder

This last reference by the Republican leader brings us to the second item to hit the headlines of late. In the passage by James Connolly reproduced above, taken from his 1897 essay Socialism and Nationalism, this great martyr in the cause of Irish freedom writes of English rule being based in part on judicial murder. True enough, but it is extra-judicial murder - no less directly attributable to British imperialism - that will concern us here.

The Pat Finucane to whom Gerry Adams refers was a human rights lawyer based in Belfast. In February 1989, two gunmen burst into his home and shot him 14 times in front of his wife and young children. His wife was hit in the leg but survived.

Standing accused of the killing was one Ken Barrett, the former leader of an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) murder gang. He was also a mercenary in the pay of the British colonial authorities and his paymasters knew of the planned assassination in advance. That they chose not to prevent it can only confirm what any honest student of Irish affairs already knows: throughout the period of the armed struggle against British occupation of the six counties, there was active collusion between loyalist death squads and 'crown forces' (both army and political police) in the murder of republicans, nationalists and, in some cases, catholics who had no direct involvement in the war of national liberation at all. We need only think back to the similar cases of lawyer Rosemary Nelson and nationalist Robert Hamill.

None of this is new. What is new is that Barrett has pleaded guilty, presumably because his bosses have told him that it would be ever so slightly embarrassing to have specific links between the loyalist paramilitaries and the British state put under a microscope in open court. It will probably turn out to be no skin off his nose, though. Under the terms of the GFA, he can apply for immediate release - given that he has served a year and a half on remand - if he can show that he has not been involved in "terrorist activities" for at least six years.

However, the question now arises: will there be a public inquiry into the Finucane murder, as demanded by Sinn Féin? The British authorities were using the fact that criminal proceedings in the case had not yet run their course to rule out such a move, but that excuse is no longer there.

Paul O'Connor, speaking on behalf of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, said:

"The plea of guilty means that no evidence emerged in court - this means we remain as much in the dark about the background to the murder of Pat Finucane as we did before. The verdict confirms what the Finucane family have said all along. Namely, that what was needed was not a trial but an inquiry into who knew what and when. We have known for some time who pulled the trigger but need to know who directed those who pulled the trigger."

Our role

Why do British communists feel the need to take up the question of Irish freedom? Is it out of simple humanitarian concern? No. Is it because we think that the Irish national liberation movement will immediately give rise to the dictatorship of the proletariat in a neighbouring country? Sinn Féin's political programme does call for a "32-county democratic, socialist republic", but again no. Our concern with the national liberation struggle in Ireland goes back to Karl Marx himself, whose views on that country are most succinctly expressed by his greatest disciple, VI Lenin.

In The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Lenin writes:

"Marx demanded the separation of Ireland from England, 'even should the separation finally result in a federation', and not from the standpoint of the petty-bourgeois utopia of a peaceful capitalism, not from considerations of 'justice for Ireland', but from the standpoint of the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of the oppressing, ie, the English, nation against capitalism. The freedom of that nation was cramped and mutilated by the fact that it oppressed another nation. The internationalism of the English proletariat would have remained a hypocritical phrase were it not to demand the separation of Ireland."

At the founding congress of our party in July of this year, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) unanimously adopted a resolution stating that "British imperialism cannot forever subdue the Irish people".

"By their centuries-old resistance," we said, "they have given ample proof of their right to nationhood, national existence and national self-determination."

In demanding that the British government removes its army from the six counties and allows the Irish people to determine their own future, the CPGB-ML is not merely sloganising. We take our internationalist commitments seriously, and we will work at building an ongoing relationship with representatives of the Irish movement for independence and national unity to establish how we - and the British proletariat we seek to represent - can play our part in that struggle.
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