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September 1994

David Kerr looks at the IRAs 'cessation of military activity'

THE GENERAL press and media response to the announcement by the Provisional IRA that from September1st it intended to cease all 'military activity' has been largely euphoric. To most people in Great Britain the IRA's reasons for its twenty-five year long campaign of murder and bombings are at best obscure. Any cessation of this campaign, however brief, is therefore welcome, even if the reasons for it are similarly obscure. Whether the rejoicing is premature has yet to be seen.

So what is going on? As this article is being written the ceasefire has held for some two weeks. The only terrorist attacks have come from the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. Only one person has died - a young man killed by the UFF. Reliable rumours persist of an impending ceasefire by the Combined Loyalist Military Command. However, the same sources suggest that some scores may yet have to be settled beforehand in reply to the killings of leading UFF and UVF members in the few weeks leading up to the IRA ceasefire. 

On the face of it this seems to be good news, so is this at last an end to Ulster's agony? Is this peace in our time? I believe that it is too early to give a definite yes or no answer to these questions. However, I am not optimistic that peace will prevail. 

For 25 years the Provisional Republican movement has sought to bomb its way to what it calls a '32 County Workers' Republic'. To do this it has waged a vicious sectarian war against the majority Protestant population of Ulster while at the same time claiming to fight `British imperialism' in Ireland. The Sinn Féin vice president Martin McGuinness, who was seen on television voicing his unambiguous support for the IRA in a recent repeat of the controversial 1985 Real Lives documentary now claims to be a man of peace with no IRA connections. Sinn Féin, the IRA's political mouthpiece, is now described in the Dublin press as a `constitutional' party. 

Sinn Féin, as a political party, has never been able to gain the support of more than 10% of Ulster voters. Its support is only a third of that of the SDLP - the main voice of Ulster's Catholics. The republican movement's strategy has been to build a pan-Irish nationalist front combining IRA/Sinn Féin, the SDLP leadership, the Dublin government and elements of the Catholic hierarchy and British Labour Party. This structure is now in place under the Orwellian title of the `Forum for Peace and Reconciliation'. It is intended that this broad front will put pressure on the British government and the Ulster unionists to cave in to their demands. Gerry Adams has made it clear that the British government must `persuade' Ulster Protestants that their future lies in an All-Ireland state. So far he has not defined what he means by `persuasion'. Given his party's history, it can only mean coercion. Time will reveal the nature of the British government's response. 

Tom Paulin, the well known poet and critic told The Observer -"Isn't the game plan obvious? The IRA move back and the loyalists go on the rampage, then the British government move against the loyalists. This will be the final confrontation. The loyalists don't know where they are going and they won't until the British government finally and publicly betrays them." 

I fear that Paulin has read the runes correctly. The British government cannot be trusted. Is there some secret deal between Peace in our time continued the British government and the Provisional IRA? So far Mr Major has denied that any deal has been done with the IRA. This is the same man who last year told parliament that it would turn his stomach to have any dealings with them. It was later revealed that at that time he had been responsible for opening direct contacts with Martin McGuinness. As a consequence his assurances of `no deals' and `trust me' are treated with great suspicion in Ulster. He has given an undertaking that there will be no change in the constitution without the consent of the Ulster people. As a sop to the unionist parties he has offered a referendum to take a decision on any future agreement. This is the same man who was quoted last year that "There is no need for a referendum in a parliamentary democracy". {See Third Way #17] This may give comfort to some the gullible and those who desperately want to believe him but like all Mr Major's assurances it cannot be taken at face value. 

On the face of it a referendum may prevent political sovereignty over Northern Ireland passing from Westminster to Leinster House. However, the administrative structures created by the 1985 Hillsborough pact and the 1993 Major Reynolds Declaration allow without democratic consultation or consent - the Dublin government to exercise effective power over a wide range of issues. This is effectively joint sovereignty. Dublin already plays a large part in almost every area of the government and administration of Ulster. In this atmosphere there is no further need for the IRA's military campaign. Indeed, its continuance could even slow down an Irish pan-nationalist victory. John Hume and the Dublin regime seem to have been able to assure the Provo leadership that their victory can now be achieved by other than military means. We are all assured that peace is around the corner if the Brits and the Prods will play ball. The present `peace process' is no such thing but a vehicle for the eventual establishment of an All-Ireland state. 

Early indications are that the British government is moving closer to Dublin's position. International pressure, especially from the United States is having its desired effect. The isolation of the unionists is now almost complete. If this marginalisation continues and Sinn Féin's new `unarmed confrontation' strategy of mass protests at the border and on the streets escalates as threatened there could be serious disorder and even greater bloodshed than we have yet seen in Ulster. In such circumstances Tom Paulin's scenario seems very likely and bloody civil war will break out. 

I hope that the CLMC groups will recognise the trap that has been set for them and refuse to be provoked. They must step aside by declaring a ceasefire. In today's circumstances the conspiracy to destroy Ulster can be best met by political weapons and diplomacy. 

I am convinced that the Third Way's policy of negotiated independence for Ulster is more relevant than ever. Our positive Ulster-nationalism offers a new loyalty to all the people of Ulster, whatever their faith. We don't want to see the victory of one community over another. By granting direct democracy to distinct communities on the Swiss style all the people of Ulster can win true freedom and social justice. The only other options are increased death and destruction.

This article first appeared in Third Way magazine, issue 23, Autumn 1994.

David Kerr

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