Irish Republican News · December 10, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: The Good Friday Agreement and Beyond
The Good Friday Agreement and Beyond
The following article by Gerry Ruddy reflects the opinions of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, of which he is an Ard Chomhairle member. It was first printed in `Models of Governance: The Good Friday Agreement and beyond - Some Personal Reflections' published by Coiste Na Iarchimi.

 

Anyone steeped in the history of Irish Republicanism and taking a Republican perspective would have learnt well the phrase `never trust the Brits'. It was with that firmly in mind that I approached the Good Friday Agreement. I voted against the Good Friday Agreement. I recognised that it was a compromise believed necessary by those who negotiated it from a republican perspective. I have no problems with compromise. I believe however that the GFA was the wrong compromise.

Many others voted against the GFA and did so not from a position of wishing for the maintenance of armed struggle but because they felt that the GFA was fundamentally flawed. When the results of the referendum on the GFA were announced, however, it was clear that the wishes of the Irish people should be respected.

While sceptical about the GFA the Republican Socialist Movement took the view that it would do nothing to try to bring down that agreement. The view was that the GFA would collapse of its own internal contradictions. The suspension four times in five years of the Assembly and the power sharing executive and now the postponing of elections because Blair did not want to see Ian Paisley as First Minister would seem to indicate that our original analysis was spot on. The democratic wishes of the Irish people were not, and are not, respected.

There has been a growing disillusionment not only within the broad republican and nationalist population but also within the broad mass of people in the six counties not just with the GFA but also more ominously with politics itself. This sadly contrasts with the beginning of the peace process where apart from the saving of lives there had been the rebirth of politics. People had been raising issues that impinge on their lives, such as death drivers, teenage drinking and drugs, bad land-lords, the impact that DOE planning has on people, the inadequate housing supply, the absence of an effective policing service, the chaotic transport system and so on. But there was also in the growing politicisation awareness that a grass roots approach to conflict resolution was necessary. Small steps can create confidence and trust and can lead on to major steps. Politics is about dealing with life in the working class areas where it matters. It is at local level politics need to have an impact. Community workers, activists and trade unionists within unionist and nationalist areas were playing a more active part in their communities.

Before the GFA the working class had born the brunt of sectarian attacks while the state passively looked on and did not intervene. Indeed in many instances the agencies of the state instigated and perpetuated sectarianism. Many workers were murdered because of inflammatory speeches made by sectarian politicians who lived aloof from the consequences of their speeches. The hope existed that the GFA would bring an end both to the violence and the bitter sectarianism that seems endemic in Northern society. Yet with all the main armed groups on ceasefire there has been more rather than less sectarianism on the streets. The crisis politics of the peace process has consistently plunged working class communities into high expectation then depression and then despair at the possibility of a return to armed conflict.

Radical change had been promised by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The old division over the constitutional issue was said to be over-taken by events. Much was promised. Little was in reality delivered. The institutions set up as a result of the GFA have proved ineffectual. In resigning from the the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Inez McCormack, delivered a damming indictment of the Commission:

(it) cannot deliver on its remit under the Good Friday Agreement. Even within its limited powers and resources, it lacks direction on the strategies, policies and practices needed to carve out a positive role for itself in protecting and promoting human rights. Its internal processes have either broken down, or have not even been formed. It is clearly not independent of government, with an extended and enhanced role, as outlined in the agreement

Issues such as the human rights agenda, equality and justice should never have been part of the bargaining process that led up to the GFA. By so doing the universal rights of all citizens were diminished by political bartering. Britain has only reluctantly agreed to the so-called equality agenda so long as it is tied into the agreement. Human rights transcend shoddy political deals and the issue of human rights should have been kept separate from the talks on political institutions.

Loyalist violence continued despite some concessions gained from the GFA. The war is to all intents over, whatever terminology is used. The IRA decommissioned. Republicans have apologised for the suffering they caused. Articles two and three have been removed from the Irish constitution, and Republicans participated in a Stormont assembly as well as running Stormont departments. But some loyalist politicians claimed that republicans were the only people who have gained from the Agreement and suddenly discovered much poverty in loyalist working class area. They sought to blame only nationalists for all the post-GFA ills. This naturally justified (in their own eyes) the unleashing of sectarian violence from factions within loyalist paramilitaries. There has been a constant barrage of sectarian attacks on the Catholic population in an attempt to make republicans break cease-fires and so destroy the agreement.

Yet the areas affected most by this violence are poverty stricken and poverty does not ask the religion or politics of its victims. As the Noble index of worst poverty affected areas shows not one section of the Catholic/Protestant working class communities can claim to be suffering more deprivation than another.

The four main parties in the dissolved Stormont Executive (UUP, DUP, SDLP, SF) have all lobbied Westminster to lower corporate tax from 30% to as little as 10%, and accepted the private financing of public utilities. The privatising of public services means putting profit before people. The built-in veto within the assembly at Stormont solidified the existing sectarian power blocs and gives reactionary politicians the power to prevent, within the remit of the assembly, any radical measures to deal with the economic and social problems that exist in the six counties. Martin McGuinness could not break the power of the Grammar schools that have discriminated against working class children and Bairbre de Brun had an impossible task to reform the decrepit health service.

The electorate and the political parties are pressured into identifying with the two sectarian blocs. Political parties had to identify themselves as unionist, nationalist or other. The antics of the Women's Coalition and the Alliance Party in re-designating themselves as Unionists only discredited the political process. The two tribes approach (for in essence that is what the GFA is) goes against a core value of Republicanism, the uniting of catholic, protestant and dissenter. Under the political correct designations stemming from the GFA I am classified as a nationalist/catholic (which I most certainly am not) and my two daughters are designated as protestant/ unionists (which they most certainly are not).

The cross border institutions much heralded as an all Ireland dimension are in reality existing practices of co-operation tarted up as some wonderful exotic all Ireland creature. Even then Trimble was able to stop their work for a time when he refused to nominate Sinn Fein ministers.

Political prisoners were released on licence. Political status has disappeared. Republicans should not recognise the right of anyone to criminalize Republican prisoners. We may disagree with the tactics of some republicans and we do, but we recognise that their motivation is political and they should be recognised as such.

There is not the political will to tackle the fundamental wrongs of the northern state. The British government has failed to seriously tackle the thorny questions of the northern judiciary and the RUC. Even the Patten Report, a document most republicans did not accept, has been neutered. In the GFA there was an obligation on all parties to work for decommissioning by all paramilitary groups. Yet none of the political parties with the exception of Sinn Fein used `Any influence to achieve decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years'. (Page 20 GFA}

In other words the whole question of decommissioning or disarmament has been a farce, a gesture, a token to the Unionist backwoodsmen and a way of trying to humiliate republicans. On security the British Army hope to reduce their troop levels to that of 1969. The Whiterock and Henry Taggart forts have been removed, only to be replaced, by the massive technologically sophisticated police station at New Barnsley complete with heli-pad. Two interrogation centres were closed at Castlereagh and Armagh with much fanfare but few mentioned the building of a new interrogation centre in Antrim.

If republicans instead of taking up their allocation of seats in the Executive had refused them and gone into opposition they could have avoided the whole issue of decommissioning, led the opposition to the dismantling of the public sector, mobilised opposition to the reactionary economic policy of the Programme of Government and been in a position of articulating the demands of their wide constituency.

Instead, they were compromised, by participating in running the Northern Ireland Government, while the Northern Ireland state was still essentially sectarian and irreformable. Constitutional tinkering with the northern state has not and will not eradicate its fundamentally sectarian nature. Britain has shown by the arbitrary actions of its local overlord in postponing elections that it retains full sovereignty over the North. Can we not now, with ample justification say, the whole point of the exercise was to disarm, discredit and demoralise republicans?

Should we all now step back from the whole process and reflect on what has been achieved and what has been lost.

© 2003 Irish Republican News