Labouring in hope
Fern Lane of Fuascailt wonders will Labour's victory be good for
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.
d 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.
d, 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.