One extreme

By Danny Morrison

In February 1974, in a Westminster general election, 11 out of the North's then 12 constituencies returned anti-Agreement unionists.

They were opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement, which had been negotiated a few months earlier between the Ulster Unionist party, under Brian Faulkner, and the SDLP, under Gerry Fitt.

The eleven MPs were opposed to the power-sharing executive at Stormont, disrupted its meetings, and were opposed to what was called the `Irish Dimension' in the shape of a Council of Ireland which actually never met.

Sinn Féin had yet to adopt an electoral strategy and the IRA was committed to armed struggle (though by Christmas of that year it would call a ceasefire). The new MPs, made up of dissident Ulster Unionists and Ian Paisley, then collaborated with the Ulster Workers Council and organised a general strike in May of that year. To bring the North to its knees the UWC had to rely on loyalist paramilitaries, mainly the UDA, but also the UVF, to hijack vehicles at gunpoint, close down roads and prevent people from going to work. The UDA commander, Andy Tyrie, and UVF leaders were on the UWC Co-ordinating Committee.

During this period loyalist paramilitaries killed six Catholics in the Rose and Crown bar on the Ormeau Road, a husband and wife in Donaghmore, several Catholic workers, and two Catholic brothers who ran a bar in Ballymena. On the third day of the UWC strike loyalists, almost certainly helped by elements of British intelligence, planted car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan and slaughtered 33 children, women and men.

When power and petrol supplies were cut Brian Faulkner was forced to resign and the power-sharing executive collapsed. The alliance of anti-Agreement paramilitaries and politicians triumphantly marched to Stormont. In the intervening 30 years, to the top of the hill, then down again to the bottom, is the only place these politicians have ever taken their people.

Then, as now, the real issue wasn't about the IRA, or `Sinn Féin/IRA,' but was about sharing power, equality and parity of esteem - principles which are alien to the raison d'etre of the six-county state and its culture of a `Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People'.

Last week on television the DUP's Gregory Campbell inadvertently admitted this when he said that even had the IRA decommissioned its weapons ``with transparency'' in October it still wasn't the issue. The issue was the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which ``had given nationalists everything'' - that is, some of their democratic entitlements.

The whole issue of the IRA is just an excuse for unionists not to engage with the nationalist community.

Some commentators have described the current deadlock as having been exacerbated by ``the election of the two extremes'', as if Sinn Féin is refusing to share power with unionists or doesn't recognise unionist aspirations.

Sinn Féin has genuinely pursued a dialogue with unionism. However, most unionists still adhere to the myth that the conflict in the North was one-sided, that the IRA was responsible for all violence. The DUP and its supporters need reminding of its history.

In 1977 the DUP once again allied themselves to the UDA during another UWC strike. The stoppage lacked support and so the UDA turned to intimidation, shooting dead a Citybus driver in Belfast, Protestant Harry Bradshaw, in an attempt to stop public transport.

The DUP set up a `Third Force', a vigilante organisation in 1981, which operated illegal checkpoints and held rallies. In 1986 the DUP helped found Ulster Resistance, a paramilitary-style force whose members marched in military formation wearing red berets. There was the famous incident when Peter Robinson led a loyalist mob in an attack on Clontibret garda station. He was found guilty of unlawful assembly and fined fifteen thousand punts.

Members of Ulster Resistance were involved in industrial espionage and were caught selling details of Shorts blowpipe missile technology to the South African apartheid regime. Ulster Resistance, in collaboration with British Intelligence, smuggled into the North a large shipment of weapons that were used to kill several hundred nationalists in the 1990s.

The DUP and other unionist representatives for decades have acted as cheerleaders for British army and RUC violence and have justified repression, torture, shoot-to-kill operations, exclusion orders, censorship and discrimination.

Extremists were certainly elected last Wednesday but they were unionists. At the most, 34 or 35 unionist representatives out of a potential assembly of 108 members are opposed to the Belfast Agreement. The Agreement still has the support of a majority of people in the North, and was endorsed in referenda, passed as legislation in both Britain and Ireland and is lodged at the United Nations as an international binding Treaty.

However, the very provision which was written into the Agreement to prevent abuse - that the executive and assembly require the consent of a majority of both unionist and nationalist elected representatives - gives the DUP, as the leading party of the unionist community, the power to prevent an inclusive executive from being formed. Ultimately, Britain is to blame for the supremacist mentality within unionism, which came with partition.

That is not to say that things haven't changed. Things have changed and many unionists are prepared to share power and recognise the compromises that nationalists and republicans have made in the interests of reconciliation. Sinn Féin, having emerged as the leaders for the nationalist community, has to face down the DUP. The DUP has declared that it will not share power with Sinn Féin and thinks that it can renegotiate the Agreement. It has yet to learn that there can be no assembly, no executive and no power for the DUP without the consent of Sinn Féin, and that the nationalist community is not about to give up or dilute rights which it took eighty years to secure.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News