By Lasair Dhearg
Today marked the return of the so-called ‘Northern Ireland Assembly’ after two years. It was hailed by politicians north and south as a momentous day, allowing us to ‘look forward to a brighter future’. The truth is, however, that there is nothing to celebrate about the return of a colonial parliament.
The return of the Assembly was made possible by yet another agreement between the British government and local politicians desperate for the guarantee of a generous salary and a blank cheque from the treasury in London. What makes anyone think that the latest attempt at keeping this failed institution alive will be successful is unclear.
Despite what is being claimed, nothing in this latest agreement moves us any closer to resolving the issues facing working class people on this island, regardless of their political position. In fact, as we will see, it continues to solidify the failures which were institutionalised by the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements and which Republicans have been proven correct in opposing during, and in the years since.
The document that was released by the British government lays bare the full extent of what ‘shared institutions’ mean for our people. Called ‘Safeguarding the Union’, it contains 80 pages outlining ways in which the Six Counties will continue, far from self-governance, but to be more closely integrated with the rest of the so-called ‘UK’.
Negotiated behind closed doors between British ministers and Unionists in the DUP, it confirms once again that when all is said and done, all real power continues to rest in London.
To persuade Unionists of the need to accept this deal, it carefully lays out how bad the Acts of Union were for this island. As the Irish people are well aware, rather than admit us as an equal partner in a political union with Britain, these historic acts instead sought to place Irish industry at a disadvantage by placing tariffs and excise on the trade of goods between Britain and Ireland. Instead of ‘free trade’ they made sure that Irish businesses could never genuinely compete with those in Britain. In fact, this document makes the case for why all parts of their ‘United Kingdom’ should not be treated equally under its laws.
This same imperialist mindset – that Ireland is useful only in so far as it can be used to make money – exists to this day among those in power. Among other things brought forth in this agreement, we see appeals to make the most of the ‘opportunities for investment’ in the defence industry here. The same companies who – as Lasair Dhearg campaigns point out – are supplying lethal weaponry and aircraft technology to the United States, Britain, Israel and their allies and are directly complicit in the ongoing genocide in Palestine and attacks across the Middle East.
There are also indications of the real motivation for British interest in the Six Counties. They propose what they are calling an ‘Enhanced Investment Zone’, which will provide ‘incentives to encourage investment’. In plain language, what this really means is yet more tax cuts and ‘financial assistance’ for businesses looking for a cheap place to set up.
While people are struggling to make ends meet, forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves and their families, neoliberal economic policies effectively endorse socialism for the rich, and vulture capitalism for the working class.
The British government know that they can continue to count on the support of local politicians if the money continues to flow. It seems like it’s not important where this money goes if they get their cut. We have come to expect this from liberal parties over the years and likewise, former republicans in Sinn Féin continue to stoop lower in the estimations of those who remain committed to the political and economic liberation of the entirety of our country.
Speaking today for the first time as ‘First Minister’ of the Six County administration, Michelle O’Neill spoke of her regret that lives were lost during the IRA’s war of national liberation, even those belonging to the army of the British occupiers. She also made it clear once again that going forward, it was important that Unionism would continue to be respected; that sickening ideology that seeks to eradicate the very identity of Irishness and tie us perpetually to empire.
Watched over by her colleagues, many erstwhile revolutionaries, Michelle O’Neill said that the return of the assembly ‘opens the door to the future’. She is right, but the future lying behind that door will not be a bright one for working people on this island unless the systems in place are upended. The assembly and the agreements that hold it together will only further entrench the processes that are already underway.
As pointed out in this most recent agreement, the British government believe that there is no likelihood of a border poll in the foreseeable future, and it is hard not to agree with that assessment. Not only is it clear that those supposedly representing us are powerless to intervene against the forces of capitalism and imperialism, but it’s also increasingly clear that they lack the will to intervene. The privatisation and exploitation of our public services for profit, continued concession to capitalist demands and the tightening grasp of imperialism over this island – that is what we have to look forward to in the future envisioned by the likes of our new first minister.
Not only is it the case that Stormont will not deliver for normal working people, but it also cannot deliver a 32 County Socialist Republic. It is fundamentally flawed from its conception.
Political and economic emancipation will not come from liberal institutions like the assembly, it will be built from the ground up by working people within their communities.