Tuesday, June 14, 2011


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Armed action in Ireland

Sinn Fein's Michael Collins moment


John McAnulty

There has been a unlted response by all the Irish and British political parties to the killing of British soldiers in Antrim and the later killing of a policeman in Craigavon. They all say that:

Republican militarists have nothing to offer.

The militarists have no support

The political process in the North of Ireland is secure.

Only one of these assertions is true.

It is true that the militarists offer absolutely no way forward for Irish workers. It is not true to assert that they have no support nor that the political process is secure. In fact, it is precisely because the political settlement is failing that the militarists are gaining in support.
It is highly unlikely that any outside the most frantic of Sinn Fein supporters believed that that the end result of the peace process would be a united Ireland. What they all believed was that that the Northern statelet could be reformed to become a more equal society.

Right from the beginning that proved too much. Democratic rights were mutated by the Good Friday Agreement into supposedly equal sectarian and communal rights. It was a settlement that didn't give enough to Britain's Unionist base and it was tweaked towards Unionist majority rule in the St. Andrews agreement.

During St. Andrews the DUP agreed to devolve policing and justice and Sinn Fein were promised sops around a centre recording the hunger strike and a unified sport stadium and an Irish language act.

It proved impossible to get the DUP administration to honor these promises and a Sinn Fein work to rule blocking the functioning of the executive failed. The British gave them substantial backhanders to compensate them. More recently, alongside the decision to block any full investigation of state terror came an offer of £12 000 to the relatives of those killed. Unionist outcry led to the withdrawal of the offer. Even the backhanders have dried up.

On the economic front the shootings led the Sinn Fein and DUP leaders to cancel an investment tour of the USA - one of many such trips, all failures, serving to underline the absence of any real economic strategy for the North of Ireland.

This has not led to a mass nationalist rejection of the Northern settlement. The Irish capitalists will support any imperialist plan. The power of the Catholic Church has greatly increased under the sectarian setup. The middle class wallow in sectarian privilege marked by 'equality' positions in public service earmarked for one confessional group or the other. Sinn Fein itself has a backbone of 'community workers' paid by the state.

A minority of republicans have rejected Sinn Fein and the partitionist settlement, aiming to revive a military campaign against British rule. They have been completely ineffective because of the demoralisation caused by decades of militarism and state repression, because of their fragmented and divided movement and because of the absence of support. Above all, the total absence of any political program has fatally handicapped them.

They are still not large, but they have now seen the exodus of the last of the militarists holding on in the Provos. More generally there is a growing revulsion at the aroma of corruption around Sinn Fein. A growing number of working class youth are unable to see the new world that the Shinners promised. . The result of that growth is that state intelligence has degraded. They still know the old hands, but have only partial penetration of the new cells. There is also the growth of a new infrastructure of supporters willing to provide money, intelligence, safe houses and weapons dumps.

For all that their opponents are right when they say that republican militarism offers no way forward. In the tradition of pure physical force republicanism, RIRA boast that they have no political organisation.

Without a thought they include pizza delivery men as targets, apparently unaware of the extent to which the policy of the 'soft target' demoralised their own supporters and besmirched the name of republicanism in the past.

They have no explanation, other than betrayal, for the abysmal failure of decades of military struggle and the relatively easy absorption of their compatriots into the structure of colonial rule. Above all they seem completely unaware that the southern capitalists are the most frantic supporters of the settlement and the chief mechanism through which the political dissolution of the Provos was obtained.

Yet within the narrow grounds of the physical force tradition, the republicans have a clear strategy. Their military capacity represents nothing in relation to British military might, but they believe that even a low level of activity will be enough to bring down the new Stormont regime.

A major target is Sinn Fein. The republicans calculate that the pressures of their campaign will collapse the organisation and win supporters to the RIRA. They also calculate that it will act as a recruiting sergeant, bringing disaffected nationalist youth into their ranks.

Politically their belief that armed action can bring down the northern statelet makes little sense. It is true that the Good Friday Agreement has been decaying since its inception, but it has been decaying to the right, into a more naked and reactionary expression of imperialist interest, driven by increasing unionist reaction and republican capitulation. Militarism can only play a traditional role of stirring up and accelerating the political process - in this case speeding up a drive to the right.

A sign of that drive to the right came quickly, with what one reporter called 'Martin McGuinness's 'Michael Collins moment'. (Collins was a leading figure in the Irish war of Independence who then led the Free State repression of the republicans). McGuinness called the republicans 'traitors to the island of Ireland'. He called on his supporters to inform on them and to support state repression.

He claimed that the new dispensation guaranteed political progress, despite being unable to show any such progress other than the presence of themselves and their supporters within the state apparatus.

Such was the determination of Sinn Fein to prove their worth that they did not stop with assurances to the British and DUP. A special meeting with representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries brought them in on the act. Apparently the fact that they retain a full arsenal of weapons aimed at Catholic workers is no longer a cause for censure.

Sinn Fein have little choice. They themselves are targets of the republicans. Any suggestion that the good Friday process failed would lead to the collapse of their organisation. They must support instant state repression in the hope that it quickly defeats the militarists. In any case any hesitation on their part might well lead to their expulsion from the administration. British Tory leader David Cameron has already indicated that he wants to replace the current forced coalition of Sinn Fein and DUP with a 'voluntary coalition' - in other words, unionist majority rule.

So already we have a step-change to the right. The Irish peace process has left behind any pretence that jaw-jaw will be enough to sustain it. There is to be war-war in the form of state repression. This new dispensation will be spearheaded by Sinn Fein and will enjoy widespread public support.

In the short term the militarists have strengthened the imperialist settlement. In the long run there are still many contradictions. Sinn Fein will be isolated from significant sections of the nationalist working class and will continue to decay. The state will want to target the repression so that the republicans are isolated, but this will be difficult to do given the intelligence deficit. The DUP leadership has welcomed the Provos role in spearheading the reaction, but that does not mean they will reward them by supporting any reform. At the grassroots the reaction of many members of the DUP to the attacks will be to look for Sinn Fein's expulsion from the administration.

The Irish peace process will continue its march to the right. A military campaign offers no solution, but then neither does the position of their opponents, which offers frantic support to the British and denounces any political criticism of the settlement as a form of terrorism.

Trade union demonstrations on the days following the deaths illustrated this perfectly. They went well beyond protests about the shooting of the two workers or more general protests about militarism to hysterical calls by TU leader Peter Bunting for unconditional support for the sectarian status quo. In an even more extreme development Patricia McKeown of unison claimed that the trade unions would act as 'civic society' in coordination with the state to make the repression successful. The widespread hysteria from all sides is not aimed at the relative handful of militarists. The disquiet about the corrupt society that has been brought into existence is much wider and a consistent theme of the supporters of the current settlement has been to demonise the opposition and attempt to convince workers that the only alternative to supporting the status quo is a sectarian bloodbath. It is this unconditional support for an imperialist settlement, rather than a criticism of militarism that makes this Sinn Fein’s Michael Collins moment and makes the organisation an obstacle to the resolution of the Irish question.

The settlement in the North of Ireland is not a democratic settlement. It hardly pretends any longer to be one, depending on popular rejection of a failed militarism and on unconditional support for the state from the formerly anti-imperialist opposition. That's not enough to prevent its eventual collapse. The former radicals bay their hatred of the militarists, but by blocking any political critique they are telling the disaffected and marginalised that only physical force remains as a response.

It is for socialists and democrats to prove the former radicals wrong and build a political opposition.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Republicans attack British Army base in Antrim

Following hard on the heels of the controversy over the deployment of the SRR, though probably not related directly to it, came a republican attack on a British Army base in Antrim that killed two soldiers. This was the first British Army fatalities in the north since 1997, and the first time that republicans have inflicted military casualties. Claims of responsibility for this attack came from both the “Real IRA” and “ONH”.

This is latest in a growing number of attacks carried out by republicans, which have ranged from shootings to car booby trap bombs, landmines to the large 250lb-plus car bomb only last month. There is no doubt that the level of activity of republicans is growing and that they are picking up some degree of support, particularly in the most marginalised nationalist areas. The main reason for the growth of republican groups is the increasingly obvious failure Sinn Fein to make any advances on even the most minimal nationalist demands never mind a republican agenda.

There is also the ongoing decay of Sinn Fein from an activist party with grassroots support to one staffed by full timers who are dependent on patronage that flows from Stormont. In the most marginalised nationalist areas Sinn Fein are increasingly seen as corrupt and out of touch. A particular touchstone for discontent is the issue of anti-social behaviour. It has gotten much worse in recent years - serving to highlight both Sinn Fein’s diminishing authority and failure to improve policing. This has provided the opportunity for republicans to build a degree of support through vigilantism. It is this general social and political decay that has enabled republicans to build up a base to sustain a low level military campaign.

This in no way poses a challenge to the British state, but it does put pressure on Sinn Fein as they face demands from the British and Unionists to support more repressive measures against republicans. It the wake of the Antrim attack Sinn Fein are being urged to give their full support to the Chief Constable and his decision to deploy special forces.

If republican groups have any form of strategy it is to provoke more a repressive response from the British state that they hope will boost their own support and further discredit Sinn Fein. It is a variation of the old guerrilla concept than repression will inevitably provoke revolt. However, in most cases this has proved to be an illusion. More repression has just meant more repression and defeat. The Republicans also have a flawed assessment the Provisional campaign – putting its failure down to the development of a political programme rather than its adherence to armed struggle. The reality was that the armed struggle was defeated because of its own inherent limitations. Once it was defeated the republican political programme went down with. The critical point is that the Provisionals political defeat followed their military defeat, not the other way round as the republicans claim. Despite their criticism of Provisional movement they have actually adopted its strategy and are bound to repeat its failure.

Deployment of special forces exposes Policing Board

The revelation that the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has requested support from
Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) to help gather intelligence has highlighted once again the limitations of police accountability in the north. This was clearly illustrated in the manner the information was made public. Only hours after the Policing Board conducted its monthly question and answer session with the chief constable, in which the activities of republican groups had been raised, the local BBC evening news broke the story on the deployment of special forces. That Hugh Orde chose not to inform the Policing Board about such a significant and politically controversial development is a clear indication that the leadership of the security forces feel no obligation towards it. Indeed, the likely leaking of story by security sources reveals some degree of contempt.

The deployment and the manner in which it was reported are particularly embarrassing for Sinn Fein and the SDLP, who have sold the peace process to a large extent on police reform and the creation of new policing structures. Orde’s request for special forces support exposes the limitations of that reform. It demonstrates publicly that the security forces in the north are not wholly accountable to local political representatives. The SSR is not under the scrutiny or the control of the Policing Board. Nor would would this unit of the British Army be accoutable to any future justice minister from the devolved administration at Stormont. Like the MI5 officers based at its regional headquarters in Holywood, County Down, this unit answers only to military commanders and ministers back in London.

Predictably Sinn Fein and the SDLP registered their complaints over this. The SDLP issued a statement claiming that the decision to deploy the unity raised “the issue of who is in control". Martin McGuinness said army special forces were a "major threat”; that the decision to deploy them had "shaken his confidence" in the chief constable; and that he had raised the matter with Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen. (The British and Irish governments subsequently indicated their full support for the deployment.) However, the anger from the nationalist parties derives more from the pricking of the illusions they had built up around the Policing Board than the substance of the decision to deploy special forces. The reality is that the Policing Board does not, never had and never will have a scrutiny role over matters, such as the activities of republican groups, that are deemed to fall within realm of “national security”. This was set out clearly in the St Andrews Agreement that set the terms for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive, and Sinn Fein’s participation in the Policing Board.

To a degree the deployment of special forces is largely symbolic. Despite being officially withdrawn in 1997 they never stopped operating in the north. Indeed, there are indications that the SRR have been targeting republicans for more than two years. Last October the Irish News revealed how a special unit was already operating against republicans. It was reported that nine members of a special forces unit carried out surveillance on three suspects arrested in connection with a mortar bomb find near Lurgan in March 2007. At that time the Secretary of State issued public interest immunity (PII) certificates banning the soldiers or their unit being identified. In October 2008 the soldiers gave evidence in the subsequent trial via satellite from Afghanistan and Iraq were they were stationed. Others units, such as the successor to the notorious Force Research Unit (Fru) which was revealed to have been involved in more than a dozen murders, also continue to operate. Now known as the Joint Support Group, is thought to have around 50 undercover soldiers in the north carrying out human intelligence operations handling informers.

The SRR itself absorbed the 14th Intelligence Company ('The Det'), a special plainclothes surveillance unit created in 1973, specifically for operations in the north. Though only in existence since 2005, the SSR has already been linked to a number of high profile incidents. It has been reported that that SRR personnel were involved in the intelligence collection effort that lead to the shooting of a Brazilian man on the London underground in July 2005. Later that that year Iraqi police arrested two SRR personnel in Basra who were acting suspiciously - it was reported that they were disguised in Arab dress and that weapons and explosives were found in their car.

The SRR is also thought to be active in Afghanistan, assisting the SAS in seeking out Taliban leadership targets. The fact that their presence in north has now been publicly acknowledged suggests an intensification of the crackdown on republicans.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


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Wednesday, March 4, 2009


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