Thursday, August 28, 2008

The mouse that roared

The Sinn Fein rebellion that wasn't.

Rush into a meeting. Shout loudly "long live the Workers Republic"! Rush into another meeting and explain calmly that you can provide stability in a colonial administration. Now increase the frequency of the meetings. At some point speaking out of both sides of your mouth at once will prove too great a strain and a stammer will develop.

Sinn Fein have been speaking out of both sides of their mouth for over a decade. It is hardly surprising if TD Caoimhghin O'Caolin stumbled and a message for his terminally confused and demoralised members declaring Sinn Fein's willingness to collapse the Stormont assembly leaked into the outside world.

A stunned silence was followed by bursts of hilarity from the SDLP and then contempt, followed by increased pressure to come to heel from the DUP.

In fact what O'Caolin was demanding was far from clear. It was far short of any immediate demand, more a plea for the DUP to give them something and a pathetic threat to go to the British and complain.

The last time that the Shinners pulled this trick was when they threatened not to nominate a deputy first minister and prevent Robinson taking office. They ended up giving way on the issue of a Sinn Fein justice minister.

The mechanism is simple enough. Having signed up to a colonial and sectarian deal, tied by a thousand bribes and implied threats to London and Dublin, Sinn Fein have no choice but to make the deal look good no matter what it throws up. The task of the DUP is to prove to their supporters that they hold the whip hand and have conceded nothing to the Fenians. They can play hard ball in the knowledge that, in a decade of negotiation, the British have never wavered in seeing the unionist base as the guarantee of their presence in Ireland and have never felt it necessary to withdraw support no matter how extreme their demands. We have to remember that the present problem is about concessions to Sinn Fein in the St. Andrews agreement that they are trying desperately to have implemented – some of the sweeteners are on the table for the third time, constantly appearing and disappearing like carrots before a dazed donkey.

Today we have Mary Lou McDonald repudiating the O'Caolin comments and Alex Maskey pleading for "engagement" while Robinson lays down the law, demanding a massive climbdown at the upcoming executive meeting.

The only fatality in the whole process is Sinn Fein's credibility. The sooner that goes and a genuine political opposition forms, the better.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Discord over Omagh anniversary

The controversy surrounding the tenth anniversary of the Omagh bombing has highlighted once again the difficultly in dealing politically with such events. While there is a political settlement and a power sharing government there has been no honest examination the past or a resolution the legacy of the Troubles.

The basic fact of the atrocity is that the Real IRA detonated a bomb in Omagh town centre that resulted in the deaths of twenty-nine people. But the various political parties place their own interpretations this event. This has come out more strongly over the years with revelations that the bombing could have been prevented, and that there was no proper investigation. There were also the failed prosecutions in the north and south that revealed police corruption and raised suspicions over the role state agents may have played in the atrocity.

Sinn Fein for its part has tried to completeley dissociate itself from the bombing, using it to draw a line between the activities of the provisionals and the Real IRA. This was in demonstrated in the row over the wording on the Omagh memorial, with the Sinn Fein controlled council insisting that the organisation responsible was not identified. Mentioning the Real IRA would have highlighted the fact that those responsible for the bombing had only recently broken from the provisionals, and that the provisional movement itself had endorsed such tactics. The catch all term "dissident republicans" that was finally used in the memorial is one that allows Sinn Fein to distance itself from the event and also to portray any critics of its strategy as being associated with mass murder.

The British, whatever their role in the Omagh bombing, certainly saw benefits from its political fallout . It served to discredit the republican opposition, solidify support for the the GFA and bind the provisionals into the political process. The threat of a return to the armed campaign by the provisionls, though never credible, was made impossible.

It suits both Sinn Fein and the British to propagate the line that Omagh was an atrocity carried out by dissidents, and that if such atrocities are to be prevented in the future people must support the peace process. This was very much the message of the official remembrance ceremony which gathered together the great and the good. These included the police chiefs and political leaders who have been responsible in denying justice to the victims.

Within this "official" view on the Omagh bombing there is no room for dissent. This meant that those victims relatives who are struggling to find the truth of what happened were effectively excluded from the remembrance events. At least 10 of the victim's families, members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, boycotted the official memorial service. Its chairman Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the bombing, summed up their feelings on the event: "There are, not a small number of people, but a large number of people who feel very uncomfortable about what happened and they rather we`d all go away and forget about it." Kevin Skelton, vice chair of the group, was particularly scathing of politicians, accusing them of doing "nothing for the families of the Omagh atrocity".

The families reiterated their call for a full cross-border public inquiry into the atrocity. But once again this met with rejection. The strongest opposition to his call came from Taoiseach Brian Cowan - just hours after he had laid a wreath in memory of the victims.

Ten years on from the Omagh bombing the search for the truth of what happened that day remains as elusive as ever. Like many other events from the history of the Troubles it is not really in the past but very much of the present. For the stability of the peace process depends on people not rocking the boat and raising questions over controversial events and the bona fides of its main sponsors. Despite the rhetoric the nature of the political settlement means that justice and reconciliation can never be delivered.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Workers flag is deepest white -

Irish TU bureaucracy ride to war?

‘Possibly the end of social partnership’ intoned Jack O'Connor of SIPTU following the collapse of wage talks with the Irish government and bosses.

‘This isn't a phoney war’, one of his colleagues assured us.

That comment indicates that the bureaucracy are aware of the scepticism that will greet any war cries following decades of social partnership. But is it true? Will the bureaucracy do a U-turn and launch class war against the Irish capitalists?

There are reasons to doubt this.

Social partnership hasn't collapsed. The current social partnership deal, towards 2016, was built over a ten-year time period precisely to avoid embarrassing issues such as pay cuts breaking the umbilical connections between the bureaucracy, bosses and government.

In case we get confused, union leaders immediately rowed back. O’Connor indicated that relations with the social partners remained good and ICTU leader David Beggs indicated that he remained hopeful that social partnership could be preserved and that the failure to agree a deal did not mean the end of social partnership as a project, going on to remark that 'under certain circumstances', the bureaucracy would agree a wage rise below the rate of inflation.

In the good old days the bureaucracy used to keep the fact that they were preparing to sell out a secret. This crowd tell us up front!

The trade union leaders intend to stage a pantomime. The want to move into limited, staged confrontations that they hope will strengthen their hand when they go back to the table in September. Workers can take advantage of the pantomime and aim to win the confrontations, but only to the extent that they organize independently of the bureaucracy rather than following blindly behind them.