Northern Ireland: IRA prepares statement on its future

A statement by the IRA on its future role, which has been in the pipeline for some time, is still eagerly awaited by the British and Irish governments and the main political parties.

The governments hope that a clear statement that the IRA is to wind itself up, followed by a substantial act of decommissioning, will unlock the current political impasse and entice the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into talks about reconstituting the collapsed Assembly [local power-sharing government].

This is not likely to happen, at least in the short term. For a start, the IRA statement is likely to fall short of the DUP’s call for total disbandment. The word "disbandment", which was on everyone’s lips at the start of the year, has noticeably disappeared from the more recent pronouncements of the two governments.

Rather the talk is of the IRA entering a new "peaceful" mode. This is a long way short of the "sackclothes and ashes" demanded by the DUP and is unlikely to immediately jumpstart the political process.

In any case, the collapse of the Assembly is not down to the existence of the IRA. Fundamentally, it is due to the sectarian polarisation within society, which has deepened even since the Assembly fell and was starkly reflected in the recent election results (which saw the ‘hardliners’, Sinn Fein, and the DUP, emerge as the two main parties, in general, and amongst Catholics and Protestants, respectively).

This division makes it increasingly difficult for the sectarian politicians to come up with a deal that would hold for any length of time. Even if talks do take place, and some form of local administration is re-established, renewed conflict over policing, parades or some other question could pull it apart at any time.

The IRA statement, when it comes, will reflect the distance the Adams leadership has been able to take the republican movement at the moment. For the current leadership the "war", in the sense of the conflict with the British state, is over, and has been over for more than a decade. They have little hesitation about destroying arms that they have no intention of ever again putting to use, provided that the gesture is not so humiliating that it would threaten a split.

An IRA statement might be followed by a similar statement from at least some of the loyalist paramilitary groups. This would not mean a final end to these organisations or to the ‘Troubles’.

The paramilitaries will continue to exist in some form. They will attempt to maintain their control of working class areas. The various rackets used to raise funds will also continue in some form. It would take a united movement of the working class to finally break their hold on these areas.

The Troubles are continuing in the form of a long drawn out sectarian "war" over territory. If they were to escalate, it would be in the form of widespread sectarian confrontation.

The Socialist Party stands for the complete disbandment of all paramilitary organisations – loyalist and republican.

With people on both sides facing attack there is an issue of defence of working class areas that cannot be ignored. This should not be in the hands of paramilitaries but of local people, through local democratic structures where all the issues involved could be thrashed out.

Similarly, what remains of a peace process cannot be left in the hands of sectarian politicians who, at the end of the day, have a vested interest in keeping working class people divided into sectarian camps.

A new political voice is needed to represent the united interests of working class people. Then we could have a real peace process, based on uniting working class communities, not on keeping them divided. This will remain the key to the future whatever the IRA statement says.

This article appears in the latest edition of the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland)

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July 2005