Ireland: Socialist MP speaks on Irish unification

Pro-capitalist and sectarian parties cannot provide solution

The following speech was recently given by Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP) during a Private Members Business debate in the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) on Sinn Féin’s motion on Irish unification.

Socialist MP speaks on Irish unification

Dáil Éireann, 2nd November 2005, Private Members’ Business

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): Both the Sinn Féin motion and the Government amendment are predicated on the belief that the Good Friday Agreement is a template for a resolution to the political crisis in Northern Ireland. That is a fundamental fallacy. The Good Friday Agreement has provided for the institutionalisation of sectarian division, not for its overcoming. Since the IRA ceasefire halted its disastrous paramilitary campaign, the polarisation of the communities in Northern Ireland has widened horrifically. It has been a process not of coming together, but unfortunately of the separation of communities. Sectarian-based political parties are part of this polarisation. They contribute to it and, in many cases, lead it.

The Provisional IRA correctly realised at the end of the 1980s that its paramilitary campaign was not winnable. In a modern industrialised society, the methods of paramilitarism or individual terrorism cannot defeat state imperialism. The end of the Provisional IRA’s campaign was also predicated on the belated acceptance by republicans that the British establishment had no vested interest in holding on to Northern Ireland as a colony. It would be quite happy to see unification of this island on the basis of the present establishments, North and South, and why not? The Twenty-six Counties is a mecca for profits for British, US and other companies without the costs of an army, administration, etc.

Opposition to a united Ireland within the context of the present set-up comes from within the Protestant population. What is sought by Sinn Féin is unification on the basis of the present system, in reality the coming together of the capitalist states, North and South. The Protestant working class in particular will simply not agree to this. If pushed in that direction, it will resist. Any delusion that a demographic change in the North will solve the problem is wrong-headed. Just as the Catholic population, a minority, never reconciled itself to the Unionist state, neither will the Protestant population ever accept a united Ireland on the basis of the present system. Sinn Féin’s attempt to rally Fianna Fáil [the main governing party in southern Ireland], a right-wing party of neo-liberal capitalism, behind its Green Paper for a capitalist united Ireland, will copper fasten the rejection of the Protestant population. If pushed, it will not lead to a united Ireland but to a Balkanisation of Northern Ireland. A dangerous vacuum exists in the Protestant population which ‘Love Ulster’ and other sectarian groups are seeking to fill. Sinn Féin aspires to coalition with Fianna Fáil. It has a similar formulation to the Labour Party of the past in that it will decide after the general election. Coalition with Fianna Fáil would mean acquiescence in the new liberal agenda dominating European capitalism at present, just as Sinn Féin Ministers in the North implemented private finance initiatives and other right wing policies of the Blair Government. That which was true in the days when James Connolly and Jim Larkin organised working class people in Belfast is true today. Only the unity of working people can overcome sectarian divisions, and that can only be achieved by working class people struggling together on the issues that confront them both at the time, such as the horrific poverty that still exists in both communities.

By opposing the economic attacks of the Blair Government such as the attempted imposition of water charges and the attack on public services they will find in the struggle the way to a democratic and socialist resolution to the national question and a future where there is no risk of one community being discriminated against by the other. The only unity achievable on this island is a socialist Ireland jointly achieved by working people, Protestant and Catholic, North and South, on the basis of a socialist economic and political transformation of society.

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