By Bernie McAdam
The arrest and subsequent release of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams stand as another monument to the iniquities of British justice in Ireland. Indeed it is ironic how one of the main architects of the peace process has potentially become a victim of its unravelling. In 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was being hatched Britain would not have dreamed of taking on Adams.
No wonder then that the arrest is condemned by Martin McGuiness as ‘an act of political policing’. The Deputy First Minister of ‘Northern Ireland’ also believes that the timing of the arrest was a deliberate attempt to disrupt Sinn Fein’s election campaigning and its growing electoral threat throughout Ireland.
All this is undoubtedly true. The tapes have been around for a year and allegations regarding Adams’ membership of the IRA have been in print for decades. But the timing doesn’t fully explain why he was arrested. It doesn’t explain why Britain and its police force might further put at risk the internationally acclaimed peace process.
Peace process unravelling
The truth is quite simply that the British government does not want to challenge Unionist intransigence. They are after all the bedrock of British support in Ireland. That is why the peace process has reached an impasse. Britain and her loyal allies in the north obviously got what they wanted and welcomed the IRA decommissioning and Sinn Fein’s recognition of the police. But this has not stopped the increasing disillusionment of Unionism with the process.
The past two years have seen Unionists whip up sectarian tensions over the flying of the Union Jack over Belfast City Hall for ‘only’ 17 days a year. Loyalists on the streets have clashed with police and attacked Catholic areas insisting that they have a right to march – i.e. intimidate and harass nationalists – anywhere. The failure of the Haas talks to iron out these problems was down to Unionist objections to, for example, a Code of Conduct for marches and parades which included a ban on loyal bands named after loyalist murderers.
The sectarian mind set of Unionism flows from the very nature of the northern state itself. The state was carved out of the rest of Ireland with a deliberate Protestant majority in 1921. To survive in that form it had to discriminate and repress the Catholic minority which pledged allegiance to an independent Ireland. The very idea of a British colony inside Ireland necessarily involved asserting the Protestant community’s supremacy over the enemy within.
The peace deal acknowledged this ‘supremacy’ by accepting the Unionist veto over a united Ireland. So now it is not surprising to hear the supremacist cries of ‘leave our flag’ alone, ‘let our parades be’ and ‘why are we even power sharing with murdering Fenian scum’. Any compromise even over symbols is viewed as a sell-out. In fact the only sell-out was Sinn Fein accepting that no united Ireland will occur without the consent of the majority of people in the colony, i.e. an Orange veto.
McGuiness misses the point when he accuses ‘a small cabal in the Police Service of Northern Ireland’ who are ‘against the peace process’. This view underestimates the levels of Unionist alienation and excuses his support for the ‘good guys’ in the PSNI. It also conveniently ignores the fact that Adams would not have been arrested without the British government giving its approval. Britain runs the PSNI and Sinn Fein’s support for it is rebounding on them with breathtaking embarrassment. As Sinn Fein organised its protest rally at the weekend the question many Republicans would be asking is, ‘Where were you at the protests for all the other Republicans lifted and charged since the GFA’?
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers epitomises British hypocrisy to the full. She wants a review of the past troubles to centre on ‘the wrongdoing of paramilitaries’ rather than the well publicised and embarrassing atrocities committed by the state. This of course nicely ties in with placating the Unionists.
So there will be no independent inquiry into the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, a murder in which state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries was carried out. Villiers announces there will be no review into the eleven murders of Ballymurphy residents by the British Paratroop regiment in 1971, let alone any arrests.
Despite the Saville Report’s findings that the Bloody Sunday murders in Derry in 1972 were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’, there has been no arrest of Paras. Cameron’s apology for Bloody Sunday and the Saville Report occurred forty years too late and at a safe time for Britain. Safe in the knowledge that nothing would come of it.
Hypocritically though we are told that no one is above the law when it comes to the likes of Gerry Adams. Hence Adams’ arrest over the killing of Jean McConville over 40 years ago. Hence the charging of Ivor Bell over the same case; but of course he would have been ‘fair game’ as he disagreed with the peace process!
Britain is still trying to criminalise the resistance to its rule which took place over 30 years up till 1998. Throughout that period, we saw the emergence of a mass anti-Unionist revolt: a revolt fuelled by the serial discrimination inflicted on Catholics and worsened by British repression. The high point of that movement came in 1972 with the fall of Stormont, a year which also saw the Para murders in Derry and the killing of Jean McConville.
Gerry Adams like thousands of others was involved in the resistance to British rule at the time. We defend him for that and on the basis that Britain has no right to dispense its justice in any part of Ireland. He should stay released with no charges.
Socialists should not politically defend him because of his role in the peace process. Peace has not fundamentally changed the sectarian nature of the Northern state. Each Assembly election produces a sectarian head count. The supremacist loyalist parades and attempted pogroms continue. Even the experience of living in Catholic working class areas remains eerily similar to the 1960s and ’70s. As the recent Community Relations Council ‘Peace Monitoring Report’ reveals, statistics show that ‘on every single measure on the deprivation indices Catholic families experience more deprivation than Protestants’.
The Peace deal has not only copper fastened Partition. It has dealt us a Sinn Fein – DUP executive that implements British government cutbacks with rising palpable anger at increasing levels of austerity. No ‘peace’ justifies the attacks on working class living standards. No ‘peace’ can justify the attacks on current Republican prisoners and the use of selective internment for the opponents of the Good Friday Agreement.
British socialists should have a singular aim as far as Ireland is concerned. We should be demanding that Britain gets out of Ireland. Britain has no progressive role to play in Ireland. It should cease its support for the sectarian state and withdraw all its troops. Our main internationalist duty is to expose and fight against the machinations of the British ruling class in this country and abroad. The main enemy is at home.
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