by David Granville
IN THE event that the DUP and Sinn Fein do finally reach agreement over the St Andrews deal, which some wits have described as the Good Friday agreement for slow learners, there will remain dangerous opponents on both sides of the republican/loyalist divide.
Dissident republican activity is on the up and recent events have shown that there are still those around - on both sides of the community and political divide - who remain committed to using violence as a means to maximising community tension and of making it as difficult as possible for the mainstream politicians to move the current process forward.
There are also those here in Britain who continue to believe that Irish unity and independence can only be brought about by a resumption of armed resistence or socialist revolution, or who insist that the Good Friday deal is little more than a sectarian sell out of class struggle.
While there is plenty to criticise from a left or republican perspective in both agreements, such voices and groupings have clearly missed the point of the Good Friday deal.
I would argue that they have shown themselves to be susceptible to a kind of 'political autism', an affliction which prevents them from seeing anything beyond the the bald written text of the various agreements.
While it would be clearly wrong to suggest that the words themselves have minimal importance, they are far from being the sum total of their significance. As important, possibly more so, is the political dynamic that the 'peace process' has unleashed since the first talks between the SDLP's John Hume and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams took place in the late 1980s.
The real significance of the Good Friday deal is that ushered in the end of a particularly bloody and costly stage in the conflict and formalised a resumption of the civil rights road to Irish unity and freedom first embarked upon in the mid 1960s.
To the doubters and critics of those who, like the Connolly Association, have supported the Good Friday process, I put the following questions:
- is unionism in the six counties weaker or stronger than it was before the signing of the Good Friday deal?
- is unionism more or less divided than when the IRA and others were waging a military campaign?
- has the GFA weakened or strengthened those political process whose stated intention is to achieve an all-Ireland settlement based on Irish unity and independence?
- would full power-sharing devolution weaken or strengthen Britain's influence on life in the six counties?
The reality is that unionist hegemony and unity has been seriously under attack from the civil rights campaign of the 1960s onwards.
While the IRA's military campaign served to drive unionist together in the face of what it saw as a common enemy, the peace process has, by the same token, played a key role in shattering that unity and of creating the political space for nationalists and republicans to make political progress and ensure that unionist hegemony is unable to return.
Anyone who witnessed the DUP antics in the wake of events on 24 November at Stormont or who saw the recent edition of Question Time broadcast from Belfast will know recognise the depths of the divisions within Ulster unionism.
And however far off a united and independent Ireland remains, such divisions within unionism, combined with changes in the strategic importance to Britain and NATO of the six counties in the post-Cold War period, make it extremely unlikely that the circumstances which led successive British governments to maintain partition and give unionists, as a useful garrison class, free rein in the north are gone forever.
Neither the St Andrews nor the Good Friday deal are, in themselves, the solution. That lies some way down the line. However, they are an important part of a wider process, which, if the forces of national democracy in Ireland and their friends in Britain apply themselves in a concerted and united fashion, could achieve such an objective in the none-too-distant future.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2006 David Granville