Sinn Féin strategy is the only way forward for republicans and should be complimented by increased lobbying of MPs in Britain, argues John Murphy
THE OATH of office that Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley must take to be first minister and deputy first minister of the power-sharing six-county executive is not an oath of allegiance to the Crown or the British state. It does not mean that the republican McGuinness has to swear to uphold the UK system he has spent most of his life fighting. It is politically a neutral oath which any republican or nationalist can take without compunction.
It requires both Paisley and McGuinness to work for the benefit of the whole community in the north, to work the Good Friday agreement institutions, including the north-south bodies, which the DUP boycotted last time around, and to uphold the courts and the replacement for the RUC, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, including participation in the Police Board.
Should supporting the PSNI and the six county courts cause qualms among nationalists who remember the decades-long misdeeds of the RUC and B-men and the way the legal system was used against them in the 1970s and 1980s?
Only if they fail to look at things politically and to realise that in present circumstances this is the way to move things forward towards ending partition in our lifetime.
A northern police service whose members are just one-tenth Catholic and nationalist is one thing. But the new PSNI envisages around half or so of the police coming from the nationalist side. The nationalist community today is full of political self-confidence. Nationalists realise they are on the run-in to a united Ireland, as more and more Unionists look with envy at the booming economy to the south and the realize that Britain does not want them any longer.
Joining a police force like the RUC and B-Specials, the armed wing of Ulster unionism, was one thing. Joining a force half of which is nationalist, which is not sectarian and which could be run by a republican minister in the new northern executive, is a different thing altogether.
The proper course now is for nationalists to "move in on" the PSNI, to join it and seek to influence it as much as possible, to make sure that it serves the genuine policing needs of the two northern communities - and to present the biggest possible bill to the British government for running it, to help lessen London's enthusiasm for paying the bills for the six counties. Nationalists should now enthusiastically take over as much of the northern statelet as they can, and increase their influence on every aspect of life within it.
The power-sharing executive and assembly arrangement will have the transcendent political merit of dividing and confusing unionism much more than it has been divided and confused hitherto.
For decades Unionist politicians have thrived on stirring up bigotry against Catholics and feeding their constituents on fantasies about 'fenians'. That day is now well and truly over. Having republican ministers running the six counties and serving side by side with unionists on north-south implementation bodies will vividly bring home this changed reality to unionists in the period ahead.
If just one-sixth of Protestant-unionists are won to the nationalist side, and another sixth is neutralised, there will be a clear political majority for a united Ireland in the six counties. It is only a matter of time for that to come about under the Good Friday agreement institutions. It could happen within a generation. Indeed Northern unionists and nationalists together could act as a dynamic to shake 26-county politics apart.
Messrs Paisley and Robinson are Irish after all. Northern unionists are our fellow countrymen and women and should be acknowledged as such. If it is unrealistic to expect to bomb them into a united Ireland - and successive IRA campaigns showed the impossibility of that, even if it were desirable, which it was not - this is clearly the peaceful way towards ending partition in present circumstances.
This was the basic strategy of the founders of the 1960s Northern Civil Rights Movement. If unionists could not be forced into a united Ireland against their will, the only logical political alternative was to establish institutions in the six counties which would divide, confuse and demoralise them, take away from them their special local privileges and bring about civic equality between them and Catholics. 'Equality of treatment' and 'parity of esteem' would then remove the rational basis of the unionism of most Unionists, for what was the point of being unionist if there had to be equality with Nationalists?
We are now back to that political civil rights strategy after nearly forty years. Is power-sharing á la the Good Friday agreement no different then from the 1974 Sunningdale arrangements? The answer is yes. With Sunningdale, to put it crudely, republicans were outside the tent pissing in. With the Good Friday agreement, they are inside the tent pissing out!
At the same time one may think that if the civil rights strategy of 1967-69 had been stuck to, and not diverted into armed struggle after the August 1969 attempted pogrom and the burnings in Bombay Street and Ardoyne, we would probably today be further down the road to national reunification. There would be less bitterness left over from the near 30 years of "the troubles".
That will take time to overcome. Some 70,000 northern families would not have had to leave their houses. Many northern communities would be less ghettoized than they are today. But that unfortunately was the way history went.
Of course dissident republicans sneer. Adams and McGuinness are selling out, they say. At the same time the dissidents have no alternative policy to offer. All they can implicitly propose is a return to armed struggle in conditions far less favourable than before, when the previous armed struggle proved incapable of uniting Ireland anyway, although it could have been kept up indefinitely.
Dissident republicans have genuine concerns. There is no doubting the genuine patriotism and concern of many of them. Ruairi O Bradaigh's four-provinces federal Ireland may be an attractive scheme of government for a united Irish state. But Ruairi cannot tell us how realistically we might get from here to there.
To think of reviving the Second Dail, which is basic to the mentality of many dissident republicans, is an utter fantasy. There is no conceivable circumstance in which the Irish people would repudiate the 26-county parliament they have got and elected and instead vote for a majority of TDs on an abstentionist programme to an alternative Dail, which would then proceed to legislate for all of Ireland. Yet that, or something like it, is what those opposing the Adams-McGuinness policy on the north are in effect saying is possible.
There is still however "the missing piece in the peace process", to quote the title of Englishman Ken Keable's first-class pamphlet of that name. That missing piece is British public opinion, and particularly organised opinion in the British Labour and trade union movement and among liberals and enlightened folk in that country.
This is the one factor that is capable of shifting the balance of political forces decisively on to the Irish side in the period ahead. For British policy is made in Britain and British voters and public opinion can be decisive in making it. The new northern arrangements will certainly divide and confuse unionism. More and more unionists will start asking themselves what is the point of being unionist when they can no longer be "top-dog" either materially or symbolically over Catholics and nationalists. They will begin gradually to realise the advantages of an All-Ireland state.
But that political learning process can be expedited if the British government points clearly in the direction of a united Ireland and indicates unequivocally that down that road their future lies.
For this organised political action in Britain is essential, as the Connolly Association has been saying now for nearly 70 years. It is not Sinn Fein support groups or branches of Irish political parties that are needed in Britain, but people who will act according to the laws of British political life, of which the House of Commons is the focus. This means MPs being lobbied by their constituents on the Irish question, and being educated by them gradually to overcome their abysmal ignorance about Ireland.
All Irish people in Britain who want to help their country and all British friends of Ireland, should put on their thinking caps and consider how they can get across the message that the British government's sole democratic duty as regards Ireland is to withdraw as speedily and as constructively as possible and base their policy on that end in the period ahead.
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Copyright © 2007 John Murphy