Northern Ireland: only one way to end the divisions

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
13 April 2021

“Too bad” that most of the public is totally uninterested in the parasitic life, leisure and death of the 99 year-old Duke of Edinburgh. It’s been forced down everyone’s throats, regardless, in a huge festival of sycophantic and obsequious fawning by media and politicians alike.

    No wonder. There is really bad news to cover up - and not just because of the much more tragic deaths of 150,000 (the real figure) ordinary people killed by Covid, so needlessly. But Johnson’s “irreversible roadmap” to end his ham-fisted lockdowns (according to date, not data!), is likely to spark another wave of infection from virulent variants.

    Most of all, however, the drummed-up drama around the Duke’s demise has very conveniently pushed the rioting by unionist youth in Northern Ireland out of the headlines.

    Yes, best to bury the fact that it’s Johnson’s Brexit lie to his Northern Irish “loyalist” supporters which fuelled these flames. And that the politicians’ precious Good Friday Agreement, which they claimed had put an end to 30 years of “Irish Troubles” (while reinforcing the sectarian divide...), is now being put into question, just days after its 22nd anniversary.

Never too young to riot

As it happened, the royal death made little difference to the ultra-deprived and alienated “unionist” working class youth for whom any excuse to throw rocks and petrol bombs at the police was a welcome release.

    Despite the notice posted last Friday in Lanark Way, the scene of the initial unrest, which read: “We would ask all PUL [Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist] protests are postponed as a mark of respect to the Queen and the Royal Family”, they carried on with the riot.

    Because yes, for them, the murals of the Queen and her consort on Belfast’s Shankill Road, the patriotic trappings around the Union Jacks which fly in every unionist area, and the diminishing historic privileges of the loyalists, today mean less and less. Except, perhaps, in the bigoted longings of their fathers, mothers and grandparents.

    Just like their counterparts in the Irish nationalist ghettoes on the other side of Belfast’s “peace walls”, these working class youngsters suffer from chronic poverty. In fact their deprivation is marginally worse. And this makes the horrified reactions of political commentators over their young age (“some of them were only 11 or 12!”) all the more stupid and hypocritical. Their young age has never prevented the adult establishment from exposing them to brutal material deprivation, a brain-washing, sectarian education (schools, like housing in Northern Ireland are still segregated along religious lines) - and a jobless and hopeless future.

The answer is a united Ireland

These riots are, of course, “orchestrated”. The paramilitary organisations on both sides of Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide, never went away, even if today their degeneration into gangsterism is more complete.

    Unionist paramilitaries of the banned Red Hand Commando, the UDA and UVF fanned the flames, claiming it was the last straw that nobody from their “enemy”, the republican, pro-united Ireland, anti-Brexit, Sinn Fein, would be prosecuted over a funeral (back in June!), which broke Covid rules.

    But they’d already written a collective letter to Boris Johnson to say they no longer considered themselves party to the “Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement”. Johnson has certainly betrayed them. He broke his pledge over Brexit, which they voted for, when he said there’d never be a border in the Irish Sea, nor any other measure which threatened to bring a united Ireland - their biggest fear - any closer.

    But of course, a customs border in the sea is exactly what Johnson has put in place, no matter the consequences. Indeed, he seems to have decided to throw his loyal unionist supporters to the wolves.

    The sorry truth of the matter is that there is no way to resolve the current Brexit “border” issue satisfactorily. It’s a catch 22. Either it’s friction for goods, or people - or for both. And the Northern Ireland Protocol contains no clever answers to this. In fact its Article 16 contains an idiotic answer - reinstating the pre-1997 hard land border between North and South, as a “safeguard”!

    There is, however, one possibility. Undoing 100 years of history, by undoing the partition of Ireland. The 6-county statelet of Ulster was an artificial creation based on loyalist privilege, which the British state long ago lost any interest in maintaining. Unlike their elders, the “loyalist” youth of today are more like rebels without a cause. Maybe, after all, they could be reconciled to being “Irish” rather than “British” - in a united Ireland and as part of one united working class. This would not only, finally, resolve the Irish national question, but also the Brexit catch 22.