The Communist Party of Ireland believes that the National Forum for Peace and Reconciliation can make a significant contribution to ending the divisions among our people and help to create the basis for a lasting political settlement.
The very fact that the Forum was established is itself an implicit recognition that the political settlement of 1921—the partition of Ireland—has been a total failure. This settlement destroyed the possibility of building a democratic, peaceful Ireland on terms acceptable to all our people. It cut across the basic principle which must lie at the root of any solution: that the people of Ireland must be free to determine their own political structures and resolve their own differences without interference from any outside power or government.
Everywhere in the world where political entities have been constructed on a sectarian headcount, whether of religion or colour or race, democracy is undermined, and instability, violence and bloodshed always follows as was the case in South Africa. The partition settlement led to 50 years of institutionalised sectarianism, discrimination, denial of democratic rights and intermittent violence, followed by 25 years of continuous violence and state repression.
By creating such an undemocratic entity, the Partition settlement also created a southern state, dominated by a narrow confessional Catholic ethos which was deeply hostile to the liberal democratic tradition of Irish republicanism, to pluralism, to the rights of women and to the rights of minorities whose culture or views did not conform to the dominant ethos. Democratic forces in the south have been engaged in a painfully slow struggle to liberate society from this narrow, stultifying inheritance, since the 1960's at least.
There is no democratic consensus for the existence of the Six Counties either as a separate political entity or as part of the UK. Nor is there any consensus for the extension of the 26 County state to sovereignty over the North. The consent of the unionists is required before Northern Ireland can come out of the UK according to the Downing Street Declaration. If parity of esteem is to mean anything then the consent of the nationalist population should also be required for their continued incorporation into the UK, but this is not the case as far as the British government is concerned. Partition created this double bind. It is not possible to speak of an exclusive right to self-determination for the unionist people of the Six Counties, or of the nationalist people of the Six Counties without reducing politics to the sectarian basis from which all of our troubles spring.
The Six County area is not a legitimate basis on which to count minorities or majorities. The only non-sectarian basis on which to develop a self-determination unit is all of the people of this island. It follows therefore, since coercion is ruled out against any section of our people, that a consensus for a new Irish democracy must be built from within the whole people of Ireland. The task of the political parties and organisations of the people is to work together to find that consensus for a new agreed Ireland.
We need to develop a framework within which both the Protestant and catholic communities can willingly play a creative part, with the people of the Republic in building a new Irish polity free from any taint of catholic domination, confessionalism, Protestant fundamentalism, sectarianism or discrimination of any kind against any section of our people.
The three stranded approach i.e. addressing the relationships between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South and between the Irish people and Britain, should therefore focus on ways and means to undo the enormous damage done to catholic and Protestant, North and South, not just over the past 25 years but over the past 73 years.
The most immediate priority must be to consolidate the peace process and ensure that there is no relapse into the nightmare from which we have just begun to escape.
Peace with justice is the ultimate goal, but the immediate need is for a democratic peace. This means:
Community Reconciliation is necessary to address the legacy of the past. All relations of privilege, discrimination, oppression and ascendancy must be discarded:
Peace Line should be dismantled as soon as
both communities feel secure in its absence.
The allocation, design and location of public housing should be such as to encourage the de-ghettoisation of the housing market, with community representatives actively involved in the design and implementation of housing policy.
State support for integrated schooling and cross-community cultural initiatives
Replacement of British history (i.e. English history) syllabus with agreed Irish history syllabus, to be devised by historians representative of nationalist and unionist traditions
Putting in place mechanism to ensure the availability of Irish language to all pupils in Northern Ireland schools
Irish language schools to have equal status with English language schools (state funding critical issue)
Provision of facilities to enable Irish speakers to do business with state administration at all levels through Irish.
Modification of English language syllabus in Northern Ireland schools to take greater account of Lowland Scots literary tradition in both Scotland (mainly) and Ulster.
The Northern economy is uniquely dependent to an extremely unhealthy degree. The British subvention or net transfer to the North amounts to 25% of its GDP. There can be no long term prosperous future for any society that is dependent on hand-outs from another for one quarter of its income. It distorts the productive wealth-generating sectors of the economy and inhibits the factors which make for sustained growth and development.
The southern economy is dependent to a lesser extent, depending on annual inflows from European structural and cohesion funds for approx. 3% of its annual income. These funds will not be available to the same extent in the next decade. Both economies need to become less dependent, more dynamic and more productive to the point where these flows can be replaced by indigenously generated wealth.
The combined GNP for Ireland as a whole, minus the British subvention and European funds, is approximately 40 billion. To create the material basis for a new Ireland without dependency on hand-outs, and without adversely affecting living standards, that figure would have to be increased by over 10%, over 4 billion, which would have to be generated from productive economic activity within the island.
This cannot be achieved overnight, but it is certainly possible over a reasonable timescale. Indeed, if the European Union objective of bringing poorer peripheral regions up to the European average in living standards succeeds, it is an objective which must be met anyway in the context of the European single market framework.
To argue, as some have, that new political arrangements of an
All-Ireland nature are unrealistic because the South cannot
afford the North is itself unrealistic and defeatist. It
assumes that the present British subvention will always remain at its
present level and that the North will always be a dependent society
(and therefore will always have a high level of social deprivation).
It is based on static, short-term economic analysis, whereas the
present situation is one where opportunities for dynamic, far-reaching
change are opening up which could transform the island economy. The
scenario of the South
taking over the North and being burdened
overnight with a subvention which it cannot afford is a red herring
put forward by economists who are motivated by a political commitment
to the status quo.
All sides recognise that a permanent political and economic settlement would have to be worked out and implemented over a fairly lengthy timescale. Over that timescale, the British subvention could be reduced only to the extent that the productive capacity and income generation of the island economy grows to replace it. Given a dynamic home market of 5 million and a modern internationally competitive industrial base, it is perfectly feasible, over say a 15 year timescale, to add 4-5 billion to the annual output of the island (at 1994 constant prices and over and above normal growth in the present partitionist set-up).
The Peace Dividend is already working in this direction giving a significant kick-start to economic regeneration, aided by favourable economic circumstances domestically and internationally. To maintain the momentum towards self- sustained non-dependent economic growth and to create the material basis for underpinning a future democratic political settlement, we believe the following measures are necessary:
Savings on security expenditure —which could be stg 600 million per annum eventually— must be retained within Northern Ireland and redeployed to more productive areas of economic and social expenditure. This would create a significant boost to the local economy as well as improving public services such as health, education and local authority services.
We support the submission of the ICTU which calls for all security expenditure savings and income from other sources as a result of the peace process (the United States, European Union, etc.) to be consolidated into a special fund for Economic and Social Regeneration. This fund should include a portion of the security savings which will accrue to the Republic. A target of 1 billion per annum should be set for annual flows into this fund to the year 2000.
The Economic and Social Regeneration Fund should be administered by a new All-Ireland Economic Council comprising representatives of both governments, the trade union movement, employer bodies, farming organisations and community organisations (particularly those from the most deprived areas of Belfast and from the border counties). The Economic Council should have executive powers, including planning authority powers. It should be the coordinating agency for all the industrial development, economic research and planning bodies North and South (Forbairt, Forfs, IDB, LEDU, etc).
The All-Ireland Economic Council should have the following terms of reference:
The Fund (along with existing industrial development budgets) should be used primarily to build a strong core industrial base which in turn will help generate and sustain a strong service economy in the coming age of the Information Society. In particular the manufacturing decline of the Northern economy over the past 35 years must be reversed. Employment in Northern manufacturing industry fell by 40% from 1960 to 1990 whereas in the Republic, manufacturing employment rose by one third in the same period.
A vibrant Northern manufacturing sector with strong links to its Southern counterpart is exactly what is needed to push the economy of this island towards faster sustained growth and prosperity
Also, investment in Science & Technology, Training and Marketing should be central to economic regeneration strategies. The fund should be used to:
The proposed new Telefs na Gaeilge should be a service available to all the people of the island. An All-Ireland service should actively seek production material from independent Northern producers, with possible involvement from BBC NI and UTV through joint ventures, sharing facilities etc.
For reasons outlined above, the Partition structures have failed. For new agreed structures to displace them and succeed as stable political institutions representing all of the people of Ireland, the following is necessary:
The British government needs to go further than the Downing Street Declaration statement that Britain has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland. They need to make the simple statement that Britain sees no long term political role for itself in Ireland (a statement which the majority of British people would agree with according to every opinion poll taken in the last ten years).
Britain's interim role is to facilitate the Irish people in determining their own institutions and political structures. The form that these structures take may be a unitary All-Ireland state, a federal All-Ireland state with separate assemblies in Dublin and Belfast, a federal or unitary state with more than two regional governments/assemblies similar to the Swiss model. Britain can have no role in supporting or opposing any model or policy. But it is in Britain's and Ireland's interest to do everything to ensure that Ireland's political representatives do come up with an agreed solution. Therefore Britain needs to formally abandon the veto given to an artificially contrived majority in the partition setlement. The sectarian based majority/minority dichotomy in the North must be broken for democratic politics to succeed.
In the context of overall political structures, strong regional and local government structures are vitally important and are just as lacking in the Republic as well as in the North. Such elected authorities should be established on the basis of natural community or geographic areas with significant powers to raise local finance and plan local/regional development in the areas of industrial development, environment, housing, health and education, tourism and local infrastructural needs.
A new constitution will be necessary for the new Ireland which will hopefully emerge by agreement among the representatives of the Irish people. Logically, constitutional change can only come about at the and, not at the beginning of a political process as the shape of the new Ireland and therefore the kind of constitutional model most appropriate to it will not be evident until the end of the process.
For this reason we see no point in amending articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution in advance of an agreed solution. This in fact would be a retrograde step. It would strengthen the legal position of the British claim and weaken the legal enshrinement of the principle that only the Irish people and their elected representatives have the right to make laws affecting the people of this island, which is what these articles boil down to in essence.
Nevertheless, certain constitutional principles and safeguards should inform discussion and debate throughout the process. These include the recognition that a large section of our people in the North have deep ancestral Scottish and English links which they cherish and wish to have acknowledged in legal form.
Already, all the people of the Six Counties are entitled to dual citizenship (triple citizenship if we include the European Union Maastricht Treaty), Irish and British. There should be clear guarantees from the start that they will continue to enjoy dual citizenship irrespective of what political settlement emerges.
Also, it should be accepted that the present constitution of the Republic cannot be accepted as a starting point for any new All Ireland constitution. It is deeply flawed in that it contains many religious references which derive from a catholic ethos and are totally inappropriate to a modern secular democracy. In many articles it reflects an age when women were treated as second class citizens. Its provisions on divorce and abortion are unacceptable in a modern democracy. Its provisions relating to the sacrosanct nature of private property help to reinforce the socio-economic marginalisation of large sections of the Republic's population.
For more information contact: COMMUNIST PARTY OF IRELAND
43 East Essex Street
Dublin 2, Ireland
+ 353 1 671 1043