Date: Sat, 12 Jul 97 01:47:09 CDT
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: London Ends Talks, N. Ireland Heats Up

London ends talks, N. Ireland Heats up

By Peter Clifford, Militant, Vol.61 no.25, 14 July 1997

LONDON—London broke off talks June 16 with Sinn Fein, under the pretext of responding to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of two Royal Ulster Constabulary policemen. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams answered London's move saying, I'm not going to knee jerk in response to this tragedy. These deaths must act as a huge incentive on those of us in political leadership to redouble our efforts to get the peace process restored.

London briefly reopened bilateral talks with Sinn Fein in response to the gains made by the Republicans registered in the recent elections. London had continued to exclude Sinn Fein from multiparty talks, however, while admitting all the various unionist and loyalist parties. This takes place against the background of sharpening attacks on Catholics in the lead up to the rightist Orange marches through Catholic areas held traditionally on July 12.

Adams and chief negotiator Martin McGuinness were elected May 1 to the UK Parliament. However, both were denied access to their full rights as Members of Parliament. The Speaker of Parliament ruled that they must swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England in order to enter the legislature; both refused to do so. The ruling is discriminatory and refuses to accept the right of voters in Ireland to elect representatives of their choice, said Adams.

The election of Adams and McGuinness, as well as the local council elections in Northern Ireland May 21 and parliamentary ballot in the Republic of Ireland June 6, registered the political gains won by the republican movement. The nationalist party won 16.9 percent of the vote in the council elections—up slightly from its vote in the UK election—for a total of 74 seats.

The two largest parties, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), saw their votes decline. Additionally, the Unionist control of Belfast city council was ousted for the first time.

Two major city councils in Northern Ireland—Belfast and Derry—are no longer dominated by Unionists, through whom London has ruled since the 1921 partition of Ireland. Sinn Fein also won a seat in the Irish parliament, or Dail, for the first time in 16 years. Caoimhghi'n O' Caola'in won a seat in Cavan/Monaghan, a district bordering Northern Ireland. Overall, Sinn Fein received 2.5 percent of the vote, double its total in the 1992 Irish elections. In the past Sinn Fein members had refused to take their seats when elected to the Dail, as a denial of recognition to the Republic of Ireland. The party has since changed that policy, and O'Caolain will take his post.

London, Sinn Fein hold talks

Since the May 1 election of the Labour government in the United Kingdom, Ireland had been a central question in politics here. The first foreign head of state to visit Britain was Irish premier John Bruton. Speaking in Belfast May 16, Labour prime minister Anthony Blair agreed to hold bilateral talks between Sinn Fein and government officials. The Irish government made a similar offer. Previously both governments had refused any talks with Sinn Fein outside of an IRA cease-fire.

Blair's Belfast speech, made during his first trip outside London since being elected, was widely heralded by the media as a new move toward peace. But while agreeing to preliminary talks with Sinn Fein, Blair still maintained that there could be no multiparty talks including Sinn Fein without an IRA cease-fire. Blair's speech was shaped by its pro-unionist stance. He declared, I believe in the United Kingdom, I value the union. Also definitively breaking from Labour's previous unity by consent framework, he stated, My agenda is not a united Ireland... Let me make one thing absolutely clear. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Blair emphasized, The government will not be persuaders for unity.

Despite protests by the unionist parties, the talks between British officials and Sinn Fein representatives took place May 21, the day of the local council elections. The same day, London's Northern Ireland minister Marjorie Mowlam met with nationalist residents groups, as well as leaders of the rightist Orange Order, to discuss the forthcoming marches organized by the Orange Order through Catholic areas.

While welcoming these initial talks, Adams described Blair's speech as barren of new thinking, in an interview with the Irish News. Nationalists felt disturbed to hear Mr. Blair declare himself a unionist with such gusto, the Sinn Fein leader stated. Indicating the questions the Sinn Fein leaders have sought from London, Adams said London should state clearly that Sinn Fein will join the negotiations immediately following an unequivocal restoration of the IRA cessation of August 1994.

Adams added that the Sinn Fein will be looking for a series of confidence building measures too, including steps towards equality and democratic rights, steps to demilitarize, the release of political prisoners, and the repeal of emergency legislation.

U.S. president William Clinton, visiting Britain May 29, told the press, The goal of this peace process [in Ireland] is inclusive talks, because they are the ones most likely to succeed. But that can only succeed if there is an unequivocal cease-fire.

The multiparty talks on Ireland, chaired by U.S. Senator George Mitchel, resumed at Stormont Castle in Belfast June 3. When Adams and a Sinn Fein delegation attempted to enter, the gates were barred to them.

Leading up to the elections in the Republic of Ireland, opposition leader Bertie Ahern pre-empted both the British and Irish premiers' moves by meeting with Adams. An electoral coalition led by Ahern's Fianna Fail party won a near majority in the Dail elections, and he is expected to become the next prime minister.

Reflecting the political gains of the republican struggle, British officials finally granted bail to Roi'si'n McAliskey June 3, after months of international protests demanding her release. The young woman, who was pregnant during her incarceration, was being held without being convicted of anything, and faced extradition to Germany over accusations of involvement in an IRA action there.

The progress registered by Sinn Fein has been mirrored by a crisis among the Unionist (pro-British) parties. This is especially fueled in the lead up to the Orange Order marches. These supremacist marches celebrate the system of discrimination against Catholics and the Unionist rule over Northern Ireland. Many of them have in the past gone provocatively through Catholic areas. In the last few years, though, Catholic and nationalist resistance to this has gained the moral high ground. Fearing a boost to Sinn Fein, the Orange Order leaders retreated from a series of marches planned prior to the election.

Crisis of Unionst parties

The Orange Order leaders announced June 16 that they would press ahead with their marches through Garvaghy Road after receiving tacit backing from Majorie Mowlam. In response, Garvaghy residents have announced plans for a festival to counter the Orange march.

The crisis of unionism is marked also by a shift further to the right by a minority of Unionists. In the elections to the UK parliament the most prominent of these figures, Ian Paisley, suffered a blow when his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost the mid-Ulster seat to Sinn Fein.

More than 200 members of the rightist Apprentice Boys, including Paisley, clashed with police May 18 as they tried to march through the predominantly Catholic village of Dunloy. On June 1 a policeman who had been on duty that day at Dunloy was kicked to death by a loyalist gang.

Throughout Northern Ireland violent attacks and harassment of Catholics have accelerated. In Portadown, near the Garvaghy Road, a Catholic man Robert Hamill was beaten to death May 9, by a gang of 30 loyalists shouting, Die Fenian, Die. The police were forced to launch an inquiry after widespread reports that the local police watched as the gang beat Hamill.

In Ballymena loyalists rioted for four hours following a picket of a Catholic church on June 7. Petrol bombs damaged the church, whose membership have been picketed now for 39 weeks.

In Bellaghy, Mid Ulster, where McGuinness won his seat, a 62-year-old Catholic man who was chairman of the local Gaelic Athletic Club was kidnapped and murdered May 13. Blasting the UK government for refusing entry for Sinn Fein to all party talks while talking with all the factions of Unionism, including those clearly associated with these attacks, McGuinness said, People can see through this smokescreen and double standards.