Gaza and Northern Ireland, part 2
By Mic Craig, in Northern Ireland
After my initial article in Left Horizons, a reader sent in a comment, to which I am responding here. The critical comment on my article reads as follows: “Have you never heard of Bloody Sunday, or Ballymurphy, or internment without trial, or gerrymandering, or ‘Protestant Parliament for Protestant People’? Apartheid may not be formally in the 6-county constitution, but only a fool would deny it existed de facto”.
In fact, Left Horizons has published articles on the subjects of Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy, so of course we’ve heard of them. These articles are here, here and here. I believe there will also be a special article marking the fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of internment, this August. What is clear is that you have not read the articles and letters on our website, or you wouldn’t make the comment you did.
I would point out that I have never defended internment without trial, and I took part in protests against it at the time, which included blocking roads in sit-down protests and being lifted off the road by the cops. I would also point out, however, that internment took place after the Provisional IRA campaign began, and it’s worth noting that internment was a policy used by both the Stormont and the Free State/Republic governments several times before this.
Brazen gerrymandering in some areas
As for the atrocities in Ballymurphy and Derry, they were carried out by the British military, not the Unionist government and in the case of Bloody Sunday against the wishes of the local police chief in Derry.
Yes, some council areas were brazenly gerrymandered in order to ensure a unionist majority, and there was discrimination in employment and housing. But while these practices amounted to indefensible, blatant discrimination, they do not add up to ‘apartheid’, otherwise the meaning of ‘apartheid’ is stretched so far and wide as to lose all meaning. No socialist would defend discrimination and I certainly never have.
Your comment is also out of kilter with the time scale of my article. When I mentioned Unionist one-party rule, from 1921 until the 1970s, I was referring to the situation before armed conflict began. So out of the four issues you have highlighted only one applies – gerrymandering.
This is what I wrote in my article, (note the present tense): “In Northern Ireland, we all walk and drive on the same roads, and we all have equal access to public services. We also have equal rights to public housing and planning permission to build private housing. We have equal rights to employment and we have equal voting rights. None of these rights are afforded to non-Jews in Israel.“
This paragraph compares Northern Ireland as it is today with Gaza as it is today, and even during the conflict here, most, if not all, of these rights were afforded to everyone here, regardless of national or religious identity. There was always equal access to the NHS and all other public services, and not only that, but the Unionist government funded separate Catholic primary and secondary schools, now known as ‘Catholic maintained Schools’, and in case of any doubt, this separate system was not at the behest of the Unionists, but was the policy of the Catholic Church.
There was no ‘apartheid’ system here
Whether apartheid existed in Ireland throughout the era of the Penal Laws or even during the so-called Famine (which in my view was genocide) is open for debate, but clearly there was no apartheid system here after partition and even throughout the ‘Troubles’. Terrible things happened here and these speak for themselves. But we do not need to label them by the apartheid system that existed in South Africa or as it is exists in a new form in Israel/Palestine, because in doing that you diminish the oppression of the South African and Palestinian people.
In my view, there is a difference between oppression and repression and the two conveniently get amalgamated by those who want to justify the futile so-called ‘military’ campaign of the Provisionals. Discrimination in the Unionist-controlled Northern Ireland after partition was a form of oppression. After the conflict began around 1970, the reaction of the State to the armed campaign was repression. The two were quite different.
Neither, of course, can be defended, but the latter must be seen in a different light. Doing this of course doesn’t suit the Republican narrative. This can be seen by the reaction from some on the left to anyone who dares to challenge the accepted view that life for the minority in Northern Ireland had been one of state brutality since partition, that incidents of mass murder such as those on Bloody Sunday and Ballymurphy, perpetrated by the British Army, were part of everyday life before the start of the conflict. They were not.
No socialist would defend repression
No socialist would defend the brutal repression meted out by the state, but those who declared a ‘military’ war on the state must have expected and indeed calculated on a reaction of some sort.
I wonder what would have happened if the oppressed indigenous people of Norway and Sweden, the Sami, had decided to start bombing the centre of Stockholm or Oslo in an attempt to claim back territory in which they lost their civil rights a couple of centuries previously? These countries have a reputation of being democratic and peaceful, but their history, like the history of almost all countries in Europe has not been squeaky-clean either. Only someone living in cloud cuckoo land would believe that the Scandinavian governments would not react to such an attack. The reality is that It would be brutally crushed.
The civil rights movement demand of ‘one person one vote’ was granted in Northern Ireland in November 1969. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive was set up in February 1971, to end discrimination in housing. The changes which ended discrimination in Northern Ireland were not brought about by the Provisional IRA war against Britain, which was a failure, politically and militarily. Most changes were initiated as a response to the civil rights campaign.
The conflict resulted in repression, not just for those actively involved in the Provos’ campaign, but more so for the ordinary people who they claimed to be fighting for. Most of those imprisoned without trial under internment were not involved in the conflict; neither were the Guildford-4 nor the Birmingham-6.
A futile war that achieved nothing
Those murdered in Ballymurphy and Derry were not involved either. Nor were the countless numbers of non-combatant Catholics who were killed by the State through collusion. None of these people would have been imprisoned or killed if there hadn’t been a futile war that achieved nothing.
The business of socialists (and republican socialists) is to fight for their class, not for either territory or for religious and cultural dominance of one group over another. Uniting the working class could not and will not be achieved by “first” uniting the island of Ireland. This stageism has prevented any progress towards a socialist society in Ireland and will bring only the continuing conflict and division which enables our exploiters to always have the upper hand.
One of the effects of the North East being partitioned off and remaining part of the UK is the ‘democratic deficit’ which still impacts today on the civil rights of every working class person in the North. We don’t get to vote for the political party which governs us, or for one which has the potential to do so. We are politically isolated into separate ‘communities’ no matter what our national identity.
This could be easily solved if Northern Ireland either became a fully integrated part of the UK (instead of a province) or if it joined with the Republic. The latter would be the most sensible option, because it would be more representative, and in keeping with the cultural and social traditions of most people. But obstacle would need to be removed before this could happen.
Divisions in Ireland became no entrenched
The Ruling Class uses race, and creed to divide us. It is an imperative of their system to pit one against another, to insure that we don’t unite and overthrow them. The divisions which were created in Ireland became so entrenched that they became a serious impediment, not only to the working class, but even to the best interests of the capitalist class. The changing nature of global capitalism has meant that Britain has no longer any strategic or economic interest in holding onto this place. This was admitted more than 20 years ago by the Tory Secretary of State, Peter Brooke.
Britain was never, as its politicians claimed, an ‘honest broker’ between two warring factions here. The British Sate infiltrated all of the paramilitary organisations on a grand scale, and was involved in a high percentage of paramilitary killings. It had hoped to slaughter its way out of the problem it created. When this didn’t work, the bloody stalemate brought us the Good Friday Agreement. This hasn’t worked either, and now Britain can’t wait to get shot of us. The lesson, surely, is that If there was an easy solution under capitalism, it would have been put in place already.
For socialists, there has always been a simple solution to this: workers’ unity and socialism. You should begin by asking why workers in the North are against a united island, listen to their answers and do something about it.