Northern Ireland: the point of change

Socialist Worker 389

Northern Ireland: the point of change

James Connolly famously predicted that the partition of Ireland would bring about ‘a carnival of reaction’ both North and South.He was proved absolutely right.

In the South the victory of the pro-Treaty, and in effect pro-partition, forces meant the defeat of the Irish Revolution that had developed after the 1916 Rising. It meant the rolling back of the general strikes, workplace occupations and ‘soviets’ (people’s councils) that emerged in the struggle to throw out British rule.

It led to the consolidation of a very conservative, pro- capitalist, church dominated ‘Free State’ regime characterised by poverty, joblessness, sexual repression and the virtual exclusion of women from public life.

In the North it brought the establishment of a loathsome sectarian state based on Gerry mandering, discrimination and police brutality and also characterised by poverty, joblessness, sexual repression and the exclusion of women.

In the South this was done in the name of rightwing Catholic nationalism; in the North in the name of Protestant loyalism. In both jurisdictions working people of all religions and none were the losers.

Now, 100 years on, we are begSW FIONA FERGUSONinning to see the emergence both North and South of a real radical alternative – a socialist alternative.

What has made the difference is the economic crash of 2008 and the subsequent imposition of austerity, North and South, to make working people pay for the crisis. This in turn led to resistance to that austerity – North and South.

In the South this has produced the decline of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the huge water charges mass movement and the arrival of the radical left with the election of six AAA-PBP TDs and a number of other serious left wingers.

In the North it has led to the rise of People Before Profit as a significant  political force, and the election of Gerry Carroll as a councillor.

Now in the coming Assembly elections on 5 May People Before Profit are mounting a serious challenge to the Stormont austerity imposed by the DUP and Sinn Fein alike.

PBP are running three very strong candidates: Cllr Gerry Carroll in West Belfast, Fiona Ferguson in North Belfast and Eamonn McCann in Foyle. All of them are campaigning for a different kind of politics – a politics of grassroots activism and people power.

A victory for even one – never mind two or three – of these candidates would be a political earthquake in the Northern State. It would have the potential to start to unblock the sectarian log jam that has paralysed Northern politics for so long.

The significance of this moment is starting to be widely recognised. One symptom of this is that legendary political fighter, Bernadette McAliskey, has come on board as Director of Elections for Eamonn McCann. Another is the messages of support from actor, Stephen Rea, and singer, Christy Moore. Even the media are beginning to be aware with Gerry Adams being asked if he was feeling the pressure from People Before Profit.

And on Saturday 23 April a coach load of People Before Profit activists, including the three PBP TDs – Richard Boyd Barrett, Brid Smith and Gino Kenny – and a number of PBP councillors came up to Belfast to canvass for Gerry Carroll and Fiona Ferguson.

Another factor in the situation is that both North and South there have been underlying social changes that have weakened the religious conservatism and bigotry that helped to sustain the old order of things.

This was most clearly seen in the South in the massive victory for the Yes side in the Marriage Equality Referendum last year. But that was only the culmination of a developing change which has also transformed the North.SW Bernadette  and Dermot Clenaghan

Both North and South a new generation has emerged alienated from and fed up with the old, sectarian or civil war politics and looking for a better alternative; an alternative in which women have the right to control their own bodies and LGBT people have full equality; an alternative where racism is not welcome but refugees are.

And an alternative where Ireland North and South stands in solidarity with Palestine not Israel and US imperialism. It is no accident that Gerry Carroll, Eamonn McCann, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny have all made a major impact campaigning for Palestine.

Both North and South the politics of socialism and people power can provide that alternative and in so doing can begin to open the way to a different united Ireland – one based on opposition to both the reactionary states that emerged from partition.

This makes the Assembly elections on 5 May a hugely important turning point. On May 5 make the change: vote People Before Profit

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