Bernadette McAliskey on the ‘peace process’ (2000 speech)
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This is a transcript of a speech given by Bernadette in New York in April 2000 and downloaded from the internet. It was edited for reasons of space by the group Socialist Democracy. The final draft was approved by her and SD had her permission to use the downloaded text. I’ve had a request from Russia to try to get up more Bernadette stuff, so I’m reprinting it here. It has certainly borne the test of time!
by Bernadette McAliskey
A great deal has been written about the peace process and I’ve not written a lot, but what I’ve written I think has mattered and you can read it if you like. For where the peace process is, indeed what the peace process is, very much depends on yourselves and where you are. Some people think the peace process is the successful culmination of the 30-year struggle for self-determination, sovereignty, social justice, equality – never mind socialism and all the hard bits – and that we are looking within the peace process at the culmination of the success, at the just achievements, won again through hard struggle and sacrifice.
Other people, and I’m talking about people on our side of the line (Republicans are the people I’m talking about) if you want to put that at its broadest point, other people within the broad civil rights, civil libertarian, progressive democratic movement will say that the peace process is the worst thing that has happened to us since we lost the 1798 Rebellion.
I think the real issue is about the process itself. The real issue is to try and analyse and understand what exactly is happening here and whose peace it is we are currently processing. And if you look at it from that point of view, I think some very serious questions have to be asked.
Decommissioning: A New Word
At the minute, within the peace process, we’re sort of at a point where the key issues appear to be things like ‘decommissioning’. Decommissioning is very interesting because prior to the existence of the peace process, the word itself did not exist. Not the process, not the strategy, but the word did not exist. Decommissioning, like a whole lot of words, are themselves the product of the Irish peace process. But at the minute, people get bogged down in it because it has been a consistent pattern from the beginning of this whole process to create a situation for the simple purpose of diffusing it.
And many people, if they can move outside the complexities of the Irish situation will understand this better from the concept of their own lives. How many people, for example, have been told in their working lives, that things aren’t going well, the workers will have to take a wage cut. Now at somewhere in their heads they had been just about to ask for a wage rise; but before they got time to ask for it, the employers came along and announced that it was going to be necessary to have a wage cut. There is a whole battle which ensues. The union leadership gets everybody to join, negotiates, and declares a victory – that in order to maintain the solidarity of the workforce and the recognition of the work that everybody has done, everybody’s wages are going to remain static for the next three years. Everybody thinks they have won because they haven’t had their wages cut. And, everybody forgets that the discussion actually started with people being entitled to more money, not less.
The whole peace process has worked on the same basis.
The unionists say: “hell will freeze over before we share power with the republicans.” Now I don’t recall any fundamental tenet of republicanism ever being that we would assist the unionists in sharing out British controlled power. It was never a part of the discussion, but somehow because the unionists said, they got the first blow in, they said; “Oh not till hell freezes over will we allow the republicans to assist us to administer British rule. Oh no we wont. Oh never’, said Mr Paisley, never never never!'” And the republicans said, “Oh yes you will.” And so we had the ‘”h no we wont – Oh yes you will” debate which led to a republican ‘victory’. The republicans won the right to assist the British government in administering British rule and sharing British power with the unionists – or as much power as the British would allow either of them to have. And so when we lost, we thought we had won.
The Right to be Talked At
Another victory – as part of our human rights now, we have a right to be talked at! We have a right to be sitting at every meeting and allowed to put an opinion on every issue, none of which will be taken into account. But it is our basic human right to be there. We all have a right – there is not a single party to be held in Washington, not a cupcake to be eaten, not an invitation to be sent out -that does not acknowledge that we have a fundamental freedom, and human rights under the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, to an invitation. And we have secured victory, because we got those things? Bit by bit, people have convinced themselves that we have won major victories.
Step back a minute and ask ourselves: what this was, what it is all about? I mean, if all we wanted was to help the unionists share power in the Northern Ireland Assembly, why didn’t we democratise Ulster when Cathal Goulding asked us to? They were all there, this is not a new idea (and Cathal Goulding had better politics, if you don’t mind me saying so, when he was attempting to share power!) But if that’s what we wanted to do, why didn’t we do it before 30 years of conflict and dying and killing and going to prison all happened? Why didn’t we do it then? If that was all that we wanted-was to share power with Fianna Fáil in the South of Ireland, what was the difference between sharing the power now, Fianna Fáil now, and sharing power with Cumann na nGaedheal then? What did we fight the Civil War for, if we were prepared to administer shared power in a partitioned state within the social order imposed upon us by the British government? So never mind what did we fight this war for, what did we fight the Civil War for? Why didn’t we listen to poor old Michael Collins? Because we’re not saying anything different than he said then.
I don’t have a difficulty about people saying, “Time goes on Bernadette, and we get older, and we get wiser, and we realise that maybe that’s what we should have done.” I have absolutely no problem with that. I think that’s inherent in everybody’s right to say; “If I had it to do again, I might have done it differently. Maybe in retrospect, looking at the way things happened and looking at the forces of power that developed, maybe we should have gone down the ‘democratisation of Ulster’ road in the early ’70s.” But say it, if that’s what you think.
What is Republicanism?
What worries me is when people say no no, that’s not what we’re saying, what we are saying is that this is fundamentally different – ideologically, socially, politically and economically different – this is victory, this is victory for republicanism. And I have to say, right, let’s go back to that very bottom point – Republicanism.
Republicanism as a concept has moved on in its best form to incorporate equality for all citizens, for all human beings. And that kind of republicanism over the years has become socialist republicanism. And republicanism in crisis has only one of two ways to go. In crisis republicanism as a democratic ideology will move towards socialism and equality or it will move towards nationalism. And, when Irish republicanism is forced to move, left or right, the reality of our history is that Sinn Féin as an organisation has never moved any way but right. James Connolly was not a member of Sinn Féin, ladies and gentlemen, and Sinn Féin at every crucial point in their existence took their politics back into the constitutional movement. So don’t be too hard on Gerry Adams; he’s going the way of his forefathers. Every last one of them in the leadership of the organisation went that way. And every last one of them, within the leadership of labour movement as well, can have that path laid out in front of them. I can see clearly as they must be able to see, as anybody who wants to look at it outside of issues like trust and loyalty and pragmatism and personalities, that this is not about good men or bad men or difficult women. This is about politics.
And right through the history of our country at moments of clear crisis, the republican ideology has been submerged. The republican ideology has been abandoned for constitutional, nationalist all-class alliances. And every time that it has happened, it has benefited the greedy who aren’t the members of Sinn Féin – they’re the members of Fianna Fáil, they’re the members of the unionist party, they’re the members of the national bourgeoisie of Ireland. Every single time that this new alliance has been created, the people who have suffered have been the poor in Ireland, the dissidents in Ireland, the radicals in Ireland, the women in Ireland.
The War is Over but the Struggle Continues
You would imagine that people would approach this with due caution and care and be very very careful not to fall for any of the tricks of the trade that have been pulled out in the past. And yet that hasn’t happened. The people have not staggered, they have virtually stampeded towards pacification. The war is over. Everybody knows the war is over. And probably the only good thing we have going for us at this point is that the war is over. Nobody likes war and nobody wants war. The war came and the war is now over, but the war is not won. And time will tell, in the fullness of time whether or not the war was actually lost. But the war – win, lose or draw – is over.
The struggle continues and the struggle is immeasurably weakened by the peace process. Immeasurably weakened. When the Downing Street Declaration was first written, I wrote a small piece in response to it, and I said the purpose of the Downing Street Declaration and the peace process which it created was to demobilise, demilitarise and demoralise the republican people of Ireland-and it has done all three.
At this point, people will ask; ‘Is the peace process stalling?’ No, it is not. The peace process is exactly where it is; it is exactly where those who are controlling it want it to be. It is not stalling. There is no panic here. This is just part of the choreography that has taken place. It will go on. Whether the IRA part with a single bullet, part with a single Armalite, part with a single ounce of Semtex. It w’ont make any difference, the peace process will go on and Sinn Féin will continue to be drawn further and further into it. And they are now so far into it, it is highly unlikely: a) that they can be got out of it and b) that even if they got out of it, its unwavering movement forward to advance the shared power interest of the British and Irish governments, and the class of people they both represent, can in the short or relatively long term, be stopped, or even be slowed down.
What do the British get out of the peace process?
So what do the British get out of the peace process? The de-militarisation, the de-radicalisation, the de-mobilisation of the resistance movement in the North. They get rid of the annoying and irritating insistence constitutionally by the people of Ireland that the territory didn’t belong to them. It’s gone. We used to have these debates about whether or not you would go to the United Nations on the basis of the Constitution. That debate is no longer valid because of people of the South of Ireland, while Sinn Féin kept its mouth shut, dropped a right that they didn’t exclusively own! – the right to abandon the North – but it’s gone.
So if the peace process falls apart and the North’s teachta go with it, and the ministerial North-South-East-West Council of something or other goes with it, and we have to go back to the drawing board, by what right is Bertie Ahern at the table? By what right, if this agreement goes by the board, and it’s back to the drawing board and start again, and all the interested parties who have a right to determine the future of the North of Ireland are called to another conference. What will be on the invitation to the government of the 26-county Republic of Ireland? What will distinguish them from the French government or the German government or any other member state of the European Union to come in and mind somebody else’s business? They have no standing if this agreement falls to play ball in the next round.
So Britain got pacification, got a stable society, got rid of the annoying interference such as it was or potential interference from the South. So it doesn’t matter if the peace process doesn’t move another inch, it actually doesn’t matter-the British are in a better position than they were in before they started it.
What do the Irish get out of the peace process?
Now as I say, the Irish people from our point of view are in a worse position because we don’t have the constitutional position on which to push the government into constitutional action, into non-violent, political international action. We don’t have it. The Irish government is able to get up the next time around and say, “Look. I’m very sorry, it’s not our fault. The people voted.” And so they did; it’s the people’s fault, and ignorance is no defence, and stupidity is less. The people voted to abandon the North, and it remains abandoned. Now the people have to vote in a referendum to change it; but the government has to hold the referendum first. Do you think that any government in the South of Ireland is going to hold a referendum to ask the people to allow them to get themselves into the mess it has taken them all this time to get out of.
So they’re alright
But if all falls through, and Sinn Féin stop jumping through hoops, what position will Sinn Fein be in? There is a new breed of voter, who used to vote for the SDLP, now they’re voting for Sinn Féin – not because they had a radical change of heart, but because Gerry Adams is younger, smarter and better looking than John Hume. And he’s going to be around longer. Now once he cannot deliver, once he will not deliver, that insulting vote will walk away again – will walk away again to a safer pair of hands, and they’ll be back where they started.
And so you say, how did they get in to the peace process and why don’t they get out of it? At some point there is a dignity, when you can do nothing else, in gathering your dignity and walking away. And even now, if they could do that, instead of running off to Westminster demanding that Stormont be put back together again so they can sit in it and play revolutionary politics. Why don’t they just send a message to Mr. Blair saying, ‘look, been there/done it, when you are serious about resolving conflict, resolving problems, you know where we live,’ and then just walk away from it? But they can’t. They can’t because so much energy has been vested in it. They can’t because it’s a very seductive system and far too many of their own people now like it.
It’s Like a Funnel
When I came here (New York) in whatever it was, ’94, and I said at the time where it was all going, nobody believed me. I counselled them not to be blaming Gerry Adams when it went to where it was inevitably going, because it was very clear that that’s where it was going and when it would come to this point, he would have very few choices left because it’s like a funnel.
There will be people in the four corners of the world in military and political academies studying the absolute genius of this British strategy. And when they get up to draw the diagram, the diagram will be the funnel. How people were got to the lip, and how each option they made, and each choice they made, actively limited the number of choices then open to them, and increased the chances of them having to choose the only option the British wanted them to make the next time around. And each time they did it, the funnel got narrower.
Sinn Féin are now hanging by their fingernails. You know the wee narrow bit that goes right inside the neck of the bottle? That’s where they are now. And the slope down has got steeper. They’re already inside the bottle but they’re still hanging on to the funnel. And it’s very hard for them to start that climb back. If Gerry Adams turned now, the majority of his own party wouldn’t come with him because for some it’s too steep a climb back and for others there’s a nice warm breeze, and nice smell wafting from the bottle and far too many people like it and they’re happier to move on in.
The reality, however, is that it has nothing to do with politics as we know it, nothing to do with the things that those of us who are republicans believe in, nothing to do with carrying forward the ideology and the struggle and the capacity to create an independent, sovereign, free and socialist Ireland. Not even an independent, free and democratic Ireland. The game has changed. As I said at the beginning, every human being is entitled to change their position in life. Everybody is entitled to say, ‘Could you stop the bus for a moment? I want to get off here.’ But nobody is entitled, and there’s a man at the top of O’Connell Street who says so, “nobody even looks the road he’s on.” Charles Stuart Parnell said, “nobody has a right to put a halt to the march of a nation.” And Sinn Féin do not have the right, and the peace process does not have the righ,t to say, ‘this is where the bus stops, this is the terminal, this is where everybody gets off,’ because this has nothing to do with the things we struggled for. This has nothing to do with equality, nothing to do with human rights, nothing to do with the working class, nothing to do with socialism.
This is how yet again the British buy the leadership of the revolutionary movement into constitutional politics. It’s about nothing more and nothing less. And it is a measure of the length of the struggle, the loyalty of the people to their leadership and the calibre of that leadership that so many people followed them unquestioningly to their own destruction.
* The quotation is on Parnell’s monument at the top of O’Connell St.
Posted on December 19, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey, Civil rights movement, Democratic rights - general, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, Partition, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in 1970s and 1980s, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, Revolutionary figures, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Bernadette McAliskey on the ‘peace process’ (2000 speech).
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