25 January 1996
Ireland: an election without democracy
In the wake of the Mitchell commission report on decommissioning arms, John
Major has proposed an election to a peace forum in the six counties of northern
Ireland. But as James Heartfield explains the election is neither about
real democracy, nor peace, but rather the reinforcing of British rule.
American senator George Mitchell released his report on the decommissioning
of 'terrorist' weapons in Northern Ireland yesterday morning, 24 January.
The report was a blow to the authority of the British prime minister John
Major because Mitchell concluded that all-party talks could go ahead 'before'
the surrender of arms held by the paramilitaries - principally the IRA.
The British Prime Minister had insisted that Sinn Fein could not participate
in talks about the future of the province while their military wing still
held arms. But now the Americans are challenging Major's authority by endorsing
Sinn Fein's refusal to decommission arms ahead of talks. It was because
the Americans had used their authority to undermine the British condition
on talks that Major launched his new initiative of elections.
Nationalists in the six counties, however, would be wrong to think that
the Mitchell Commission report helped them in any way. Mitchell's masters
in the White House might have enjoyed wrong-footing the British, but in
no way do they want to see nationalists take control of their own lives.
The Mitchell report was in keeping with the way that the so-called 'peace
process' continually pushes ordinary people out of the political debate.
If Mitchell has his way, the militant wing of northern nationalism - Sinn
Fein - will be further committed to trashing the demand for national independence
in favour of a British and American solution. Hanging on to their guns would
only be a sentimental act for the IRA under Mitchell's proposals, since
the republican movement would already be fully committed to the outcome
John Major's proposal of an election is a panic measure. He knows that to
concede to Mitchell would be too humiliating, since by implication he would
be conceding to Sinn Fein. Instead he has latched upon a plan favoured by
the Unionists for an elected forum to discuss the peace process. The conditions
set on the forum make it a trap for nationalists. The remit of the body
is nothing to do with democracy and solely about reaching a negotiated solution.
Even to stand, candidates would have to accept that they were bound by six
conditions - including disarmament and accepting the outcome as binding.
In effect taking part would mean accepting Britain's right to impose a solution
on Northern Ireland.
Major's proposals, though, are already in trouble. The moderate nationalists
of the SDLP and the government of the Irish republic have already voiced
their doubt about a solution that comes exclusively from the Unionist side.
The danger for nationalists is that having invested so much hope in the
role of Britain as the arbiter of the peace, they will be seen as the opponents
of democratic choice. By down-grading the democratic demand for independence
in favour of a British solution, Sinn Fein is left pleading with Britain
to resolve the problem.
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