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24 April 1998

Don't March - for Peace

As the true meaning of the new 'democratic' peace deal in Northern Ireland becomes apparent, Brendan O'Neill examines how the peace process has demoralised the people of Northern Ireland

Britain's Labour government is apparently on the defensive over its decision to intervene in the publication of a crucial report by Northern Ireland's Parades Commission. Both sides, Nationalist and Unionist, are reportedly furious that the government apparently cavedg into pressure from the 'opposition' - i.e. each other. The subject of who can march where and when has become more of a flashpoint as the substantive issues of the Northern Ireland conflict have gradually disappeared. The refusal of the prime minister to publish a document which was widely believed to have called for a rerouting of a Loyalist parade away from Drumcree - which has seen bitter stand-offs in the last few years - is a sign that Tony Blair does not understand that the lasting legacy of the peace process is to knock the fight out of Nationalists. This is more than obvious if you reflect on the events of the last few weeks.

You could be forgiven for thinking that history was made in Northern Ireland when the peace agreement was signed a fortnight ago. Tony Blair's new peace deal was hailed as the most significant and historic breakthrough in Anglo-Irish politics since Northern Ireland was partitioned in 1921. Around the world politicians and media pundits praised Blair and his Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam for coming up with a viable solution to one of the world's oldest and most intractable conflicts. Blair quickly moved from Ireland to the Middle East where he has been lecturing Israelis and Palestinians on how to 'give peace a chance', showing how his moral authority in both British politics and on the world stage has been boosted by events in Ireland.

But everything in the new 'agreement' has been proposed, discussed and rejected before. So how come these rehashed ideas are being hailed as 'history in the making'? Because the people and the parties of Northern Ireland have become so demoralised and degraded that this tedious document can now be referred to as 'historic'. As LM has argued consistently the peace process is not about having a genuine democratic debate about the future of Northern Ireland; rather its aim is to rob the people and the parties of their political clout, transform them into 'cultural interest groups' and force a fraudulent 'agreement' on a once conflict-ridden country. All the process reveals is how low Irish people's sights have sunk. Communities which once fought over important things like power, sovereignty and democratic rights have been so demoralised by the peace process that even this 'agreement' looks like the stuff of history.

As I explain in an article in the forthcoming LM110, the way in which 'agreement' was forced on the political parties at Stormont shows how undemocratic the peace process has been. Tony Blair, an army of his New Labour press officers and even the president of the United States were called in to 'force' the participants to sign the final agreement. Men who have fought an armed struggle for their democratic rights have been so undermined and degraded over the past three years that they finally agreed to bow to the demands of Blair and Clinton and sign up to the deal.

Since the peace deal was announced New Labour's plans in relation to Ireland have become clear. Sinn Fein's ard fheis (annual conference), which took place a week after the peace deal was announced, was a good example of the new political climate. One journalist described the conference as being 'as choreographed as [the Irish set-dance group] Riverdance': there was no dissent, those who wanted to raise awkward questions were excluded and the leadership hailed a 'new historic era'. Even the rantings of extremists like Ian Paisley and Robert McCartney (both of whom reject the deal) have been useful for New Labour. Their bigoted raving only gives credence to Blair's project of building a new political centre-ground, made up of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, a bulk of the UUP and the smaller parties.

'Congratulations David', said Gerry Adams in his speech at the ard fheis when he heard that David Trimble had accepted the peace deal, as if he was talking to a member of his own party who had suddenly seen the light. The aim of New Labour's 'Agreement' is to push this process further so that all the parties in Northern Ireland share the same agenda. This means getting rid of the nasty business of politics and enforcing an undemocratic, anti-political settlement. Ireland, where once people fought for democracy and equality, could soon become the model nation for our anti-political age. The banning and rerouting of marches and the censorship of potentially controversial reports is only the start of life in this apolitical and sanitised statelet.

Brendan O'Neill has written an article in the forthcoming LM110 on how the peace agreement was forced through. Available to buy in good bookshops and newsagents from Thursday 30 April, or you can purchase a subscription online.

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