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08 July 1997

Mo Mowlam's marching orders

The peace process is to blame for the violence at Drumcree, writes Brendan O'Neill; and under New Labour things will get even worse

In the wake of the violence at Drumcree and elsewhere everybody agreed that Northern Ireland was once again on the edge of the abyss. Politicians and commentators urged the British and Irish governments to get the peace process back on track before it was too late. According to an editorial in the Independent, 'the political incentives have to be put in place to reduce the rewards to extremism and increase those to compromise' (7 July). But responding to an event like Drumcree by calling for the peace process to be strengthened is like saying you should fight fire with petrol. The reality is that the peace process is the problem, not the solution.

Contrary to popular belief the aim of the peace process is not to find a just and lasting settlement, but to radically re-legitimise British authority in Northern Ireland. The peace process has successfully robbed the Irish conflict of its political content and reduced it to a clash between two cultures. It is now accepted across the board that the main problem in Northern Ireland is the inability of the two communities to live together in a civilised way. As one observer at Drumcree noted: 'Most of the stuff about the right to march and the Battle of the Boyne and the injustice of partition is just a smoke-screen to conceal the ugly fact that here are two groups of people who dislike and distrust each other' (Independent, 7 July).

The 'culturalisation' of the conflict in Ireland provides the British government with the opportunity to sit in judgement on the Irish people. This was clear in the run-up to the Drumcree march when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam held 'proximity talks' between nationalist residents and the Orange Order. The message of these talks was clear: the people of Northern Ireland are narrow-minded, backward and tribal and it is up to the likes of New Labour to tell them how to behave.

In the event the two communities did not gouge each other's eyes out and burn each other's homes down. They were not given the chance. Instead the RUC invaded the nationalist Garvaghy Road at 3am on Sunday morning and beat and shot the Catholic community into submission. All in the name of 'mediating between the two communities', they told us. Such is the strength of the peace process that even the brutality of Europe's most loathsome and violent police force can be blamed on the intransigence of Unionists and nationalists.

Mo Mowlam says she regrets that the RUC had to use force to impose a solution to the Drumcree crisis. Whatever the truth in rumours that the decision to allow the march to go ahead was made three weeks ago, this much is true. She would have much preferred to resolve the crisis by 'setting up new and better arrangements for dealing with these kind of disputes' (Irish Times, 7 July). Mowlam is keen to implement the recommendations of the Parades Commission which claims to promote 'mutual understanding and cultural diversity on the road to a consensus society'. In reality the Parades Commission will effectively end the right to protest, dictate to people how they should behave and outlaw dissent. New Labour prefers this approach because it is a more effective and insidious form of control than sending in the troops.

The degradation of politics and the promotion of cultural identity is the real problem in Northern Ireland today. And politics is precisely what the people of Northern Ireland need if they are going to challenge their enslavement at the hands of Labour's new and improved peace process.

Brendan O'Neill will be talking at the course 'Ireland and the Irish' at the next step conference. Further details from:

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