Editorial: Neither London nor Dublin but World Socialism
Neither London nor Dublin but World Socialism
This year marks the centenary of the founding of the Northern Ireland statelet, also referred to as the North of Ireland, the ‘occupied six counties’ or Ulster depending on your point of view. In April, this anniversary was greeted with serious rioting in Protestant working-class areas of Belfast. Three causes were given – anger at the new hard border established in the Irish Sea by the Northern Ireland ‘Protocol’ as part of the final Brexit agreement with the EU, resentment at Sinn Fein politicians not being prosecuted for allegedly breaking Covid rules while attending a funeral of an IRA man, and the young rioters allegedly being put up to it by local loyalist gang leaders who wanted cover to protect their criminal activities. There are fears of further rioting during this month’s marching season.
But these explanations fail to consider the wider context in which this social unrest is taking place. The new statelet was born in 1921 in the aftermath of the Irish war of independence. In the North, pogroms were incited against the Catholic population leaving over five hundred dead, mainly Catholics. Thousands of Catholic workers were expelled from their workplaces in the engineering and shipyard industries. The Northern Unionist capitalists, anxious that the Northern industries centred around Belfast and Derry stay within the markets of the then British empire, agreed to a separate state in the North remaining in the UK. Not all unionists envisaged a state that marginalised its Roman Catholic minority. Edward Carson declared ‘from the outset let us see that the Catholic minority have nothing to fear from the Protestant majority’. James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, had other ideas when he stated ‘All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state’. Under his watch, constituencies were gerrymandered to create Unionist majorities, the state forces, the notorious B-Specials and the RUC, were set up to keep the Catholic working class in their place. The Unionist ruling class reckoned that they needed to secure the support of the Protestant working class, by ensuring that the best paid jobs in the shipbuilding and engineering industries went to Protestant workers.
Although Northern Ireland has since been reformed, the religious sectarianism imprinted on its political DNA has not been fully erased.
It has often been pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement assumes a frictionless border between the North and South. Another less visible assumption was that the capitalist economy which was booming at the time in 1998 would continue to do so generating more jobs and higher incomes for the working class. However, this was never going to be the case. The capitalist economy tanked in 2008 with the resulting austerity and again with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Many workers have been plunged into greater poverty. Given the poisonous mixture of systemic sectarianism and economic insecurity, it is no wonder that violent clashes have occurred where workers turn on each other.
The truth is that Protestant and Catholic workers have more in common with each other than they have with the capitalist class. Protestant workers have no interest in a Northern Ireland linked with the UK and Catholic workers have no interest in a united Ireland. They both have an interest in establishing socialism.