Monday, 18 December 2017

The Red Plough


December  2017

Brexit and the Irish border. 


One phone call from Arlene Foster to the British prime minister Theresa May was enough to halt a deal the between the key European Union and  British government already agreed on Monday 4th December2017.

Arlene Foster is the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, right wing with its roots in the anti-Catholicism of its former leader Ian Paisley. It is also anti-abortion, anti-gay and deeply reactionary. Arlene Foster  presided over the Ash for Cash scandal. Currently there is a public enquiry into how that fiasco came about.

It was also her actions that lead to Sinn Fein walking away from the power-sharing executive, now in limbo for nearly a year (but with the members still receiving their salaries). 

With no executive in place, Arlene Foster is a leader with little or no power. Her deputy leader, Nigel Dodds,unlike Foster MLA , is one of the 10 DUP members of the Westminster Parliament. Because of their agreement with the Tories he is the real power within the DUP. Having negotiated for nearly 3 weeks last summer,  the DUP managed to screw 1 billion pounds out of the Tories (and the British Tax payers) in return for supporting the weakened Tories after last summer’s British General Election. 

After four more days of negotiations and pressure on the DUP eventually on early Friday Morning the 8th of December  2017 the British and European negotiators agreed a joint communique. Mrs May signed (or shook gentlemanly hands on hands on it ) despite Arlene Foster advising her not to.
That agreement has now allowed Britain to enter  trade talks with the EU, which was what they really wanted along.

Unfortunately for the British Government there was the little matter of the Irish Border. The Brexiteers in their haste to leave Europe, restrict immigration and lower the living standards of the working class had done little preparation and were unprepared for the resistance to their Brexit  plans from the Irish Government. 

The veto

That the Irish Government would have the full endorsement of the EU also shocked the British side. The EU effectively gave Ireland a veto over the whole issue of the border. Partially that was a reward to the Irish ruling class for their slavish adherence to the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and the EU in the years following the banking crisis of 2008. Then the Irish Government bankrolled the bond holders and imposed severe austerity measures on the working class to fund the bankers. So why wouldn’t Europe back the Irish. They do their masters bidding.

Capitalism is in crisis in Europe-in Britain and in the United States. Out of that crisis has emerged two distinct tendencies. The one represented by the emergence of Trump backed by the alt-right elitists in the USA and by the rise of the hard right populism in  Holland, Austria , Hungry and other areas of Europe is  best expressed in Britain by the Brexit wing of the Tory Party backed by their allies on the far right  and by the DUP. It is ant-migrant, for lower taxes for the rich,and the unfettered sway of capital.  It tends to be both racist,militaristic, nationalistic and pro imperialistic. 

The other tendency while it is also neo-liberal recognises the importance of keeping a lid on the anger of the working class as the rate of exploitation of labour has to be increased. It is best represented in Europe by the EU itself. The  inclusion of  social democrat parties within their consensus keeps the working class in check as also does the social programmes of the EU.

Both the experience of Syria and the Irish Labour Party’s participation in austerity shows how successful that strategy has been. It also has the added advantage of disillusioning the working class in so called socialist parties which are in reality are left reformist parties which pose no real challenge to Capitalism. Both the emergence of Sanders in the USA and Corbyn in Britain has certainly popularised the ideas of socialism among new layers of the working class particularly among the youth. But the established leaders of the left in the reformist parties and in the trade unions usually caution against revolutionary ideas and have lost the will to carry on a class struggle.They prefer  words like ‘consensus,' ‘partnership’  ‘conciliation’ ‘accommodation’ and ‘coalition’.

The Border 

The Irish border is now nearly 100 years in existence and has been a running sore for nationalists in the North since it was established. To ensure a protestant majority for Unionism the new Northern Ireland State  was composed of 6 counties with most of the Unionist support in the East counties of Down, Antrim, Armagh and Eastern parts of  county Derry. Those areas along the border were mainly nationalist, particularly in the West. 
Southern Unionists, particularly in County Donegal were abandoned to the New Free State much to the anger of
Lord Carson who had fronted opposition to Home Rule and who in later life admitted that Unionism had simply been used by the Tory Party to achieve power.

The vast majority of Northern Nationalists, had during the struggle for Irish independence, kept faith in the old nationalist party under Redmond and there was little support, comparatively speaking, for De Valera’s Sinn Fein. Indeed there was  a bitter rivalry, between Northern nationalism(which is well represented by the slogan “For Faith and Fatherland”)  and Irish Republicanism, which sometimes exploded in violence. 

But with partition and the failure of the Boundary Commission to change parts of partitions so that some nationalists could join the Irish Free State both parts of nationalism in the North became sullen and resentful at their exclusion from the Free State.They felt abandoned and left to suffer discrimination, pogroms unemployment and second class citizenship under the reactionary Unionist Government. 

That resentment and bitterness was past on to succeeding generations and eventually exploded during the late sixties both in the rise in the civil rights movement and then in the rise of the Provisional IRA and their eventually metamorphous into the bourgeois nationalist party,  Sinn Fein with some social democratic tendencies. 

They fought electorally with the SDLP to win the support of the middle class sections of northern nationalism articulating the astounding proposition that the armed struggle had only been about equality. That electoral struggle they won and for ten years actually administrated the Northern statelet in tandem with the DUP whose members refused to talk socially with Sinn Fein members and mocked and insulted Irish culture. But both these bitter enemies  implemented Tory  austerity policies in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein were happy with this arrangement. However the arrogance of the DUP and their  reactionary outlook eventually sapped the will of northern nationalists to accommodate to bigotry and Sinn Fein were forced to bring down the power sharing executive in January 2017.

But Brexit changed every thing. The vote for Brexit saw division between England and Wales for and Scotland and Northern Ireland against. The peace process had effectively dismantled the military border and the joint membership of the European Union meant that between Britain and the Republic of Ireland there were no  real economic or custom borders. 

People along the border no longer had 30 or 40  miles diversions to cross the border nor was there any longer huge delays at checkpoints. Many worked  in one jurisdiction while living in the other. 

The catholic middle class was doing very nicely from the Peace Process.Towns like Newry, Strabane and Derry City, all within   six miles of the border and all with very high historical unemployment and emigration, are currently areas of high economic activity and attract many cross border shoppers. Also politically nationalism is currently close to catching up numbers wise to unionism. Sadly the numbers game has been ruthlessly exploited by nationalists and unionists expressed locally as “us-ones against them-ones”

The funding from the EU to Peace programmes to cement the whole Peace process has from 1998 amounting to Billions  going to ex-political prisoners,  marginalised groups, peace line communities, the farming community, and businesses.
For example during the current Peace programs  for the period 2014 to 2020 the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation is 229.1million euro. 
Europe has, it could be argued, done more to cement the Peace Process than either the British or Irish Governments. Indeed both seemed to think that it was all settled in the North. Far indeed from it.

The British Tory Government has worked in tandem with Unionism for the last 10 years at least and abandoned any pretend to be  neutral between nationalism and unionism On partially every issue it has sided with the DUP. On the other hand in the same period the Irish Government has been hands-off the North. So much so that 200  northern nationalists from the cultural, legal and sporting fields penned an open letter to the Taoiseach  on Monday 11th of December  2017 . That was unprecedented as most public figures in the North refrain from making any political statements.

 Perhaps surprisingly the Taoiseach replied immediately the next day re-assuring them that his commitment to the Good Friday Agreement was total. Then his Foreign Affairs Minister, tanaiste Simon Coveney won more concessions from the EU in that the republic would have a distinct strand in phase two of the negotiations-the trade talks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was only elected so last summer and has raised the profile of his right wing Fine Gael  so much so that his Party now have a big lead over the rival Fianna  Fail party.  
The perception is that he stood up to the British over the Border issue and won commitments that there would be no hard border. However Britain has not followed through on its commitments following both the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. Was it not Lord Palmerston in the 19th century who said something  like “Britain has no friends only interests” .
Irish nationalism has always remembered this and never forgets. Ulster Unionism for its part never remembers. British Governments always betray.
So it is clear  that knowing this, the EU will hold Britain to its commitments.

The consequences of a Hard Border 

That a right wing pro-economic  liberalism and traditionally pro British Fine Gael party would “stand up” to Britain is a reflection of how fearful they are of the political and economic consequences. 

On the economic front  the Central Bank of the Republic has just released a report, 2017 Macro Financial Review (2nd ed.) on the possible consequences. Brexit would hit export demands and disrupt the supply change. Particularly vulnerable are the agri-food sector and  the manufacturing sector. Both of these are highly dependent on the UK for trade. Delays at borders would mean a knock on increase in prices for Irish shoppers. Many Irish firms have high levels of indebtedness and could be deterred from investment. Also Irish  retail banks have  significant exposure in the UK market and a slow down in the UK’s economy would hit them hard. If  foreign firms decided to locate from Britain to Ireland to access the EU then the impact on property prices in Dublin would heap further pressure on the property market both residential and commercial.  The residential market  in Dublin is current out of the reach of most Dubliners now forced to re-locate more than 50 miles from their work or live with the parents and in-laws in cramped conditions. Those who do have mortgages are increasing at risk from debt and rising interest rates. There have been numerous evictions in the Dublin area with homelessness at its highest ever level in decades.

In the UK itself inflation has now creeped up to 3.1% away above the target of 2%. This is increasing inflationary pressure on working people and the relatively fall in migration now meant that areas like health and the agri-food sectors have about shortages. Brexit will not ease these pressures in either jurisdiction.


Brexit has created division between sections of the British ruling class and the Irish ruling class. It  has exacerbated the division between unionism (for) and nationalism(against). It has seen a huge increase in racist attacks across the British isles and lead to huge fears within migrants populations.    

A rise in either British or Irish nationalism is never a good thing. In Britain  its extreme manifestations in UKIP and Britain First spread hatred and fear, divides workers and plays to the interests of sections of British capitalism.Within Ireland apart from creating even more divisions between catholic and protestant workers it plays into the hands  of armed militant nationalist groups that learn little from history. A hard border would see the renewal of armed attacks on all symbols associated with that border and elicit sympathy and support from sections of  nationalism at a time when there is little enthusiasm  for the armed dissidents. 

Neither brexit nor THE EU

The alternative to nationalism is internationalism.Neither brexit nor the EU can solve the current crisis of capitalism. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and still have much left over but capitalism accumulates and puts wealth into he hands of a few while the many starve. Both sides of the Brexit argument believe in and advocate capitalism. But it is that very capitalism that causes war, famine racism and slavery. For socialists the fight against capitalism begins in their own country for  

“The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. “(The Communist Manifesto)

If we are ever to overcome all the manifestations of  capitalism then we need to patiently explain to workers  that neither Brexit nor any other alternatives will solve the problems of the world. We all live in the world and what affects workers anywhere affects workers every where. 

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. 
They have a world to win.
Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

Gerry Ruddy 13/12/17

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