Time for a united approach to solidarity work

Following Gerry Adams' recent call for a solidarity movement in Britain to help end Partition, John Murphy looks at the possibilities for bringing this about

FOR Ireland to be reunited British government policy needs to be democratically, not imperialistically, based.

That is, it needs to be based on the principle that England, or Britain, has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never will have any right in Ireland - and that the only basis for a sensible British policy on Ireland is to work towards total political disengagement from the island in the shortest practical possible time, with the maximum obtainable agreement of those who live there.

Constructive disengagement from Ireland must become a prime policy goal of British government. The Good Friday agreement and the devolved institutions that agreement proposes for the six counties is one step on that road. However, the power-sharing administration at Stormont is being stymied at present by Ian Paisley, refusing to work with Sinn Fein despite the IRA's military campaign now over.

For partition to end the British government needs to join the ranks of the persuaders, to encourage northern unionists to see that their best future lies in a coming-together with their nationalist and Catholic fellow-countrymen to help run an all-Ireland republic that is worthy of the name. That means an Irish state in line with the best radical traditions of Northern Protestantism itself, in particular the United Irishmen who founded Irish republicanism and whose political centre was Belfast in their day.

The key to changing British government policy towards one of actively encouraging Irish reunification, particularly so far as the Northern Unionist community is concerned, partly lies with the Irish government and international opinion, but it lies with British public opinion above all.

British public opinion alone has the power to determine British government policy and, if organised, to change that policy into a more progressive one. It alone is strong enough to shift the balance of political forces on these islands decisively in favour of Irish nationalism and ending partition, which is the still-to-be-attained goal of the Irish democratic revolution.

Many British trade unions have Irish members, who could be encouraged to raise the partition question and related issues with their fellow British trade unionists in this country and get appropriate resolutions passed in their unions' policy-making bodies.

Some three-quarters of a million people in Britain were born in Ireland. There are several million second-generation British citizens whose parents came from Ireland.

The Irish community in Britain is the basis for a "Friends of Ireland" solidarity movement. Organisations like the Connolly Association, the Wolfe Tone Society, the Labour Committee on Ireland, Troops Out, the GAA in Britain and the Irish County Associations have been doing good work for years, but without concerting their efforts and without much encouragement from Ireland.

That needs to change. Other friends of Ireland exist in British Labour, trade union, cultural and media circles. What is needed is organisation and resources to encourage a mass movement of solidarity on specific issues of the Irish peace process, but set in the longer-term perspective of the British government being urged to work actively towards disengagement from Ireland on the basis of majority northern consent to that process.

The focus of practical solidarity activity in Britain needs to be on lobbying MPs, in their constituencies and at Westminster. It is MPs who make the laws and decide the government in Britain. A handful of people in a constituency can do wonders in educating an MP on the requirements of the Irish question, if they get together and go about it sensibly.

Whether the MPs are Labour, Liberals, Tories or Scots and Welsh Nationalists, they can all be influenced for good. This can be done by speaking to them in their constituency clinics, by writing letters to them, by sending them good political materials, by raising the Irish issue with the media and organisations in their constituencies.

Over time MPs can be turned into conscious supporters of the Irish cause. Or if a minority of them are blatantly hostile, intelligent lobbying by their constituents can lessen such hostility.

Links for this purpose need to be established between the Irish organisations in Britain and among opinion leaders in the Irish community. There needs to be broad agreement on common demands and lines of approach.

There is need of a mechanism for pooling information on the attitudes of MPs and for producing information materials that people can use in parliamentary constituencies all over Britain. There are around 600 of these.

People in Britain with the imagination and political insight to want to contribute to making Irish history at this time need to set about these tasks.

To be politically effective a solidarity movement with Ireland must be British-based and indigenously led. It cannot be a support group for anybody or party in Ireland. Its policy and leadership need to be decided in Britain.

It is they who must carry the can for any successes or failures, but they can be encouraged by the national movement in Ireland, and they need to hear from it what policy goals in the six counties are to the fore at any particular moment.

Paisley and other Irish politicians at Westminster have no business making laws for the British people. We need to get this message across.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-04-07 13:59:56.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2006 John Murphy