publication of the first report of the so-called Independent
Monitoring Commission (IMC) has put the disbanding
of the IRA at the centre of the peace process. The
subsequent announcement in early May by the British
and Irish governments of a road map to
restore devolved power to the north of Ireland is
little more than political posturing as loyalist attacks
have continued on the nationalist community. With
the summer Protestant marching season approaching,
nationalists are bracing themselves for further loyalist
Irish and British governments established the IMC
in January; its remit is to monitor the ceasefire
and report every six months. The body is outside of
the Good Friday Agreement and demonstrates the power
of Unionism and the British government to set the
pace of political events in the north of Ireland.
Following the alleged IRA kidnapping incident of dissident
republican Bobby Tohill in Belfast on 20 February,
the IMCs first report was published early
on 20 April. It details the level of violence ongoing
throughout the north, condemns both loyalists and
Republicans and levies financial penalties against
both Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party
(the political wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force).
primary concern of the report is not violence, however.
Its purpose is to isolate Sinn Fein and so press it
into agreeing to the disbandment of the IRA. That
the report confirms the existence of the IRA is embarrassment
enough for Sinn Fein, since it places the organisation
in a difficult position with those it sees as its
major allies the SDLP and the Irish government,
both of whom accepted the report in contrast to Sinn
Fein. The IMC will continue to add to the pressure
on Sinn Fein to make a choice: either break with and
disband the IRA, or lose its bourgeois allies and
with them, the chance of governmental participation.
publishing the report, the Labour government is also
acknowledging that Ian Paisleys Democratic Unionist
Party will never accept devolved power alongside Sinn
Fein. Speaking at his partys conference in Belfast
in early May, Paisley declared This is war,
war waged in every sphere! The restoration of
the Stormont Assembly has never seemed so far away
even though further elections in October are mooted.
Sinn Feins strategy of reaching out to a progressive
side of Unionism has yielded nothing.
realties of peace can best be seen in
the Sandy Row district of South Belfast where loyalists
have recently escalated their racist and sectarian
attacks on residents of the nearby Whitehall Square
apartment block. Sandy Row is a staunchly loyalist
area and is regarded as being a stronghold of the
Ulster Defence Association, responsible for the murder
of hundreds of Catholics throughout the conflict in
the north. Anti-Catholic leaflets have been distributed,
and despite the fact that the apartment block houses
only a handful of Catholic residents, local unionists
have branded it as Vatican Square.
the evening of Wednesday 28 April a picket of over
500 loyalists gathered in a lynch-mob show of strength
demanding the eviction of Catholics. The Police Service
of Northern Ireland (PSNI) made no attempt to disperse
the hate mob. Late on Friday 30 April, residents were
awoken by a Unionist band playing sectarian music.
This was followed by a sustained attack on the apartments
by loyalists wielding baseball bats and sledgehammers
trying to gain entrance to the complex. Such intimidation
has resulted in a number of Catholics leaving the
area. On Tuesday 11 May a gang of 40 masked loyalists
drove into the McClure Street area of South Belfast
threatening local residents while the PSNI looked
on in riot gear. Nationalists living in interface
areas in Belfast are on high alert in fear of loyalist
attacks following this spate of incidents.
Good Friday Agreement long ago ceased to have any
meaning for those nationalists on the receiving end
of sustained loyalist attacks and living in daily
fear of their lives. Meanwhile, the IMC report has
put further pressure on the republican movement to
disband the IRA. Should this happen, who will defend
the nationalist people against the loyalist bigots?
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