Build a socialist alternative to the dead-end of sectarian division

Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill have been nominated as First and Deputy First Minister, following the British government’s commitment to introduce Irish language legislation over the heads of the Stormont politicians, and despite the opposition of a large majority of DUP MLAs in an internal vote. 

While the institutions may stumble on for now, however, this crisis is not over. These events – and the deep divisions within the DUP – reflect the reality that the ‘peace process’ has entered a new and turbulent phase.

Roots of the crisis

The Brexit agreement between the Johnson government and the EU was an immediate trigger for the recent upsurge in tensions, as were issues around policing. More fundamentally, however, this is reflective of the inability of the ‘peace process’ to break down divisions in our society, which results in constant political crises.

Politicians who base themselves on sectarianism – whether Orange or Green – have a vested interest in maintaining these divisions. Neither can a real way forward be offered by parties, like Alliance, who embrace the logic of capitalism – a system of exploitation which creates poverty, alienation and inequality.

In the hands of the sectarian politicians, every issue is reduced to a zero-sum game of winners and losers. While progress on the legitimate rights of Irish speakers is to be welcomed, it is an unfortunate reality that the debate around language and cultural rights has been sectarianised by the Unionist and nationalist politicians. In that context, the intervention of the British government will be seen by many as further evidence that Sinn Féin always get their way.

The Socialist Party supports legal recognition of the rights of Irish speakers, as we do for the Ulster Scots tradition. To make these rights a reality, however, requires properly funded public services, which all the main parties have been responsible for cutting.

No way forward – except through working-class unity

Left in the hands of the main Stormont parties, the direction of travel will be towards escalating tensions which can lead to eruptions of violence on our streets, for which working-class communities on both sides of the divide will pay the price. Given the deep divisions which still exist, the looming question of a border poll does not point towards a peaceful resolution of the issue, but the potential unraveling of the ‘peace process’ with disastrous consequences.

But there will be another trend – towards workers and young people coming together for our common interests, often in opposition to the pro-capitalist policies which unite the Stormont politicians. Public sector workers face further years of pay cuts; abortion rights have still not become a reality; Stormont has failed to deliver progress on a range of issues, from gender violence to climate change and integrated education.

This period of capitalist crisis will create opportunities to build an anti-sectarian, socialist voice for workers and young people which challenges the sectarian status quo. This can lay the basis for a real process – based on bringing together working-class communities, not sectarian politicians – which can find solutions to the questions which currently divide us, in a spirit of solidarity, compromise and mutual respect.

But these opportunities must be seized. If you agree, join the socialists today!