July 6, 2001 | Page 7
NORTHERN IRELAND was facing a new political crisis at the beginning of July in the wake of stepped-up violence against the Catholic minority.
David Trimble, the leading Protestant politician in Northern Ireland, resigned as first minister from a power-sharing government involving both Protestants and Catholics that was formed last year after years of negotiations.
Trimble said that he was resigning to protest the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) delays in handing over weapons.
In fact, the IRA--which fought a decades-long armed struggle against occupying British troops and the Protestant-dominated state machine that the soliders propped up--has put its weapons "beyond use," in stockpiles monitored by international observers. But Trimble and other Protestant politicians--known as Unionists or Loyalists, because they want Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain--say the IRA's guns must be "decommissioned."
Yet this demand comes even as Loyalist thugs have increased their violence against Catholics.
In Belfast last month, a Loyalist mob blocked Catholic parents from taking their children to a parochial school in a Protestant neighborhood, sparking days of rioting. At the end of the month, a Catholic man was gunned down in front of his family--the victim of Loyalist paramilitaries, who certainly haven't decommissioned their weapons.
What's more, July is the beginning of Orange marching season--a series of parades organized by Loyalists that have traditionally been an excuse for anti-Catholic violence. The first of the Orange marches is July 8, in the Belfast neighborhood of Portadown, the scene of bloody clashes in recent years.
Trimble's resignation has nothing to do with peace. He issued his threat to resign two months ago--in the middle of an election campaign, in a desperate attempt to unite his Protestant followers and whip up support. But the threat only gave more momentum to Unionist hardliners like Ian Paisley, who don't want any compromises.
Among ordinary Catholics and Protestants, the "peace" process that ended decades of violence is still very popular. But the power-sharing arrangement put in place last year doesn't answer the questions that led to the violence.
In fact, it has only solidified sectarian divisions, with Catholic and Protestant politicians vying to represent "their" communities.
There is an alternative to the conflict--a working-class alternative that unites Catholics and Protestants in a fight for better conditions against the bosses of both communities.