KEVIN McNAMARA, Labour MP, for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central and chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party's Northern Ireland group, writes: "If there is renewed violence the people who will suffer will, as ever be the working classes . .
Next Thursday the people of Northern Ireland are going to the polls for the fifth time in less than three years. With colleagues, I shall he going to observe the elections. I go to Belfast on this occasion with little of the hope and expectation that preceded the elections for the first Northern Ireland Assembly under the Whitelaw Constitution.
Nominations closed for the Northern Ireland Convention on April 14. There are 165 candidates for 78 seats, the two main contestants being the United Ulster Unionist Coalition against the rest, who all with one exception support some form of power-sharing. The exception is the official Sinn Fein Party.
When 1 last wrote on this topic two months ago, I said: "If the cease-fire lasts until the elections are held, the Unionist Coalition will probably be the largest party in the Convention but without an absolute majority, in which case there is a possibility that there will emerge a new constitution for the Six Counties . . .
"If the cease-fire does not just. then the Unionist Coalition Will probably have an absolute majority in the Convention ..."
Then I was cautiously optimistic that UUUC was just going to fail to win its absolute majority. Now I am no longer sure. The bloody events qf the past two months have doae what I thought a breakdown in the Provisional's cease-fire would do: it has hardened attitudes and drummed both sides back into their ghettoes.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) which Merlyn Rees removed from the list of illegal organisations at the same time as he legitimised the Provisional Sinn Fein. has been engaged in a vicious feud with the Ulster Defence Association, an organisation never declared illegal by Labour or Tory Governments.
Their dispute is said not to be ideological but economic, sheer gangsterism for a "bigger slice of the action," but to dismiss it in such a manner would be foolish for it must be remembered that the UVF has been deliberately coldshouldered by the Loyalist establishment which has nevertheless countenanced the activities of the other Protestant para-military forces.
Despite the temporary ceasefire negotiated by Michael Mullen, the Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, the Irish Republican Socialist Party has continued its feud with the official IRA. The theology of these Catholic and Protestant feuds has meant little to either
population but their effect has been significant. The intra-sectarian warfare has meant that the Moderate Unionists, the followers of Brian Faulkener, and the Alliance Party have had little opportunity to promote themselves. Their message of moderation and compromise has been stifled by the gag of bomb and bullet.
Despite their contesting 50 seats, they have little chance of affecting the outcome of the elections. Their hope that they might become a strong centre grouping holding the balance of power now seems to be very remote.
The SDLP will again be the main party of the minority. It will probably maintain its present representation and there is an outside chance that it will improve upon it. The Republican Club candidate might pick up one or two seats — one in Belfast and possibly one in South Down or Armagh.
Provisional Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, decided not to put forward any candidates. I regret this decision, Provisional Sinn Fein has a point of view which cannot be ignored and which shotikl be put to the test.
Its, reasons for not standing are that men are still interned without trial in Long Kesh and
it does not recognise the British Government's right to organise elections in the Six Counties. The latter is the classic Republican case.
Unkind critics allege that the main reason why there are no Provo candidates is that they would be completely repudiated at the Polls by the Catholic population. This would be a grave blow to their prestige because of the kudos that they have gained for maintaining their side of the bargain, for as far as the Provisional Sinn Fein is concerned the cease-fire still holds.
At the time of my writing there have not been any major incidents since the cease-fire was declared which can be laid at the door of the Provisionals. Merlyn Rees said in reply to a question from me in the House: "The amount of violence on the part of Provisional IRA is extremely small. However, in terms of the actual involvement I have no figures. The short answer concerning figures of involvement is that I have no evidence."
The question arises, then, why amidst all this increasing sectarian violence have the Provisional IRA been so quiet? I think the answer lies in that it is waiting to see what emerges from the Constitutional Convention. The Northern Ireland Office hoped that once the Convention Elections were over, the newly elected members would form committees to discuss a variety of topics concerned with the manner in which a new Legislative Assembly might function and that the new members would take trips about the world to see power sharing in operation where there are other divided communities. Then the Convention would reassemble and the negotiations would begin.
That is not to be.
The United Ulster Unionist Coalition has rejected all that manner of thinking of the Northern Ireland Office. "We are not going to do any horse trading behind closed doors," said Ian Paisley, afraid that there might be a repeat of the manoeuvrings that brought the former Executive into existance and left him out in the cold.
Indeed if the UUUC have their way there will he no private discussions at all, only an acceptance of its terms — a return to 1968.
The UUUC have stated that they demand from the British Government a return to a cabinet system done-party majority rule. as in the old Stormont, backed by a new auxiliary police force, resurrected "B" Specials, with — as a sop for the minority population -advisory committees below cabinet level.
The SDLP could walk out of a Convention that made such recommendations but it is more probable that it will publish its own minority proposals. Then there quietly standing in the wings ready "to defend" the Catholic minority is the Provisional IRA.
It is not a pleasant scenario. The British Government hopes that there will be some "give" in the present united front of the Unionists. I think not.
With mounting unemployment on the mainland, the social contract under strain and inflation still to be conquered, how much attention will a British Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet pay to the Northern Ireland question? How much will they or the people of the mainland care?
There is a great deal at stake in the results of this election. If there is renewed violence the people who will suffer will, as ever, be the working classes in the Six Counties and probably on this island, as well.
Thursday, May 1 is the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. Pray that St Jospeh will not desert the Catholic or Protestant workers on his Feast Day: