The Northern crisis still smoulders

THE SITUATION in the North is now more grave than it has ever been before. When trouble broke out in earlier decades it cost many lives but rapidly dwindled in intensity. For months now, despite a massive deployment of troops, trouble has continued and even spread. In August trouble was mainly confined to two areas of Belfast; the Falls Road area and the Ardoyne area. Since then the Antrim Road and the Ballymacarrett areas have become increasingly involved.

No week has passed without a major incident. Tear-gas has been used on three separate weekends against Protestant crowds, and many of their leaders, including Paisley and McKeague, have been gassed. The Sandy Row area is now the only Protestant working-class district which has not seen direct confrontation between locals and the troops. The trouble has not only included sporadic bursts of vandalism and looting but has involved thousands of Protestants of all ages, whose deep anger and humiliation worsens with each successive weekend. This anger which is directed at British troops ultimately involves the British government.

Callaghan tendentiously distributes blame
Callaghan has clearly recognised the immense danger to British prestige implied in this continued street-fighting. At the Labour Party Congress he made a deliberate attempt to conciliate Protestant opinion by trying to distribute blame in a higWy tendentious manner. This points to his awareness that the Protestant right-wing has been immeasurably strengthened by the involvement of the British troops.

Belfast cannot be quietened. The troops are caught in an extremely delicate position. When they attempted to conciliate opinion in Belfast by refusing to enforce law and order tension was created by their obvious inability to protect the Catholic community. When they decided to baton and tear. gas Protestant crowds they further deepened Protestant animosity_ Either way they have only managed to worsen the situation. The only way the troops could have stopped riotous assembly and agitation in Protestant areas would have been to occupy all Belfast by force, thus paving the way for a full scale insurrection. Because they could not do this they have been forced to allow Catholics to protect themselves and have consequently appeared partisan.
Before Callaghan's first visit to the North, Stormont had agreed to pass diluted reforms based on new gerrymandered local councils and on reduced power in local government. However, the visit had the effect of making these reforms appear to be a concession to Britain. Callaghan's establishment of the Hunt commission appeared to be a direct threat to the Protestant militia, who have been the bastion of security for the Protestant working class and provided employment and flattery for hundrcds of Protestant working-class youths.

The Stormont Government has been totally alienated from the movement of Protestant reaction. Chichester-Clark can no longer make speeches blaming the I.R.A. or speeches attacking the demand for certain civil rights. Part of the price for his survival has been the winning of unanimous cabinet support for higWy unpopular measures. The prestige of the government among the rank and file of the R. U .C. must be at an all-time low. The Government can no longer gain support by forcing militant confrontation with the largely Catholic civil rights movement. The absurd posturing and repression which helped make Stormont appear to be accepting its demands while crushing the movement has all stopped. Now the reality of Stormont's sell-out to Catholic militancy confronts the Protestant right-wing.

British imperialism dead
The basic contradiction in the North is that Britain is being forced to act in a way which makes the situation worse. If Britain in previous periods of trouble allowed the Orange militia to terrorise the Catholic population into submission, it cannot tolerate this any longer. The Labour government has to pretend that the era of British Imperialism is dead and the interests of British capital lie in a stable, integrated society and not one dominated by local factory-owners. Britain has accordingly supported the Civil Rights Movement.It cannot draw back when the unrealised power of Protestant reaction has revealed itself.

All this means that decisions affecting the future of the North can now be taken by the extra-parliamentary Protestant street militia.The extreme
right has the support of overwhelming numbers in Belfast and the parliamentary forces cannot affect this polarisation. If there is another pogrom the possibility of a British takeover of Stormont cannot be discounted.

In the last year Britain has reversed stands it has taken on the North for fifty years. Westminster has created the precedent of discussing the North. It has openly intervened in internal matters in Northern Ireland even if it has not yet admitted it. Because Britain now discounts the possibility of a complete takeover does not invalidate its feasibility. The stage is rapidly being approached where two crises are being reached simultaneously.

Firstly Stormont may reach a point where it will have to openly oppose a a Brhish diktat to preserve any credibility with its supporters. This could occur on a number of issues such as the recomposition of the B Specials or the continued existence of "Free Derry" and" Free Belfast." Such opposition would not be a declaration of U.D.I. but it would have the same effect. It would precipitate a constitutional crisis.

The second crisis is dangerously near already. A point is being reached where to stop a further outbreak of Protestant repression and dissidence in the ranl{s of the troops, the British military may have to place all Belfast under army control. This would have the effect of jeopardising police loyalty to the constitutional government and of creating a state of open rebellion among thousands of Protestants. Every week more drastic measures are being taken by the troops. The logical end of this escalation is military occupation of the city.

Catholic bigotry
Another problem for Britain in its efforts to contain the situation is the' evidence of galloping bigotry among Catholics. The kicking of a well-known Paisleyite Protestant to death in Derry removes a strong misconception. One hope for peace in the past was the lack of real provocation of the Protestants by the Catholic community. The fear which the fascists played on in August were fears of a Southern invasion and of a defeated R.U.C. in Derry. But the provocation of a Protestant being killed by a Catholic mob is very real and makes it highly problematic that Catholics will continue to direct their bitterness against the Unionist government rather than the Paisleyite despoilers.

If the Paisleyite forces of the U.V.F. and the local Belfast defence committees unleash their forces they may bring Stormont tumbling down in ruins and like Samson destroy themselves in the process. So much depends on whether Paisley and his men know how near they are to forcing a total abolition of Unionism On Westminster