From International Socialism (1st series), No.58, May 1973, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
After just over a year of direct rule, combined with intensified pressure on the republicans, the British government – supported by the Labour Party – is pushing ahead with its major attempt to ‘normalise’ the situation in the six counties. The June elections are intended to produce a ‘government’ (without however powers relating to ‘law and order’) of moderates, i.e., middle class unionists and middle class catholics. Under the new constitutional scheme
‘executive power will rest with political heads of departments, supported by committees of the assembly ... the membership of the committees will reflect the composition of the assembly.’
To facilitate, as far as possible, the election of the ‘right’ type of candidate the single transferable vote system is to be operated. Every electoral system has a built-in bias to tend to produce a particular kind of result. The object of the STV is not to guarantee proportionate catholic representation – proportional representation is the method to ensure that. The object is to maximise the prospects of the ‘moderates’ on both sides of the religious divide, something which neither proportional representation nor ‘first past the post’ would do.
The government and its Labour Party supporters are hoping to create a new conservative political ‘establishment’ to replace the orange-unionist mafia which became an obstacle to British economic domination of the 26 counties and a serious embarrassment in the six counties. It would not be a non-sectarian establishment so much as one in which sectarianism is institutionalised and the spoils (power, jobs, housing) divided, in rough proportion between, the protestant and catholic ‘moderates’. Sectarianism, in moderated form, would continue to divide the working class. The power of patronage – very important in an area of permanent heavy unemployment – would be used to give the establishment, if it could be brought into being, the sort of political base that US city bosses used to enjoy. Such a regime would be ‘safe’ from a big business point of view and compatible with good relations with Dublin. It would ensure the effective exclusion of working class ‘extremists’ – protestant and catholic alike – from any serious influence in the political machines.
The prospects for a government success with this scheme are uncertain. The intimidation, harassment and shootings in catholic areas are an essential part of the government’s political strategy (which requires the destruction of the morale of the periphery of the provisionals). But increasingly these actions are producing a backlash which can not only recreate the provisionals’ base but also force the SDLP into a more ‘militant’ posture which could wreck the whole operation. In the other camp, Craig and his associates are publically committed to paralysing the scheme by participation and obstruction. It remains to be seen how much ‘war weariness’ will produce a groundswell in favour of the government.
Last updated on 10.3.2008