In October 2005 an Ard Fheis discussed and adopted a Party Position Paper in relation to Northern Ireland entitled
“we must all see off sectarianism before we advance”. The paper highlighted the persistence of sectarianism in
Northern Ireland Society and identified sectarianism as one of the main causes of the failure to implement the Good Friday
Agreement, in particular the absence of a local devolved democratic Assembly. We noted that the ongoing political stalemate
was giving rise to growing apathy, disillusionment and cynicism about the political process.
The failure to seriously address sectarianism remains as the biggest cause of political instability and division
in Northern Ireland. The document noted:-
“Sectarianism more than anything else stands out as the greatest obstacle to the realisation of a
new society in Northern Ireland which so many hope and long for”.
We also said:-
“There exists no vision or strategy to tackle sectarianism and to promote the concept of citizenship
as an alternative to religions and historical tradition”.
The refusal last month to grant permission for the opening of four integrated schools represents a shameful
example of how true that statement is. Sectarianism continues to be a cancer at the heart of Northern Ireland society and
until it is eradicated we can never truly overcome division.
In addition to the sectarian malaise the growing political vacuum represents a serious obstacle to the development
of democracy and the prospects for class politics. It is tempting but mistaken to believe that it is possible to maintain
the Direct Rule status quo as preferable to a local devolved assembly characterised by sectarian antagonism and intransigence.
The creation of a democratic devolved government in Northern Ireland has been central to the Party Programme since we first
opposed the abolition of Stormont in 1972. Democratic Devolved Government not only removes critical decision making from unaccountable
Direct Rule British Ministers and puts it in the hands of local people in Northern Ireland, but provides the forum where class
politics can replace sectarian politics.
The people of Northern Ireland are facing mounting social and economic problems. The proposed introduction of
water charges, huge increases in gas and electricity prices, job losses in the public administration sector, unaffordable
house prices for young people to name a few. The absence of a devolved assembly leaves the way open for Blairite Ministers
to impose punitive measures whilst at the same time lets off the hook unionist and nationalist parties who would themselves
follow similar policies to the Blairites.
The political process in Northern Ireland requires movement if we are not to lapse into a permanent state of
apathy and cynicism. To avoid this we demand the immediate restoration of the Assembly and Executive. We acknowledge that
changes to the Agreement are required to remove those aspects of it which experience has proven institutionalises sectarian
division in the political structures of Northern Ireland society. Equally the proposed new local government boundaries represent
a re-partition of Northern Ireland on an orange/green basis. Therefore this Ard Fheis:-
- Calls for the removal of the requirement for MLAs to register as either Unionist or Nationalist.
- Calls for the parallel majority requirement to be scrapped and replaced by weighted majority voting.
- Similarly calls for the election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister to be by weighted majority.
- Calls for a programme of social integration under the guise of citizenship as opposed to the present policy of equal but
- Condemns the proposed local government boundaries as a sectarian carve-up which will perpetuate division.
- Demands the retention of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as a single, strategic and public housing body.
- Calls for the scrapping of water charges as unjust and unfair.
- Calls on the Party in Northern Ireland to develop policy papers in relation to key social and economic issues.
- Reiterates our October demand for the development of a centre left block or alliance of democratic, progressive and anti-sectarian
opinion as an opposition to unionism and nationalism.