Why peaceful G8 will be a triumph for Left
Street disorder – from whatever quarter – can only drown out the progressive coalition that is asking serious questions about global justice, writes Henry McDonald
May 1, 2004 was officially designated as the Day of Welcomes in the Republic. The country's guests were the 10 ex-communist states of the old Soviet eastern bloc who, on that day, joined the European Union.
Their elevation into the EU was marked by an official ceremony at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin's Phoenix Park as Ireland played host to the largest single expansion of the EU in its history.
Not everyone who descended upon Dublin that day was treated to a dose of Ceadh Mile Failte, however.
As the red carpet was rolled out for the eastern Europeans, units of the Garda Siochana were busting in doors in the city's South Circular Road, targeting and arresting people deemed 'foreign troublemakers', who had come into the Republic to disrupt the ceremony.
They were mainly French anarchists, who had travelled via ferry into Irish ports and had been planning to stage a riot close to Garda lines blocking off access to Phoenix Park, close to Sean Hueston bridge near the station of the same name.
In spite of this pre-emptive action, there was still trouble at the Castleknock end of Phoenix Park, which resulted in gardai deploying a water cannon borrowed from the PSNI.
There were short running battles between a hotch-potch of different demonstrators and the Garda riot squad, which, as the day wore on, eventually fizzled out. The ceremony was so far away from the disorder that it passed off seamlessly. Unlike the Garda, however, the PSNI and the Security Service (MI5) face two fronts as Fermanagh hosts a global economic and political summit.
The G8 gathering next week poses a double headache for the security forces, while at the same time stoking up fears of repressive policing and overkill.
The PSNI is well-used to quelling street disorder, whether it be at Ardoyne shops every Twelfth of July, or recently the rioting in east Belfast connected to the loyalist flag protests.
The force is, therefore, prepared to deal with a small, but determined minority of anti-capitalist groups who will latch on to legitimate protests about world hunger, corporate tax avoidance and the arms industry to cause trouble.
It is worth pointing out that among those who will take to the streets next weekend against the G8 (or at least to remind the world's leaders of their moral responsibilities to the planet) will be some of the charities and NGOs that the public always supports.
The likes of Oxfam and War on Want, as well as the main churches, will be out in force, transmitting their demands for a fairer global economic system than the one the G8 leaders preside over at present.
The Left, both locally and internationally, in all its disparate forms, will be represented at the demonstration in Belfast on Saturday.
The Left, from the Socialist Workers to the Workers Party, from the communists to the Trotskyist Socialist Party, will fly their banners, sell their papers and hand out their leaders – all of them in spite of their differences, amplifying their anti-capitalism message. Is is too fanciful to imagine that their common purpose on Saturday and next Monday/Tuesday could produce new thinking leading to a new alignment of the local Left?
Could their concerns about the bigger global picture help finally to eclipse their historic distrust of one another? Can they start to move beyond the Stalin-Trotsky split of the 20th century and put it in the past?
Eamonn McCann's idea for an electoral 'Left list' of candidates whom Leftist-thinking voters could support in future Assembly elections, with a range of parties and protest groups putting forward an agreed candidate in a couple of targeted constituencies, might give hope to the thousands out there who don't vote in electoral contests here.
Some of these 'lost voters', or 'non voters', will be out there marching for global justice and peace at the weekend. Perhaps, amid the denunciations of the G8 and capitalist system, the divided ranks of the local Left could spare a thought for those attending the trade union-led rally who are politically homeless in this society.
Of course, the message the likes of Oxfam, the IF campaign, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Left parties will be drowned out in the global media coverage if rioting and general disorder breaks out.
That is hardly likely at the Belfast rally, where the unions – to their enormous credit – have always ensured that their rallies and street demonstration are dignified and disciplined.
Trouble from the fringe quarter might come either at Enniskillen itself on Monday, or along arterial routes into Fermanagh if radical protesters face roadblocks and security checks.
In reality, though, the real concern of the PSNI and MI5 (with its regional HQ in Holywood) is what tactics the republican dissidents might deploy from the weekend onwards.
Police lines and resources will be stretched between protecting President Obama on his brief call into Belfast and holding the security cordon down in Fermanagh.
The new IRA, Oglaigh na hEireann and Continuity IRA may be tempted to attack elsewhere in Northern Ireland, when much of the security will be focused on two locations in the east and west of the province.
They might also plan to provoke street disorder at a time when the world's cameras are here and attack police lines.
The presence of the global media, as well as its leaders, provides an opportunity for 'armed propaganda' again.
Whatever way the dissident strategy is executed on the streets, it will have exactly the same effect as the street disorder of previous G8 summits, caused by a radical, unrepresentative fringe – it will drown out the voices of the legitimate Left and the progressive coalition of churches, charities and trade unions who are trying to raise serious questions about global poverty and oppression.