Ireland: North still denied equality

May 29, 2015

Celebrating referendum victory in Dublin. Photo: An Phoblacht.

As most of Ireland celebrates marriage equality – passed overwhelmingly in a May 22 referendum - the six counties in its north carved off and still claimed by Britain remain excluded.

As part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in the northern Ireland statelet, the republican party Sinn Fein, which strongly supports gay rights, shares power with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports the “union” with Britain. The DUP strongly opposes marriage equality, even though it has been adopted in Britain.

The referendum has made clear the reactionary, undemocratic nature of the partitioning of Ireland. This historic crime took place when an an agreement to end Ireland's war of independence was signed in 1922 that created an Irish “free state” in 26 of Ireland's countries, but retained British rule over Northern Ireland.

Partition was based on creating an artificial majority of Protestants, who tended to support British rule. In a state that proudly declared itself a “Protestant state for Protestant people”, Protestants were granted systemic privileges over the Catholic minority, which tended to support the cause of Irish unity.

Inspired by the civil rights movement for Black rights in the United States, in the late 60s a peaceful mass movement broke out in the six counties for equality for the marginalised Catholic population. Its violent repression by the Northern Irish state, armed Protestant gangs and, eventually, the British Army led directly to decades of violence known as “The Troubles”.

The GFA was signed as a way to end the armed conflict and create a democratic path to resolve the issues — including offering a peaceful route to achieve Irish unity.

However the pro-British “unionist” parties have proven reluctant to allow social progress — whether in the form of breaking down sectarian discrimination against Catholics or other measures that challenge their particular brand of Christian fundamentalism, such as marriage equality.

Ironically, the DUP blocks marriage equality in Ireland's north despite the fact that right has been granted in Britain, whose claim over the six counties the unionists support. This means across the entire British Isles, it is not only the artificially created ghetto that is Northern Ireland in which marriage equality is denied.

A May 25 article in Sinn Fein's paper An Phoblacht said that while Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams hailed the referendum win as a “good day for Ireland”, he said the same rights must be extended to the north.

“There were jubilant scenes at Dublin Castle where a crowd of almost 2000 people had crowded into the main courtyard to celebrate the result - a scene which was replicated on a smaller scale at count centres throughout the state,” the article said.

Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane said: “The marriage equality rights that will be enjoyed by Irish citizens in the south must be shared by citizens in the north.

“Sinn Fein will continue to campaign for marriage equality for all in the North and to end the discrimination against our LGBTI community.”

An Phoblacht said attempts by Sinn Fein to introduce marriage equality in the north have been repeatedly blocked by the main unionist parties. Amnesty International Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan described the north as “the last bastion of discrimination against gay people in these islands”.

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