From Martin MacMillan in Belfast
Mr Gerry Fitt, MP, Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, was on firm ground when he repudiated the claim of the paramilitary organisations to speak for the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr Fitt referred last weekend, when the SDLP held its annual conference in Belfast, to reports of a get-together of the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and the Provisional Sinn Fein at a hotel in Bergen Binnen. These organisations, some of which have been banned by the Northern Ireland authorities, met on the pretence that they were to discuss problems like housing, employment and community development in Northern Ireland. More likely they were trying to see if some kind of a "truce" might be made between them.
Rev William Arlow, who played a prominent part in the truce talks with Provisional IRA last December, helped to arrange the conference in Holland. The Dutch Council of Churches acted as hosts to the Ulster paramilitary leaders. But as Gerry Fitt said at the SDLP conference, who gave these paramilitarists the right to speak for anyone. They have no mandate from the electorate on any side. They never present themselves for election or put forward policies that the public may judge. "I resent bitterly," says Mr Fitt, "the idea of these paramilitary organisations getting together in Holland to discuss our future and the future of our children. We do not want men with their records to discuss our problems."
The getting together of Ulster's paramilitary leaders must be mystifying to anyone who is trying to understand the causes of Northern Ireland's dilemma.
The UVF and the UDA are supposed to be utterly opposed to Provisional IRA's aim of an Irish Republic yet the Provisionats act on the cornpletely unrealistic assumption that the Loyalist paramilitarists are their potential allies against the British Government and the Army in Northern Ireland.
The SDLP conference. which was attended by more than 600 delegates from all over Northern Ireland, met at a time when it seems that there is no hope of devolved government being restored to Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future.
The Report of the Northern Ireland Convention which is in effect the views and policies of the United Loyalist parties. rules out all compromise with the Catholic minority and in-, sists not only on the restoration of majority rule in Northern Ireland but also on powers far greater than the powers of the old Stormont Parliament. For one thing. the Loyalists want their new parliament to have the right to veto decisions of the House of Commons.
Mr Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has already told the Loyalist politicians that their report is not acceptable and that if they want a local administration they must think again and produce a scheme that will include genuine power-sharing for the minority.
His statement on this will be made some time before Christmas, though the Convention is not likely to be re-convened until the New Year.
The Loyalists are now in a dilemma, but as Gerry Fitt told the SDLP delegates they are likely to press for "complete integration" within the United Kingdom before they will share power with the Catholics. Paisley is said to be in favour of complete integration. Mr Enoch Powell has said that it is the only logical solution from the Loyalist viewpoint.
As a policy, however, complete integration is a nonstarter. The British Government thinks it is nonsense when they are trying to get the people of Northern Ireland to find a solution among themselves. It would be resented by the Government in Dublin. And it would probably encourage much more violence.
The SDLP delegates were themselves in a dilemma on the question of policing in Northern Ireland. The party had been urged by Mr Tom Donnelly, an SDLP local council member, to declare their acceptance or the Royal Ulster Constabulary and to advise the Catholics to allow the police back into areas like the Bogside of Derry and the Catholic areas of' West Belfast.
But the party conference decided by a large majority that they could not recommend acceptance of the RUC so long as there is not a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland.
Quite clearly, one of the SDLP's fears is that the police would again come under the control of the Loyalist politicians. That, however, is not what the RUC themselves want. They have stated, once again, that they do not want to be controlled by local politicians. They are satisfied to be under the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Police Authority, one of the bodies appointed as a result of Mr James Callaghan's reform programme in 1969,,