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Sunday 20 November 2005

Why Bertie coos in Gerry's ear

WELL, I hate to say this, but I agree with Gerry Adams about something. "If it comes to it," he said smugly on Wednesday, "a Taoiseach-in-waiting needs to cosy up to Sinn Fein in the Dail chamber or a corridor. Do you want to put a bet on it that we won't be getting phone calls?"

Now Adams was pretending to be talking about all party leaders, but in fact he was talking about Bertie and only Bertie, for the pair of them are engaged at present in interesting, slightly-coded, partly-public negotiations.

Here are some edited highlights:

Bertie proposes "that Northern Ireland MPs be invited to make periodic presentations regarding Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement in a committee of the whole House". He feigns surprise and disappointment when this is turned down by the other Dail parties and by unionists.

Has he given up? "It's a bit in the washing machine," he explained to journalists last week. "We will see if there is some other way."

So, I remain the good guy, Gerry. It's the other bastards that want to keep you out.

Now in his latest encyclical, The New Ireland, Gerry has explained that there's no truth in the allegation that SF thinks the IRA Army Council is the legitimate government of Ireland: indeed SF categorically accepts "the institutions of the southern state as the legitimate institutions of this state".

Furthermore, SF will participate in government "if we have the mandate and if the opportunity presents. If we can secure an inter-party agreement that is consistent with our republican principles and objectives". We're up for a deal, Bertie, seeing you're a republican, a socialist - and unscrupulous to boot.

So Bertie tells the Irish News that SF couldn't be in government in the Republic, "as long as they were associated with a paramilitary organisation, as long as the Provisional IRA was there, because you couldn't subscribe to Bunreacht na hEireann and be part of an alternative army". However, "if the International Monitoring Commission - and all the security agencies - continue to indicate that paramilitary activities have ceased for good, then that removes that stigma".

Just play it cool, Gerry, and - at the very least - get ready to fake a divorce.

Meanwhile, an allegedly leaked document on SF's economic policy has shown that they are considerably less barking than hitherto. In place of proposals to nationalise private property and soak the rich, they suggest increases in capital gains and corporation tax, and raising the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent. We're in the ball park, Bertie.

Enter Bertie with another Aunt Sally. In an exclusive in last week's Sunday Independent, cunningly timed to take the headlines away from Fine Gael's national conference and the PDs' 20th anniversary party, Bertie explains that because of their 35 years of Marxism, "a practical republican programme delivering real benefits for ordinary people would be impossible with Sinn Fein in government". He would rather go into opposition than do a deal. 'Jesuitical phrases are flowing, and tea and bikkies are being dished out to unionists bigtime'

So it's the economy, stupid. Gerry, you're going to have to gallop a whole lot faster down that capitalist trail.

"It's the election, stupid, if I may borrow a phrase," responds Gerry. And - echoed by the usual Greek chorus - he explains: "It's not a question of will Fianna Fail share power with Sinn Fein. It's a question of will Sinn Fein go into government with Fianna Fail." There's nothing wrong, says Gerry, with SF's economic policy, which is to prevent privatisation of public services. "The wealth should be used to provide public services and not to reward big business and those who may be cronies of the more conservative parties." What's more, there will be no SF commitments to raising taxes, though they are intent on tax reform and removal of loopholes. Your inner socialist and my inner capitalist could yet form a relationship, Bertie.

That's where the Gerry and Bertie show is at right now.

Bertie will, of course, continue to reassure those parts of the electorate who loathe SF that he won't do any deal - and he hopes he won't have to - but between them, he and Gerry are making sure the option is open. In exchange for SF being more pragmatic about the economy and FF throwing loads of money at SF's pet projects and turning a more bilious shade of green, Bertie might form a minority government with SF support.

Where are the unionists in all this? Bemused, as usual. Since David Trimble departed, there's no one capable of decoding Gerry, let alone Bertie. Trimble's successor, Sir Reg Empey, said that in proposing Dail speaking rights for NI MPs and MEPs, Bertie was undermining the Agreement and "not acting as a good neighbour".

"Bertie Ahern is such an experienced politician," said the Belfast Telegraph, "that he must have known that his rejection of Sinn Fein as future coalition partners would undermine his support for devolution in Northern Ireland."

Bertie's done some running around in Northern Ireland, trying to kiss it better. Jesuitical phrases are flowing, and tea and bikkies are being dished out to unionists bigtime, but Bertie's bottom line is that while he takes risks for peace, he'll take a damn sight more risks for Fianna Fail.

Unionists being upset is, of course, what causes Gerry Adams to lick his lips.

The SF/IRA project to destabilise Northern Ireland - which is behind their recent hullabaloo in the Dail about a united Ireland - is being unwittingly assisted by Bertie.

No party in Northern Ireland except SF trusts the British government, for Tony Blair is industriously delivering on a sequence of squalid deals he has done with Adams. They had more trust in Bertie, but that is being eroded. The more he confuses unionists, the more paranoid and aggressive will be their response to SF's siren calls for reconciliation and devolution. Bertie is being cute. But you can be too cute for your own good. Or even that of your party. And your country. 

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards