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Sunday 26 August 2007

SF is back playing 'wind up the Prods'

What is Gerry Adams up to? In theory, he should be striving to consolidate the power-sharing deal at Stormont. Are republicans not supposed to be delighted that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness seem to be getting on so well that they've been nicknamed the 'The Chuckle Brothers'? Yet Adams's recent activities are so undermining the delicate relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein as to have the potential to blow it apart.

There are plenty of contentious issues that the Executive can resolve only with the utmost goodwill. The two parties are fundamentally at loggerheads over, for instance, an Irish Language Act, the Sinn Fein demand for a national stadium on the Maze site with a hunger strikers' cosy corner and the choice of a new victims' commissioner. Even more important is the chasm between the parties about the devolution of justice and policing to Stormont: SF want it to happen next May; the DUP want a guarantee first that their colleagues in power are truly wedded to upholding law and order and the State that pays them.

So you might think that Sinn Fein would wish to reassure unionists of their peaceable and honourable intentions. Was that not the purpose of setting up Unionist Outreach almost two years ago -- even if they rather spoiled it by appointing a convicted terrorist, Martina Anderson, to be its frontperson?
Why is Gerry Adams not uttering soothing words about peace and harmony rather than -- as he's been doing for weeks -- playing with increasing aggression the time-honoured republican game known as 'winding up the Prods'.

One of the sorest spots for unionists (and, indeed, constitutional nationalists) is that by screaming collusion at every turn, republicans are trying to market the fiction that they didn't murder anyone.

Unionists know the statistics: republican paramilitaries killed 2,160 or so and lost fewer than 400; loyalists killed 1,000 and lost just over 170; the British army killed 301 and lost 503; local defence forces (UDR and RIR) killed 8 and lost 206 and the RUC killed 50 and lost 303. So by any reckoning, republicans killed more than all the other participants put together, paramilitaries of all persuasions got off very lightly and the security forces suffered disproportionately.

Those truths of course don't suit the republican revisionists. The present Adams-led initiative seeks not just to airbrush out the nastier bits of their three decades of hideous and pointless violence: they're trying to change their image completely. Think of replacing Stalin's photograph with Gandhi and you've got the general idea.

Republicans used to demand that there be no hierarchy of victims. Unionists feel these days that there is a hierarchy, and republicans are at the top.
They're already upset that all public inquiries in Northern Ireland are focusing on victims dear to republicans (except Billy Wright, whom most unionists despise) and all other investigations seem never to touch on paramilitary wrong-doing.

For a long time, the SF mantra has been that the British government directed and colluded in all murders committed by loyalists. Now we are being asked to believe that the British government and its agents were behind all the deaths of the Troubles. (That Lord Eames -- the former Archbishop of Armagh -- and Denis Bradley, who have been given the job of coming up with ideas on how to address the legacy of the Troubles, should have headed off to London to discuss collusion with Lord Stevens does not reassure unionists.)
Adams's recent activities climaxed in the 'March for Truth' he led a fortnight ago. Outside Belfast City Hall, wearing a black armband to symbolise solidarity with victims, the Sinn Fein president told around 2,000 followers that there would be no let-up in the search for truth until "the British state acknowledges its administrative and institutional use of state violence and collusion".

Coming from someone who led the IRA and denies even being a member, this didn't go down too well. Nor did the fact that participants carried replica weapons and IRA insignia, although the Parades Commission prohibits paramilitary trappings.The outrage from the grassroots expressed in radio phone-ins and the letters pages of the unionist Newsletter was deeply alarming for the DUP: even the mild-mannered Jeffrey Donaldson is calling for prosecutions.

So it is hardly surprising that the MP David Simpson went on the offensive by announcing his intention of naming under parliamentary privilege a prominent SF politician as the man who had planned his [Simpson's] cousin's murder in 1979 and who had then become a police informer.

So the primary result of Adams's most recent activities has been to stir up the DUP heartlands and cause consternation in republican ranks.

Is it possible that his humiliation in the Irish election has unhinged him?

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards