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24 November 2014

Just occasionally I almost feel a bit sorry for the Sinn Fein leadership

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams

Just occasionally I almost feel a bit sorry for the Sinn Fein leadership. Elderly men like Gerry Adams TD, Martin McGuinness DFM and Pat Doherty MP are well aware that the Provisional IRA campaign was a counter-productive disaster that served only to copper-fasten partition.

What's more, the polls show they are making no headway in selling the idea of a united Ireland either north or south of the border.

It is only through lies, ruthless propaganda, the rewriting of history and the exploiting of those unionists who can't grasp that their side won, that they can keep up the pretence that violence worked.

I had a look just now at some of the documents they exchanged with the SDLP in 1988. "Sinn Fein" they explained, "is totally opposed to a power-sharing Stormont assembly and states that there cannot be a partitionist solution. Stormont is not a stepping-stone to Irish unity. We believe that the SDLP's gradualist theory is therefore invalid and seriously flawed."

Their younger selves would be startled by a glimpse of the future that saw McGuinness and Doherty taking the Queen's shilling in Stormont and Westminster respectively (yes, Sinn Fein MPs won't get salaries until they take their seats, but lavish allowances subsidise their hanging around, lobbying the British left) while Adams commutes to the Dail trying with increasing desperation to make nationalism centre-stage in a Republic that cares only about the economy.

Sinn Fein made much in 1988 of the importance of national self-determination, only to have to accept 10 years later - after a pro-Agreement vote of 94.4% in the Republic - that the southern Irish were thrilled to have an excuse to get rid of constitutional claims to own Northern Ireland.

That the SDLP would prove to have been in all the internal nationalist arguments of the next few years didn't save them from near-obliteration by their driven opponents. This small provincial party will require a massive injection of energy and courage to hang on much longer. Fianna Fail is in trouble and won't be galloping over the border suggesting a merger any day soon.

Yet Sinn Fein may not have as bright a future as its supporters assume. It makes much of being an all-Ireland party, but in reality is as partitioned as the island.

Adams desperately keeps up the all-Ireland veneer by being the Dail party leader, the President of Sinn Fein and a frequent presence in Northern Ireland. Yet Mary Lou McDonald - the face of Sinn Fein Lite - became acceptable in the south because she was a nice middle-class mother who was never involved in violence; her blind loyalty to Adams and her defence of IRA brutality has damaged her.

Conor Murphy MP, who did time for possessing explosives, has the necessary credentials to become leader of the party in the north, but his record would make people in the south recoil.

In truth, most people in the south just don't like "Nordies": they seem too angry, intense and single-minded and they don't know how to have a laugh.

And the hatred of the south betrayed by those who were in or supported the IRA is palpable. In 1988, Sinn Fein denounced "the 26 Counties" for a multitude of sins including being "deeply conservative", having "repressive laws used against republicans", and increasingly embracing "a revisionist attitude to history and Irish nationalism (which justifies and perpetuates partition but which saps national morale and pride)".

More than 25 years on, wounded by the recent onslaught of criticism, Adams has been raging in his blog over the "abandonment by the Dublin establishment of nationalists and unionists in the North and the ideal of an independent 32 county Irish republic" and the "wilful amnesia" that refuses to recognise that Provo violence was no different to that perpetrated in 1916 or the war of independence.

There's a fight going on in the Republic over the ownership of the centenary of 1916. In Northern Ireland, it's a battle between Sinn Fein and the dissidents, who these days have a better claim to be the legitimate heirs of a tiny cabal of militarists who despised democracy and countenanced no compromise over a united Ireland.

No wonder Sinn Fein's old men feel tired.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards