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Sunday 24 April 2016


Adams will put cult before country as Martin ensures centre holds against SF

The FF leader could go into government with Fine Gael, says Ruth Dudley Edwards, but instead he is thwarting the Provos' political strategy

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

'My name is Gerry and I'm opposed to things", was the opening line of Oliver Callan's recent priceless Opposition Anonymous sketch. And so he is. Gerry Adams has spent a life opposing pretty well everything that came across his line of vision and prevented him from getting his way: the Northern Ireland state, Brits, unionists, Orangemen, the SDLP, securocrats, capitalists (unless they're American donors), revisionists, partitionists, dissidents, media lackeys and so on and on. Not the IRA, of course, of which he was never a member but for which he has empathic understanding. And not anyone who thinks he's wonderful.

Gerry's hierarchy of hate-figures list is not set in stone, of course. These days, Micheal Martin tops it. They are engaged in a war for the republican soul which requires a lot of casuistry from both about physical force nationalism, though if Micheal's difficulty is real, Gerry's is awesome.

Micheal put it up to Gerry last Sunday in a speech at Arbour Hill - for one depressing habit common to republicans is the making of political speeches in graveyards in search of endorsement from people too dead to demur.

The thrust was that in government in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein had put party before people, but he also addressed that party's desperate attempts to add the virtual corpses of the likes of Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell (both recruited at 18 by the IRA to bomb civilians) to those of the signatories of the Proclamation.

As Newton Emerson put it last week in the Irish Times, Micheal Martin was "implying he was more republican but only in the less violent way."

"In the middle of what has been a great national commemoration," said Micheal sadly, "there continues to be one deeply cynical and dangerous attempt to exploit the heroes of 1916." The manner in which Provisional Sinn Fein, "founded in 1970 to support a campaign rejected constantly by the mass of the Irish people… have sought to rewrite history and claim direct continuity from 1916 is an outrage."

Gerry hit back in his blog at what he said was Micheal's mission: "To trample on the politics of those whose roots are in the radical republican tradition of Tone and Emmet and Pearse and Connolly and to rewrite Irish history in the image of the so-called constitutionalist revisionist republican narrative. In this narrative, republican history ended in the GPO in Dublin and Fianna Fail are the inheritors of the vision of 1916? The rest of us are upstarts."

All they agree on is that 1916 is sacrosanct. "The anti-nationalist revisionists have been marginalised," said Micheal. "The arguments of the 1970s and 80s that we should reject the tradition of 1916 are now confined to a small fringe."

Gerry is with him. "For our part, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein agree that there would be no Irish State, no level of independence and no amount of sovereignty, however limited, for Ireland, but for the revolutionary republican tradition."

Where to begin? I don't quite know what Micheal means by "anti-nationalist revisionists", but if he's talking about unionists, then after decades of murder and destruction in the name of republicanism, they are more critical of the violent tradition in Irish nationalism than ever.

If he's talking about people like John Bruton, Fr Seamus Murphy SJ and a vast number of others who believe the 1916 leaders had no moral legitimacy, we are mostly happy to be citizens of an independent Irish Republic but regret that it didn't emerge peacefully, as it certainly would have, had the Irish people wanted it.

Without the violence of 1916, politicians would have had a chance of reaching a constitutional agreement without bloodshed: because of it, the island was partitioned and the hearts of the two main tribes hardened against each other.

A century of violence has left the British government, which has long wished to be rid of Northern Ireland, stuck with it. The English would rather be without Gibraltar, the Falklands, Northern Ireland and possibly even Scotland, but they won't abandon a loyal majority, especially if they're threatened by violence.

Anyway, Micheal is talking rubbish about the marginalisation of dissent. There is a far more lively public debate about the legitimacy of 1916 these days than there ever was in the 1970s and 1980s. Just look at the letters pages of the newspapers for starters. Most of our young adults today have not had years of heavy indoctrination, are cosmopolitan and prepared to think critically about their nation's sacred cows. (Mind you, the patriots-and-Brits take on 1916 that is being fed to some schoolchildren at the moment may be storing up trouble for the future.)

But if Micheal Martin blurs history, Adams simply lies about it. Those who "seek to elevate what has been termed the 'constitutional nationalist tradition' in Irish history at the expense of the revolutionary republican tradition… ignore the reality that in the Ireland of 1916 there was no democracy", he explains, thus blithely writing out elections for parliamentary and local government, a constitutional, not absolutist, monarchy, not to mention free speech, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a public service open to all and Home Rule on the statute book. This is what the seven anti-democratic signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, who were a sub-group of a tiny secret society, set out to overthrow.

All Irish politicians are engaged in vigorous gobbling of a cake they wish to keep intact. They're all against violence these days, but still almost all feel bound to justify 1916 and the War of Independence. Martin is on even dodgier ground in having to defend his political ancestors who violently rejected the popular pro-Treaty vote, which he's doing by spreading the blame: "We collectively failed to find a way of avoiding the civil war."

For Sinn Fein, of course, all republican violence until 1998 is tickety-boo and to be noisily glorified and celebrated, even if it offended against the Proclamation's disapproval of "cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine", while the slow learners who are still practising what the Provos preached until recently are to be reviled.

Gerry Adams will always put his cult before his country. He is aching to be leader of the Opposition, so he can get his snipers in the best position to destroy and demolish everything the Government does and reap the electoral rewards of the anarchy that would ensue.

To his credit, Micheal Martin is putting the national interest first in holding the centre. If he keeps his nerve, while Gerry goes on opposing things for cynical party advantage, at least he won't be doing it from the best seat in the Dail.

Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic' was published last month by Oneworld

Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the life and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic' was published by Oneworld on March 22

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards