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16 January 2017

Stormont crisis: Northern Ireland is no longer the centre of the universe so forget about looking for help elsewhere

London, Dublin and Washington too busy to intervene in a provincial squabble, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Clinging to power: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Photo: Lesley Anne McKeown/PA Wire

You have to hand it to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness for tenacity and a remarkable ability to cling to power. “My friend and comrade for almost 45 years,” is how Adams described McGuinness last week, which suggests they bonded in July 1972, when with other IRA representatives they met Secretary of State Willie Whitelaw.

The occasion was a disastrous meeting in London which foundered on the IRA insistence that the British announce their intention of leaving Northern Ireland in the near future, regardless of the wishes of its inhabitants.

Despite the busy work of the Sinn Fein rewriters of history, it was a united Ireland that preoccupied the IRA delegation.

The civil rights movement had already achieved most of its demands, which in any case were of little interest to the IRA, which was set on revolution, not reform.

It’s only comparatively recently that they began to claim that it was parity of esteem that they were fighting for — as they try desperately to cover up the truth that the IRA they ran lost its bloody war against the British state and ultimately had to settle for taking the Queen’s shilling in a province that was still part of the United Kingdom.

Whitelaw was the first ever Secretary of State. James Brokenshire is the 19th, and like all his predecessors, he will have had to give a great deal of thought to those two men, who until McGuinness was stricken, were the great survivors.

The United Kingdom is on its fifth prime minister since 1972, the Republic of Ireland on its ninth Taoiseach and the Ulster Unionist Party on its seventh leader.

The DUP, however, is only on its third.

Adams has been president of Sinn Fein since 1983, but he’d have to clock up another few years in order to beat Ian Paisley’s record of 37 years as leader.

It was John Hume who in the late 1980s foolishly began the process of opening the corridors of power at home and abroad to Sinn Fein, who soon became blase.

Over the years, in addition to their innate hardness, their experience has made them often contemptuous of democratic political leaders.

Tony Blair, whom they knew best, was given the nickname “Naive idiot”.

By the 1990s, when he met Bill Clinton, his first American president, Gerry Adams bragged of sitting in the Oval Office, lecturing him about foreign policy.

Then there were the special envoys dispatched by Washington to knock recalcitrant heads together.

From 1995 to 2007, George Mitchell, Richard Haass and Mitchell Reiss endured endless negotiations about issues of little importance in the great scheme of things.

Since the deal was done between the DUP and Sinn Fein, there were others, but they were essentially decorative.

All this recognition went to the heads of republicans, particularly Adams, whose vanity is such a prominent aspect of his personality.

He’s crashed the Executive not because he gives a damn about wasted public money — Sinn Fein had no interest in accountability until Spotlight and Stephen Nolan did their work — but to placate the grassroots who have come to realise that the reign of Adams and McGuinness gave them neither a united Ireland nor rich pickings.

Adams is now desperate for attention once again from Dublin, London and internationally, but it isn’t and won’t be forthcoming.

Dublin, London and the EU are focused on Brexit, think of Northern Ireland mainly in that context, and are impatient with their squabbles.

They will go through the motions, the right things will be said about dialogue and moderation, the Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan will have the odd meeting, the assiduous Brokenshire will do his job and try to limit the damage.

But essentially, the two governments will pay little attention. Theresa May’s main interest in the province is in the nine DUP MPs, on whom she may have to depend if there are tricky votes on Brexit.

And Enda Kenny will be anxious, like the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, that it be made clear that Gerry Adams (whom they loathe) bears much of the blame for the collapse of the Assembly.

As for Washington? It couldn’t care less.

The glory days are over, guys.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards