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23 October 2017

Belfast Agreement clear on Irish unity, but that's no reason for unionism to worry

Dail comments were vintage Gerry Adams, showing how out of touch SF chief really is

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams clashed with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a Dail debate

Before I get to what Leo Varadkar said on BBC's Spotlight programme on Tuesday about not wanting a change in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland on the basis of 50% plus one vote for unity in a border poll, here's some light relief.

On Wednesday Gerry Adams made himself a laughing stock in the Dail when asking the Taoiseach an indignant question about a change to the State pension involving a reduction of about €30 a week for around 35,000 people.

"Do you accept that they cannot afford..." he demanded, pausing to think, and came up with "I mean, €30 is a bottle of wine".

Amid general hilarity, Noel Rock, a Fine Gael backbencher, produced the the best heckle: "Provosecco!" he shouted. "Tiocfaidh ár lá-de-dah!"

Mr Varadkar piled in by noting that Mr Adams's "remarkable" and "extraordinary" inability ever to understand the detail of the policy issues he raised meant it wasn't surprising he thought a bottle of wine cost €30.

Mr Adams had much to grapple with that day for, apart from the Taoiseach's heresy, The Irish Times had reported that the Irish Government and Secretary of State James Brokenshire believed that Michelle O'Neill had been prepared to do a deal with the DUP to restore the Executive but had been overruled by Sinn Fein's ard chomhairle, which includes Gerry Adams.

Conor Murphy MLA - whose IRA past gives him credibility with republican hard men - was the chosen Sinn Fein spokesperson to challenge the Taoiseach: it was, he said, an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement that any majority was enough to require the two governments to legislate for unification; the Irish Government should become persuaders for unity.

In Dublin Mr Adams was busy denouncing The Irish Times allegations as being a consequence of the "shameful and untruthful allegations made by government sources about our leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill" (actually, they were allegations about the wrecking crew of which he is the most prominent member).

Moving swiftly into statesman-speak, he contended that the Taoiseach "by what he has said and by these briefings, is behaving in a reckless way and he should stop it and behave like a Taoiseach should behave on issues which are in the national interests and above party politics".

He then appeared to suggest that somehow Mr Varadkar should block the "utterly unacceptable" direct rule that Mr Brokenshire fears is inevitable (and which is a consequence of Sinn Fein intransigence).

Mr Adams always calls on outsiders to repair the damage done by him and his minions.

Then Lord Kilclooney, aka John Taylor, one-time big beast in the Ulster Unionist Party, stirred the political pot by patting Mr Varadkar on the back for his realism, and explaining that if Northern Ireland was forced out of the United Kingdom by a narrow margin in a border poll "it would spark a civil war".

Newton Emerson, who in his illuminating Irish Times column tries to educate wishful thinkers down south, then pointed out that just as Brexit has no effect on the letter of the Belfast Agreement - whatever about its spirit - neither would the size of a majority in a border poll.

Tearing it up in unionism's favour, as Mr Varadkar had done, "risks open-ended uncertainty and chaos for everyone.

He added brutally: "The problem with invoking spirits, as the consent argument shows, is that everybody sees what they want to see and nobody knows how it might haunt them later".

Yes. Conor Murphy is legally right and the Taoiseach is wrong.

Mr Emerson rightly pointed out that Mr Varadkar should just say that he would not advocate a unification vote in the Republic "without meaningful reconciliation in the North", thus placing "a positive obligation on republicans, instead of stoking negative fears", while "meeting the letter and spirit of the Agreement".

North and south, informed people realise that the perversion of Irish republicanism that characterises Mr Adams's movement is a wholly divisive force.

Mr Varadkar demonstrates that there's no mainstream appetite for uniting Ireland against the wishes of a substantial minority.

Unionists should relax.

Maybe even indulge themselves with a €30 celebratory bottle fit for a Sinn Fein president?

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.

The paperback of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic will be published on April 23.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards