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Sunday 20 August 2017


Irish politicians should avoid the united Ireland cul-de-sac

In the pursuit of power, Gerry Adams is banking on a hard Brexit

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA

Gerry Adams is exhausted, he told us in his blog last week. He was "too tired" for the first time since its foundation in 1988 even to attend Feile an Phobail, the West Belfast Festival, what with: "Martin's death. Two elections. Two USA trips in July. Constituency duties in the Dail and in Louth. Talks or what passed for talks at Stormont. It all takes time and effort."

It does, indeed. Especially if you're such a control freak that you choose to appoint as the formidable McGuinness's successor as leader of Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Michelle O'Neill, whose outstanding qualification seems to be her biddability. So, in addition to his responsibilities as party leader in the Dail and president of the party since 1983, poor Adams has to be not just the organ grinder up North, but quite often has to take over from the monkey. 

True, the party is short of talent. As Fionnuala O'Connor pointed out recently in her Irish News column, Sinn Fein is "a sub-standard outfit with no stars, a dozy script and the habit of taking their audience for granted, in a production that lacks credibility". But then it's hardly surprising that bright, young people are disinclined to join a party that seems mired in the past.

For that's where Adams is firmly camped. Yesterday, I read Fintan O'Toole's analysis of the various stories we told ourselves in the Irish Republic, "none of which really works any more". One was that "of oppression and resistance, of Ireland's unique suffering (Liam Kennedy's MOPE - Most Oppressed People Ever - syndrome) and ultimate, though as yet incomplete, reward of full national freedom". This story may endure, he said, for "a minority of zealots", but the 1916 commemorations showed that most Irish people "broadly accepted that Irish suffering was far from unique" and that Irish nationalists "came in many varieties (including many of those who fought and died on the Western Front and in Gallipoli)". He added that "Anglophobia - the fuel that kept the MOPE vehicle on the road - has all but disappeared", along with "the simplistic claim to the 'reunification of the national territory'."

Someone should tell Adams, who when listing the attractions he's said to have missed, says: "I was particularly sore not to get to the RFJ's [victims' group Relatives for Justice] Plastic Bullet picket". And then off he went on an Anglophobic rant about the terrible oppression of pre-Feile days, which included military occupation, censorship, political prisoners, "community leaders and political representatives targeted by British state-sponsored death squads" and the absence of funding for Irish language education. For good measure, he threw in the bad people down south, for Republicans were "betrayed by Church hierarchies and by the great and the good. Including Dublin. Especially Dublin." 

But "telling our detractors to f**k off," the "unbowed and unbroken" people of West Belfast changed everything with Feile, whose story must be told, for it is about "writing the future while righting the past". Sinn Fein's approach is about "rewriting" the past, which is a major part of the culture war Republicans wage against the people the IRA used to routinely kill. Ulster unionists are well aware of the games they play, which were discussed last week on the Unionist Voice website by loyalist activist Jamie Bryson. 

He reminded his readers that Gerry Adams had been secretly recorded in 2014 telling supporters apropos the DUP: "The point is to actually break these b******s… Equality is the Trojan horse of the entire Republican strategy. They use that all-purpose word in their fight for "cultural supremacy", said Bryson, by their choice of words to describe the unionist and Republican communities. IRA men are "freedom fighters" who killed as part of the war over partition, while loyalists "are state-sponsored terrorists" who murdered. Irish rebel songs are "culture"; the Twelfth of July is sectarian thuggery. This "linguistic warfare" is about "turning victim-makers into victims and advancing political objectives cloaked in rights based language".

Republican activists are industrious and adept at sticking to the propaganda scripts provided by HQ, which makes them skilled warriors in their wars (military, political or cultural) of the tactic of attrition - wearing down the opposition. The trouble is that it wins short-term but not long-term gains. It was, after all, unionism - not Republicanism - that ended up with the constitutional settlement it wanted. 

But, Sinn Fein keeps telling us, as a result of Brexit, a united Ireland is just around the corner. All it would take, Adams said in a letter to The Irish Times, is "50pc plus one" in a border poll. This, of course, is why Sinn Fein is desperate for a hard Brexit that might win it votes and is therefore playing a wholly destructive role. 

But it's foolish to take the Republic's acquiescence for granted, for its public is too sophisticated to want a forced marriage and the fact is that unionists withstood decades of death and destruction and demonisation rather than be forced into a united Ireland and the conduct of Republicans and Gerry Adams in particular has increased their fear and loathing. He guarantees they won't weaken. Tired, petulant and full of old resentments, he's no poster boy for a new Ireland. 

As Sean Donlon, one-time secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, has pointed out forcefully, the most important relationship where Northern Ireland is concerned is that between its two major communities, but Sinn Fein is failing to take any of the steps that might improve things, like taking its seats in Westminster, toning down commemorations of IRA atrocities and stopping the weaponisation of the Irish language. 

At a time when getting the best Brexit deal possible should be the first priority of Irish politicians, too many of them are following President Adams down the united Ireland cul-de-sac.

Yet by living in a mythical past, he's contributing nothing constructive to our island's future.

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' '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