The late Enoch Powell may not have been everyones
idea of Irelands favourite Englishman, certainly
not as far as Nationalist Ireland was concerned, but
he was a man who often had just the right words for
the moment. As the North enters a decisive election,
the leadership of Sinn Fein would be well advised
to remember what he once said about a colleague at
Westminster whose star seemed to be soaring irresistably
and ever upwards. Every political career,
he observed, ends in failure.
Thatcher learned the truth of that, so has Iain Duncan-Smith,
Richard Nixon, Charles Haughey, Bill Clinton, George
Bushs daddy and a host of politicians too numerous
or forgettable to count. As the car bomb blasts from
downtown Baghdad grow louder, Dubya Bush himself would
be foolish to forget that verity, as would Tony Blair,
Mark Durkan, David Trimble ... and Gerry Adams.
can almost hear the collective exclamation. Gerry
Adams!!? Not him surely! Durkan, yes. If ever
a politician was born with Consign to Historys
Dustbin stamped on his forehead it was the charismatically
challenged, over-promoted unfortunate being who now
leads the SDLP. And David Trimble, circled by the
hungry wolves of stupid Unionism, certainly. But Gerry
Adams, now thats going too far, Luby!
the face of it, the idea that the leader of Sinn Fein,
the man who has been the Provisional IRA Army Councils
leading strategist for a quarter of a century, could
be facing political trouble seems nonsense. After
all, Adams is leading a party which is again on the
cusp of an electoral triumph, about to take the latest
step on a political journey that seems blessed by
the gods (with a little assistance from the British,
US and Irish governments and their respective intelligence
and security services). And each success along that
journey has elevated Adams to greater prestige and
Assembly election of November 26th looks like it will
provide another conquest for Sinn Fein and Adams.
Having had their political clothes filched by Sinn
Fein and now led by half-raters, the SDLP could well
be destroyed in this election, doomed thereafter to
eternally play Fine Gael to Adams Fianna Fail.
The SDLPs decline and fall may have been a pathetic
spectacle but it has enabled Sinn Fein to pull off
one of the most audacious and dishonest political
conjuring tricks in Irish history: to present Catholic
votes for Sinn Fein as an unstoppable surge towards
the Republic when they were really just a reward for
halting the IRAs violence.
the Provos havent minded where the votes came
from (just as they dont mind from which union-bashing
corporation the Yankee dollars originate). They have
just counted them up and interpreted them as they
wish. Now, thanks to the aborted pre-election decommissioning
deal, in which the IRAs failure to deliver transparency
has enabled the Provos to daub Trimble in the blackest
of colours, Sinn Fein could well emerge from the November
poll with its leadership of Northern Nationalist opinion
confirmed, the pile of votes opposite its seat at
the negotiating table, the largest.
what then? Is that it? Was the endgame of the Adams
strategy merely to become the largest Catholic party
in the North?
wasnt, of course. The object of the exercise
was, and is, for Sinn Fein to obtain power as members
of the power sharing Executive, and ultimately to
hold the post of Deputy First Minister. Parallel with
this, Sinn Feins consequent growth south of
the Border would, if the strategy worked, eventually
mean seats in a Fianna Fail-led coalition. If everything
went to plan, the Provos might one day be able to
boast that their hands were on the levers of power
in both jurisdictions on the island. It might not
change one constitutional jot or iota in the North
but it sure would look good, an acceptable trade for
ending the armed struggle and extinguishing the IRA.
Either way, the Stormont Executive has been the fulcrum
upon which the entire strategy, North and South, swings.
is why the Provos have been so protective of the Good
Friday Agreement, so ready to abandon ideological
certitudes, to swing through hoops and jump over horses
and to perform endless political gymnastics to ensure
the Agreements survival. The endgame was to
get bums on seats around the cabinet table at Stormont.
one sense the big prize is within grasp. If Sinn Fein
do overtake the SDLP, then theoretically the post
of Deputy First Minister is the partys for the
asking. But as things stand, the prize looks like
it will be dashed from their hands.
to a combination of distrust of Trimble and fear of
their own base, the Provo leadership failed to move
far and fast enough on the issue of IRA decommissioning
to shore up the Unionist leadership. Trimble goes
into this poll knowing that the best result he can
hope for is one in which he preserves his lead over
the DUP only to be hobbled by Donaldson and Burnside
clones in his own ranks. The worst result, one which
will surely end his own career in failure, would see
the DUP triumphant.
way or another, it appears certain that Unionism in
the new Assembly will be a tougher animal, less ready
to compromise with Sinn Fein, more determined to extract
compelling evidence of the IRAs demise before
sharing government with Martin McGuinness et al.
what does Adams and his ArmyCouncil/Sinn Fein leadership
colleagues do then? There seem to be only three options,
and only one that can be regarded as acceptable.
first is to do nothing, to allow the Agreement to
die and to accept the re-imposition of direct rule
for the foreseeable future. Sinn Fein figures will
huff and puff, urging London and Dublin to implement
the rest of the Agreement so as to achieve a form
of joint sovereignty but they know that, a) in the
absence of a credible IRA threat this just wont
happen, and b) its a pretty poor substitute for that
cabinet table at Stormont. Direct rule is the only
alternative to Stormont, and everybody knows that.
judgement of history, and possibly of contemporaries,
on the Adams leadership would, in these circumstances,
be a poor one. Adams will be seen to have gambled
on politics and failed, having led a military movement
that also failed. It is in these sort of circumstances
that leaderships begin to look more and more irrelevant
and that their other failings or dubious dealings
tend to come under a harsh spotlight (and God knows,
there are plenty of those in Gerrys history).
second option is to belly up to the DUP or a Donaldson/Burnside
UUP and play the same sort of confrontational politics,
refusing to concede to Unionist demands, insisting
that Sinn Feins mandate must be respected and
so on. This is superficially, and in the short term,
attractive. It paints the Unionists in black shades
and satisfies the base atavisms of Northern Nationalists.
problem with this approach however is that it means
pandering to the same politics as those which inspired
armed struggle. For twenty years or so, when their
war was raging, the Adams leadership characterised
Northern Unionism, and Northern Ireland, as irreformable,
citing its refusal/inability to accommodate Nationalism
as evidence that internal settlements were just pipedreams.
This was the logic that justified the destruction
of Northern Ireland by force, that insisted that Unionists
had to accept Irish national self-determination before
their views could be considered. (It was the willingness
of Adams et al to abandon that approach which made
Dublin such an early and enthusiastic advocate of
the peace process.)
down the confrontational road, exposing Unionism once
more as irreformable, would have a certain logic -
it would have to culminate either in the resumption
of armed struggle or the creation of political circumstances
amenable to armed struggle. All of this presumes that
the IRA, after nearly a decade on ceasefire, is capable
of mounting anything approaching a credible offensive
(which, after the last and largest act of decommissioning
may be a moot point). It also presumes that Gerry
Adams and Martin McGuinness, having tasted life in
the Oval Office and the Waldorf Astoria, are ready
to resume life on the run (in as much as it ever was
for those two gents). Neither of the presumptions
hold water. No-one knows better than the IRA leadership
that going back to war spells disaster.
one and two then, seem to be non-starters for the
Provos. Which leaves us with option three, which is
that after a decent period for protest and grandstanding
and with sufficient space to avoid accusations of
treachery and defeat, the IRA and Sinn Fein leadership
must resume the steady and inexorable winding up of
the paramilitary part of their existence - or face
the failure not just of their entire enterprise but
also their own careers. It may take Ian Paisley Snrs
death to usher in that phase, something that judging
by his performances so far we may not have to wait
long for, but the alternative for Gerry Adams and
his colleagues is an early taste of the fate that
according to Enoch Powell awaits all politicians.
If you were Gerry Adams, would you want to rush things?
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