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A Memo To Gerry Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends In Failure
Tom Luby • 2.11.03

The late Enoch Powell may not have been everyone’s idea of Ireland’s 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”.

Margaret Thatcher learned the truth of that, so has Iain Duncan-Smith, Richard Nixon, Charles Haughey, Bill Clinton, George Bush’s 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.

I can almost hear the collective exclamation. Gerry Adams!!? ‘Not him surely! Durkan, yes. If ever a politician was born with ‘Consign to History’s 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 that’s going too far, Luby!’

On the face of it, the idea that the leader of Sinn Fein, the man who has been the Provisional IRA Army Council’s 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 authority.

The 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 SDLP’s 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 IRA’s violence.

But the Provos haven’t minded where the votes came from (just as they don’t 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 IRA’s 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.

But what then? Is that it? Was the endgame of the Adams strategy merely to become the largest Catholic party in the North?

It wasn’t, 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 Fein’s 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.

This 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 Agreement’s survival. The endgame was to get bums on seats around the cabinet table at Stormont.

In 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 party’s for the asking. But as things stand, the prize looks like it will be dashed from their hands.

Thanks 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.

One 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 IRA’s demise before sharing government with Martin McGuinness et al.

So 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.

The 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 won’t 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.

The 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 Gerry’s history).

The 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 Fein’s 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.

The 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.)

Going 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.

Option 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 Snr‘s 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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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

2 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Memo to Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends in Failure
Tom Luby



Anthony McIntyre


Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney


Republican Prisoners and their Families Put at Risk due to Prison Strike
Martin Mulholland


Trust Without Honesty in the Peace Process?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters Page has been updated.


31 October 2003


Cieran Perry of Working Class Action Interviewed
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Republican Socialist Alternative Economic Strategy

Liam O Ruairc


The Ultimate Obscenity
Thomas Gore


The Chomskybot Code
Mary La Rosa


CAFTA Thumb Screws - The "Nuts and Bolts" of Free Trade Extortion
Toni Solo




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