The Blanket

Running on Empty

Anthony McIntyre • October 11, 2002

From observing Sinn Fein discourse in recent months it is apparent that the foot has been pressed to the pedal in a bid to create the image of an unstoppable momentum towards a united Ireland. An element in this imagery of acceleration has been the call to the Dublin government to draw up a white paper on unity. Running parallel with this is the claim that unionism is devoid of any vision for the future.

Listening to this view being expressed on BBC Radio 4 today by a spokesperson for former republican prisoners puzzled me. Having watched Martin McGuinness perform first against Jeffrey Donaldson on Hearts and Minds and then opposite Peter Robinson on Insight, it seemed that the Sinn Fein politician was the only person devoid of any vision. At one point in the non-debate with Robinson, McGuinness displayed the limited talents of the archetypal corner boy-cum-heckler who was reduced to shouting ‘chicken’. To win, Robinson had merely to say nothing. This was amazing given that Peter Robinson was clearly nervous in a manner which I had not previously witnessed. Of course, belonging to the DUP and sharing a table with Martin McGuinness - an old hand at the media game - in front of a television camera are not exactly nerve calming ingredients, particularly when being at the same table was the first instalment in a future DUP leadership’s declaration of intent to do business with Sinn Fein. In the other challenge, where the two participants actually spoke to each other, the performance of the soon to be former education minister, left a lot to be desired. Jeffrey Donaldson savoured a rare victory over republican opposition. These two exchanges came on the heels of another equally abysmal performance, this time by Gerry Kelly, on Spotlight where the Sinn Fein North Belfast Westminster candidate was left like a rabbit caught in the headlights by Dermott Nesbitt.

Overall, the shock upset, to draw an analogy with the sporting world, was the performance of Martin McGuinness because, being one of Sinn Fein’s consistently solid performers, so much better is expected from him. Gerry Kelly usually comes second and any Sinn Fein inquest will only consider the distance between him and Nesbitt at the point when presenter Mark Carruthers mercifully called time.

What jutted out from this week’s televised exchanges was that unionists do not have a vision for a united Ireland only because they do not feel the need for one. They are not going to make the mistake of those Jamaican poets whose poetry revealed their own visions of snow only to be castigated by Michael Manley because there was never snow in Jamaica and the poets were only reading from someone else’s script. Apart from alarmist calls in a bid to out do each other, a united Ireland simply does not appear on the radar screen of unionists and they show no inclination to read the Sinn Fein script.

Yet they leave little room for doubt that they very much have a vision for the future. And it is a future based on partition and the continuation of British rule for as long as a majority in the North wish that to be so. It is also a future based on an internal solution which was achieved through the Good Friday Agreement and which will lead to the dissolution of the IRA. Republicans by contrast have a dream of a united Ireland based on counting nationalists jumping over the demographic fence. Martin McGuinness said as much at the Ulster Hall. That it is a dream founded on absolutely no strategic vision is evidenced by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams who acknowledged that ‘out-breeding unionists may be an enjoyable pastime for those who have the energy, but it hardly amounts to a political strategy.’

Each night as they dream, Sinn Fein may indeed have a vision of a united Ireland. In real time as they perform their day job they will go back to administering the internal solution or pleading to be allowed to do so, knowing that without their participation the ‘failed political entity’, of Northern Ireland, would not have succeeded.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

17 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Statement from Republican Prisoners, Maghaberry


Running on Empty
Anthony McIntyre


The Political Treachery at the Heart of the IRA

Toby Harnden


Adams' Ashes
Brian Mór


The Boys of the New Brigade
Brian Mór


The Original 1930's Classic Blue Shirt
Brian Mór


Cherishing the Children of the Nation Equally
Liam O Ruairc


Republicanism and the Crisis Within the Peace Process
Davy Carlin


13 October 2002


Just Say No
Ciarán Irvine


Full of Sound & Fury
Aine Fox


The Edge of the Abyss...Again

Brendan O'Neill


If You're In, You Can't Win
Anthony McIntyre


How Clever Was Adams?
Henry Patterson


Please, My Friend is Being Tortured
Sam Bahour




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