Perhaps 2009 will be the year that the DUP’s partner in sectarian carve-up, Sinn Féin, relegates its own aging demagogue, Gerry Adams, to the hinterland of enforced semi-retirement. The provos’ president was reduced to a series of intemperate ethno-nationalist diatribes over the course of 2008. In a bizarre role reversal Martin McGuinness was deployed as good cop to Adams’ bad.
Increasingly, the West Belfast MP’s influence, even as a figurehead, might hinder Sinn Féin. His rhetoric is likely to prove counterproductive as republicans become ever more institutionalised at Stormont. Additionally, and significantly, his patronage of executive liability, Caitriona Ruane, will become an impediment to removing the party’s most embarrassing minister.
Adams hard-line outbursts are occasionally still useful to Sinn Féin. In the latest, he has been playing to the republican gallery once again, claiming that his party are set to launch a reinvigorated campaign pushing for Irish unity.
Gerry’s protestations might mollify some of those republicans who fear that Sinn Féin is now less compelled by the imperative of uniting Ireland than enticed by the prospect of tightening its grasp on executive powers at Stormont. But the contradictions inherent in his utterances and the way in which they undermine confidence in the settlement, will ultimately damage the ability of Sinn Féin to work efficiently in government.
I have previously likened some of Adams’ remarks to those of an embarrassing, cranky old uncle sniping from the corner of the room. Comments reported in the Belfast Telegraph fall squarely into this category.
His party has acknowledged that Northern Ireland’s constitutional status will not change, without the consent of the majority of people here. Nevertheless Adams is advocating the mobilisation of ex pat opinion in America and Britain. To what end? This is a call for a return to republican tactics of internationalisation which accepting an internal settlement rendered redundant.
When Adams talks about ‘building the republic’ by ‘increment’ he is illustrating precisely that he does not understand what committing to consent entails. Not only is he in denial as to the nature of the resolution his party signed up to, but he is clearly delusional as to the sympathy which Irish republicanism now commands internationally.
“If you move outside the diaspora and talk to anyone, they will tell you — and I defy anyone to contradict this — that most people who know anything about Ireland know the British government should have no claim or jurisdiction.”
So by this contention, not only does Adams hold the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements in contempt, but so does ‘anyone’ you might care to talk to! Under these agreements the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the political parties (including Adams’ own) and an overwhelming majority in both parts of Ireland, accepted that the British government’s jurisdiction rests on the will of the people of Northern Ireland! The agreements are enforceable in international law and have been lauded throughout the world. Yet in Gerry’s parallel universe British sovereignty in Northern Ireland is universally deplored!
Although such a statement bears absolutely no scrutiny whatsoever, issuing from the president of Northern Ireland’s second biggest party it is deeply unhelpful. Deploying Adams occasionally for a spot of republican grandstanding might help with Sinn Féin’s grassroots, but ultimately it is corrosive of its own vested interests. The moment might be coming when pragmatism wins out over sentiment and Adams finds himself removed as president. In the mean time I expect that he will remain a marginal voice, particularly in the domestic political arena.