Gerry Adams got very tetchy last week when David Cameron claimed, “British resolve saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life”.
According to Adams “this is a distortion of recent history. It also betrays a worrying ignorance on the part of a British premier of the dynamics which have propelled the Irish peace process for many years. The reality is that the IRA was never defeated and that again and again it was Irish republicans, including the IRA leadership, which took bold steps to bolster the peace process and to maintain positive political momentum”.
Yada yada and blah blah, Mr Adams. The IRA was defeated. The terrorism of the Provisionals from 1970-1997 was about removing the British presence and footprint from Northern Ireland, emasculating unionism as a cultural and political force, eclipsing and replacing ‘old-style nationalism’ on both sides of the border and building a new, united Ireland. Well, it may have escaped his notice, but the IRA’s violence didn’t deliver any of that.
Of course, he can’t admit that, anymore than he can admit that he was an integral part of the IRA’s war machine for decades. And because he can’t admit it – and nor can any of his comrades – they have fallen back on the absurd mantra that they were somehow bolsterers of a peace and reconciliation process.
The back channel negotiations with successive British governments, the need to reinvent Adams as some sort of Mandela-like statesman, the decision to take part in a peace deal which was always going to leave Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and Sinn Fein’s move into Stormont, were all part of a recognition that the IRA had no chance of delivering any sort of victory. You can dress that up anyway you like – but the IRA was defeated.
Which is why Sinn Fein has spent the last 20 years or so trying to pretend that Irish unity is still inevitable by other means. On the eve of both the 1998 and 2003 Assembly elections Martin McGuinness was arguing, “it is our view that it can be accomplished over a short period. Gerry Adams has said 2016 and I think that is achievable”. Wrong again, guys.
So up to the microphone came Declan Kearney to treat us to a mixture of the ‘unionist outreach’ and ‘national reconciliation’ strategy. All Sinn Fein wants, all it has ever really wanted, it seems, is for unionists to be welcomed, respected and accommodated within the entity known as ‘the new Ireland’.
But since the strategy is dressed up as an, “it’s going to happen anyway, since demography is against you, so you may as well roll over and accept it now” invitation, it’s not really surprising that unionism has turned a deaf ear. And so, too, has a very significant section of soft nationalism (north and south), which clearly wants nothing to do with Sinn Fein’s vision of unity.
Also, as their economic arguments for unity are examined and deconstructed, it looks like their figures have been put together by a blind monkey with a homemade abacus. Maybe that’s why Sinn Fein has spent months trying to appoint a new economics adviser!
The ‘new Ireland’ they talk of has never existed, so most of their economic agenda is based on hope, guesswork, Mr Micawber’s dictum that “something will turn up,” Billy Bunter’s insistence that “there really is a cheque in the post” and, when all else fails, a begging bowl and bailout deal. The fact that Sinn Fein and Syriza are the sole members of a mutual admiration society tells you all you need to know.
It wasn’t only Adams who was tetchy last week. MEP Matt Carthy responded to a deconstruction of their economic agenda with: “We are seeking a new, agreed and united Ireland that caters for the aspirations of all of us who share this island. We want to build a just, fair and equal Ireland.”
I hate to break it to you, Matt, but a united Ireland could never cater for my aspirations. My identity is British. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement SF supporters here can promote their Irish identity and work towards unity. In the event of a poll that removed NI from the UK how would you cater for my aspirations? Would you allow unionists – and there would still be a huge numbers of us – to promote partition and provide regular polling opportunities to test support for recreating Northern Ireland again?
It seems to me that Sinn Fein is in a very difficult position at the moment. Twenty years ago they recognised that the IRA’s campaign wasn’t capable of delivering Irish unity. Indeed, I think they had recognised as much back in 1981, at the time of the “armalite, ballot paper” strategy. Comments made by senior members between 1994 and 2003 suggest that they really believed that a peace deal would – and pretty quickly – deliver unity. They don’t believe that anymore.
So there they are, stuck with a Stormont they don’t want, as far away as ever from a united Ireland and trying to convince their core vote that their strategy really is more substantial than one of Baldrick’s “cunning plans”. My view remains that unity is unlikely anytime soon – and I really do mean a very, very long time. Sinn Fein will reach the same conclusion too, even if they don’t admit it publicly. What they’ll do at that point is anyone’s guess.