The long goodbye has finally arrived – Gerry Adams has finally indicated his intention to relinquish the leadership of Sinn Fein.
While his political legacy will undoubtedly be assessed over the next few days and weeks, I hope it will not be treated with the same collective amnesia and rose-tinted glass perception that some political commentators and political figures accorded the legacies of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.
I do not dispute the conclusion that Gerry Adams has been a major political figure who leaves an indelible mark on modern Irish history. However, what is not so clear is the nature of the political legacy that he actually leaves – what are the political advances that he has made for northern nationalists, including for example the claim that he has brought a united Ireland closer rather than being an unattainable pipe dream and furthermore what legacy will he leave the people of Ireland as a whole?
Gerry Adams and the IRA whom he staunchly supported claim that they came into being at the beginning of the Troubles to defend the Catholic minority from sectarian attack by loyalist extremists yet by the time they silenced their guns in 1994 the IRA had murdered more Catholics than any other party to the conflict.
The reality is that the IRA were also responsible for the deaths of over half of all the victims of the Troubles including many sectarian atrocities including ethnic cleansing in some border areas.
Despite what these figures illustrate Gerry Adams neither condemned nor apologised for the actions of those he unreservedly supported during their three-decade long campaign of violence.
In recent times we often hear the narrative that has been orchestrated so carefully by apologists for Sinn Fein – namely the huge personal risks that Adams and McGuinness took for peace.
I do not believe that such an argument is credible. The people that really took the risks for peace down the years were those in the northern Catholic community (and indeed outside it also) who defied the IRA and whose political and moral courage often cost them their lives.
I also challenge the weekend claim made by Adams himself and his acolytes that the intertwining campaigns of Sinn Fein and the IRA have made a united Ireland an achievable dream hence their call for a border poll. In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth.
Having served in public life in the Republic of Ireland for almost two decades, I believe that a majority in the Republic of Ireland would not support Irish unity at any stage in the near future. I believe this for two reasons.
Firstly, the brutal terrorist campaign of the IRA diminished the desire for imminent Irish unity in the Republic of Ireland itself.
Secondly, in a post Brexit world, taxpayers in the Republic would not be prepared to pay higher taxes of almost €10 billion a year to absorb the north.
However, some might argue that Adams has nonetheless played a major role in bringing about an IRA ceasefire which eventually paved the way for the establishment of power -sharing institutions in Northern Ireland and better North-South and East-West relations.
On that point I am in total agreement about his recent legacy. But it must also be acknowledged that he was merely re-establishing the imaginative political experiment that had been first introduced in 1974.
Regrettably the power-sharing executive of that year was brought down by combination of increased IRA violence and the fascist loyalist UWC strike led by Ian Paisley and loyalist paramilitaries.
The IRA opposed it because they wanted to undermine the SDLP. Consequently, thousands of people needlessly died in the interim before Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams supported what had already been on offer in 1974.
Nor should it be forgotten Gerry Adams and IRA/Sinn Fein also sought to undermine the historic 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement which was seminal in eventually bringing about the Good Friday Agreement.
But even if those historical actions are set aside, the question has to be posed to Mr Adams as he prepares to depart the political stage – what does he intend to do before he leaves it to resurrect the North’s power-sharing institutions so that together we can minimise the economic and political fallout from Brexit.
All the people of this island, North and South, both unionist and nationalist have reason to be fearful about the implementation of Brexit hence the need to have a cross community, cross-border input into the negotiations.
My plea to him is:
You have huge political acumen and also immense political capital and goodwill especially with northern nationalists, please use it to restore devolution and then we can all agree that you will have left a real and lasting political legacy to all the people of this island.
• John Cushnahan is a former Alliance Party leader and Fine Gael MEP