Posted by: the watchmen | March 16, 2009

Don’t kid yourself…..Sinn Fein hasn’t changed.—-Alex Kane.

Monday, 16th March 2009

By Alex Kane

Much has been made of the imagery, symbolism, united front and optics of this past week:
Martin McGuinness condemning an IRA off-shoot as “traitors” to republicanism; Sinn Fein MLAs at the funeral of a police officer; Peter Robinson sounding thoughtful and statesman-like in the Assembly; senior Sinn Fein figures encouraging republicans inform on other republicans; a self-styled loyalist “brigadier” promising that there will be no retaliation; thousands of people at peace rallies; and the Nolan Show transformed into a psychiatrist’s couch for the week.
But I have to say – and I know that many of you will profoundly disagree with this – I found the sight and sound of Martin McGuinness this week mostly odious. This, after all, is a man who described the IRA as “traitors” to republicanism when he and others formed the Provisional IRA in 1969. This is a man who has intimate knowledge of those hundreds of terrorists who slaughtered their way through almost three decades and hasn’t given the police one scrap of information about their activities. This is a man who has never apologised for the atrocities committed by the Provisionals under his leadership. This is a man who probably gave the nod of membership approval to some men and women who now find themselves within the ranks of the so-called dissident republicans.
But today we are expected to look upon him in a kindlier light and admire his leadership skills and commitment to democracy. Why? What else could he have said in the circumstances? Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein has absolutely nothing to show for their “armed struggle”. Northern Ireland is more securely within the United Kingdom than ever and Sinn Fein is locked into a process (and begun, let’s not forget, by the UUP) in which it is now part and parcel of a British administration. Gerry Adams is reduced to pretending that the Assembly is a mere tool for the promotion of Irish unity. Indeed, in Adams’ original statement last Sunday he clearly implied that the dissidents were interrupting this promotion.
In a recent column I wrote that another generation of armed republicans would lift the torch left down by the Provisionals, just as the Provisionals had lifted it from the IRA in 1969, which had, in turn, lifted it from the republicans who bought into the 1921 Treaty. Continuity IRA/Real IRA et al are the entirely predictable successors in this ongoing process of split after split. Put bluntly, there will always be another generation who are prepared to believe that they will be the ones to drive the British out of Ireland.
And no amount of peace rallies, cross-community condemnation or political solidarity will deter them. They are immune to tears and emotion. They are immune to widows’ voices. They may be small in number – as were the Provisionals originally – but that won’t deter them either. They will keep at it, hoping to provoke a retaliation from loyalists; hoping to provoke an “incident” in which a soldier or policeman will fire a shot in anger; hoping to provoke a riot; hoping to provoke anger and rekindle long memories if the police have to search houses in estates; hoping to force the Army back on the streets; hoping to make power-sharing an increasingly difficult option; hoping to force another split within unionism.
In a letter to The Times last Thursday, Graham Gudgin (who used to work for David Trimble when he was First Minister) wrote: “To make sure that the hardline movement will not attract adherents, it is high time for a debate on what is to be the agreed future for Northern Ireland. This is the unfinished business of the Good Friday Agreement. It is an issue that successive UK governments have tried to sidestep, offering instead the hope that local democracy will help both sides to achieve their irreconcilable aims. It is time for democrats to move on to the next step, and in particular for moderate nationalists to consider what they would accept as a final settlement. Otherwise there will always remain cracks for extremists to exploit.”
Gudgin is right. As I have written before, what we have in Northern Ireland is a stalemate rather than a solution: conflict freezing as opposed to conflict resolution. This remains an “us-and-them” society (exemplified by the mutual veto nature of the arrangement between Sinn Fein and the DUP), and where you have that type of society you have the continuing potential for further division rather than closer cooperation. And it’s in that sort of environment that terrorists/dissidents (on both sides) survive.
For all of the efforts of both the UUP and DUP, the constitutional question hasn’t gone away, you know: and it shows little sign of so doing, particularly with the supposedly “moderate” SDLP trying to out-green Sinn Fein by accusing them of being rolled over and outflanked by the DUP. The inference being, of course, that Sinn Fein has actually hampered the progress to Irish unity.
It boils down to this: if Sinn Fein and the SDLP are serious about the Belfast/St Andrews agreements then they are going to have to show clearer signs of it. Unionists have accepted, albeit slowly and reluctantly, the uprooting of conventional democratic principles and the enforced sharing of power with a party which was, until very recently, a participant in and justifier of terrorism. I don’t think that nationalists/ republicans yet appreciate the sheer scale of the change within unionism.
But nationalists/republicans, on the other hand, have barely changed at all. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP still rattle on about their all-Ireland dreams and agendas – still conveying the impression that the present arrangements are merely transitional in their eyes. How can trust be built in those circumstances? How can closer cooperation between the communities be encouraged? How can republican dissidents be rendered obsolete when they believe that they are simply speeding-up what Sinn Fein and the SDLP are working towards more slowly?
So don’t kid yourselves that the voices and imagery of the past week heralded a new era of peace and harmony for Northern Ireland. Republicans haven’t changed. Adams and McGuinness haven’t changed. Nationalism hasn’t changed. The UUP and DUP have recognised and signed up to the realities and consequences of the agreements reached in 1998 and 2006 and it really is about time that the SDLP and Sinn Fein did the same thing.

Alex Kane is Director of Communications for the UUP


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