Despite a display of unity for the start of the Giro d’Italia international bicycle race in Belfast this week, political relations are at their lowest for years following the arrest and interrogation of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
Peace efforts in the north of Ireland continue to be hindered by the failure to secure an agreement on a process of truth and reconciliation, a hallmark of successful peace agreements in South Africa and elsewhere. A truth and reconciliation commission has always been opposed by unionists who object to the idea of “equivalence” between the British Crown forces and the IRA.
Sinn Fein’s decision to sign up to support the police (renamed the PSNI) in 2007 was viewed as a major milestone in the peace process and prompted the return to devolved rule at Stormont, with the party and the DUP entering government together.
This week, Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister referred to a “dark side” and a “cabal” of the “old guard” who remained opposed to peace. Speaking before Mr Adams’s release on Sunday, Martin McGuinness indicated his party would “review” its support for the PSNI if an attempt was made to charge its leader.
Although prosecutors may yet to decide to being charges against Mr Adams, such a move is now considered highly unlikely following his release on Sunday.
Mr McGuinness later backtracked on his original comments and said his party was committed and “totally supportive” of policing on both sides of the border.
“When I talked about reviewing our position in relation to policing, it was in the context of how we deal with this cabal within policing,” he told Irish radio.
“We are absolutely and totally supportive of the police service north and south of this border.”
But DUP leader Peter Robinson made clear his party would have moved to exclude Sinn Fein from power-sharing government at Stormont if it had not “corrected” what he said was a threat to withdraw support for the PSNI police. He accused Sinn Fein of attempting to “blackmail” the force, describing McGuinness’s comments as “despicable” and “thuggish”.
“The threat now means that ordinary decent citizens will conclude that the PSNI and the PPS have succumbed to a crude and overt political threat if Adams is not charged,” he said.
Meanwhile, in London, there were suggestions that a new political alliance between David Cameron’s Tories and the DUP may be behind a new anti-republican agenda.
It has been reported that on the evening Mr Adams was placed under arrest at Antrim barracks, Cameron was hosting a “lavish” reception for Robinson and the eight DUP members of the London parliament. It is thought Cameron’s Conservative Party may seek a formal alliance with the DUP to help secure Camerons’ re-election as Prime Minister following next year’s Westminster general election.
Mr McGuinness accused Cameron of “cosying up” to the DUP while refusing repeated requests for meetings by himself and Gerry Adams, something he said has had a “destabilising effect on the peace process”.
He pointed out that David Cameron had met Peter Robinson and the DUP on many occasions, but has still never met with Sinn Fein as a political party.
Comments made by former IRA member Bobby Storey at a rally calling for the release of the Sinn Fein leader on Saturday have also been seen as a potentially ominous sign. The veteran figure told those gathered on the Falls Road: “We have a message for the British government, for the Irish government, for the cabal that is out there: we haven’t gone away, you know.”
The comment was a reference, possibly tongue-in-cheek, to intimations that the Provisional IRA could make a return to the political stage in the north of Ireland.
That rally took place at a freshly-painted mural in honour of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, which itself has became a focus of contention.
PEACEMAKERS AND ‘TOUTS’
The mural depicting Mr Adams as a “peacemaker, a leader and visionary” was painted over a well-known mural depicting the Falls Road curfew. But it had been daubed with the word ‘tout’ on the evening before it was unveiled. This was quickly replaced by ‘Ar aghaidh linn’ - ‘Onwards we go’.
Other sinister graffiti messages condemning ‘Boston College touts’ and ‘in-former republicans’ also appeared in republican areas, directed by Sinn Fein supporters at those involved in the oral history project which fuelled the allegations against Mr Adams.
It has added to tensions within republicanism between those who oppose the political process at Stormont and those who remain part of it. With local elections in Belfast two weeks time, Sinn Fein’s republican rivals were quick to point out that the Adams “debacle” had vindicated their arguments against the new policing arrangements.
“The high profile arrest, detention and reluctant release of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams represents a calculated slap in the face by Britain to all those who put their faith in his project during the twists and turns of the past two decades,” according to the Republican Network for Unity.
“This arrest was certainly an example of political policing, calculated and executed by the dark forces which maintain firm control of the British administered six counties, a force which, it must be stated, [Adams] himself was happy to blissfully ignore until recent days.”
And in a rare political statement by Breandan Mac Cionnaith, the eirigi general secretary said it is time for Sinn Fein and the SDLP to recognise the fact that “British policing in Ireland is inherently political”. He has also called on Sinn Fein to immediately clarify its current view of the PSNI.
“The PSNI, as Britain’s police force in Ireland, has no moral right to arrest or detain any Irish political activist,” he said. “That applies to all political activists and not just Gerry Adams.”
He said efforts to ‘reform’ British policing and justice in Ireland had failed and the two constitutional nationalist parties in the Stormont administration, Sinn Fein and the SDLP need to publicly acknowledge the “abject failure of their policing projects” and withdraw their support from the PSNI and the British courts.
“Selective criticism by some politicians of some elements of political policing by the PSNI is simply not good enough,” he said.