Anthony McIntyre (for the Blanket)
There was no great surprise at the end of it. Who expected a different result? Watching the ard comhairle on TV as it assembled for its leader worship fest, it was instructive to see a former republican prisoner nod his head enthusiastically. It was as if he had been practicing all week to get the nod right so that on the day his nod would be noticed by the President of Lies as being more vigorous than the other nodding heads.
Amongst the assembling throng could be seen those who had promised there would never be republicans in Stormont, but who nodded their heads when it came to pass; those who had ostracised members of their own family because the latter had the perspicacity to forecast decommissioning, and then nodded their heads when the act that would never happen did; those who swore never to be in the party if it endorsed a renamed RUC, but who could be seen practicing the nod yesterday.
A former member of the ard comhairle once likened its meetings to a shop front where on show are nodding dogs to be displayed in the back windows of cars. The type of obsequities delivered to the President of Lies are said to resemble that made by the sycophant Ali Hassan al-Majid at the 1979 extraordinary Baath Party convention: ‘everything you did in the past was good and everything you do in the future is good. I say this from my faith in the party and your leadership.’
There is a photo in today’s front page of the Irish Times which depicts the President of Lies beneath an oval light. It produces the curious effect of a halo. Few will express shock if next Thursday’s Dear Leader column in the Irish News offers it as proof of canonisation and then goes on to tell us that Dear Leader fed the entire gathering until they were sated from one boiled egg. That he turned the water into illegal vodka will not be mentioned.
The one disappointed face after yesterday’s ard comhairle meeting belonged to Gerry Kelly. He must realise now that for all his manoeuvring to become a peeler the justice ministry is beyond him. The President of Lies’ on air compliment to him for having led the policing negotiations is poor compensation for the loss of a prospective ministerial career. It may also be the beginning of the long predicted heave ho. Gerry Kelly was merely a pawn in the wider power play; just as he was used to robustly sell the ‘not a round not an ounce’ stance. Unionist observers first sensed that decommissioning was for real when they saw Adams place his arm around the shoulders of a disconsolate Kelly at Hillsborough after a round of negotiations at which Sinn Féin fatally undermined the IRA’s insistence not to move on the weapons question. Up until then Kelly had been assuring the rank and file that only the terminally stupid believed decommissioning would occur. The unionists watching the arm around the shoulder routine believe that was the moment Kelly discovered he had been conned. Yet his ambition prevented him doing anything about it. The President of Lies intuited his weakness and ruthlessly exploited it.
Given the course the Sinn Féin leadership charted for republicanism, the destination was never going to be anywhere else but into the arms of the PSNI. The outcome was guaranteed once it had decided to abandon republicanism and embrace a reformist strategy. This was flagged up for even the blind more than a decade ago. Once Adams and his army council colleagues ordered the termination of the Provisional IRA ceasefire in February 1996, the stated objective of the re-launched campaign was no longer a British withdrawal. It was to secure all party talks which ruled out any change in the constitutional position. A republican united Ireland was on the way out and a reformist internal settlement with all its accoutrements, including policing, on the way in.
Yesterday Martin McGuinness announced that the struggle for equality would continue. He sounded like Oliver Napier circa 1973. Napier to his credit had not filled graves in order to sound as he did. And the equality McGuinness calls for is to be firmly ring fenced inside a British constitutional framework. That was nowhere more evident than when Gerry Kelly a few weeks ago, needled by Nigel Dodds’ dismissal of any suggestion for the devolution of policing and justice powers, protested his right to parity of esteem. Which amounted to a plea to Dodds by Kelly for himself to have the same right as any unionist to jail republicans who plant car bombs at the Old Bailey in London.
To bring the North to this point was not worth one drop of blood, republican or any other. The SDLP gained more in 1974 and its leadership, like Napier, killed nobody.
Great anger has been aroused within the republican grassroots over the embrace of the police. None of which makes any sense. The grassroots may complain all they want, but they were complicit in the project. Denied any input they nevertheless abdicated their obligation to monitor the activities of their leadership, preferring instead to endlessly issue blank cheques without ever receiving a republican return on any of them. Did the grassroots ever seriously believe the peace process could arrive at a different terminus? In the long tortuous demise of republicanism, accepting the right of a British constabulary to police Northern nationalists and jail Irish republicans, is the final not the first step.