By Bill Delaney
Christmas already seems so long ago. That was the time of the great final negotiation which was supposed to allow us all to break through to - well, something better than we have now.
Was it all a sham? Certainly it seems unlikely that Tony Blair, as we were led to believe, spent Boxing Day on the phone from Miami. In any event, the latest, greatest deal collapsed within a few days as Paisley denied having anything to do with anything. Credit to the man, unlike Trimble, he doesn’t keep up a sham.
Which brings us to Gerry Adams, or Londongerry, as his republican critics have christened him. Did he really believe a deal had been reached, or was he just faking it? It was all a slow-motion replay of that now infamous day at Stormont, when everyone, including El Presidente, kept up a pretence for several hours that Paisley had said something genuinely positive when he hadn’t.
The clod-hopping choreography of the peace process has long since moved into the realms of pantomime. This is the bizarre context in which we are witnessing the headlong two-step of the Sinn Féin riverdancers to shed the last vestiges of republicanism. Meanwhile, back in Ballymena, the Very Reverend Bigot is currently enjoying a veto on any change, and so there will be none for the foreseeable future. By the time anybody notices, of course, it will be too late for Sinn Féin or anybody else to turn back the clock.
In truth, the only negotiation that has been taking place is between the Sinn Féin officer board and various party functionaries who run the party’s cumainn around the country or somehow found themselves co-opted into the ard chomhairle.
There is considerable evidence that the party’s genuine republicans have been gradually or rapidly sidelined over the past number of years. Meanwhile, some of those who might be described as less ‘leaderly’ have found themselves suddenly thrust into prominence.
The mechanics of Sinn Féin’s extraordinary evolution will be a matter for historians to fathom, and probably only in about 30 years. Now there is the more immediate task of defending what remains of republican principles and culture from disappearing under a crown-topped hat.
But there is even more at stake than that. The common understanding of what it means to be an Irish nationalist is one who supports a united Ireland free from British rule. Indeed, even ‘nationalism’ is too strong a word for it - it is simply national self-respect in the face of centuries of murderous British colonial rule.
Amid the sycophancy of the SDLP, and generations of lip-service from Fianna Fail and other 26-County shape-throwers, Sinn Féin successfully carried the green banner for decades.
Mr Adams is arguing that armed struggle is no longer an alternative, and he may be correct. But he goes too far when he declares that Irish nationalists must accept and support British forces in the North of Ireland. This is not rocket science - it is plainly contrary to the nationalist and republican ethos. And the arguments he puts forward - ‘it is the right thing to do’ - are devoid of rational or logic, and heavy on preaching, faith, and something very similar to Blairite spin.
The Adams claim that ‘there is no alternative’ is the most extraordinary, as he has himself negotiated on at least two of these. The first is the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement is now almost completely dead, forgotten in the never-ending talks process, its function as a carrot to lure unsuspecting nationalists now complete.
Under that agreement, it was set down by the Patten Commission (remember them?) that responsbility for police and justice would be devolved to Stormont.
With Paisley’s rock-solid intransigence and occasional demands for the humiliation of republicans, not to mention his veto at Stormont, we must accept his assurances that this will not take place in the foreseeable future, if at all.
It has now simple evaporated, along with most of the other concessions and genuflections to the nationalist cause.
But another, and much better alternative, is the badly-undernourished ‘plan B’. This is where we should already be, if anything is to be believed about this process. But after all the deadlines ond deals have been broken and some silence breaks out, the band is always very quick to strike up a new tune.
In the context of the Plan B partnership arrangements, Dublin would have some responsibility for policing in the Six Counties, in some form of cross-border administrative structure. In this context, a nationalist could imagine being asked to support a police force that could be seen as a precursor to an acceptable all-Ireland service.
But there is no such argument for the partitionalist and sectarian PSNI, as events this week have so clearly shown. The choreographers behind our glorious pantomime, whoever they really are, were clearly unable to catch Nuala O’Loan before she marched on stage, more power to her. And with far more conviction than was displayed by Michael Stone and armed only with the truth, she and Raymond McCord left all sides, including our republican heroes, struggling to defend their position.
Now head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the blame for the deaths of an unknown number of victims of RUC/PSNI collusion is being directed towards Ronnie Flanagan. But the real blame should fall where it lies -- the well-known tradition of British imperialism, in which the lives of natives count for little or nothing, at any time of history, or in any part of the world.
Which brings us back to this weekend. The language of Irish resistance and struggle, as cheapened and manipulated as it already has been in recent years, cannot be used to defend a course of action which could bring that struggle to the point of extinction.
Untimately, the question that must be asked of the Sinn Féin leadership this weekend is - like that of every political or military development in recent years - who benefits?
Certainly not Sinn Féin, which has left a trail of political debris in its charge to the right over the past decade, and is now facing a very ‘sticky’ future. Its support has halved in the past two years in the 26 Counties, and it faces a very uncertain future north of the border (where suspiciously few polls have been conducted recently).
Mind you, we must admit genuine republican political leadership is thin on the ground. For the most part, RSF seems to shun publicity, while the IRSP is still hung up on Marxist polemic. As for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement - well, the name says it all.
If you think this is all bad news, let me tell you the worst: that it is almost certain that the Sinn Féin will become signed-up members of the ‘Castle Catholic’ brigade this weekend.
It is too soon to say that republicanism is dead and gone, but after this weekend, it may take more than the graves of our Fenian dead to revive it. The time to start is now.