By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Gerry Adams headed to Gulladuff in south Derry on Saturday and proceeded to gull his audience of Sinn Féin members. He misled them both in what he said but more importantly in what he didn’t say. His purpose was twofold. First to issue a public rebuke to our proconsul for his refusal to hold a border poll and secondly to reassert the inevitability of a united Ireland.
Adams misrepresented our proconsul’s refusal by claiming he “dismissed the possibility of a border poll”. He didn’t, he can’t and Adams knows it.
Here’s what the proconsul said and, yes, it was insolent and inaccurate: “As secretary of state, I have the right to call a poll when I feel like it. [Rubbish.] I have an obligation... to call a poll when there is a clear indication that there would be a vote for a united Ireland.”
He added that, given that present indications pointed in the opposite direction, “I have no intention of calling a poll at the moment”.
So he didn’t “dismiss the possibility”. On the contrary, he accepted he has an obligation, in the words of the Good Friday Agreement, “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority or those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK and form part of a united Ireland”. At the moment it does not so appear. OK?
Is “likely” 6/4, 1/3 or would it need to be a ‘sure thing’ at 1/10? What criteria any proconsul would use to work out how it would “appear likely” is something Adams should have thought about before he subscribed to the GFA.
More important, however, than misrepresenting the proconsul are Adams’s prognostications on a united Ireland. Adams is a big-picture man who ignores mere detail, which may explain why after decades as an MP and assembly member concentrating on a united Ireland and not being a member of the IRA he left west Belfast as he found it, the densest concentration of poverty and unemployment outside north Dublin.
What does Adams mean by a united Ireland? He treated the faithful in Gulladuff to a load of old guff. He told them that it would be “a cordial union of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter”, that it would be “rooted in citizens’ rights and people-centred”. “Diversity, equality and tolerance is (sic) the key to this” he waffled. Yes, and there’ll be free beer for the workers. Sorry no, that would be a detail.
You see, people have a right to know what they’re voting for. You can’t just have a question asking: “Do youse want a united Ireland?” Would it be a unitary state, a federal state, a confederal state? Would the northern assembly remain as a subordinate administration to the Dail similar to its present relationship with Westminster, something de Valera advocated in 1966, or be abolished?
In the case of Scotland we already know the preferred question Alex Salmond wants in his 2014 referendum and we know what Scottish independence entails because he has spelt it out. As a party leader Adams has a duty to spell it out. What exactly does Sinn Féin want? People have to know how they will be affected. If they don’t, they’ll vote No.
There’s another important question Adams and others like Martin McGuinness dodge. As former military men, though Adams of course doesn’t know he was in the IRA, they will be aware that if you have an objective you need a plan to achieve it. The truth is that not only do Sinn Féin not know how a united Ireland would be structured, they have not got a plan to achieve it. They haven’t a notion what to do next. They’re beginning to sound like Fianna Fail in the fifties and sixties.
Constantly repeating ‘32-county republic’ became known as verbal republicanism, a substitute for any political action. The sort of fare Adams dished up in Gulladuff is Sinn Féin’s 21st-century version.
It’s nearly 30 years since the New Ireland Forum produced a set of blueprints for constitutional change. John Hume had to present his preferred option to the forum. What’s Gerry Adams’s preferred option?