Given the nature of all the agreements made since 1998, the meeting of deputy First Minister and the head of state of United Kingdom (you know the old lady Gerry calls the Queen of England) on Wednesday is probably a good thing. You also have to admit that the headlines it evinced in the main flagship new organisations of two countries was impressive too.
To that extent, Brian Hayes’ criticism of RTE (the Sindo is not the national broadcaster’s greatest fan) and its handling of the issue on Friday may be a little over worked, but he does make some decent points along the way:
The single most important reconciliation event in British/Irish history took place during May of last year when Queen Elizabeth visited this country. The laying of a wreath by the British monarch at the Garden of Remembrance, the respectful bowing of the head to Ireland’s dead, was a highly charged and deeply healing moment. The state dinner in Dublin Castle, a place freighted in history, was an opportunity for political leaders to continue the process of reconciliation between Ireland and Britain.
Martin McGuinness, as Deputy first Minister in Northern Ireland, chose not to attend. He showed bad judgement by not attending. The decision by Sinn Fein not to attend any of the historic events surrounding the royal visit showed a meanness of spirit and a lack of political leadership.
He goes to note the original moral leadership came not from Sinn Fein’s party leadership, but from the late SF Mayor of Cashel last year:
I was there with Minster Howlin that day, representing the government, and I admired the way Browne carried out his duty, even under intense personal and political pressure. The political pressure on Browne came from Sinn Fein. It censured him for his dignified stand in representing his own town. They knew he was terminally ill but went ahead and humiliated him anyway. The party’s stalinist approach to dissent must always be enforced.
The “yes but, no but, maybe” little game is only that — a little game for Sinn Fein to grab a few headlines. Martin McGuinness chickened out last year and now he wants to make a meal out of it.
Denis Murray speaking on Nolan this morning also made a couple of good points in this regard.
One, he confirms Hayes view that this was about catch up in the only game that matters to the northern leadership of Sinn Fein, the move towards some kind of political valency in the Republic.
But also two, that the logic of McGuinness’ role as dFM within the constitutional position of Northern (ie, within the UK) meant he had little choice but to meet the Queen. In short, ‘she da boss’. Albeit a symbolic one.
This a non trivial point (though expect it to be downplayed both here in the comments zone and in wider discourse). Whilst the aim of the policy may have been to play catch up in the south, the party deployed some pretty heavy hitters from the Army side of the movement to get this one past the activists in Northern Ireland.
It gives some proper context for Gerry’s view that this is part of its Unionist outreach programme… [Aye, along with the party’s Ministerial blocking of Protestant applicants at DRD? – Ed]
Iain Martin in his blog at the Telegraph, probably best crystalises Republican fears about what it signals to that group:
…it is a reminder that the British establishment does have a skill for co-opting its enemies. McGuinness posed a monstrous threat to national security, and even to the basic geographical integrity of the United Kingdom. Now he takes a salary and shakes the hand of the Queen. Martin McGuinness appears to have been decommissioned.
On Saturday I spoke to the widow of an Irish Guards officer who had served against the Israelis in Palestine before they gained their independence. She still has old British wanted posters for Menachem Begin and others who went on to provide leadership for the Israeli state.
However there are important differences between one and the other. Begin et al won their independence at the end of their ‘armed struggle’, McGuinness et al could not. Israel’s struggle for independence continued long after the British withdrew. McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s real political struggle for independence/unification is only just beginning.
It may be a great deal harder to resolve than the simplifying binaries of war ever were…
* NB, The title was suggested by Mr Angry it literally means “Our hand will come”, a skit on SF’s old war time slogan “Tiocfaidh ar La”, “Our day will come”.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty