Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

The Handshake-fest: “Ho, hum.”

Sat 30 June 2012, 12:37pm

In the Irish Times, Patrick Smyth rains on “this national parade, The Handshake-fest”.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that The Handshake was not a “good thing”. It was. Belatedly, 14 years after the genuinely “historic” Belfast Agreement was signed, marking not only Sinn Féin’s renunciation of coercion as a means of uniting Ireland but also, crucially, a new set of relationships on and between these islands, the party takes another incremental step down that road. Masters at PR and branding, Sinn Féin dresses The Handshake up as a breakthrough and statesmanship of a high order. “Historic” because Sinn Féin says it is. I don’t think so.

The Handshake acquires major significance only if we accept that somehow Martin McGuinness represents through his act the spirit of the Irish nation, or even of Irish nationalism. That he speaks for us more truly than, say President Michael D Higgins, for whom the same handshake is a matter of course, is barely worth commenting on. Or that The Handshake is a great symbolic moment of reconciliation between peoples, perhaps like that genuinely represented by the queen’s visit to Ireland last year.

Instead of being what it is in reality: an attempt by a minority current of nationalism to shake off its still-clinging violent past and a branding of itself both as nationalism’s embodiment and as a “respectable” potential party of government.

Oh yes, and a “reaching out” to unionism, which is still, unsurprisingly, unconvinced.

In this it is ably assisted by a compliant, uncritical press and punditocracy and by a British establishment only delighted to promote the idea of an important, healing, uniting monarchy.

It is the inevitable expression of a peace process culture that privileges Sinn Féin above all parties, wrapping the supposedly tender plant of its new constitutionalism in cotton wool, as if it was at any moment ready to revert to its bad old ways.

Yet do we really believe that if The Handshake had not happened this week the well-entrenched political dynamic in the North would have been altered by one iota?

“An important symbolic addition to the iconography of reconciliation on this island and between Ireland and Britain,” this paper’s leader suggested.

“Ho, hum,” as former editor Douglas Gageby used to say to express scepticism.

Indeed.

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Comments (31)

  1. Mister_Joe (profile) says:

    Pete,

    I think Mr Smyth understates the importance. It, in the most significant way possible, demonstrates that, after so many campaigns of murder and violence by various incarnations of the IRA since 1921, that the current generation of “Republicans” accepts the constitutional setup, for now.

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  2. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    Smyth might better have understood The Handshake as Sinn Féin’s acceptance that Britian had finally abandoned coercion as a means of dividing Ireland.

    It certainly has taken a long time, but better late than never, what, ma’am ?

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  3. andnowwhat (profile) black spot says:

    Free state paper plays IRA’a past in SF attack shocker!!

    These endless retread articles (they tend to cynically dust off a victim round about election times) could very well have a affect contrary to their intentions, such is their frequency and lack of anything fresh.

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  4. Alias (profile) says:

    The Shinners are ‘respectable’ within the British political establishment only for as long as they continue to promote its interests. Little ‘indiscretions’ from the past such as Jean McConville can be used to remind them of the real agenda.

    Instead of converting unionists into nationalists and thereby challenging the British constitution, the Shinners have converted nationalists into unionists and thereby consolidated it, with support for a change to the British constitution now at a low of just 7%. It is the abject failure of ‘nationalism’ under their political leadership that makes them so useful to the British state.

    Eventually they’ll outlive their usefulness and that’s why Marty & Gerry want to drag out the ‘peace process’ caper and the state protection that goes with it for as long as they can.

    And in fairness to them, they’ve now dragged it out for close to 20 years – which must surely set a record as the world’s longest peace process.

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  5. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    The Queen has had to shake the hand of Syria’s Assad and Mugabe. I’m sure Google images will supply Molotov and von Ribbentrop exchanging this formal greeting.

    As Kurt Vonnegut would have said ‘so it goes…..’

    Several times in my formative years I was forced to shake hands with people I didn’t like after a playground altercation. It meant nothing to me and neither does this.
    I suppose we’ll have to wait for Suarez and Evra for the next front pager. And it will be just as ‘meaningful’.

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  6. gendjinn (profile) says:

    Historic Handshake

    New York Times
    Los Angeles Times
    Economist
    Toronto Sun
    Calgary Sun
    Scottish Daily Record
    And a further 4500 Newspaper articles worldwide

    The whole world is wrong and Pete Baker is right. Again.

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  7. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Paddy Smyth is the boy above Gendjinn… You disagree with him?

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  8. Zig70 (profile) says:

    The prince philip skip away from MMcG is my favourite clip of this year. However I would suspect the target of the handshake is not the English or Unionists but the southern electorate. In that senario it is very significant. A step on the goal to the southerners adding weight to the unification arguement rather than apathy.

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  9. Henry94 (profile) says:

    That he speaks for us more truly than, say President Michael D Higgins, for whom the same handshake is a matter of course, is barely worth commenting on

    Who is us in this case? Where are the northern nationalists who would like to be represented by the President but are not.

    But it does remind us of another President and another handshake. Mary Robinson came to Belfast and shook hands with Gerry Adams in the face of huge hostility from the southern media and southern politicians.

    Would any of them now say it wasn’t a good thing? Time will tell if this new handshake leads us on or has no effect. Could anyone argue that it was a negative thing?

    The alternative for McGunness was to tun down the invitation and refuse to shake her hand. Many of those who deny the significance of the handshake would have whipped up a storm of significance around the absence of one. So it looks to me like business as usual in the game of putting Sinn Fein into dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t situations.

    Oh yes, and a “reaching out” to unionism, which is still, unsurprisingly, unconvinced.

    And again what would the response be to an absence of any attempts to reach out?

    Will it even merit a chapter in the “Definitive History of the Irish Peace Process” when Lord Bew or my colleague Deaglán de Bréadún come to write it? A page? A footnote, perhaps?

    Is it not a sign of success that such a question could even be asked. To claim that Martin McGuinness shaking hands with the Queen of England is no big deal can only mean that what has come before was a very big deal indeed.

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  10. Toastedpuffin (profile) says:

    4500 newspaper articles, eh? Including one in something called the “Calgary Sun” (you live and learn). Clearly we’re dealing with something massively historic here, but not, say, as historic as Tom and Katie’s divorce announcement.

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  11. Henry94 (profile) says:

    Zig70

    However I would suspect the target of the handshake is not the English or Unionists but the southern electorate. In that senario it is very significant.

    There is a lot in that. The Queens visit had valuable lessons for Sinn Fein about the south. It is a place completely comfortable in its own skin. The people were happy with the Queen’s visit but subsequent noises about joining the Commonwealth sunk without a trace. Constitutionally the 26 counties is the most settled place in these islands.

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  12. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop settled their differences with a lovely handshake. Wonderful things, handshakes.
    If only Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra could follow the lead of Northern Ireland’s Molotov and von Ribbentrop????
    What a wonderful world it would be.

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  13. gendjinn (profile) says:

    No Mick,

    It is Pete Baker that decided to promote and concur with this piece as the definitive analysis of the Marty & Betty handshake. Nor it is me that disagrees with Paddy Smyth, it is the world.

    Which makes one wonder what exactly is the point in quoting, uncritically, Paddy Smyth’s view of the handshake?

    Beyond pushing his propaganda, that is…

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  14. gendjinn (profile) says:

    Mick,

    evidently your very own blog disagrees with Paddy & Pete as 10 of the 26 blogs on the front page right now are to do with the handshake.

    That and you missed some stories like:
    Army ‘waterboarding victim’ who spent 17 years in jail is cleared of murder
    Ex-RUC officers ‘trying to withold information’ in deaths probe
    Ballymurphy: track down the massacre paras

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  15. Toastedpuffin (profile) says:

    “Nor it is me that disagrees with Paddy Smyth, it is the world. ”

    So you agree with him then? Probably a wise decision considering The World reckons the marital status of Tom and Katie to be a major world event. Do you ever think the World is composed of plonkers, apart from you, me and Patrick Smyth?

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  16. JH (profile) says:

    The arrogance from some southern commentators is face melting.

    It took the southern establishment 80-odd years from the end of the civil war to welcome the woman with a handshake and a state visit. But when we do it in the north whilst participants and victims of the conflict are not only still alive but even relatively young and many in Government it faces this kind of childish belittlement.

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  17. 6crealist (profile) says:

    JH

    Interesting point, but one which relies on a revisionist perspective. Your argument flounders when one takes into account the difference between the independence campaign waged by the architechts of the southern state and the campaign directed by the likes of McGuinness.

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  18. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Gandjinn,

    I’m with TP, you (I think) and Paddy. Look, joking aside, no one expects people to agree on Slugger. If the world says one thing, we Always value someone else’s right to disagree.

    The reason there’s so many pieces on Slugger is there’s been so much written on it. But are you offering to blog something for us?

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  19. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    6crealist argues that JH’relies on a revisionist perspective” and that his “argument flounders when one takes into account the difference between the independence campaign waged by the architechts of the southern state and the campaign directed by the likes of McGuinness.

    All of which is very interesting but doesn’t make one iota of sense to anyone who is not living inside 6crealist’s head. He needs first to explain what he means by a “revisonist perspective” and he certainly needs to spell out the difference, as he sees it, between the two campaigns and then explain how that difference undermines JH’s argument.

    Or, of course, if he is unable to do that, he could simply say that JH’s “interesting point” rankles him somewhat as it certainly seems to do.

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  20. lamhdearg2 (profile) black spot black spot says:

    Simply put I read 6crealist comment as, “the independence campaign waged by the architechts of the southern state” had more righteousness around it, as its aim (independence) had the support of, if not the majority, at least a large body of the people of the soon to be republic, the campaign carried out from the 70s on had little support, as witnessed by its ultimate rejection.

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  21. Toastedpuffin (profile) says:

    JH makes a valid point, however it’s blunted somewhat by the fact that McGuinness and his party rejected and opposed the Queen’s visit to the Republic. The pique Shinners experience at comment like Smyth’s stems from both the “foreigness” of southern outlook, and the refusal to feed Republican narcissism.

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  22. Nevin (profile) says:

    “.. the well-entrenched political dynamic in the North would have been altered by one iota?”

    Setting to one side the SF dimension, I don’t think ‘dynamic’ is the word I would have used to describe some well-established features of our landscape, both old and contemporary. I also think Patrick is being overly harsh in his caricature of those ‘compliant, uncritical’ old and new media folks who write about events here; I’m reminded of these words from a song:

    From a distance, there is harmony,
    And it echoes through the land.
    It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
    It’s the voice of every man.

    There are plenty of opportunities to be critical and non-compliant but it would be irresponsible to place evidence in the public domain that would endanger folks lives or property.

    Sam McBride in the Newsletter, being closer to the action perhaps, notes the exclusion of the media – apart from one reporter – and his phrase, ‘the iron hand of control’, probably reaches further than the vicinity of the Lyric.

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  23. 6crealist (profile) says:

    Rory

    while I do appreciate your outsider’s perspective, a man of your intelligence has no need to be so deliberately obtuse.

    To appreciate the difference in quality of the campaigns, you only have to apply McGuinness’ differentiation between the Provisionals’ actions and actions of dissident republicanism: Teebane, strapping people into cars laden with explosives, murdering Paul Quinn = fair enough, it was a war; murdering two soldiers as they collect pizza, and Constable Kerr outside his home = the futile acts of treacherous microgroups.

    There is a massive difference, apparently, between the two campaigns now that we have equality for all – Protestants applying for positions within the civil service, and Catholics looking for housing in north Belfast notwithstanding – and Shinners in positions of executive authority bsetowed by the British Crown.

    Sinn Féin were caught out by the success of Mrs Windsor’s visit to the south last year. The stupidity of their boycott was further demonstrated by their own mayor of Cashel’s magnanimity. The southern establishment are well within their rights to highlight this latest example of revisionist hypocrisy.

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  24. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    I was asking, 6crealist, that you elaborate on your own earlier piece which was rather more than obtuse and you respond claiming that that makes me somehow obtuse. I may not be obtuse but, believe me, I am bewildered.

    Bewildered all the more so when I read your attempt to draw distinctions between what is known in Irish history as the War of Independence (1916-1922, or 1919-1922 variously) and the more recent stage of that struggle (1970 – 1998) and then to apply same to refute JH’s quite astute contention which I now reproduce that our readers might see what exactly it is that you have failed to make any serious argument against:

    “It took the southern establishment 80-odd years from the end of the civil war to welcome the woman with a handshake and a state visit. But when we do it in the north whilst participants and victims of the conflict are not only still alive but even relatively young and many in Government it faces this kind of childish belittlement.”

    Pretty hard to refute such simple fact I would have thought myself but then, as you say, I am a wee bit obtuse.

    But, go on then, you have another go.

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  25. 6crealist (profile) says:

    Indeed it is rather easy to sound a lament for “the more recent stage of the struggle” from the safe vantage point of a foreign land. Yes, that struggle that involved abducting and killing innocent mothers, butchering vanloads of innocent Protestant workmen and tearing apart English schoolboys.

    The point which you’re deliberately ignoring is that it’s easy and perfectly legitimaet for the southern establishment to highlight the Goebbels-esque propaganda which Connolly House have designed (not that it has done, really: cf. the Taoiseach’s comments in the Dáil on Thursday). The campaign which McGuinness directed was of a manifestly different nature to that which led to the design of the Free State.

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  26. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    6crealist
    Rory has chosen to live in a state he regards as foreign.
    Like many Irish ‘patriots’ he chose to live in the ‘oppressor’ state. No doubt he was discriminated against and treated as a pariah in the state he regards as ‘foreign’ . Which is why he still lives there.

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  27. All this hype about the handshake has gone on long enough.

    Nice to see Gerry Kelly’s advertisement for a new fragrance, Escape:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lXFTuv8lfs&feature=plcp

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  28. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    6crealist

    To which I reply: “So you say,” but it doesn;t really get us any further does it?

    …and BluesJazz:

    …having expressed an (ill-informed) opinion about my domicile, appears to have little else to say.

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  29. lamhdearg2 (profile) black spot black spot says:

    Rory are you ignoring my comments?.

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  30. Rory Carr (profile) says:

    Yes.

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  31. JH (profile) says:

    Sorry guys I missed this discussion.

    Just from an objective standpoint, there’s not SO much difference. I deliberately mentioned the civil war rather than the war of independence, which I believe had a clear mandate.

    I think you could argue either that the anti-treaty IRA or the free-state Army had a mandate but not both. The rising we celebrate every easter certainly had no mandate, the participants were considered dissidents and extremists at the time.

    The point still stands though. I don’t know if it’s tall poppy syndrome, vested interests or what but the attitude of a lot of southern commentary on this has been pretty hypocritical to say the least.

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