Arafat may be a closer fit

In The Guardian, Martin Kettle argues that, rather than Adams’ preferred analogy with South Africa and, by extension, Nelson Mandela, Gerry Adams’ role is more akin to Yasser ArafatUnable to complete the transition from violent to peaceful politics, dependent on the networks of dishonesty on which his authority restsAS he points out, the forthcoming elections, north and south, are being seen in some quarters as an ‘existential crisis’ for Sinn Féin –

Much has been said in the past few days about this being an existential crisis for the republican movement. It is, we are told, make your mind up time for Adams and his forces. Do they take the political road, renouncing criminality and violence? Or do they remain where they are today, half inside and half outside the political system, nurturing the creative ambiguities in which they specialise and retaining firm hold on what senior Provisionals apparently just call the tactical use of armed struggle?

In this view of Irish politics, the coming weekend’s Sinn Féin annual conference – the Ard Fheis – could be portrayed as a decisive moment in the organisation’s history. It is tempting to see it as a moment at which republicanism decides between moral force and physical force, to use the distinction favoured by the Chartists. With a British general election looming and two byelections in the Republic next week, the pressure appears to be on. Well, Gerry, which is it to be?

But, as he acknowledges, the constancy of Sinn Féin’s polling figures, for their core support, at around the 9% level in the Republic, and the likelihood of no great surprises in the Westminster and local government elections in the north – despite what some may wish – mean that a more probable outcome is an ‘opinion freeze’ –

This tells us that the “make your mind up time” scenario may be naive. Adams’s standing is down because he has lost support among people who flirt with Sinn Féin. Core support, on the other hand, though modest, is holding up remarkably well. The Ard Fheis may be less critical than Sinn Féin’s critics would like.

It would be nice to think that the exposure of republican duplicity over the last two months would provide a catalyst that would enable Irish opinion, north and south, to spurn Sinn Féin once and for all. Unfortunately, life is not like that. A more probable outcome is that these recent events may freeze opinion roughly where it is today. Large majorities, north and south, will continue to reject Sinn Féin and the IRA. Significant minorities, larger in the north than the south, will go on supporting them.[emphasis mine]

As a result, Kettle suggests, there will be no crossing of the rubicon, no commitment on an end to criminality to the satisfaction of the Irish and British Governments and no political progress.

Meanwhile, the rackets and the robberies, the beatings and the blackmail will continue. Too weak to succeed but too strong to defeat, Sinn Féin may stay locked in its parallel universe well into its second century. Themselves alone.

And, if that is right, then instead of seeing Gerry Adams as Northern Ireland’s Nelson Mandela, it might be more realistic if we drew a less heroic parallel. Unable to complete the transition from violent to peaceful politics, dependent on the networks of dishonesty on which his authority rests, Adams may now be turning into Northern Ireland’s Yasser Arafat.

It’s a comparison that Sinn Féin supporters will, now, probably reject, but the longer the current impasse continues, the more likely that comparison will be seen as being closer to the truth.. and it’s a comparison that suggests another question – Do we now have to wait for the next leadership of Sinn Féin?

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