More was expected

In the Irish Times, Northern Editor Gerry Moriarty was clearly less than impressed by the ‘rhetorical flourishes’ of the speakers at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, and references Bertie Ahern’s prediction on Thursday that “on the key issue of whether the IRA would take the required initiative to reopen the possibility of a deal we would be as informed entering the conference as we were leaving it.”

However, this could also be a temporary little achievement for Adams. If in the weeks ahead nobody is brought to book for Robert McCartney’s murder, then this 100th anniversary Sinn Féin Ardfheis could come back to haunt the Sinn Féin president and leadership. It will be viewed as the worst of stunts, a cruel stunt.

And if in the months ahead we are still being subjected to impenetrable language from republicans which – with the right wind and the planets in alliance – just might be construed as the IRA being prepared to fade away, then the notion of this being a purifying moment for the IRA will also evaporate.

So which is it? It’s impossible to tell because although Adams may have issued subliminal messages, he didn’t issue direct ones. It would have been a defining moment if delegates travelled home last night conscious that come the autumn a deal would be feasible again and that that would involve the IRA unequivocally bringing down the shutters on all activity and dismantling its arsenal.

We got hints and some rhetorical flourishes from Gerry Adams and his senior colleagues over the weekend of such possibilities ahead but nothing truly concrete.

Gerry Moriarty also noted the sidestep on the issue of criminality –

To be sure Adams and his colleagues hammered home to delegates that the IRA and Sinn Féin must not be tarnished with allegations of criminality, most particularly over Robert McCartney’s murder. But to republicans what constitutes criminality? Adams partially addressed this conundrum as well. “We know what a crime is both in the moral and legal sense, and our view is the same as the majority of people. We know that breaking the law is a crime,” he said.

But then came rider: “But we refuse to criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives.” We’re still back to the Kafkaesque concept of republicans alone defining what is a crime.[emphasis added]

His overall impression of the weekend would seem to be that it was an opportunity missed –

So is the IRA prepared to go away? Maybe. Is Sinn Féin prepared to acknowledge that IRA criminality is corrupting society, and more importantly that it must do something about it? Maybe. Might they sign up to policing? Ditto.

In essence, beyond the drama of the McCartneys, the weekend was a Sinn Féin holding operation, an occasion to rally the troops. It seems that the big decisions on the big issues won’t be made until a deal is in prospect, which could be a long time away.

More was expected of the ardfheis, and republicans are still where they put themselves, in a corner.[emphasis added]