It’s fairly typical that in June there is little to report in Northern Ireland beyond the usual disturbance, or as it was last year, a comparitive absence of trouble. Sport and international conferences will no doubt give us something to talk about this summer, and of course we are expecting the outcome of the ‘Adams Initiative’ (a neat branding effort to push the now retired John Hume to the peace process background?). Noel Whelan anticipates the benefits of a stood down IRA.He draws attention to the price Sinn Fein has paid for the Northern Bank robbery, responsibility for which most serious commentators pin squarely on the IRA Army Council:
The events earlier this year have also changed the context in which Northern policy is made in the Republic. Some (particularly Northern pundits) are very hung up on how the perceived threat from Sinn Féin exerts an influence on Bertie Ahern’s policy. However, the fastest growing party in the Republic, currently, is Fine Gael. If it repeats or improves on its performance in last year’s local and European elections, and if the Government continues to languish at its current low level in the polls, then Fine Gael will threaten more Fianna Fáil seats than Sinn Féin could ever dream of. The Government attitude to Sinn Féin and the IRA has become a significant leverage issue for the middle ground, middle-class portion of the electorate in the Republic where, like everywhere else, they are the key swing constituency.
He also notes that this alleged IRA activity has given rise to a significant strengthening of Unionism. He cites Tommie Gorman speaking on RTE:
Tommie Gorman made another point on Monday about how much of the optimism and trust which was around after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has since drained away. If anything that was an understatement – the hundreds of gallons of water leaking from the National Aquatic Centre are nothing compared to the trust and confidence which has seeped away from the peace process on the unionist side – and support for the process was shallow enough at that end to begin with. This has given rise to another significant event “earlier this year” which now has to be factored into the equation, namely the dramatic strengthening of the DUP’s mandate in May’s Westminster elections. Not only did the DUP spectacularly surpass the UUP, but it also gobbled up the support base of most of the smaller unionist parties and unionist independents.