Get in there and work for the Union!

Alex Kane is none too convinced by what he terms Gerry Adams’ forsaking of tree hugging for Unionist hugging. But he saves his real criticism for the DUP, who he argues should be inside the negotiations pitching for Unionism in general rather than working the “prima donna of piety and isolate yourself on a holier-than-thou high ground” gambit of refusing to talk to Sinn Fein. By Alex Kane:

Judging by some of his comments at last Saturday’s Ard Fheis (“our engagement with unionism must deepen and broaden in the time ahead”), Gerry Adams has abandoned tree hugging in favour of Unionist-hugging. Mind you, the pantomime antics of both the DUP and Sinn Fein at Monday’s abandoned negotiations, suggest that the response to Adams’ overture will be as wooden as that of his forest friends!

Of course, there wasn’t one iota of sincerity in this heavily hyped desire to develop a new relationship with unionism. If there had been, he wouldn’t have heaped so much praise on the IRA, or condemned the Irish government for its reluctance to pursue unification. He wouldn’t have peppered his speech with implications that it was a mixture of bad faith and bigotry that prevented the DUP from closing a deal. He wouldn’t have argued that, “The third great challenge facing this party is to build support for Irish unity in Britain. There is a potential to create in Britain a solidarity movement similar to that in the USA.”

No, this speech, like so many of his post-1998 efforts, was mere mischief making and distraction. Something to keep the troops happy and prevent their thoughts straying too far into the past. It was at an Ard Fheis in 1981 that Danny Morrison trumpeted, “…will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?” During the same speech he also opposed devolution, saying; “…an Ulster parliament would perpetuate the loyalist bloc and would preserve its power and influence, instead of breaking it up.”

My goodness me, what a change there has been in Sinn Fein’s thinking since that Ard Fheis twenty-five years ago. Abstention has been abandoned. Partition has been entrenched. Seats are now occupied in Dublin, Belfast and Strasbourg. The IRA has been effectively emasculated. Former bombers and gunmen are queuing up to tell us how much they need an Assembly in Northern Ireland. And Adams concluded his set piece speech with the terribly limp claim that “…our sole purpose of going into government is to bring about the maximum change.” He didn’t even go through the pretence of promising unity and a British withdrawal.

He has stood republicanism upon its head and retreated on every key issue and principle. Can support for the PSNI, and the taking of seats in the House of Commons, be all that far away?

Gerry Adams would have us believe that he is the spiritual and constitutional heir to the Sinn Fein faction which broke away in 1922 and refused to “endorse or tolerate” the 1921 Treaty. Well, he isn’t. He has discovered, as did his republican predecessors, along with successive British governments since 1885, that the pro-Union majority in what is now Northern Ireland will not be bullied or bombed out of their beliefs. He is a morally vacuous political hypocrite; continuing to champion a terrorist campaign when he already knew that its aims and goals were unattainable. He is an articulate fraud.

There is a message in all this for the DUP. Guys, the price you pay for being top dog in the unionist backyard is the obligation to bark at the right time and in the right places. You were elected to secure a “fair deal” and that can only happen if you stay in the same room. Let’s face it, you have already cooperated with Sinn Fein in the governing of Northern Ireland and you were ready to do so again under the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement.

It’s a little too late in the day to become the prima donna of piety and isolate yourself on a holier-than-thou high ground. Sinn Fein need to be faced down and held to account. That’s now your task; so get on with it and put the needs of the country before your own short term electoral needs.

The DUP needs to get its act together and make the case for unionism during these negotiations. Meet Sinn Fein head on and counter their strategy head on. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by a negotiating tactic that appears to consist of little more than pointless hardball. Being bigger than the UUP may be good for Paisley’s ego, but it doesn’t follow that it will be good for unionism in general or the Union in particular.

First published by the Newsletter on Saturday 25th February 2006


  • Stephen Copeland

    Kane is either being nefarious or silly when he says:

    … there wasn’t one iota of sincerity in this heavily hyped desire to develop a new relationship with unionism. If there had been, he wouldn’t have […] condemned the Irish government for its reluctance to pursue unification.

    A relationship with unionism, or even an ‘engagement with unionism’, does not require Adams or Sinn Féin to become unionists. There is nothing insincere about being a committed Irish nationalist and engaging with unionism. Adams, and SF, are very sincere in wanting a UI, and trying every possible avenue towards that aim. Some avenues will include engagement with unionists, others will work with other players (eg the British government). But all will work towards the eventual defeat of unionism, though hopefully not towards the defeat of the legitimate interests of individual unionists. That latter point is what Adams et al are trying to achieve – a UI that is a comfortable and warm place for unionists. It is very hard to achieve that without some engagement, and some compromise. We’ve already seen the start of the compromise, the future steps must include more compromise, and eventually some unionist engagement.

  • DK

    I am slightly alarmed at the continual pointing out how much Sinn Fein’s position has changed. It might provoke a backlash. Their position has only changed in response to a bunch of British concessions, which the Newsletter fails to mention – making it appear that the changes by Sinn Fein are all a one-way street.

    By comparison to the British Government, what can the DUP offer Sinn Fein in negotiations, and what can Sinn Fein offer the DUP? I think we had a chance when it was the UUP and SDLP, but SF and DUP…


  • Mick Fealty

    You might be right Stephen. To be fair that line is from a fairly ad hominem section of Alex’s argument. But as someone within Unionism who’s been working hard on getting his community to work with the Agreement, it’s interesting he makes that judgement. And I’ve also heard members of SF on Slugger make similar noises about how frustrating and unproductive their outreach to Unionists have been.

  • Stephen Copeland


    The problem for the DUP is that it has painted itself into a corner. Constant references to ‘concessions’ (most of which are concessions only to the principles of democracy aand inclusiveness, anyway) and promises to stop them, mean that they can actually offer SF nothing. Now I know that that is precisely what they want to offer them, but still, it breaks lesson one of ‘negotiating for dummies’!

    Either the DUP have to have some flexibility, in which case they lose all credibility with their own supporters, or there is no negotiation.

    They painted themselves into their corner, so it is their job to extract themselves from it. I am highly interested to see how they will do it, because do it they must.

  • DK


    But what can SF offer DUP? Can they help them out of the corner? Would they want to?


  • Stephen Copeland


    Kane may well be working hard within his community to promote the GFA, but that does not mean that he is a font of wisdom on anything outside that community. The suggestion that his communities opponents can only ‘reach out’ to them by jettisoning their own sincerely-held beliefs and objectives is, frankly, naive.

    Yes, from a nationalist POV it must seem that outreach work is hard, but efforts have been made, and are ongoing. None will involve the conversiion of either side to the other’s POV, but they will hopefully lead to a certain acceptance that the other’s position needs to be considered. From a detached position, I think that nationalism is ahead of unionism on this issue.

  • Stephen Copeland


    But what can SF offer DUP? Can they help them out of the corner? Would they want to?

    Unfortunately it is very hard to offer anything to an absolutist opponent. SF has offered partnership, but was rejected. It has offered power-sharing, both at NI and local level, but while the DUP took (eg in Derry) it has never reciprocated. SF has offered co-existence, even co-respect, for national symbols (Maskey’s two flags), but this was never reciprocated by the DUP.

    I think, in relation to your last question, SF would prefer not to help the DUP (they would, of course prefer that the DUP ceased to exist!), but, through gritted teeth they will put up with things that are anathema to theem in order to reach an accommodation. The DUP will not, though, so that accommodation seems impossible to reach at this stage. The blame, IMHO, lies with the DUP.

  • crataegus

    The question is what it would take to make the DUP consider that its current position is untenable. Entreating won’t work and nor will imposing all sorts of punitive legislation and water taxes as they will simple play victim and blame others.

    How do you make their elected representatives (and therefore probably all elected representatives) PERSONALLY suffer for the lack of progress?

    I can see no point in financing an Assembly that does not function, but if Assembly finance were stopped the Robinsons and Dodds of this world would still have two very respectable Westminster salaries plus allowances so that in itself won’t work.

    We need a plan B that will remove the prospect of exercising power from this group until they agree and implement a way forward, but it can’t simple be direct rule.

    Failing that we will all require the patience to wait until we are in the post Paisley era, for then it may become much more interesting.