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

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty