“The British government believes that as long as Adams and McGuinness’s position is bolstered..

In the comments zone here ‘Driftwood’ points to Paul Bew’s article in the Spectator. And at the centre of it is his take on the proposed devolution of policing and justice powers. From the Spectator article

This is the nub of the matter. The British government believes that as long as Adams and McGuinness’s position is bolstered, the dissident’s radical Republican ideology will have limited appeal. This is why the Northern Ireland Office is so desperate to see the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland as the final instalments on the payments due to the Sinn Fein leadership for its part in the peace process. Since 2003 — rightly or wrongly — devolution of justice has been central to the negotiations.


The government is well aware that this is the last juicy plum it can offer to Sinn Fein. All the other goodies — such as the release of prisoners or the ‘lustration’ of the RUC — have long since been delivered. In the 1990s, the Northern Ireland Office had a clear plan: make Sinn Fein believe that it was on a path of progress that would lead eventually to the achievement of its objectives.

We are now, however, in a different place. Sinn Fein’s political strategy has hit the rocks. In the last two elections it has gone backwards in the Irish Republic, depriving Mr Adams of his necessary all-Ireland political dimension.

Despite Sinn Fein’s continuing electoral hegemony within Northern nationalism, it is experiencing a sharp diminution in its activist base, both in the North and South. It is now conventional wisdom in Dublin that the current crisis in the Irish economy, significantly deeper than that in Britain, has severely weakened the case for Irish unity. Demographic realities in the North are not those envisaged — with some tacit British encouragement — by Sinn Fein in the 1990s.

Sinn Fein’s response has been predictable. Mr Adams’s rhetoric has become noticeably more militant, and he continues, as always, as if the pro-consent clauses of the Good Friday Agreement — which link Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom — do not actually exist. More worrying is the strategy of tension on the streets. The recent closure of a police station in east Belfast led to a Sinn Fein public meeting — a weird kind of ceremony of thanksgiving — which was topped off by a ferocious anti-police riot which led officers to reply with plastic bullets.

This cannot mask the evidence of a broad-based malaise within Sinn Fein. The government’s obsession with delivery of policing and justice, while understandable, obscures the fact that the problems of the Adams leadership are wider and deeper. But the obsession remains.

Even a journalist sympathetic to Adams’ position can see signs of those problems.

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  • Ulick

    Paul Bew’s article in the Spectator

    I don’t think too many Shinners will lose sleep over that.

  • Pete Baker


    I really don’t care whether they do or do not.

  • Monitor

    The Shinners might not but the NIO will. Unfortunately Eirigi are given undue prominence.
    The last paragraph is revealing however.

  • DC

    I dont think P&J should be linked to Adams’ leadership, if anything that arose very prominently in 2007 after the SF’s poor elections in Ireland.

    He should have been nailed down well and truly after that, by his deeds he shall be known. And he failed.

  • Ulick

    “I really don’t care whether they do or do not.”

    I suspect Bew doesn’t either. My point being that Bew has absolutely no insight into what is happening within the republican movement and when writing for the Spectator, he doesn’t need to.

    There may have been a perceived drop off in the Sinn Féin activist base in recent months but there is no malaise within it. What has happened is that some of the longer serving activists in the cumainn have stepped down in favour of new people who are prepared to put in the required hours.

    Those that I know to have stepped down still remain firm supporters of the movement but the economic downturn affects republicans also and many of them are now choosing to give some time to their families. A changing of the guard does not equate to what Bew perceives as malaise.

  • Pete Baker

    “A changing of the guard..”

    Except at the leadership level..

    Perhaps the “economic downturn” doesn’t affect them in the same way?

  • Ulick

    “Except at the leadership level..”

    Only if you believe “the leadership” to be Adams/McGuinness. Much has changed since the last Free State election particularly in what northern unionists would call the ‘party officers’. From what I can see, the rest of the movement is happy enough for Adams&McGuinness; to keep things ticking over in the northern administration while the rebuilding work takes place out of the limelight.

  • DC

    “Only if you believe “the leadership” to be Adams/McGuinness.”

    Well politically who else can it be not unless we are back to the “six men in Armagh” saga, please no, no more of that.

    And also no more of the “Sinn Fein is not the IRA” style of communication stuff anymore.

    If you can *actually* enlighten us Ulick as to leadership / leadership rivals etc (either side of the ‘six counties/border), please do.

  • Self Hating Irishperson

    Oh god. bew may not give us insight into sf. but he does give us insight into tory head space. my worst fears are confirmed – careless uninsightful thoughts about Ireland on the part of a Tory govt will rekindle the war. Note to bew: the good friday agreement means devolution of justice. It’s no in the uk govt or unionists’ gift. can ijp save the day?

  • igor

    ” he good friday agreement means devolution of justice”

    There were lots of things in teh Good Friday agrement and committments made at that time by the PArties. How long did it take SF to disarm? Well, they now have to wait a bit for devolution. And paradoxically the situation that SF have craeted on devolution strengthens the Unionists hands.

    Why should they rush to save Gerry or Marty?

    And with a less sympathetic Tory Goverment almosta shoo in, if Unionsts hold out to March (and now its hard to see how they wont) the Shinners will have lost their best allies.

    I dont think this will mean a radical shift in UK Government policy – dont forget that it was Thatcher who started off the whole process, Blair was just there to collect. But it may subtly shift the balance in devolution when it happens with a more neutral British Governemnet as ringmaster and SF having to accept a little less or trade off other issues.

    But hey guys, that is politics. And SF promoting street disorder or using the dissidents as a proxy for the threat of PIRA just wont wash

  • dunreavynomore

    Perhaps someone would post the details of exactly what power will come with devolution of policing and justice to our local ‘ministers’. In a nutshell, how will it impact on the good (or bad) citizens?

  • “The British government believes that as long as Adams and McGuinness’s position is bolstered”

    Who will London and Dublin ‘bolster’ now? First it was the UUP and SDLP, then it was the DUP and SF. What ‘back channels’ are currently being cultivated by their respective officials?

  • Coll Ciotach

    Pete is correct when he says that the failure of SF to get any decent showing in the Dáil has banjaxed his strategy.

    If you have a party with representatives in Stormont and is also able to form or be part of a government in the Dáil you have Dublin influence if not control across all of Ireland and the border is made more irrelevant.

    SF is seen as a disappointment in nationalist circles but is voted for as it is simply the best of a bad bunch of two.

    However unionism needed be emboldened by this. The GFA is a plaster which is always in danger of peeling off. If it fails to satisfy nationalism then the dissidents will increase and become more of a danger than at present. The unionists do not seem to understand that if just as you cannot bomb people into a united Ireland neither can you legislate them out of it. The strength of nationalism is not its political representatives but its numbers.

    Unionists are still unable to grasp that simple fact. The are still showing themselves as unfit to run a modern democracy which reflects the population. If unionism would grant full recognition to Irish cultural demands then they would have less to worry about. by making their state a cold house for nationalists they guaranteed nationalist dissent and subsequent insurrection. They continue to repeat the failures of their fathers.

    If unionists took the lead regarding irish Language, Orange marches in contentious areas, Loyalists murders and police collaboration and showed that nationalists were equal in all things do you think that the union with the rest of Ireland would be such a priority?

    But then the unionists have never been the greatest at understanding anything outside of their Britishness.

    All SF have to do is pres for cultural rights and await unionists denial of them. All else falls apart and unionism fails again as the state fails again. England becomes weary at the sight of the dreary steeples. And there is the real threat to unionism. How long do they expect to get a free lunch from England. You can only support failure for so long. Eventually you have to stop throwing good money after bad.

    So no matter how bad SF is the unionists can always be relied upon to save them

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy C

    Wow…what a state of affairs. McGuiness who has called republicans who don’t agree with him–traitors–(and thus worthy per crown law of death) and adams who has been caught in a lie about what occured during his prison days…these men are being kept in power and bolstered by the queen’s gov’t. Speaks volumes.

  • Reader

    Kathy C: and thus worthy per crown law of death
    Not since 1998.
    However, I am pretty sure he was calling them traitors to mainstream Republicanism. In which case he may or may not feel that the death penalty applies. Though he hasn’t asked for it to be applied!
    Or if he regards dissidents as being traitors to the Republic of Ireland (which recognises the existence of Northern Ireland), then again, treason hasn’t carried the death penalty since 1990.

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy Collins

    Hi Reader,

    How modern the british state is not putting to death those accused/convicted of treason since 1998.

    I found an interesting sentence Wikepedia about traitors and treason you might find interesting.

    ” In English law, high treason was punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered (men) or burnt at the stake (women), the only crime which attracted those penalties (until the Treason Act 1814). The penalty was used by later monarchs against people who could reasonably be called traitors, although most modern jurists would call it excessive. Many of them would now just be considered dissidents.”

    But let’s just think about the seriousness of mcguiness words. As someone who has stated he was second in command of the Derry PIRA if only for one day…and the PIRA has been known to disipline…even kill those who they feel are traitors to their cause could someone still feeling loyal to the PIRA code of conduct feel it is an order by an ‘ex’ leader to “handle” those who Martin has labeled…a traitor.

    So whether the british state or the Republic of Ireland has done away with the death penalty for a traitor…isn’t the question. It is whether Martin Mcguiness has people loyal to him and the cause he represents that will carry out their sentence of justice for whom they feel is a traitor,

    Was this statement by Martin Mcguiness just an off the cuff statement about how he viewed Republicans who did not hold the same thoughts as himself…or was this statement by Martin Mcguiness the order to do something about those he considers ‘traitors”….

  • Reader

    Kathy C: How modern the british state is not putting to death those accused/convicted of treason since 1998.
    It has been hypothetical since 1946. For instance, Anthony Blunt was discovered in 1964, yet stayed in the UK until 1979.
    Provo modernisation (in practice) came much, much later, but is more or less complete. I am confident that McGuinness’s remarks were entirely political, and pretty much had to be said.

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy Collins

    Hi Reader,

    I’m glad you’re confident that McGuinness’s remarks were just political…but then again we can’t be sure how others took his words. When a man…a former commander in the PIRA comes out and accusses fellow Republicans of being traitors— in the world of PIRA that is worthy of death. He was very irresponsible in his comments. I would thinnk if ANY Republican who holds an opionion other than McGuiness and is intimidated–abused—murdered…then Martin Mcguinness should be held liable.
    I find it interesting that recently a photo was printed in the press showing a younger Martin McGuiness aiming a gun… and now we have an older Martin McGuiness accusing fellow Republicans of an offense in the world of Martin McGuiness that is punishable by death. And let us not forget…how the british is propping up and working to keep McGuiness in power. Yep..very interesting in deed.

  • Dixie

    The 1980s when Marty said that Republican activists were aware that the penalty for going over to the other side was death…

    “Aye death certainly!”

    But it’s OK when he leads them over to the other side…

  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy Collins

    Dixie…WOW! How great is the computer! Imagine finding that clip that has mcguiness say that any Republican who goes to the other side is worthy of death. WOW!

  • Darth Vader

    Adams/McGuinness – Easily sold and bought. Too easy. Like Paisley, cheap as chips. Next!….