Sometimes you get more value out of the new social media revolution by actually telling people nothing. As mentioned before, Michelle Gildernew, Mary Lou McDonald and even Martin McGuinness have all had a run out on Twitter as possible candidates for the Irish Presidency, and the party has barely said a word abut what it’s actually thinking.
But as it turned out the high point of the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was the public display of friendship between the Minister for 1st Derry Presbyterian Church and the Deputy First Minister on the Friday night (when the least number of delegates where in attendance). On Slugger, it seems, we could hardly speak about anything else.
Much of the focus, from a unionist point of view, was on the Minister, David Latimer (the memory of his namesake Hugh, no doubt prompting the fierce passion of some of his more fundamentalist critics).
But whatever the IRA campaign was (and it was composed of a lot of acts that many who support Sinn Fein today would rather not be reminded of), the modern Sinn Fein party is a successor to it, not a contemporary expression of it. Martin McGuinness was as tangible a part of that campaign as Gerry Adams, but he has also played critical role in his party’s decisive move away from it.
Yet, in some respects this was a rare moment when Sinn Fein was seen not so much to step away from something that had been in any case no longer viable but, perhaps, a tangible step towards something else.
To a party that’s grown accustomed to being pilloried and lectured to (and has developed an impressive array of defence mechanisms according), the Rev Latimer’s emollient words were no doubt something of a genuine surprise (and the party’s Ard Fheiseanna – generally as seamlessly curated as any Tory party seaside conference – don’t provide too many of those).
As Mary Kenny notes in the Indo, Mr McGuinness does not always come across as a charismatic in his televisual appearances. But in the personal space he has always been impressive.
Latimer’s appearance at the Waterfront Hall was no doubt good PR. But like all good PR, it was a long time in the making (the sincere sense of friendship between the two is hard to deny).
So what about this journey to the Promised Land? Well, it probably won’t have much effect in the race the Irish Presidency, whose voter population have never had to struggle to understand their fellow Protestant Irishmen, and are unlikely to see the pressing need any time soon.
But if this is belated reminder to his own supporters that the only people who will decide on whether there is to be a political union of the two parts of this island are the Protestants of Ulster, then he may have done his party and the much longer term cause of Irish unity some service.
So let the decency continue. But last word to the Poet:
It’s how we interact with one another, civilization. On the one hand, I’m interested in how we avoid tearing one another to pieces. Peace is not that, peace is the absence of that, peace is the absence of war: the opposite of war is custom, customs, and civilization. Civilization is custom and manners and ceremony, the things that Yeats says in “A Prayer for My Daughter.” We have a vocabulary of how to deal with one another and how to behave, a vocabulary of behavior, as well as things to say to one another . . . and out of that come laws and agreed ways of doing things . . . and that in daily life are a bit like form in poetry.