Gerry Adams has been allowed to fill the vacuum at the heart of the talks

Only the most basic information has emerged so far  out of the set piece statements from the  parties. Arlene Foster’s offer of a return to the Executive “without pre-conditions” and do sensible things like passing the budget  was never going to be enough to draw in Sinn Fein, whose  whole position was all about setting conditions. If she was ever going to give satisfaction on matching Sinn Fein’s  unmanageably long list of demands, why not give  some specific declarations of intent now? She seems to have made no substantive replies to Gerry Adams’ specific demands. The kindest thing that can be said about the talks so far – and maybe forever  – is that  they’ve been exploratory. There has been no attempt at dealing.

As a hobnobber with presidents and prime ministers ( he met his first secretary of state in 1972 when James Brokenshire was 4) and a veteran of decades of  negotiations among a set of novices,  Gerry Adams is the nearest to a strategist the talks have got. No nonsense either of Michelle O’Neill being in charge; this is president’s business and he also has impending upheaval in the Dail to think about. With his insistence that the talks were about “an implementation process not a negotiation or re-negotiation”   he  has used the approaching  time limit  to try to stampede  the DUP on the defensive into concessions knowing , surely,  that he would not succeed in the time available or even at all. He has also lectured the two governments about how they should conduct their business. Yet he’s confident that they’ll all get there in the end,  implying that if they don’t, it won’t be his fault.

From the scanty evidence available there seems not to have been formal full sessions at all, just a series of random conversations with a vacuum at the centre.   The role of chair has been conspicuous by its absence. No one seemed to be trying to sort the wheat from the chaff and  picking out points of  tentative agreement and trying to build on them, either face to face or in proximity talks  It’s as  if nobody  representing the government has ever heard of the  1998  and 2006 – 7  processes or even the Fresh Start  fifteen months ago.

The evidence of the junior parties is the best we’ve got. From SDLP leader Colum Eastwood:

”rigid opposition to compromise on key issues, particularly from the DUP, has made a comprehensive resolution more difficult to reach”.

From Tom Elliot, the Ulster Unionists’ chief negotiator:

The current phase of talks was the worst he had been involved in.

Unless there is a massive u-turn in terms of attitude from the two largest parties, then Northern Ireland could be in for a period of prolonged drift.

“I understand the secretary of state took the attitude that the blockages to progress were devolved matters and therefore allowed the DUP and Sinn Féin to take the lead, with the government offering support.

This last point is revealing.   If Elliot is correct, secretary of state James Brokenshire who has  constitutional  oversight of the devolved process seems pedantically  to have made no attempt to exert any influence on the main devolved matters at issue. Nor has he made an effective  contribution on legacy matters for which the UK government  in reality  carries the major responsibility.

Small wonder that Gerry Adams has been passing damning judgement on the show so far, including on the passivity of the two governments.   What did he expect when he’s been allowed to dominate it?

There’s a weary inevitability about  the breakdown. Unless there’s a miracle before 4 pm what will Brokenshire do next? Can he really suppose another election will sort things out?

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  • Mister_Joe

    Another election will make no difference except maybe for a few seats. A prolonged period of Direct Rule is likely with perhaps a return to St. Andrew’s. Shameful.

  • AntrimGael

    Brian, within the Northern Nationalist and Republican community there has been a quite reassurance at Gerry Adams return to the Northern political sphere and a sense of satisfaction at his resilience within the current political impasse, which I don’t believe the two governments or the media have grasped.
    With Martin’s illness and deep Nationalist unease at the DUP’s sectarian antics Gerry Adams has revitalised many within our community and he has played a massive part in the resurgent Nationalist vote.
    This doesn’t suit the agenda of the Northern and Southern Unionist media and political elements who prefer to portray Adams as the bete noire incarnate.
    Indeed even someone like Joe Brolly in his Irish Independent article today seen fit to shamefully portray Gerry Adams in a negative light in his eulogy to Martin McGuinness. It’s as if anyone who says a positive thing about Martin HAS to offset this with a “Gerry Adams ate my hamster” article.
    Gerry retains MASSIVE support within Belfast, Louth and beyond and it’s time many accepted that.

  • AntrimGael

    That should read a ‘quiet reassurance’.

  • Croiteir

    Unless SF gets the British and the unionists to meet their agreements then the simple answer is not to allow Stormont to function. Let it go until 2019, we can have a council and border poll then.

  • Brian Walker

    He’s certainly firing on all cylinders! Rumours of impending demise have evaporated. Time soon for the big push in the Dail?

  • AntrimGael

    Seriously Brian for a while there Northern Nationalists and Republicans were a bit lost, leaderless, disillusioned and very apathetic politically.
    Between the sense of Stormont being perceived as just another Unionist plaything, DUP bigotry, Brexit, British and Irish government disinterest and then Martin’s illness…..Northern Nationalists were out on a limb.
    Adams return has changed all that.
    I have heard pensioners, people who hadn’t voted for a while and even disillusioned Republicans praise and give thanks for his return and presence; despite the negative media coverage he DOES give reassurance to many Nationalists.

  • AntrimGael

    Furthermore Brian as an Irish Nationalist I am delighted and totally reassured at Adams and Sinn Fein’s current political stance in this current talks farce. He, and most Irish Nationalists, know the DUP and Little Englander Tories aren’t interested in equality and parity of esteem. irish Nationalists will never accept British/Unionist colonial supremacism and hierarchy of victims.

  • mickfealty

    As I said before Christmas

    At a time when the UK is preoccupied with Brexit, the US is bracing itself for Trump and the new politics of the Republic is struggling to get anything agreed never mind done, mollycoddling the pampered politicians of Northern Ireland is an indulgence none of them can afford.

    The Blairs and Aherns, with their long term peace objectives and abundance of resources, are long gone. Northern Ireland will have to find ways to solve its own difficulties. As Naomi Long puts it: it needs people willing to be accountable as well as to accept (the trappings) of power.

  • mickfealty

    Nice to see you back Joe!!

  • Nevin

    Naomi has given an update since Gerry once again picked up the ball and walked off the pitch:

    “While the obstacles to agreement are relatively minor, the consequences could not be more serious. For the first time in the 96-year history of Northern Ireland, we will be without any legal, political authority.

    “We are days away from the end of the financial year, yet there is no Budget. We are days from the triggering of Article 50, yet we have no Brexit plan. We are already overdue the Assembly vote needed to set next year’s regional rate yet we have no Assembly. We have no Programme for Government and no Government to agree one.

    “Already in the voluntary and community sector and in our key public services like health and education, the effects of this political vacuum are being felt with restricted budgets, increased uncertainty and job losses. Parties owe it to those who rely on and who deliver vital services to continue to press for an urgent settlement.

    “Despite our anger at this failure, we remain committed to do all we can to resolve this impasse. There is no alternative to devolution that will resolve these issues or serve our constituents well – neither an election nor direct rule will solve anything.

    “Parties need to step up and get real, and give the British Government a good reason to give an extension to the talks process. That over 20 years of progress would be squandered so lightly is simply unthinkable.”

  • T.E.Lawrence

    What happens if you don’t get your Border Poll ?

  • Nevin

    Brian Rowan didn’t get such reassurance:

  • Nevin

    Hi, Joe, we’re still waiting for Gregory Campbell’s version of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

  • Gopher

    Goodbye UUP, goodbye SDLP nice knowing you guys.

  • Gopher

    Newtons third law applies to politics aswell, Gerry Adams has a completely opposite reaction to a large section of the electorate. Wheras Marty had a certain degree of respect, Gerry has none. Gerry simply cannot allow these exceptional circumstances to slip, if he lets the deadline slide momentum dissapates. He is at that age when time is running out for him. It is now simply a battle of turnouts and in that SF have demostrably proved their vote turns out.

  • Obelisk

    So…to borrow a Brexiteer phrase no deal is better than a bad deal?.

  • Jim M

    Joe Brolly is a mouthpiece but why on Earth is any criticism of Gerry ‘shameful’? Bit Dear Leader-ish…

  • the rich get richer

    Can / Will Sinn Fein present Gerry Adams as leader to the southern Irish electorate in the possible soon to be election .

    If nothing else the Southern Irish electorate are tired / exhausted of listening to Gerry especially on economic matters .

    By serially presenting Gerry Adams to the Southern electorate Sinn Fein are proving the theory that

    ” Repeating the same behaviour over and over again and expecting different results is a sure sign of insanity ” ( I Paraphrase )

  • Granni Trixie

    You overplay your hand in asserting how people regard Adams. Arguably sf supporters still support him but certainly not SDLP/nationalists and most other people resent him. And not because of the DUP election theme but because of his lack of appeal.

  • Gavin Smithson

    Gerry Adams is 69. His lifelong henchman is gone. Has anyone heard of the saying ‘beware an old man in a hurry ‘?

    Adams is aware of his mortality. Martin went to the grave without seeing a UI and Adams is aware of this and is in a rush to paint NI as unworkable and thus is in a headlong rush to push for a border poll.

    His existential crisis is ironically symbiotically tied to that of NI. There’s a pressure cooker bursting at the seams

    When Adams leaves, the SF ballon will collapse.

  • Brian Walker

    Yes I accept the elation of the surge. but can you tell me where its going? I see the vision of nirvana through the ferment of Brexit. But down below I can only purgatory.

  • Brian Walker

    who else is setting the pace Granni? SF are almost half the mutual veto, that’s the system

  • Brian Walker

    AntrimGael, We’re all great with the phrases but what do you really want that you think you might get out of this? Concretely in a few phrases, no history please .

  • Granni Trixie

    Exactly. What buy in has Adams to makiing things work in NI given he is not an elected rep here?
    Local SF MLAs are more likely to be committed to getting to yes.

  • Brian Walker

    I speculate that a border poll would need either an election to produce a bigger nationalist vote or a simple majority vote in the Assembly in favour, to have a chance of triggering it. A 40% plus popular vote by definition seems to small. I can’t know that for a fact of course but it seems right. How else can opinion be judged? A long delay risks killing off the GFA because Strands 1 and 2 would be in abeyance . Do you agree? Is that what you’d prefer?

  • GS

    What are the next steps? I have read about Direct Rule or another election but who actually determines this? What would the election timelines be?

    I’m really surprised Sinn Fein don’t want to consolidate their great result…

  • Brian Walker

    thanks Nevin as ever! I’m not sure I can face Nolan this morning for updates or casting ups

  • Nevin

    It’s not unusual for me to be the manipulator of a story [in an unfair relationship] but sometimes I think interviewers overplay the devil’s advocate role.

  • Tom Smith

    The Army Council has decided, for whatever reason, that Stormont is to be sidelined and Adams has delivered the message. For most northern nationalists it would appear that the Dear Leader is not a ‘Naughty Boy’ he is indeed the ‘Messiah’. (Btw loving the optics of Adams front and centre with the “northern leader” nodding silent assent stage left)

    If the Shinners don’t want to play the other parties should press ahead with the talks. Those vulnerable people in society who NEED a budget, and those with jobs depending on one, should at the very least know that the majority of politicians are interested in trying to ensure that their critical concerns are addressed.

    That being said, and despite the fine words about the need for a budget from that quarter, I expect that when push comes to shove the SDLP will plump to get into the bed SF have made.

  • SleepyD

    What were you expecting Brian?

    An entrenched DUP fighting a rear guard action….a disinterested Tory government with its own priorities….a resurgent republican vote..,

    What could, in reality, go right?

    We limp onwards into the end game that is a united Ireland.

  • The worm!

    Strangely enough, in the run up to the election, unionists (and indeed unionism as a whole) were continually castigated for their over-emphasis of the importance of Gerry Adams.

    Now you’re gurning that his importance is being under-estimated!

    Maybe you’re just annoyed that not enough unionists bought the pup that nationalism was trying to sell them.

  • Nevin

    “It’s as if nobody representing the government”

    In light of the earlier references to both governments I presume ‘government’ is a typo. I suspect the two ministers have decided to keep the ball in the devolved court as the two governments have greater concerns now.

    “Gerry Adams has been allowed to fill the vacuum at the heart of the talks” and “Gerry Adams is the nearest to a strategist the talks have got.”

    The SF leadership has been all at sea since the earlier expertise made available to the political processes has been removed and the party is now left with a vacuous president.

  • The worm!

    Adams runs the Republican/Nationalist show, and has done for many years whether overtly or covertly.

    I doubt it’ll make any difference to the position of the majority of unionists, in fact there’ll maybe even be a degree of comfort due to the familiarity of the situation.

    Prods versus Gerry, just like it used to be!

  • harmlessdrudge

    This Irish voter will never vote for Sinn Fein and regards Adams with as much distaste as any unionist. SF has some borrowed FF votes following FF’s deserved eviction from power. The rest of us haven’t forgotten their past collusion with the IRA, north and south. Not that that means we are ok with the DUP supremacy agenda either. The possibility of SF propping up a future FF coalition in the south is about as appetising as that of the DUP propping up Tories in Westminster.

    SF like to claim the republic’s mainstream media is biased against them. Actually, it reflects public opinion pretty well. Nothing shameful about this at all.

    My message to Adams would be

    You are the greatest obstacle to what you wish to achieve. Go off and do some fly fishing and let the immovable and unstoppable objects stop wasting their energy and have a rest. They’ll get along better.

    A former boss of mine had a framed drawing in 3 parts on his wall of two donkeys.

    1. Donkeys, tethered to each other, straining futilely to get at straw on the left and right of the picture. Neither getting anywhere.
    2. Both donkeys eating on the left.
    3. Both donkeys eating on the right.

    If the donkeys won’t figure it out for themselves maybe those providing the straw will need to help them.

  • Nevin

    Gerry in his own words yesterday:

  • Sharpie

    Sounds like a vacuous President is the ideal role for a vacuum.

  • Croiteir

    That would depend on the political landscape of the time

  • Croiteir

    I would love the GFA to fail

  • Nevin

    I couldn’t possibly comment!

  • 1729torus

    DUPers and Tories that are legitimately nervous of disrespecting SF and the views of their voters I’d imagine.

  • 1729torus

    SF are consistently growing in RoI under Mr. Adams.

  • AntrimGael

    Implementation of the existing GFA and St. Andrews Agreement. Sinn Fein stated quite categorically that they were NOT going into these current talks looking for ‘add ons’ but simply tbe follow through of previous agreements. The DUP and Tories are attempting row backs on these and that is not good enough. The GFA is a binding international agreement and the Irish government should lodge a complaint with tbe United Nations at Britain’s failure to implement it.

  • Skibo

    Granni I always assumed you were from an Alliance background and not the SDLP. Have you got an insight into the feelings within the SDLP camp and their electorate?

  • Skibo

    Granni he is the President of SF. At least he is having input into the talks. I didn’t notice either Theresa or Enda showing up.
    Can you tell me how many of the electorate of NI voted for James Brokenshire?

  • Ray Lawlor

    “This Irish voter will never vote for Sinn Fein and regards Adams with as much distaste as any unionist.”

    You do realise that he was election to the Dail with a clear majority?

    On top of that SF are in clear 3rd place in the election polling and are making signifiant gains on the two main parties? They also have established MEPs, TD’s and run Dublin council?

    They’ve also been consistently gaining support in the south fo the past 20 years.

    I have to scoff at political comments that say the words “never” …

    “We’ll never have a black US president”
    “Trump will never win the presidency”
    “The UK will never leave the EU”
    “Corbyn will never win the Labour Leadership”


    Never say never.

  • Skibo

    I agree. I cannot understand why this has even taken three weeks. All that every side had to say is they will fully implement the previous agreements.
    Problem is that the DUP say they never signed up to the GFA and that they never signed off on the St Andrews Act that has the reference to the Irish language.
    Either the DUP accept that to work the institutions of the GFA they have to fully implement the GFA or the British Government has to do it for them.
    i believe the British Government wrote the agreement and should stand over all within it.
    Either that or move to joint authority with a British Irish Council on steroids.

  • Skibo

    Power sharing for slow learners is sharing with all. perhaps the DUP could implement the GFA and St Andrews completely. I believe that is what SF are asking for.
    If you care to look at the statements from SDLP, you will find a similar story from the SDLP so no need for SDLP to move. They are both on the same page.

  • Skibo

    SF have not had to paint NI as unworkable. It has been unworkable for a couple of generations. It has been supported to a greater or lesser extent since 1938.
    You say the SF balloon will collapse once GA leaves yet others say that SF cannot grow till GA leaves, which is it?

  • Skibo

    MJ, perhaps if it reinforces the fact that the Unionist majority is gone, we may eventually get some movement from the DUP.
    I don’t think the DUP have actually grasped that it is gone yet.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps if you delved into the history of FF, you will find that their roots are as deeply intertwined in a violent birth.
    Would you like to discuss the morality of the Easter Rising or the war of Independence?

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    It’s as well FG and FF have never had leaders who have violently opposed British rule in Ireland. I mean, whatever would we do if they had?

    I agree that SF could get a boost if GA stepped aside but he’s oversaw a phenomenal period of growth for them in the past few years. I’d be surprised if he led them at the next GE though

  • Jollyraj

    “We limp onwards into the end game that is a united Ireland.”

    Tsk tsk…

    You forgot to add ‘its inevitable’ (TM)

    Didn’t you read the memo? You chaps are supposed to repeat that line ad nauseum for the next few weeks til Gerry issues a new one.

  • Jollyraj

    True enough. Adams can’t last forever – chickens always come home to roost eventually.

  • AntrimGael

    I am not saying Gerry Adams is beyond reproach. However in many articles I have read since Martin’s passing it’s as if people HAVE to badmouth Adams to even up anything positive said about Martin. It’s the Collins/De Valera scenario all over again.

  • SleepyD

    “You chaps” – applying that broad brush generalisation again Jolly. “I have black friends, but….” No great surprise. The DUP are like the current British Labour Party….basking in self delusion. Their navel gazing and arrogance is drawing us to an inevitable conclusion. It’s not a conclusion I support….surprised?

  • John

    Has Gerry Adams no job to do in the south?! Bugger away off. As somebody from a Unionist background who would possibly be open to a UI if the terms really suited me …….. the main stumbling block is Sinn Fein in general and Gerry Adams particularly. As somebody else said, they are themselves and their sinister activities past and present, are the biggest blockage to what they ultimately want to achieve.

  • harmlessdrudge

    You do realise he was never a member of the IRA? Shall we play let’s pretend.

    Who gives a flying who know what if he was elected to the Dail with a clear majority. So was Michael Lowry, repeatedly. So was Charlie Haughey. Other democratic jurisdictions have had their share of odious creeps in parliament. Ian Paisley. Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Jesse Helms. That doesn’t mean anyone with an ounce of decency should ever vote for them.

    SF has spent most my life hell bent on overthrowing the state. Under no circumstances will I vote for any of them and that’s just not negotiable. Any attempt by Sinn Fein to represent itself as having broad popular support in the Republic is rubbish. It is widely and justifiably reviled (hence all the whining about media bias and refusal to whitewash the past and the concern that northern votes in a presidential election would result in his being elected if the franchise were extended). I would vote for someone of a moderate unionist background in a united Ireland in a heartbeat before I would ever vote for Sinn Fein or, in particular, Adams.

    Frankly, I’d be as likely to vote for Adams as would have for Ian Paisley, and I think I have plenty of company on that score. Don’t kid yourself that Sinn Fein is seen as a leopard with new or no spots today.

    The growth in Sinn Fein’s support in the republic is a function of the same kind of disenchantment with politics that has resulted in Brexit and Trump rather than any kind of positive endorsement of this party. It has a lot of borrowed votes from Fianna Fail voters and you know this very well.

    Sinn Fein is one half of a mutual veto on progress in NI and both need to (and I believe will) go eventually. I have made no stupid predictions and I’ll say “never” if I choose to. I’m speaking for myself. I accept that a majority may decide differently.

    Sinn Fein’s message to unionists appears to be “you’re going to be taken into a united Ireland against your wishes”. My message to Sinn Fein is don’t count on the support of southern voters and taxpayers who have plenty of respect for our law abiding neighbours, both in the north and the rest of the UK. Majority consent is NEVER going to be optional.

    I would like to see a united Ireland but not on Sinn Fein’s terms and I don’t mind waiting.

    That said I fully support some of the things that Sinn Fein is fighting for in NI, including in particular, full implementation of the St Andrews Agreement and language rights. I don’t believe nationalists should ever accept anything less than equal citizenship. If I were a Unionist I’d steal Sinn Fein’s clothes on this score, and they should worry that if the Unionists ever decide to smarten up, set aside crocodilian paranoia and genuinely accept equality, that the prospect of a united Ireland might well recede. However, brexit changes everything including the possibility of moving on from entrenched positions and grinding numbers game. Let me know when NI nationalists do something different in terms of reaching out to Unionists who’d like to remain in the EU. Personally I’d prefer they did so as Europeans on the same island not as tricolour waving forces of assimilation.

  • Ray Lawlor

    You have but one vote… 20-30% of Irish people vote for Sinn Fein at every election so your point about: “Any attempt by Sinn Fein to represent itself as having broad popular support in the Republic is rubbish.” …

    It’s not Sinn Fien trying to represent itself that way, they get a mandate for their policies etc.

    You have every right not to vote for a party if you don’t want to and you have your reasons for that.

    My point, which you haven’t addressed, is that Sinn Fein continued to grow across the whole island of Ireland.

    I’ll quote you again, because it really just sounds like wishful thinking on your part:

    “This Irish voter will never vote for Sinn Fein”

    That is categorically not true.