In an interview with Sky News on the eve of the resumed interparty talks, Gerry Adams addresses familiar charges levelled against him by more than unionists. In a move clearly designed to win greater trust, the Sinn Fein president is at pains to deny that he is raising the bar so high as to guarantee that the talks will fail, with the ulterior motive of abandoning the Assembly and exploiting Brexit to pursue a strategy of Irish unity based in the south. He’s also seeking to disabuse his critics of the stereotype, that he is the hard man who believes all the pressure for equality is really a Trojan Horse to achieve a united Ireland, compared to McGuinness “the patient man” who was sincere in his dealings with unionists.
However in a lengthy version of the interview carried in the Belfast Telegraph, Adams warns that Sinn Fein will require more progress from the DUP than they might have done, had Martin McGuinness still been leading the party in the Assembly. “ If a power-sharing deal was made at Stormont tomorrow it wouldn’t last unless it is “sustainable, due to the absence of Martin McGuinness”.
“When you have somebody as big and as strong and formidable as Martin he could carry that to a certain degree for the rest of us. Martin’s gone so even if we were able to cobble something together tomorrow it wouldn’t last so I want it to be sustainable.”
His repeated references to McGuinness seem aimed at holding firm to Sinn Fein demands while trying to reassure unionists that he is genuine about restoring the Assembly. This is in accord with McGuinness’ post-resignation interview carried on the Sinn Fein website when he addressed the implied criticism that he had been too soft on the DUP.
Even though some people might have been impatient with me in terms of decisions I came to, I thought it was very important to maintain the institutions. But just as importantly to try to convince the British government and the unionists that they needed a sea change in their attitude…
I do believe that many people in grass roots unionism.. are likely to see that all out best interests are not served by a hard Brexit.
I do accept there were many people who were agitated that I didn’t move quicker. But I’m a patient man. I’ve been around negotiations for a very long time. I thought I had a responsibility to everybody and I was trying to do my best to make the process work.
Gerry Adams is saying in terms that while he is patient man too, McGuinness’s successor Michelle O’Neill cannot politically afford to be quite so patient as Martin was.
Asked why agreement could not be reached at Stormont over relatively minor issues like an Irish language act last week:
“The issues we have to deal with are not as difficult as the issues which we have dealt with in the past and resolved in the past.”
“It isn’t that we’re reluctant to share power, I believe fully and we’re wedded to the Good Friday Agreement and the political institutions.
“But as Martin McGuinness said there can be no return to the status quo, so what went wrong was that terms of previous agreements and accords were not implemented and not delivered.”
During the interview Mr Adams also denied that a special designated status for Northern Ireland post-Brexit would be a united Ireland by the back door.
He said there was little doubt the Irish border would become a “hard economic frontier” following Brexit unless Northern Ireland was given special status.
He insisted this would not infringe on the constitutional issue.
“That can only be sorted out if a majority of people in the north and the south vote for it,” he said.
“But we have to deal with what is essentially an English problem. The English government are ignoring what the people of Scotland want, they’re ignoring what the people of the north of Ireland want.”
Asked why he had not followed the lead of the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in asking the Prime Minister for an independence referendum he said: “I’m very conscious that a republic should not be seen in anyway as exploiting the consequences of Brexit. The type of Ireland we want has to be one in which unionism, decent unionists, are content.
“It needs to be agreed, it needs to give them their place, it needs to respect everything that they want in terms of the way forward. It can’t be like putting the shoe on the other foot. We don’t want, I don’t want, as someone who was born into a state that didn’t want me I don’t want a new Ireland to be anything other than a harmonious fraternity of all the people who live on this Ireland.”
Asked by Sky News if he would talk about his long-alleged involvement in the IRA if an independent truth commission was established:
“Yes, I have said and Martin and I said this together and we’ve said it quite a few times, that we would both do our best and we would also encourage other Republicans to come forward if there was a satisfactory arrangement put in place and that’s my commitment.
“Martin’s not here, but that’s still my commitment.”
Adams denied that his party was focused only on the actions of British soldiers during the conflict.
“Our position has been for an international, independent truth commission that everybody can make use of but we compromised on this issue,” he said.
“I believe that victims of the IRA, or at least their relatives, have the right to truth and I believe that those who are victims of British Army violence or state violence also have the right to truth and the British government is holding that back.”
So far, an independent international truth commission is not on the table.
Although he is inviting some kind of response from the DUP and the other parties to the talks, Gerry Adams revealed no new policy positions including anything on the their opposition to Arlene Foster’s immediate return as first minster – even though he has already said he believes her to be innocent of serious wrong doing in the RHI affair.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London