Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

Too late to turn the tide

(Gearóid Ó Cairealláin,

What would have happened if Gerry Kelly had said, yeah, well, its a fair cop. Youse have got us bang to rights, no point trying to deny it.

Sinn Féin were copying the odd document here and there, and hacking into the odd computer in the NIO. Sorry about that boss, but every political party likes to try to stay one step ahead of the opposition. It happens to us all the time, bugging and spying, even when we are talking to senior people in the British government we know our phones are being tapped and conversations recorded. And just say P. O’Neill had issued one of his famous statements on behalf of the IRA to confirm that, whatever Sinn Féin may or may not have been doing, it was certainly nothing to do with the IRA. No, no, there was no IRA operation or anything like it, sure we are on ceasefire for years now, all that speculation is completely off the wall, and if you want to know what Sinn Féin were doing, just ask them.

The point is that the illicit copying of documents and the gleaning of secret and restricted information is common practice in politics all over the world.

Trimble has already compared the Stormont situation to Watergate (pity the term Stormontgate never caught on in the media, I kind of liked it). And in a way he was right. But as any student of American history could tell you it wasn’t the break-in at the Democratic headquarters at Watergate that caused the problem.

The problem was the cover-up. The fact that the President of the United States covered up the wrong-doing of some of his political servants and denied all knowledge of, or involvement in, the shenanigans, was the cause of the uproar.

The so-called Stormont spy ring scandal was not exactly earth-shattering and should have blown over after a public wrist-slap for the Baddies of Sevastopol Street and a couple of discreet interventions by, I don’t know, John Reid and Brian Cowen, let’s say. But no.

No, because the whole pantomime was engineered and executed for the purpose of bringing down the Assembly and Executive, and trying to stick the blame on the IRA, and the punishment on Sinn Féin.

The road to bringing down the institutions of government set up under the Good Friday Agreement is now a traditional Orange route. Trimble threatens to pull out unless the Brits expel Sinn Féin and Downing Street steps in to suspend before that happens. It’s a blueprint, a wreckers’ charter, and will remain so, to be used again and again until such times as the British government makes it plain to the unionists in no uncertain terms that all problems must be worked out within the confines of ongoing, working institutions of government. And if any party choses to walk, then they walk.

For now, however, the dust is settling over the ruins of Stromontgate and I am tempted to ask a simple question: just what do the unionists think they have achieved? The Assembly etcetera has been put into cold storage – very good work, Dave – but now what?

One thing for sure is that Sinn Féin’s position within nationalism is now stronger that ever, and Gerry Adams has been appointed Head Buck Cat and Bottlewasher as far as getting the process back on the rails is concerned. These could yet turn out to be ‘Important and Happy Days’ for Sinn Féin.

The unionists have said that it is now up to Sinn Féin to get the IRA to move – disband, disarm, or whatever – before the Assembly et al can be reassembled. And Adams can now say, okay, but what do we get out of it? He has already said on numerous occasions that he and the republican movement as a whole, and nationalism in general, look forward to the day when there is no IRA, or any other armed group. So the question must be, what price will Britain pay to have that process accelerated?

Basically, Adams seems to have been manouvered into the situation wherbey he can bring about the re-instatement of the Assembly if and when he so desires. And the unionists have successfully thrust that burden on him. Yes, they have actually put their number one political enemy in charge of their own destiny.

It’s not as though Gerry Adams needs to facilitate the reconstruction of the Assembly.

The vast majority of Sinn Féin voters and potential voters believe the unionists were to blame for bringing the system down in the first place. And there is no particular pressure on Sinn Féin to bend over backwards to get things going again. Why should there be?

Even if the Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers were the most enthusiastic proponents of the Stormont Assembly, the whole idea of a six county parliament was always a unionist concept.

With the British government ruling the north directly, and an enhanced input guaranteed for Dublin, and with the all-Ireland institutions likely to be strengthened in the absence of a local administration, Sinn Féin could quite happily and fruitfully direct their attention to achieving the equality agenda under the system brought in by John Reid on Tuesday.

The two nationalists parties, but Sinn Féin in particular, were already wasting too much time and energy trying to keep the unionists on board the Assembly’s skewered ship. Now they can concentrate on the job at hand.

For example, policing. The British government do not need a local Assembly at Stormont to be able to implement Patten. And now Trimble can no longer threaten to pull out of the Assembly if the Patten proposals are implemented.

For example, the economy. We do not need a Stormont talking shop to be able to make the case for economic development of the most deprived areas of the six counties.

For example, arts and culture. Martin McGuinness helped achieve proper criteria for funding for Irish medium schools but apart from that Stormont was of very little help as far as developing the Irish language was concerned.

Now without Stormont, the Irish language groups still have to do what they had to do during Stormont, and before it: they have to decide what they want, make out their case and go to the relevant authorities to achieve the support levels required.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP can still be strong advocates and help bend the ears of the ministers in question and other powers that be, but the people still have to work for themselves.

Now that Stormont is gone we can no longer kid ourselves that someone else is going to do it for us. For example, everything that makes up the equality agenda.

This is not 1974. New nationalism is resurgent, it is on the march forward and it is strong. We have our own blueprint to achieve equality and a better life.

Perhaps it will include a regional parliament, perhaps it will not. But it will include an independent national democracy.

This country is moving towards the unified political, economic, social and cultural institutions that will provide a framework for our future well-being, and there is nothing that the unionists can do to stop it.

Stop it, are you kidding? They cannot even slow it down. And that is their crisis, their big crisis. The First Minister has engineered the downfall of his own government, and still the process continues.

He stands on the shore and screams at the tide to turn back, but to no avail. And the British government can’t do it for him, and all of unionism cannot do it for him. Now the waters are lapping round his ankles, and still the tide refuses to turn back...

October 27, 2002

This article appeared first on the web site on October 18, 2002.