the prospects of Adams stepping into the shoes of
David Trimble must seem light years away. The downturn
in Sinn Fein's fortunes has been so dramatic that
the party is reduced to calling for Paisley to be
the top dog at Stormont. To make matters worse the
man who made the Adams prediction is now embroiled
in the type of controversy which in itself, even
if the accusations levelled against him turn out
to be groundless, may have serious consequences
for his long-term political future.
McGuinness has been in the media hot seat so often
that he must have worn out more than one of them.
No matter what was thrown his way he faced it down
secure in the knowledge that he was defending his
movement from attack and would have the support
of the bulk of those within it. On this occasion
the authoritative deportment of old seems absent.
Persistent leadership lying has shattered the grassroots
confidence on which McGuinness could normally have
relied. Dismissing as the 'Sunday Liar' the paper
that initially named him as agent J118 rings vacuous
against the backcloth of Sinn Fein leadership lies.
McGuinness prudently avoided being scooped for a
'world exclusive' interview by the one journalist
who 'established' the innocence of Freddie Scappaticci,
the language used in his defence is remarkably similar
to that brought out to cover for Scappaticci. This
has generated uncertainty among the usually certain
followers. There is a hesitancy to give full throttle
to protestations of innocence on McGuinness's behalf.
The delayed intervention of Adams, heard but not
seen with McGuinness, has done little to allay unease.
The BBC's former security correspondent, Brian Rowan,
hardly helped the defence case by calling as witness
for the accused every 'securocrat' that Sinn Fein
claimed was previously working to wreck the peace
process. McGuinness's attempts to blame former Special
Branch chief, Bill Lowry, are contestable given
Lowry's public admission that Special Branch intervened
to shape the outcome of IRA army conventions so
that they would produce the result desired by McGuinness
such a backdrop, the goodwill that Martin McGuinness
is getting from the republican constituency boils
down to a view that he is unlikely to have been
an agent. Prior to Scappaticci, 'unlikely' would
have been a term that conveyed so much doubt that
those using it would have come under suspicion themselves
for displaying something less than absolute faith
in the leadership.
will find this perplexing considering that the evidence
against McGuinness thus far amounts to zilch. Some
republicans outside of Sinn Finn who know him well
and abhor him nevertheless conclude that were he
an agent, the Provisional IRA would have been brought
to its knees long before the 1994 ceasefire. As
Eamonn McCann argued on Radio Free Eireann on Saturday
evening, if the accusation against McGuinness is
to be taken seriously then it must be Everest like
in stature. At the moment it is nothing more than
a pebble. It has legs solely because of past leadership
deception and a willingness to cover for informers.
Outside of that history, the current story would
have died the Sunday it emerged. There seems no
reason to be any more suspicious of McGuinness now
than there was prior to the appearance of the transcript
which it is claimed shows he is a British agent
but which reveals nothing of the sort.
transcript at the centre of the McGuinness as agent
controversy is increasingly viewed with scepticism.
This week's Sunday Times unpicked its authenticity
so thoroughly that to continue believing it is not
counterfeit requires a huge dose of intellect suppressants.
By linking its emergence to the agent Kevin Fulton/Peter
Keeley - who denies any involvement - the Sunday
Times has obliterated in one surgical strike any
potential for the transcript to gather credibility.
But like the pace setter in long distance running
who drops back long before the finish line, the
transcript has brought to the fore new competitors.
is nowhere more evident than in the Sunday Times.
In a masterly piece of manoeuvring the paper took
out the man but kept the ball in play. One article
hobbled Martin Ingram who brought the transcript
into the public domain in the genuine belief that
it was authentic, while another judiciously kept
the head of steam growing against Martin McGuinness.
This has inevitably given rise to speculation on
the part of those who know as little as the rest
of us, that the Sunday Times at some point will
disrobe McGuinness. It helps defibrillate a story
that would otherwise have reached the flat line.
inescapable dilemma for McGuinness is that in denying
the accusation he adds to its newsworthiness. That
alone, without the slightest proof of any wrongdoing
on his part, may ultimately make his position as
a prospective deputy first minister untenable. In
the sectarian jockeying for position against opponents
for public office, rather than in anything disreputable
on the part of the Derry nationalist, may lie the
origins of the current spy story. Allegations of
DUP manipulation of public sentiment could turn
out to have more substance than at first imagined.
McGuinness is in an unenviable position. While he
should be able to win the debate outright, given
the weakness of the case thus far against him, he
cannot land the knock out punch and instead labours
on the ropes because he is an integral part of a
Sinn Fein leadership which has long exhibited disdain
for the truth. What a complex web this has turned
out to be.