don't know how often Martin McGuinness calls James
Walsh, chairman of Friends of Ireland in the US
Congress. Congressman Walsh has a lot of friends
who probably call up to praise him for his support
for the war in Iraq, so allowing the senior Sinn
Fein figure time to bend his ear cannot be altogether
insignificant. The call must have been important.
James claims Martin stressed to him that the address
made by the Sinn Fein president earlier this month
to the IRA was the 'most important speech Gerry
has made in 10 years.' Martin's colleague Jim Gibney
obviously agreed because in his Irish News
column he described Gerry's speech as historic.
How many times have we heard that word over the
years as it played peek-a-boo and swings and roundabouts
with other well-worn words like imaginative and
there we have it, James, Martin, Gerry and Jim,
all concerned with important matters and describing
each other's words as historic. James Walsh may
not know that from the lips of Mr Adams' camarilla,
such words are commonplace. Few here break their
stride to listen when historic events are pronounced.
Bomb scares were at one time so frequent here, that
many simply paid no heed to them. A weary public
long used to being on the receiving end of a guff
attack have even less cause to be alarmed. They
probably take some solace from the great 'event'
this time round being something other than the greatest
crisis ever or the most important election yet.
their own sense of importance is one way politicians
have of keeping themselves in business. They endlessly
flog the idea that anything they say or do is more
important than what they previously said or did.
If we were daft enough to give them our votes for
it, they would shamelessly announce that they are
off to the greatest toilet yet made for the most
important piss ever - until the piss after that.
how important was the Adams speech? While it may
sound like a convoluted way of saying the war is
over, a line-by-line perusal reveals that it has
all been said before. The difference this time is
that the party boss has addressed his comments specifically
to the IRA. The hope in the triangle of capitals
that take most interest in the North is that it
will be seen as an edict rather than mere attitudinising.
For them Adams' authority as the president of Sinn
Fein is read as his authority as the boss of bosses
on the IRA's army council. Whether wish is father
to the thought remains to be seen.
ostensible basis on which Adams made his call to
the IRA is that there now exists an alternative
to the armed struggle, which presumably did not
exist before, although few can recall when the Sinn
Fein boss last said the IRA was still at war. When
the war was actually being waged and the Sinn Fein
leadership was being challenged by constitutional
nationalist parties to deliver a ceasefire, the
standard response was that such a situation would
only develop when an alternative to armed struggle
existed. The leadership made it clear that the peace
process was that alternative. Critics were often
silenced with the comment 'what is your alternative
- do you want us to go back to war?' All of which
suggests that war has not been an alternative for
propitious the circumstances for the furtherance
of that alternative now are, is debatable. The logic
is certainly suspect. Arguably, there was more space
in which a peaceful Sinn Fein could grow in the
months between September's Leeds talks and the collapse
of the negotiations in December. Sinn Fein - Mr
Adams stated alternative to the IRA - had much international
goodwill, and it faced a unionism that seemed very
close to concluding a deal that would see Sinn
Fein back in government fortified by one of its
own people serving as deputy first minister. But
those two central planks of an alternative have
been dislodged as a result of the fall out from
the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert
McCartney. This suggests that Sinn Fein is not opening
up alternative strategic space, but merely responding
to pressure; and in circumstances less advantageous to it
than in the final months of 2004.
the party is good at crafting a virtue from necessity.
Mr Adams in choosing not to stand down the IRA is
an indication that in the short term his call on
it to pursue peaceful politics is an opening gambit
in an election campaign. Certain to trounce the
SDLP, his appeal will firm up those undecided nationalist
voters that a vote for Sinn Fein is in fact one
more finger applying pressure to the windpipe of
the IRA. In the medium term, in the weeks and months
after the May election, the Adams statement will
be used as a means to lure the two governments back
into peace processing with a stronger Sinn Fein.
The long term purpose of the statement is to apply
pressure to the DUP to enter into government on
terms not greatly different from those offered by
Sinn Fein in December. Getting the theocrat led
party back to Leeds Castle by September on terms
dictated by the autocrat led party may be much too
sanguine a notion to entertain. But Sinn Fein are
determined to dissolve DUP resolve before it dissolves
the significance of the unilateral nature of the
Adams appeal has been greatly inflated by some commentators.
The strategic wisdom of Adams lies in having it
misconstrued as such. Ultimately the IRA
will go but not for any Northern election. For now,
it has not gone away and Mr Adams has not really
asked it to.