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If all mankind minus one were of one opinion,
Green Is Still The Colour
WRITING in the current edition of the political journal, The Blanket, former members of the republican movement draw attention to the fact that, even as Gerry Adams and his colleagues march steadily away from positions the IRA once fought ferociously to hold on to, scarcely a whisper of protest emanates from the rank and file.
The grass roots must be green in more senses than one, runs the thinking, that they are so easily, brazenly bamboozled. During his visit to the World Economic Forum in New York, Adams signalled acceptance of the principle of consent - that the Union with Britain can't be ended without majority backing for the change from within Northern Ireland.
The great and the good, so to speak, of world capitalism welcomed this as confirmation that Sinn Fein is now a conventional, constitutional party with no intention of disrupting political peace.
Pressed on the issue when it was his turn in New York last week, Martin McGuinness responded in forthright fashion: "I think Gerry Adams very knowledgeably articulated our position".
Some will remember the deluge of derision which Sinn Fein poured on the SDLP in the 1970s and 80s for signing up to the principle of consent. It was this which, in republican nomenclature, earned the SDLP the alias, "Stoop Down Low Party".
The dismay of some who stood up for the Republic and gave years of their lives to the fight to achieve it is natural. "The acceptance...of the consent principle is an acknowledgement not only that the war is over but that the British won it", writes Anthony McIntyre.
The foot-soldiers, he adds, were the last to latch on to the political drift.
The unspoken implication is that rank and file republicans are an unthinking, manipulable lot who dote on their leaders in the manner of sub-adolescents drooling over Will. Or even Gareth.
This estimation stands in bewildering contrast to the view of a raft of commentators in Southern politics and sections of the British media who see Sinn Fein as a fearsome, disciplined, tightly-focused army advancing inexorably towards its unchanging objective of untrammelled power in a united Ireland.
In Limerick last weekend, Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney was reportedly only persuaded at the last moment to delete a reference to the danger of Sinn Fein "taking power with a baseball bat in one hand and a ballot paper in the other" from her address to the party's annual conference.
The spin doctorate feared that this might merely provide the Shinners with a chance to reprise one of their favourite roles, as injured innocents.
The PDs, in company with columnists from the Sunday Independent and Daily Telegraph, hold that, far from a sell-out leadership luring a credulous following towards surrender, Sinn Fein, from top to bottom, is engaged in a massive conspiracy to attain their original objectives by devious means.
In this perspective, it's not the SF rank and file but virtually everybody else who is being conned.
But this is just as outlandishly implausible as the opposite view. Sinn Fein Ministers are confidently, competently, committedly helping run Northern Ireland along centre-right lines as part of a cunning scheme to advance the ideals of the men who died at Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha?
What's really happening has been explained here before. Sometimes we have to hammer the obvious home. The reason Sinn Fein supporters aren't outraged by the movement's slide towards respectability is that they have sensed from an early stage that the attainment of the Republic wasn't the practical objective at all.
History will record the Provos' armed struggle not as a resurgence of traditional republicanism but as a continuation of the civil rights movement by other, angry, inappropriate means.
On this score at least, Sinn Fein rank and filers have no reason to feel betrayed. And Mary Harney has no cause for alarm.
This article was first published in the Belfast Telegraph on Feb. 14, 2002 and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.
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