Adams idea of new pan-nationalist front a mirage


There is a disconcerting lack of clarity about the ‘push for a united Ireland’ being proposed by Gerry Adams, writes DAVID ADAMS

NEVER MIND what the “Irish diaspora” thinks, what kind of united Ireland does Gerry Adams want, and how precisely does he intend getting there? These are reasonable queries, though I’m not expecting answers anytime soon, and certainly not if last weekend is anything to go by.

Adams has embarked upon something of a world tour, hoping to garner international support for a “push for a united Ireland”. He claims to be seeking opinions on how a unitary state can be brought about, and on what shape it should take. Yet he seems reluctant to proffer any solid ideas of his own.

Last Saturday night, speaking to a capacity crowd in a New York hotel, he said: “This generation can make [a united Ireland] real. But I can’t tell you how to do it. You know how to do it. And if you don’t, you’ll find out.”

How very enlightening.

Doubtless there were those in the audience who imagined a deep profundity to Adams’s words, convinced he was conveying some hidden message. However, just like obsessive Bob Dylan fans who parse every banality he utters in search of a higher meaning, they were deluding themselves. Dylan sometimes throws words into a song just because they happen to rhyme, or adds nonsense lines simply because they sound good.

Adams is a past master at the latter.

There wasn’t any hidden meaning in what he said; he was simply refusing to share his thoughts with his supporters. The more grounded among the audience must surely have been disappointed at this lack of openness on the part of the self-styled leader of Irish republicanism.

Adams also mentioned the need for a “huge outreach to our unionist brothers and sisters”.

Fine words, indeed, and I’m sure they played well with the audience. Again, though, why did he not expand on what he meant? For example, what form does he think this “huge outreach” should take, and who does he imagine will be doing the outreaching?

If he has Sinn Féin primarily in mind then it will surely need to amount to more than existing republican outreach. This appears to extend no further than “community leaders” from opposite sides of the political/religious divide coming together every so often to dream up new ways of getting their hands on yet more peace and reconciliation money.

Moreover, whatever about the fine- sounding words, Adams himself doesn’t have much of a track record in reaching out the hand of friendship to unionists. When he isn’t being insulting or patronising, he studiously ignores them. Like the substantial unionist minority within his own parliamentary constituency for whom, to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to provide a single job, or indeed lobby on their behalf for anything.

Part of his party’s strategy, as openly admitted on one occasion by a Sinn Féin election candidate, is to keep unionism in a constant state of anxiety and upheaval, by continually challenging within local councils and at community level everything they hold dear. The hope is that eventually the unionist spirit will be broken. If Adams is serious about extending a belated hand of friendship, then, to put it mildly, he and his party will be starting from a very low base indeed.

Relationships would improve no end if republicans would just accept unionists as they are, and stop making rapprochement dependent on them converting wholesale to an exclusively Gaelic world view. To suggest that, however, is to presume a degree of genuineness in the first place.

Adams’s world tour is not entirely without purpose, far from it.

He is just not being candid about what his true intentions are. On the face of it, he appears to have as one of his objectives the cobbling together again of a “pan-nationalist front” – which, loosely described, previously consisted of the Irish Government, the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and influential Irish Americans – to try to bully unionists into acceptance of a unitary state. This is what he means by “persuasion”.

Of course, the idea of resurrecting a pan-nationalist front is as redundant as his soundbite of last Saturday night about there being an “economic imperative” for Irish unity. As Martin Mansergh pointed out only a few days before the New York conference (with immaculate, if accidental, timing), in the present economic climate Irish unity is far from any serious person’s list of priorities.

Besides that, anyone who cares in the slightest about what sort of unitary state would be the result is not going to be interested in forming a nationalist alliance to bully unionists into a united Ireland.

Adams must be aware of all of this, but it won’t deter him. He believes that his lobbying far and wide for international pressure to be applied will be enough in itself to keep unionism in a constant state of anxiety.

If he does manage, by some miracle, to cobble together another pan-nationalist front, then so much the better. For Sinn Féin, mayhem within an all-Ireland context will always be preferable to settled partition.