Weary of the green: peace process fatigue is setting in on both sides of Atlantic
Noel Whelan: Sinn Féin is forced to practise grown-up politics where tough decisions must be made scarce resources
‘Niall O’Dowd’s reminder and characterisation of Adams’s centrality to the peace process certainly served the interests of Sinn Féin, especially in the week that’s in it. There was no mention from the podiums in New York, or it seems the following day in Washington, of Adams’s recent troubles arising from how his party and the IRA responded to reports of child abuse.’ O’Dowd made his comments at the Irish America Hall of Fame in New York, on Monday, at which former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke. Photograph: EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT
At an annual St Patrick’s week lunch in New York this week at which Hillary Clinton was inducted into the Irish America Magazine’s hall of fame, publisher Niall O’Dowd welcomed the special guests. Acknowledging the presence of Gerry Adams, he remarked to the effect that the Troubles would no doubt have started without Gerry Adams but that they wouldn’t have ended without Adams’s input.
O’Dowd’s reminder and characterisation of Adams’s centrality to the peace process certainly served the interests of Sinn Féin, especially in the week that’s in it. There was no mention from the podiums in New York, or it seems the following day in Washington, of Adams’s recent troubles arising from how his party and the IRA responded to child abuse reports.
A more sophisticated and nuanced assessment of the Sinn Féin leader’s role in both the war and the peace was available at any of New York’s corner newsstands this week. There the cover of the New Yorker magazine featured – against a green, white and orange background – the bold headline: “Bring up the Bodies”, followed by the strap line “Gerry Adams has long denied being a member of the IRA even as he pushed it to lay down its arms. But some former IRA members say that he was authorising murder”.
‘New Yorker’Patrick Radden Keefe
The New Yorker report may not discomfort the party’s core supporters in America but, with print circulation in excess of one million, it will serve to better inform many Americans about Adams’s complex past.
O’Dowd apart, there was a sense that Gerry Adams was feted and focused on less during this year’s St Patrick’s festivities and exchanges than in previous years. The situation with his on/off/on again meeting with the US state department reflects not so much a wariness about engaging with him in light of recent events but rather a weariness with Northern Ireland politics in the current US administration, and indeed in much of Irish America.
There was a sense of going through the motions in public utterances about Northern Ireland in both New York and Washington. Many pleasantries were uttered about being supportive of ongoing efforts to “bed down the agreements” and being anxious and available to help. The reaction of most American politicos and Irish-American voices privately when they heard about another round of crisis talks in Stormont this week was along the lines “is that not done?” and “we thought that was all sorted”. They just hoped Northern Ireland politicians would get over themselves and get on with it.
This post-peace-process fatigue is not confined to that side of the Atlantic. In Northern Ireland itself, voters are bemused by the Stormont antics. In the Republic, people are just bored by it.
Everybody thought that remaining issues had been resolved in six weeks of all-party talks before Christmas. Only weeks after those talks concluded, all was thrown in a heap just hours before legislation was due to be passed giving effect to a key element of the pre-Christmas agreement, namely the implementation of welfare reforms in Northern Ireland similar to those already effected in Britain. Sinn Féin claims not to have appreciated that payments to existing recipients of some welfare payments to offset the impact of welfare cuts would not also be made available to new claimants.
It doesn’t say much for their famed negotiation skills, let alone their capacity to work powersharing or agree coalition government, that they left that unclear. It is not exactly a detail of fine print.
Cushioned for years by a massive British bailout which alleviated the need to implement austerity, Sinn Féin and their powersharing colleagues are finally being forced to practise grown-up politics where tough decisions have to be made about how scarce resources are utilised.
Suggestions that Sinn Féin contrived this new crisis as a ploy to divert from the most recent revelations by Paudie McGahon on BBC Spotlight are too cynical.
With Westminster elections under way in the North and a general election due within the year in the South, Sinn Féin is finding it increasingly difficult to be consistent as an all-island party.
Sinn Féin brinkmanship in Northern Ireland in purported defence of social welfare recipients will play well to their galleries in both jurisdictions.