Sunday 25 September 2016

Gerry won’t give up his seat

Published 20/03/2016 | 02:30

Gerry Adams. Photo: AFP/Getty
Gerry Adams. Photo: AFP/Getty

It's all very well to go around in Ireland comparing yourself to Martin Luther King.

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Not only do Irish republicans like to see their struggle in those terms, that other firebrand preacher Ian Paisley saw himself as a Martin Luther King-style figure, once announcing that like another king, he had a dream. Indeed, this kind of grandiose identification with icons of freedom is commonplace on the Left in Ireland. Richard Boyd Barrett once compared his refusal to pay the €100 household charge (innocent times) to the tactics of Doctor King and Gandhi.

But while that’s fine amongst ourselves, it’s generally agreed you don’t go to the White House and compare yourself to Rosa Parks because you got delayed getting into the canapés. Rosa Parks became an icon when her refusal to give up her seat on the bus for a white person became a touchstone for the civil rights movement in America.

Gerry Adams is the leader of a reasonably large political party that is in power in one country and potentially could be in another, except they say they will only go into power here when they are the senior party in government. Rosa had her seat on the bus. Gerry has had seats in several parliaments.

But Gerry clearly still has that old Shinner notion at the back of his head, a political philosophy that is equal parts delusion and equal parts The Commitments — that the Irish are the blacks of Europe and that Catholics are the blacks of Ireland.

Which you can get away with to a certain extent among your own supporters, but which doesn’t really wash when you are at a function thrown by an actual black man, a black man whose father was an actual African, a black man who has spent years as a community organiser and a lawyer fighting the ongoing civil rights battle in America, and who has smashed barriers by the very fact of becoming the president.

But then maybe Gerry was feeling a bit tetchy, an Irishman of colour being harassed by The Man at an event at the offensively named ‘White’ House. Does Mary Lou, presumably also a woman of colour, Irish-style, feel the spirit of Rosa Parks in her when confronted with injustice? Like when there are no prawns left in Superquinn?

You’d have to wonder if, underneath it all, Gerry wasn’t delighted with the administrative error that saw him delayed getting into the party at the White House. Because somewhere in him, Gerry presumably has a yearning for the days when he was an antiestablishment figure, a bit of an outlaw. The more Sinn Fein become part of the establishment, the harder it is for them to indulge their Che Guevara/Rosa Parks fantasies.

Which might explain, in a way, why Sinn Fein runs a mile from going into government down here. Not only would it be far too grown-up for these adolescent rebels, it would also ruin their image forever.

Sunday Independent

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