Martin had Adams on the ropes until Royal rescue
Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30
Let me start by asking you to read a single sentence, the first sentence in the final paragraph of the Proclamation of 1916, particularly the part in italics.
"We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine."
Cowardice, inhumanity and rapine - and worse, rape - Sinn Fein has covered up for IRA members who have committed all of these crimes.
Enter nemesis in the form of Micheal Martin. Martin is a man with a mission. To reclaim the word "republican" from Sinn Fein. If he succeeds, he will have set Fianna Fail firmly on the path to recovery.
Some readers will retort, who cares whether Fianna Fail sinks or swims? To which I reply: we must all care. Without a strong Fianna Fail, we will soon be ruled by Sinn Fein.
Still other readers will wonder why the word "republic" is so important. Surely the issue is the economy, stupid?
Normally, yes. But ownership of the word "republican" is equally important coming up to 2016. As the commemoration of 1966 proved.
Back in 1966, the IRA was increasingly irrelevant in Irish society. Lemass's drive for modernisation was showing clear signs of success.
But the 1966 celebrations began a fever in the blood that made the Republic receptive to Provo propaganda about its Northern campaign.
The bloody carnage went on for almost 30 years. Thousands were murdered, tens of thousands mutilated, young men and women were sexually abused. A culture of covering up these crimes became a constant feature of Sinn Fein policy.
But above all we were left with two big lies. First, that the armed struggle was the only option open to Northern nationalists.
Second, that Sinn Fein deserves the same status from the Irish Republic as it got in Northern Ireland from the British government in return for the IRA calling off its campaign.
Martin blasted both these lies to bits at Arbour Hill last Sunday. In challenging the IRA's chronicle and claims, Martin has three advantages over most Dail critics of Sinn Fein.
First, he has a higher degree in Irish history and knows when Sinn Fein is spinning the past. Second, he has a special feel for the pulse of republican Cork.
Republican Cork is not the same thing as Sinn Fein Cork. It's about the patriotic pluralism of Jack Lynch. A liberal patriotism that plays well on a national stage.
Approaching this weekend's Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, Martin took a cold decision to launch a lethal attack on Sinn Fein and to reclaim Lynch's republican mantle.
He began by pointing out that the Provisionals were once as reviled by most people in the Republic as the dissidents are today. And he went on to ask Adams a hard question, to which the latter has no logical answer.
"Why can't the dissidents of today claim the same legitimacy the Provisionals claim? Why are their bombs and murder unacceptable while those of the Provisionals were OK?"
Martin then moved onto the Provisionals' failure to admit that armed struggle was wrong from start to finish.
"They refuse to acknowledge that they were always wrong. They refuse to acknowledge that they fought against this State. They killed servants of this Republic and worked to destroy its institutions."
He followed his Arbour Hill attack by filleting Gerry Adams next day on Morning Ireland, challenging the Provo myth that they fought a "war" in any normal meaning of that term.
This myth is being peddled hard coming up to 2016 because it allows Sinn Fen to justify Provo atrocities with "fog of war" excuses.
But it didn't work last Monday. Martin created a climate in which the RTE reporter was able to ask Adams straight out if the murder of Jean McConville was a war crime.
Adams replied that he did not want to debate "emotive" issues, as it would be unfair to do so. Pressed again, he answered: "Well, I don't want to get into that". And lost the argument.
Last weekend, Martin laid out what he clearly believes to be both his core political policy as well as his political legacy - to hang Sinn Fein on the hook of its own sordid past.
Refusing to pussyfoot around the Provo campaign, he warned Adams: "I will never allow you to whitewash away the atrocities committed by your movement."
Martin said he accepted his party had made mistakes while in government between 2007 and 2011, but claimed Mr Adams did not accept he [Adams] had done anything wrong in the past.
And he finished with this killer punch. "In terms of legacy, I wasn't responsible for the murder of anybody. I don't have to legitimise the murder of anybody."
From Arbour Hill to Montrose, Micheal Martin had Adams on the back foot for two days. Here was a leader letting his long-suppressed fighting side off the leash.
By Monday afternoon, early media reactions showed that Martin had Adams on the ropes. And Adams stayed down until he was rescued later on Monday by the news of a Royal visit.
Listening to Tommie Gorman's somewhat generous report, you could almost hear Adams's relief at being able to trot out all the old peace-processing tropes.
But it must have been a bitter pill to be saved by the Brits, especially by two such amiable Brits as Charles and Camilla.
Looking back, what made Martin's attack special was a moral anger.
Eschewing the cheap jibes of Dail discourse, he went for the jugular.
Martin's polemic against the Provos came from deep in his personal moral core. It called to mind Jonathan Swift's saevo indignatio, the savage indignation of which WB Yeats wrote so movingly.
The thing about Martin is that he really believes in Wolfe Tone's noble call "to substitute the common name of Irishman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter."
No other politician in the Dail could have done what Martin did so convincingly last weekend. He stripped the tricolour from Sinn Fein and showed them wearing nothing but balaclavas and boiler suits.
Last week, Martin led from the front. He shafted Sinn Fein with the same competence he showed in handling the standard variable mortgage and IBRC issues.
Who else in Fianna Fail could have spoken so eloquently and led so firmly on so many fronts? Well? From which it follows that Fianna Fail needs Martin more than Martin needs Fianna Fail.
Apart from nursing their own constituencies, none of his sniping critics have said or done anything worth noting on the national scene.
Until they do, Martin should tell them what Clement Attlee, British prime minister in the post- war Labour Government, told his leftist critic, Harold Laski. "A period of silence from you would be welcome."