Wednesday 26 October 2016

Our Government is taking peace process for granted

Published 10/05/2014 | 02:30

Gerry Adams at a press conference on his release. Reuters
Gerry Adams at a press conference on his release. Reuters

THE furore over the arrest and detention of Gerry Adams has abated now that he has been released without charge. Some may be disappointed at the outcome. But they are misguided. The whole affair was a dangerous and pointless exercise, completely at variance with 20 years of strategic conflict resolution by the British and Irish governments with the support of successive US administrations.

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It was inevitable that Mr Adams's voluntary co-operation with the PSNI investigation of the McConville murder was going to be controversial. But the manner and timing of his arrest based on questionable taped evidence was, in my opinion, breathtakingly reckless.

What was more worrying however, was the attitude of the Irish Government to these developments. They were quick to come out and dismiss Sinn Fein's claims of "political policing" but rather slow to appreciate the real danger the move posed to the peace and political stability in the North.

My heart sank watching an SF rally attended by Martin McGuinness over last weekend.

It was hastily arranged and angry; it had the makings of a riot but fortunately the organisers managed to keep it under control. McGuinness was seething and at one stage cast doubt over Sinn Fein support of the PSNI.

Yet as Mr Adams languished in his cell in the glare of the world media, conveniently evoking the tribulations of earlier republican prisoners and enraging supporters, the Irish Government seemed detached from this darkening situation.

Indeed both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste pointedly dismissed out of hand claims of political policing or malevolent forces in the PSNI.

It was as if the arrest of the Sinn Fein leader had no wider relevance.

The truth is the Government has been taking the peace process for granted for some time.

When US diplomat Richard Haass went home empty handed with no acceptance of the comprehensive proposals for dealing with the past, the Government should have engaged intensively with the parties to maintain momentum.

It was ironic that Alan Shatter's last public engagement was on Wednesday morning, to attend the state commemoration in Arbour Hill. His ministry has been memorable for its controversial reform on several fronts; both friend and foe would commend his work rate. But as Justice Minister he has not taken much interest in the peace process.

I recall no statement on the Haass proposals or indeed on the suggestion by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland about a stay on prosecutions of historic crimes and the assertion by the PSNI chief constable that they cannot continue to police the past as well as the present. The issues of current controversy in Northern Ireland are very much justice related, such as unsolved murders, the controversy about 'on the runs' and amnesty for Troubles-related crimes.

A disconnect seems to have opened up on the part of this Government with the peace process.

This is totally at variance with previous governments which were intimately involved with monitoring and minding the peace process in all its security dimensions.

The ideal atmosphere for governments facing elections is calm, not drama.

A few carefully placed good news announcements are what's required. Say nothing to annoy the voters is the maxim. So the Adams' drama was not good for the government parties.

The sight of him on his feet to question the Taoiseach on the resignation of Shatter was a masterpiece of political bounce-back. On top of the disaffection about "austerity" measures, the topic of garda misconduct and ministerial obfuscation and denial is electoral manna for the opposition parties.

The fact that Shatter has eventually fallen on his sword after months of denial and bluster at allegations of garda misconduct and malpractice vindicates those who raised this issue in the Dail, such as deputies Wallace and Daly and most recently Micheal Martin. It is a mortifying situation for the Government, who to a man defended the embattled minister throughout and up to the morning of his resignation.

Those of us who know Alan Shatter will vouch for his combative personality and intellectual ascendancy.

While detracting from his popularity, these qualities have been useful in tackling difficult and controversial reforms.

But even reformers have blind spots and his was an instinct to side with the Commissioner and the institution and to dismiss the claims of whistleblowers. He could have remained impartial and have been open to test the veracity of the claims in the public interest. Instead he presided over official denial and stooped to using confidential information against a political opponent in breach of the Data Protection laws.

By parking the multifaceted package of garda misconduct with several commissions and tribunals, the Government has merely passed the parcel.

Frances Fitzgerald will need nerves of steel.

Irish Independent

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