WHEN I heard the words "Gerry Adams, TD for Louth", I thought how gratified my late friend Mary Holland would be that Gerry had made it to the Dail at last. She always predicted that he would. Especially after he told her, more than 10 years ago, while doing a tour of Dublin's more depressed housing estates: "I can't wait to get my hands on this place."
Well, now he has got his hands on "this place" -- south of the border, that is -- and we shall see how he and his sizeable cohort of Sinn Fein members will do. Personally, I think it's a good thing. To use a coarse vulgarism: "Better to have them inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."
Although the sight of families of IRA victims demonstrating against Adams in Louth was indeed troubling, it is still an improvement to choose the ballot over the bullet. And the more successful that Sinn Fein shows itself to be in the democratic process, the more it will deter the rump of disgruntled Real IRA and Continuity IRA from returning to the melancholy and wicked policies of blowing up innocent people.
The historian Professor Diarmuid Ferriter said something very significant over the weekend about Irish democracy: people in Greece, and elsewhere, had wondered why there weren't more violent demonstrations on the streets of Ireland against the penalties and cuts inflicted on the Irish people as a consequence of the immoral conduct of the toxic banks. The reason, Prof Ferriter said, is that the Irish people are attached to parliamentary democracy. Anyone can go out on a street demo: this is "gesture politics". But it is much more effective to use the power of the ballot box to change things. This is real politics.
Real politics is a process of learning through taking responsibility. To take up the hard, patient grind of constructive opposition is a heck of a learning curve, and it is a hundred times better than any form of gesture politics, and a thousand times better than using violence to promote a political vision.
What is unrealistic is the notion that you can have a republican, Gaelic, socialist united Ireland.
The island of Ireland is a diverse culture, and a united Ireland would inevitably mean compromises. Most Irish people, either north or south of the border, are not socialists -- nor are they in a meaningful sense Gaelic-speaking. A vociferous number, mainly in the North, are certainly not republicans.
Adams was also previously elected to the House of Commons at Westminster, but he declined to take his seat there (since that would have involved taking an Oath of Allegiance to the monarch, although there was an offer on the table of working out some formula of words that would avoid a direct mention of taboo words like "queen" and "allegiance").
Of course he was entitled to do whatever his conscience required, although he did not rebuff the queen's shilling in salary or expenses.
Yet at one level, it is perhaps regrettable that he didn't have that experience of being at Westminster. The Stormont Assembly, though better than nothing, is not a real parliament in the accepted meaning of the concept. It is a constructed assembly which gives a voice to both sides of the old divide. Had Adams spent some time at Westminster, he would bring to Dail Eireann the authority of a seasoned parliamentarian.
No matter. It is all for the best, for parliamentary democracy, that we now have Gerry Adams, TD. It advances democracy itself, distances the recollection of violence, and promises to make the debating chamber at Leinster House a lively place in the coming times.