It's time that Sinn Fein sorted out its own problems
The peace processors should stop running off to Dublin and London, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
I've identified an important anniversary that we've forgotten to commemorate. It was in April 1995 that the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, lost his temper in Cork and told a journalist he was "sick of answering questions about the f**king peace process''.
That was 20 years and three taoisigh ago. Since then, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny have managed not to echo Bruton publicly, but they would be superhuman if they hadn't often felt just as fed up as he was.
What probably doesn't help is that while most of the politicians change from time to time (John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron), the Sinn Fein leaders don't.
This year, for the 32nd time, Gerry Adams was elected president of his party unopposed. Martin McGuinness doesn't have to go through such a charade, for the title of 'chief negotiator', which was conferred on him many years ago, appears to be in the gift of President Adams.
Of course, there are changes in the supporting cast. Until they settled down with Mary Lou ("I believe Gerry") McDonald, there was a fluctuating series of youngish, photogenic women flanking them as they made portentous statements to cameras outside official locations.
And occasionally one or another of the superannuated ex-IRA prisoners, whose job is to hang about on the fringes looking sinister, falls off his twig or retires into private life.
But essentially, the same two pensioners are still running the republican joint and still plotting with their old pals to take over the country.
It's 34 years since Danny Morrison, who at the time was occupying the canary-in-the-coal-mine job, electrified a Sinn Fein ard fheis by asking: "Will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?"
I doubt if what his masters had in mind was what they've now got. Yes, in Northern Ireland they've long since displaced the craven SDLP and their squalid power-splitting deal with the DUP gives them plenty of patronage to dish out, but essentially Sinn Fein elected representatives are working for the Queen in a provincial institution no one respects.
Did McGuinness hear Stephen Nolan's show on BBC Radio Ulster last week when, with much giggling, he played a clip from the Stormont social development committee, discussing the wisdom or otherwise of providing members with free tea and coffee?
Is that deemed a sufficient reward for 30 years of sacrifice, terror, bloodshed and the traumatising of a whole population?
In the Republic, Sinn Fein are desperately fighting to get into a coalition government next time around, but see their dream threatened by young whipper-snappers on the far left.
Adams has been playing the nationalist drum with stunts like an O'Donovan Rossa funeral commemoration complete with uniformed actors and a dreary parade in Louth in honour of the 1981 hunger strikers, but on the whole, the young would much rather be out shaking their fists at government ministers about water charges.
It was because of those electoral challenges that Sinn Fein destabilised the executive by reneging on the deal on welfare reform it had agreed with the DUP last December: implementing welfare reform in west Belfast would not have played well in Tallaght.
Yet Sinn Fein also want transfers from the respectable middle-class, so it suited them to have Stormont limp on.
But now the whole edifice of Stormont is tottering: politicians can no longer keep up the pretence that the IRA has disappeared.
"Nothing to do with us," say Adams and McGuinness about the murder of Kevin McGuigan. The IRA, they claim, no longer exists, so even if he was killed for having shot his former companion in murder, Jock Davison, it was a freelancer who did it.
The trouble is that although the IRA is a shadow of its former self, it does still exist. Who else, after all, would continue loyally - through smuggling, fraud and robbery - to add to the hundreds of millions that underpin the republican project?
Its survival was obligingly pointed out last year (the clip is on YouTube) by Bobby Storey, an IRA legend who is now chairman of Northern Sinn Fein. Inflamed by the arrest of Gerry Adams for questioning about the murder of Jean McConville, he told a rally (that included a smiling McGuinness): "We have a message for the British government, for the Irish Government, for the cabal that is out there: we haven't gone away, you know."
It was also intended for the dissidents who think the Provos sold out and now despise them because it's so difficult for them to kill or maim their enemies. McGuigan, who had become a freelancer, was known to be a threat to former IRA colleagues, so he had to be eliminated or no one would be safe. Every dog in the street knows that every politician in Stormont knows this, so unionists have had no option but to protest and now Sinn Fein fear that in the South they will be once more seen as troublesome Nordies.
Being brilliant and utterly unscrupulous players of the dreary old blame game, of course, they've gone on the attack, preposterously accusing the UUP, the DUP, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour of "setting aside the imperative of peace… to attack Sinn Fein".
Adams is shocked that "political self-interest" is "taking precedence over the peace process."
The Sinn Fein agenda is advanced by lies that would have made Charlie Haughey blush and by intimidation of their critics and of the police.
Listen, guys, you've been playing the peace-process violin since the late 1980s, during which time you've screamed for attention in Dublin and London at every minor setback.
Ireland and the United Kingdom continue to have serious financial problems and the continent of Europe is beseiged by desperate millions.Get some perspective and sort out your own problems. Everyone on the island except you is sick of the f**king peace process.