Adams's legacy is abject failure
The Nobel Laureate in Literature, Seamus Heaney, was quoted in the presentation speech to award the Nobel Prize to John Hume and David Trimble in December, 1998, the year of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Heaney had used the fable of the hedgehog and the fox to describe the difference between the then SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party leaders. "John Hume is the hedgehog, who knew the big truth that justice had to prevail," Heaney wrote. David Trimble, on the other hand, "is the fox, who has known many things, but who had the intellectual clarity and political courage to know that 1998 was the time to move unionism towards an accommodation with reasonable and honourable nationalist aspirations". In so doing, Heaney said, Trimble had opened the possibility of a desirable and credible future for all the citizens of Northern Ireland.
This weekend, upon the resignation of Gerry Adams as President of Sinn Fein, a position he held since 1983 - throughout the worst of what we call the Troubles - and upon the election of Mary Lou McDonald as his successor, it is appropriate to ask where now lies the dream of that desirable and credible future for the people of Northern Ireland?
The answer was provided last week by Seamus Mallon, the former deputy leader of the SDLP, and former Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, who said that the legacy of Gerry Adams was a hardening of the tribal divisions in Northern Ireland. "They did not win," Mallon said of the Provisional IRA. Rather, the IRA, he said, was the "biggest failure of the past 40 years" and in the process demeaned the term republicanism and all that it stood for. True republicanism was about finding ways to live together in peace and harmony, he said, with respect for each other and respect for the country in which we live. By that assessment, a fair and true yardstick, the political career of Gerry Adams has ended in abject failure. If Hume was the hedgehog and Trimble the fox, then Adams was the wolf of Northern Ireland politics, not the hero as some would believe or the statesman as others have preposterously claimed, but the wolf and, latterly, a wolf in sheep's clothing who has pulled the wool over the eyes of a new generation too young to remember the profoundly immoral acts perpetrated by the Provisional IRA.
Mary Lou McDonald now takes up the mantle laid down by the departure of Adams, at least from the title he has held for 35 years. She comes with his blessing, of course, but with none of his historical baggage. That much alone is to be welcomed. But she should know that her task is not that which Adams chose to be his, the advancement of Sinn Fein - Ourselves Alone - ahead of the Good Friday Agreement, its tenets or spirit, or ahead of the ethos of true republicanism, as so eloquently expressed by Seamus Mallon. First and foremost, her task is to find a reasonable and honourable accommodation with Unionism and to build a desirable and credible future for the citizens of Northern Ireland.
Is she up to the task? We shall soon find out.