The legacies of Ahern and Adams
At the turn of the year, the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement will be a little more than 12 months away, which will be an occasion for mature reflection as to how far this State has progressed in its relations with Northern Ireland and more generally with the UK. Events since then, not least the UK's vote in favour of Brexit, may have fundamentally altered that relationship again by the time the anniversary comes around. At this remove, however, there is no way of knowing for sure what the nature of the relationship will be on the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April 2018.
One of the least remarked upon consequences of that agreement has been the relatively low-key workings of the apparatus of State in attending to the implementation of what was, by any standard, the most significant political development on this island and between the neighbouring islands, in living memory. For example, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has met twice in recent weeks to discuss the implications of Brexit for the agreement and its institutions and, more recently, to focus on cross-border road infrastructure.
As one of two political parties in Northern Ireland linked to paramilitary organisations, Sinn Fein was a participant in what was an agreement between two sovereign states with armed and police forces involved in what is euphemistically referred to as 'the Troubles'. In the almost 20 years since, Sinn Fein has evolved into a significant political force on the island of Ireland, although its links to paramilitarism continue to reside uncomfortably within that party.
Last week, it emerged that Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader at the height of the Provisional IRA terror campaign, then during the tortuous negotiations related to the eventual signing of the agreement, and who is still the leader of that party, wrote to the Garda Commissioner before the general election here this year in which he is said to have identified people connected with the murder of Brian Stack, the chief prison officer in Portlaoise prison, who died from injuries sustained in 1983 in what was one of the more heinous atrocities perpetrated by the IRA.
Among the more serious questions which persist is why Mr Adams did not disclose this information when he has claimed it came to his attention three years ago, and from whom he received the information in the first place, if not, as stated, from the son of the late Mr Stack, who has consistently denied he had imparted the information.
That such questions persist almost 20 years after the signing of the agreement, and more than 30 years after such acts of terror is one reason why deep unease about Sinn Fein continues, and are further reason to be cautious of and vigilant to any attempt by Sinn Fein to use the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement for its own political ends. In that regard, another central, indeed a key figure in the successful negotiation of the agreement, the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has now signalled an interest of re-joining Fianna Fail, the party he once led to three election victories, and from which he resigned in the aftermath of a tribunal of inquiry here. Mr Ahern's interest has been rebuffed by the current leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, who himself has also shown admirable focus against the political intentions of Sinn Fein. When the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement does take place, Mr Martin will be aware that there are few enough heroes behind the securing of that agreement, but that first and foremost Mr Ahern is one to whom this nation is indebted.