Ronan Fanning: Rooted in the North, SF isn't fit for office in Republic
This island has been partioned since 1921, and to pretend otherwise is just delusional, writes Ronan Fanning
Gerry Adams's remarkable speech at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last weekend demonstrated that in the last analysis he is the Northern leader of a party irrevocably rooted in Northern Ireland and, as such, utterly unsuited to aspire to a place in the government of this State.
Indeed, so much was apparent in the choice of location for the ard fheis: Derry. What other party bidding for power in next year's general election would even contemplate holding its final party conference outside the boundaries of the State in which the election will take place? "Partitionism", I can hear the serried ranks of Sinn Fein squeal in response. So let me dismiss that accusation for the nonsense it is from the outset.
This island, like it or like it not, has been partitioned since the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament in June 1921. To pretend otherwise is to ignore political reality and to engage in the aspirational futility of a political dreamland seen through green-tinted spectacles. That kind of delusional politics, to the enduring shame of the political parties in the Dail, survived in this part of the island until and throughout the 1950s, when it spawned the IRA's vain bombing campaign of 1956-62. These were the days when it was the norm in this State always to speak of the Six Counties and never of Northern Ireland.
Sean Lemass was the first Taoiseach to recognise reality, a reality spelt out when Ireland became a signatory of the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973, of the Hillsborough Agreement in 1985 and, subsequently, of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and in the deletion of the fictional clauses in the 1937 constitution laying de jure claim to territory of Northern Ireland. But it is a reality to which Sinn Fein, notwithstanding its participation in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration, remains stubbornly resistant when in tribal conclave.
The opening salutation of Gerry Adams's Derry speech - "Friends and Comrades" - likewise marks him apart from the leaders of the other political parties in this State. Whatever else may divide them, neither Enda Kenny, nor Micheal Martin nor Joan Burton would dream of hailing their followers as "comrades". But then none of them lead parties so reliant for their sustenance on the support of former members of the IRA.
"Greetings from the North", Mr Adams continued, "this is not a foreign country." It may not be a foreign country, but it remains what it has always been for over 90 years: a different state.
Mr Adams's handlers had done their best to ensure that he appeared in the guise of a man of the Left rather than as a transparently unreconstructed Northern republican. There was no hint of green in the Tory blue backdrop behind the podium and he wore a bright red tie of the hue favoured by British Labour leaders addressing their annual party conference.
But his language told a very different story. The time-honoured convention of the "cupla focail" decrees that the speeches of all leaders to their party's annual conference include one or, perhaps, two passages in Irish. Mr Adams went much further than that. Rarely if ever can such a speech have been so frequently interspersed with pious ejaculations in the first official language.
The speech was also heavily larded with references evoking the IRA's long war in Northern Ireland. The Ballymurphy Massacre, the "hooded men", Bloody Sunday, and Bobby Sands all found a place in his narrative, references that clearly struck a chord with his followers but which are meaningless to the voters who will be charged with the responsibility of electing the next government of this State.
But readers of this newspaper will have noted that the moment that attracted the loudest and most visceral roars of approval from an adoring audience was when he said, "The Shinner I know is not the one depicted in Independent Newspapers."
Unfortunately for Mr Adams, the true colours of the Shinners we know became apparent within days of his speech. The Shinners who ran for cover when the horrors of Paudie McGahon's painfully and patently honest tale of how he was raped when a teenager by an IRA visitor to his family's home and the sickening irony of that home's description as an IRA safe house has now compounded the obscenities of the IRA's treatment of Mairia Cahill.
Tommie Gorman, RTE's Northern Ireland correspondent, went to the heart of the matter in a news bulletin on Thursday night as he tried to explain Sinn Fein's willingness to bring the Northern Ireland government to the brink of collapse on the one hand, and its refusal to tell the gardai of the crimes committed by the sexual predators in the IRA on the other.
The key to understanding Sinn Fein's self-righteous claims to infallibility, its inability to recognise that it can ever be wrong, neatly captured in the disingenuous banality of its latest cliche that rapists can no longer be regarded as republicans, Mr Gorman suggested, could be summarised in one word: absolutism.
So it can and it is now high time for the voters to give serious consideration to whether they should offer an absolutist party incapable of shedding its Northern roots any chance of forming part of the government of this State.
Ronan Fanning is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at University College Dublin; his biography of Eamon de Valera will be published in October.