So Gerry Adams TD, the leader of Sinn Féin, has been released after several days of detention and interrogation by the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in Ireland. Despite the pressure of SF’s political rivals, north and south, not to mention the country’s ideologically anti-Republican news media no charges were laid against him though a file has been sent by the PSNI to the northern Director of Public Prosecutions (and what a political hot potato that will be). Am I the only one struck by the irony of Irish newspapers and politicians welcoming the arrest and detention of a democratically elected member of Dáil Éireann, the national parliament of Ireland, by a foreign-controlled police force under foreign-imposed laws in our country? Forget the Ukraine, we have our very own Crimea complete with enemies-within right here on our island nation. In any case Gerry Adams was given a hero’s welcome upon his release despite the presence of a crowd of militant flag-wavers from the British Unionist minority outside the PSNI base where he was being held (Adams left by the back door while the Unionist extremists demonstrated impotently out the front). In a fairly lengthy press conference the Sinn Féin leader proved yet again why a recent poll named him the most popular party leader in Ireland. Though one can legitimately make many criticisms of Adams a lack of intelligence and natural charm cannot be counted among them. If the expectations of the Irish and British establishments was the rolling back of the rising SF electoral tide what may have seemed likely a few days ago may well prove to have backfired in the days to come. Only time will tell.
However even allowing for the possibility of SF emerging intact from the current controversies one must highlight some uncomfortable home truths for the (Provisional) Republican movement. Simply put Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin have brought this trouble on themselves through their overweening pride and their too-frequent willingness to turn a blind eye when the draconian foot was on the political neck of someone else. For several years Republicans in Ireland, within SF as well as independent or non-aligned, have been warning the party that they were pursuing the wrong policies in relation to dealing with “legacy issues” of the Long War as well as the ongoing administration of justice in the north-east of the country. Again and again activists called for the establishment of a general amnesty tied to a South African-style truth commission while Sinn Féin vacillated on the issue. When observers highlighted the failure to truly reform policing and the slow infiltration of the PSNI with ex-RUC personnel they were ignored or shouted down. When former comrades pointed to the veto on political and legislative progress exercised by Unionists they were denounced or cold-shouldered. Blaming one-time (P)IRA Volunteer and writer Anthony McIntyre or veteran journalist Ed Moloney for the arrest and interrogation of Gerry Adams is not only unfair it is politically self-deluding. One can question motivations all one wants, that will not obscure Sinn Féin’s own failures. Additionally attacking rival Republican parties or organisations for their alleged role in “felon setting” is simple cowardice and chicanery. When former Volunteers of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army face arrest and imprisonment for their past actions in the conflict while former soldiers of the British Army face comfortable, well-pensioned retirements for their actions then the fault is entirely that of (Provisional) Sinn Féin and no one else.
The leadership of SF need to turn their gaze and ire inward. They were presented with numerous opportunities to put in place a “fix” (or many “fixes”) to all the questions and points raised by others over the last decade and consistently failed to do so. Instead the line of least resistance was followed while advantage was taken of potentially booby-trapped mechanisms to side-line rivals and critics. While accepting the obvious political motivations driving the campaign to criminalise Gerry Adams and the nexus of interests that favour it one cannot help but think that what goes around comes around.