While many republicans have been outraged by the move, I don’t even find it mildly upsetting, feeling the same as I would have had Gerry Fitt done likewise. British ministers meet British queens. Not much new there. As Mark Devenport of the BBC quipped after interviewing Gerry Adams republicans could at least claim to have one principle left – they would not be supporting England against the Italians in tonight’s game. Not much dignity salvaged there.
Whatever one thinks of Martin McGuinness as a British minister, it is indisputable that he is one. Maybe it is for strategic reasons or ones of naked careerist ambition but he is what he is. That he was chief of staff of the IRA at the time it killed the Queen’s relative, Lord Louis Mountbatten, makes it a spicy feature story. But that’s about the height of it. Meeting the queen shows not how republicanism has advanced but rather how it has retreated and been boxed in by the situational logic of searching for respectability. He is not meeting the queen like some other former guerrillas did: as a representative of a nation that had secured independence from the British. He is meeting her as a mere functionary in one of the lower echelons of her state’s, not an autonomous state’s, machinery.
Norman Tebbit, a member of the Thatcher cabinet who suffered grievously as a result of the IRA strike against the heart of the British and Tory establishment in Brighton in 1984, reportedly smiled, rather than vented outrage, when asked about the meeting due to take place in Belfast’s Lyric Hall this Wednesday. From a man with a vitriolic hatred for the IRA, it was telling. He compared McGuinness to the Danish king, Guthrum, whose army was heavily defeated by the English in 878. Guthrum, a pagan, was brought to King Alfred of England, a Christian. Alfred offered him terms: be baptised a Christian. Tebbit commented, ‘we can have our doubts as to whether he understood fully the doctrine of Christianity... but he took the water.’
Republicanism bowing to monarchy might seem absurd. But it is quite some time since Sinn Fein could genuinely claim to be republican in any sense that resembled the republicanism of their war years. Like the pigs in Animal Farm they have become indistinguishable from the farmers they vowed to overthrow. Then there is the realpolitik of the situation which is: the British queen rules over Martin McGuinness as his queen and he her subject. He does not preside over her in his role as deputy minister to Peter Robinson, being a servant of the crown, a status his party has proved unable to do much about other than unconvincingly try to deny it. Sort of says something about the nature of the relationship between Britain and British Northern Ireland, where there is no joint authority, and where the British alone are sovereign.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, Gerry Adams pretends that the event has nothing to do with the Jubilee. Just as he has a penchant for pretending about other things. There are few to believe him even if it is considered impolitic to always say so.
Seeking to play the moderate card Adams claimed the decision to have McGuinness meet the queen ‘reflects a confident, dynamic, forward looking Sinn Féin demonstrating our genuine desire to embrace our unionist neighbours.’ Will unionists see it that way? Unlikely if Cormac Lucey is right:
There was quite an extraordinary finding by an industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland this week. It found that there had been “a material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background” during Conor Murphy’s time as Belfast Minister of Regional Development. The finding of sectarian bias against a Sinn Féin minister is a colossal embarrassment for a party which styles itself “republican” and which has a formal “outreach programme” into the unionist and Protestant community. Those Protestants who responded to SF’s outreach programme must feel like right eejits.
Come forth from your graves
The H Block ten
And watch Sinn Fein bow
Just like Englishmen