he said ‘one of the least satisfactory engagements’ he has had with a British prime minister since the onset of the peace process.Just yesterday it was Easter Sunday, a time of poignant memory for republicans given the graves that claim space in many cemeteries throughout Ireland. Easter Sunday also serves, painfully, to remind republicans of how little was actually achieved by the armed campaign. Even measured by its own reformist gauge, rather than a republican one, the gains Sinn Fein made are undergoing sustained erosion. Martin McGuinness complained that the Irish and British governments are not paying attention. The meeting he had with British Tory Prime Minister David Cameron was
That hardly comes as a great shock to onlookers. Why should Cameron pay attention to somebody so far down the administrative food chain? McGuinness might consider himself a big fish but he swims in a small pond that the British can drain whenever it suits them. It has been clear that Cameron has not been listening to McGuinness or his fellow nationalists for quite some time. Surely the backtracking on Blair’s commitments in the Finucane case should have showed McGuinness that much.
The British, fully aware that they are in the driving seat, consider McGuinness in strategic terms to have outlived his usefulness to them. The need to protect both his and Adams’ hegemony within the Provisional Movement is no longer considered a strategic imperative. There is no need to play the Blair/Powell game of drip feeding concessions and massaging egos by fanning the old nonsense that Sinn Fein leaders were great negotiators. It no longer matters who leads the Provos, as far as the British state is concerned; their defeat is now irreversible.
Cameron has McGuinness doing his bidding, implementing the Tory economics, denouncing the means of violent conflict he long championed, making today’s republicans look mild and tame by comparison. The Tories call the shots for Sinn Fein. And Sinn Fein, since the decommissioning of IRA weaponry, has to all intents and purposes no shots to call.
Now Cameron’s analysis might be flawed but not because the Provos will upset the apple cart. They are unlikely to take their snouts out of the gravy trough but there are others who seem to be getting a lift from a certain reversion to form in the policing and justice arena. The peace process might not be under serious threat but the same cannot be said of the peace. And ultimately, the peace is more important than the process.
Even if it is not the intention of the British state to welsh on its commitments, and what is happening is just something that has resulted from an eye being taken off the ball, or a foot unconsciously lifted away from the pedal of progress - a situation that is slipped into rather than one deliberately beckoned – the fact remains that there is no longer a sense of forward momentum. The North is looking back more often it seems than forward. There is no opposition to Tory rule. Sinn Fein has lost the plot. Although republicans tend to blame the party for not doing anything about the prison issue, the fact is that there is nothing Sinn Fein can do. The party is powerless and has vindicated its republican critics who told them they were on the path to impotence rather than importance.
And at this point in the republican calendar it is hard for republicans not to be acutely aware of the gulf between Easter Sunday objectives and Good Friday achievements: two days in ordinary time but light years apart in political currency.
Meanwhile the discord grows that little bit more audible and few seem to be listening.