The occasion of Great Britain’s recent decision to suspend Northern Ireland’s fledgling, power-sharing, Protestant-Catholic government had me re-reading my notes from Gerry Adams’ barnstorming American tour last year. Florida was on the itinerary, and I listened to the Sinn Fein leader at the University of Tampa and at Colin Breen’s Four Green Fields Irish Pub near downtown Tampa.
Adams — who’s no Lucky Charms cut-up — can be pleasant and polite. But the tenor of his comments, in the context of the precarious state of the Good Friday Agreement, was as disarming as it was illuminating. Adams is brinkmanship incarnate.
The current deal-breaker, of course, is the IRA’s reluctance to turn over weapons — “decommissioning” as it’s called in the argot of disarmament. And to do it with enough specificity of detail to assure all parties of Sinn Fein’s commitment to non-violence and the 72-day-old, now suspended, Belfast government. As of now, talks remain broken off with the official disarmament panel of Gen. John de Chastelain of Canada. Secure Semtex supplies and caches of automatic weapons are reminders that the IRA is still armed and not ready for the alternative.
In his Tampa appearance, Adams made clear that the Good Friday peace accord and what was to become the shared-power experiment in self-government was merely a “short term, strategic goal.” Unification with the Republic of Ireland remained, unwaveringly, the long-term goal. And, according to Adams, “long term” is not all that “long” as demographic patterns continue to favor Northern Ireland’s Catholic population. More like “15-25 years out,” he said. In other words, a favorable self-determination scenario looms large.
“Irish unity will manifest itself in whatever society people want,” he stated a year ago. “Peace is not just the absence of violence. It’s also justice