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Denis Bradley: Gerry Adams is now a hindrance and has to go

Gerry Adams wrote an article urging other parties to engage in debate over a united Ireland
Denis Bradley

Gerry Adams should ride off into the sunset. That day has arrived. No matter what good or important contribution already made, his presence is now a hindrance. He shouldn’t see it as a slight, it happens to one and all.

Earlier this week, he published an article in this paper. It was an important article about a New Ireland in the wake of the Brexit chaos, highlighting the imagination that should characterise such a debate. It was referencing a new Sinn Féin blueprint for a united Ireland.

The document in question is comprehensive and challenging to both nationalists and unionists. It also appealed to all the other Irish parties, especially Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to fully engage in the debate. That appeal is timely. Unfortunately, at this time and in this place, the message will be obscured by the messenger.

Time and tide waits for no man and neither does politics. The Fresh Start had given Sinn Féin and the DUP a welcome year of serenity and the calmer atmosphere was showing signs of new growth. But most of that was swept away by Brexit. The assembly and the executive are rendered irrelevant and are going to be for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

The local and the ceremonial will still have to be attended to and should not be demeaned and, like the poor, will always be with us. But the politics that decide and define constitutional and relationship issues has gone to a different place. The context and the substance of politics has radically shifted and because of that, the assembly is a backwater, far from the main highway. As yet, there is no indication that the bulk of our local politicians and political parties understand the shift that has taken place. Little insight that their future will be decided elsewhere.

Every nationalist party in Ireland is striving to sketch out the impact of Brexit. Since Enda Kenny came to power, his minders were determined to keep the north off his table. And yet twice in the last two months he has referenced that Irish unity is within the spectrum of possibility. Micheál Martin is passionately and insightfully arguing the importance of special status for the north within the EU. There is a growing consensus that if the EU survives its internal tensions (that is not a given) and Brexit goes ahead (that is not a given) the political and economic structures of this island will change radically.

For the second time in modern history a ‘pan nationalist front’ has been created (this time Alliance and the Greens are somewhere in the mix). The first ‘pan nationalist front’ was one of the main catalysts in bringing peace to this island. It, more than anything, persuaded the British government to enter a more public and focused negotiation with Irish nationalists and republicans which, in turn, forced unionism into coming to realistic compromises with everyone else.

This new ‘front’ has been foisted upon Ireland by the decision of our English neighbours that they wanted, at worst, to return to their glory days or, at best, to go it alone. It was obviously an unforeseen consequence but as Gerry Adams argues, it changes everything.

And that is the reason why Gerry should stand down.

The argument that he was a liability to the success or otherwise of growing Sinn Féin in the south was the rightful prerogative of the Sinn Féin membership. But in the ‘nationalist front’ that is now forming, he is not trusted and his presence will be a hindrance. For a variety of reasons, he is the ‘bête noir’ to the southern parties. It will be difficult enough to keep coherence and focus in the complicated and fraught discussions that lie ahead. No matter how good or persuasive Sinn Féin documents might be, Gerry’s presence will be a block and a distraction.

That has consequences for all of Ireland. The egos that jostle with the greater good is omnipresent but nowhere more present than in politics.

As unionism creeps or is dragged towards an understanding of the consequences of Brexit and as it weans itself to the knowledge that a new accommodation is needed and may be inevitable within the island of Ireland, Gerry will be used and abused as a blocking mechanism.

That often happens in politics and, fair or unfair to the recipient, it is seldom reversible. The best that can be done is to grab the moment and go with dignity.

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