The Marching Season in Northern Ireland Looks Threatening. and This Week's Election Results in Dublin Offer Little Prospect for Hope

By Lloyd, John | New Statesman (1996), June 13, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Marching Season in Northern Ireland Looks Threatening. and This Week's Election Results in Dublin Offer Little Prospect for Hope


Lloyd, John, New Statesman (1996)


Northern Ireland faces a summer of some danger. No event of this year has defused the tensions rising round the season of marches which reaches its climax next month, and a number have increased it. There may be a way out: but it is not obvious.

The victory of Fianna Fail in the Irish Republic brings to power a party whose leaders tend to be more republican, at least in rhetoric, than those of Fine Gael. Before the election Bertie Ahern, the future prime minister, called for Sinn Fein to be included in talks even before the IRA, of which Sinn Fein is the political voice, called a ceasefire. He corrected this to fit with the consensus that ceasefire must precede inclusion, but could not correct the impression that he is closer to the IRA than a senior politician should be - an impression that deepened when he met Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, two weeks before the election.

Sinn Fein has achieved a popularity and a standing the organisation could not have dreamed of even a year ago: the legacy of their apparent support for the "peace" process, the huge personal credibility Gerry Adams gained by his meeting with President Bill Clinton and the identification by Sinn Fein of the huge drug problem in inner-city Dublin. Adams is now a superstar in international terms. He has lent this lustre to a party which, though it remains committed to terror, can, through him, pose as equally committed to peace on republicans' terms.

The organisation now has two UK MPs (who will not take their seats), one deputy in the Dail and leading positions in a range of Northern Irish local councils. Adams said earlier this week, when welcoming the election of Sinn Fein's Caoimhgin O Caolain, that "I think you are going to see a new ball game entirely in terms of Sinn Fein's influence."

Sinn Fein has been talking for the past three weeks to officials of the Northern Irish office about its participation in the talks. These have centred on the decommissioning of weapons - a demand that Sinn Fein rejects, saying it would leave them disarmed before the attacks of loyalist gangs. It is also likely that no ceasefire will be declared during the summer. …

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