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is detected in a shameful fraud is ever after not believed even if they
speak the truth.
During the week there was an amusing sports report referring to the luck of two punters at the horses. During the race one of the jockeys came off his mount. The two race-goers immediately ran to the racecourse bookie and bet two pound each that the rider would remount and go on to win the race. Their entrepreneurial instinct was rewarded with a pay-out of £2000. Their gamble had paid off. But would any bookie give you 1000/1 odds against Sinn Fein eventually taking their seats in Westminster?
For the party to be where it is today amounts to an amazing turnaround. Franz Kafka would have had difficulties conjuring up that labyrinthine plot for any of his novels. Gerry Adams once told us that Guy Fawkes had the right attitude to the Houses of Parliament: a point heavily underlined when the IRA bombed those who led the House as they met, slept, partied or planned repression in Brighton's Grand Hotel eighteen years ago and which prompted the remark from the Sinn Fein president that the attack was a blow for democracy.
Of course to lessen our sense of bafflement at the latest shift we shall for the moment be assured that it is a beachhead on the road to a united Ireland, a new phase of struggle, a courageous and imaginative initiative made possible by the undefeated IRA, a momentary tactical manoeuvre, even a patriotic act which helped save the peace process - again. George Orwell would have marvelled at the doublespeak employed. It is so self-evidently embarrassing that even David Trimble can confidently joke about it.
By now we should be well accustomed to this being the type of fig leaf given to every defeat or broken promise. Watching the Sinn Fein MPs sitting beneath the large Irish Tricolour flag in their new London office the acerbic comment of a journalist friend crossed my mind - the bigger the flag the greater the sell-out. But it passed as quickly as it had arrived. Terms like ‘sell-out’ always conjure up images of a fundamentalist stridency on the part of the user rather than provide insight into the motivations and behaviour of those against whom the allegation is levelled. In its place however, I was reminded of the old joke about the idiot that lost his key in the dark but began to search for it beneath the light. In response to suggestions that the search was futile as the key had not been lost at the spot where the idiot was searching, he replied 'I know I lost it in the dark but it is easier to look for it in the light'. Sinn Fein off in London searching for a republicanism long since lost! What are the chances of it being found again in a British parliament where the antithesis of any republicanism – the monarchy – is sovereign?
While the Sinn Fein leadership are by no means idiots, our friend the bookie would have a field day if enough others proved sufficiently idiotic to queue up to bet that bums on seats shall not be the end result of the Westminster foray even if the oath is allowed to be taken in Irish. He may even offer a double - George Bush will declare America Islamic before his term of office expires.
Apart, perhaps, from those who tell us we shall have a United Ireland in 2016, few are brave enough to claim they can predict the future. So it is not an iron law that Sinn Fein will take their seats in Westminster. Yet plausible projections can be made from consistent trends. Brian Feeney in one of his columns remarked that Sinn Fein had ‘unsaid everything they said in the seventies and eighties and ultimately settled for less than the SDLP got in 1973, which republicans regarded then as a sell out’. So, when Gerry Adams stated that his MPs will never take their seats in Westminster as the centre of political gravity lay elsewhere for the party it was almost as if a game of intellectual Russian roulette was being played to see how far the rank and file could be pushed and treated like mushrooms before a voice would say 'enough'.
Yet in terms of dissent the trigger only ever hits an empty chamber. It is so humiliating to think that republicans on the ground are treated and in many cases behave as victims of what Jenny McCartney once called goldfish syndrome who are perpetually condemned to forget that they swallowed the same old nonsense time out of number. Nonsense such as ‘I can give you a commitment on behalf of the leadership that we have absolutely no intention of going to Westminster or Stormont …. Our position is clear and it will never, never, never change. The war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved … there will never, ever, be IRA decommissioning, an IRA surrender.’
But once this latest beachhead in the struggle for a united Ireland is secured there will appear a new strategic height to win and a new radical arena of struggle to be created. And who then would bet against the emergence of Lord Gortahork privatising his way to a socialist republic from the revolutionary upper house?
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