Stand by for fresh concessions to Sinn Fein after Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had a free dinner with the Queen Elizabeth at Windsor,
Dissident republicans will seek to spin McGuiness’ royal soirée as further evidence that the peace-loving wing of his party is getting too cosy with the British.
There is enduring bitterness about the negotiations that spawned the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, a move which partitioned Ireland and sparked the bloody Irish Civil War in which republican butchered republican.
In Irish history, there is nothing so brutal as a republican feud. During the Irish Civil War, pro and anti-Treaty republicans carried out more atrocities against each other than the Black and Tans did in the War of Independence.
However, McGuinness did not become a senior Derry IRA commander for nothing. As he supped with the Queen, he out-manoeuvred both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Irish President Michael D Higgins.
McGuinness sought to show the British and Irish establishments that Sinn Fein is worthy of being a minority coalition partner after the next Dail poll. Sinn Fein must prove that it has truly shifted from being the apologist for a well-oiled murder machine to a modern, democratic political party with which either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael could do business.
The message is simple: if the Queen goes to Croke Park (scene of the notorious massacre by British troops in 1920), and McGuinness entered Windsor, then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams can become Tanaiste – Deputy Prime Minister – in Leinster House.
The “normalisation” and “democratisation” of Sinn Fein is underway. In fact, Sinn Fein is reaching out so many hands to Unionism, the joke is that “PSF” should stand for Protestant Sinn Fein rather than Provisional Sinn Fein.
The well-polished behaviour of many in 2014 SF is reminiscent of the 1970s democratic republican organisation run by the late Protestant councillor, John Turnley of the Irish Independence Party, who was murdered by the UDA
But two more hurdles still have to be cleared before the transformation is complete. First, like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, Sinn Fein MPs need to take their Westminster seats. Second, Sinn Fein needs to find less provocative ways of commemorating dead IRA members.
The Queen Elizabeth may have laid a wreath commemorating Irish patriots who fought against Britain during the War of Independence, but if there is to be any royal presence at the centenary of the Easter Rising in two years’ time, Sinn Fein cannot afford a repeat of the Tyrone Volunteers debacle in Castlederg. That was little more than an “Up yours” to the Unionist community, following loyalism’s demand to march past the Ardoyne Shops in north Belfast.
Just as McGuinness will want something in return for meeting the Queen, so will the British want a favour from republicans if she is to lay a wreath in Dublin in 2016 in memory of James Connolly and company.
The immediate benefit for Sinn Fein could be to return up to four MEPs across Ireland in May’s European poll, as well as take the majority of Northern Ireland’s nationalist seats in the new super council elections.
But how does Sinn Fein please its hawks? Sinn Fein bosses have been relatively successful at maintaining a public image of a well-disciplined party. A dissident republican political alternative is a non-starter. Unlike the Unionist family, there will be no split republican vote. The worst-case scenario is a slight rise in nationalist voter apathy.
If McGuinness is really smart, he’ll appoint a few republican hard men to seemingly important posts thereby bluffing the hawks into thinking they have a future in Sinn Fein.
However, in this era of the normalisation of republican politics and the democratisation of Sinn Fein, does Gerry Adams really have the profile, personality and appropriate past to become Tanaiste?