WHAT’S GERRY GOING TO DO? – By Brian Rowan

 

 

There were no advance copies of the speech. Nothing issued or released under embargo to be checked against delivery.

Not this time.

Until he spoke to that packed audience at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday, the precise intentions of Gerry Adams were known to very few.

It really was one of those ‘need to know’ moments.

Many have spent years trying to read between the Adams lines and, in the build up to this speech, the task was trying to read his mind, or the minds of those closest to him.

Looking – watching – for a clue.

“What’s Gerry going to do?”

This was the talking point, the question in the waiting for this Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.

 

 

As Adams prepared to take the stage, I spotted his close aide Richard McAuley at the back of the hall – a hard copy of the speech in his hand, and I waited for the page and the paragraph and the point of this speech.

Waited for the answer to that question: What’s Gerry going to do?

That page turn was kept to the end.

 

 

This was the last moment in a two-day conference that addressed the detail of politics north and south and that remembered the late Martin McGuinness in a tribute fashioned out of music, poem and words – the latter spoken by Elisha McCallion.

There was loud applause when the Foyle MP said McGuinness had been “a proud member of the IRA”.

“We miss Martin,” Adams added in his speech.

Saturday night was another of those occasions when some questions were answered – but many remain unanswered.

When does stepping aside = stepping away?

What about the Adams IRA story? His version of that.

Will it ever be told by him? Will we ever arrive at a process that would allow him to do so?

There is a chapter in his latest book ‘NEVER GIVE UP’ under the heading – ‘British Secretaries of State I Have Known’ and there is a sentence in brackets.

“(Whitelaw was also the first that I met, as republicans attempted to negotiate with the British government in the summer of that year [1972], but that’s a story for another time.)”

It is just one story, among many untold stories.

We will always be reading between the Adams lines – waiting for and on “another time”.

His story – like many other stories relating to many across the conflict and peace frames – will never be complete.

Of course, there are those who will only ever see him – as they saw McGuinness – in the actions of the IRA, in the slaughter and destruction of past decades.

A hate figure. Someone to blame.

Such a focus leaves much unseen.

It allows others to escape the stage.

Adams is part of the story of the conflict and peace of this place. Not all of it.

He is part of a community that was hurt and is hurting.

Part of what happened; but something happened to make the conflict happen.

Are we ready for the exploration of that question?

In the here and now, we are watching a transition at the top of the republican leadership; watching as Adams gets closer to leaving that leadership to others, including Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill.

Can Stormont be fixed before Adams steps away?

There is no change in the answer to that question.

Only if those rights-based issues at the heart of months of negotiations are resolved.

There is no other way back.

“These issues aren’t going away,” Adams emphasised in that speech on Saturday evening.

We wait now for his next move.

The date for a Special Ard Fheis in 2018 when Sinn Fein will elect its next President and Adams steps down from that leadership position.

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Will it arrive with the politics of this place still in free fall?

Who will be the Sinn Fein leader when we get to that moment?

Just some of the questions as the next paragraphs and pages are considered and prepared.

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