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Friday night in Dublin’s Long Haul pub, the news has just come in. Bush and Blair will rendevous in Belfast. Aznar and his Azores retreat are forgotten in favour of Hilsborough Castle and an informal book is opened in the pub. 3 to 1 against Gerry Adams shaking Bush’s hand. Punters are divided along gender lines, the ladies insisting that Gerry will do it while the gents prefer to think he wont, or rather he cant. There is little question that this poses an enormous problem for Adams. Sinn Fein, the party he leads and the new kids on the block in the southern Dail, have assumed a stridently anti war position. Yet second on the agenda for the war summit is the Irish peace process and Gerry will be loath to publicly snub the leader of the free world. Are ye with us or against us Gerry?
Blair must have bolted upright during a sleepless night when the inspiration for this stunt occurred to him. So clever does it appear, unassailable in fact, that little thought seems invested in it. It’s a great shit idea. By Sunday the British papers were predicting that the IRA would ‘stand down’ within the week. Bush, they imagined, would put it up to Adams that he must initiate IRA decommissioning fortwith lest the North be left behind the great wave of democratisation sweeping across the Atlantic and beyond to Basra.
Meanwhile the news of Bush’s visit to the north was greeted with open disgust across the Island. Bad enough that the country’s second airport, Shannon, has been press ganged into service but that the peace process is to be turned out in similar manner seems an intolerable insult to most. Whats more, the president of the United States will be welcomed to Ireland by a British Prime Minister. Regardless of the general disdain for Bush the land of a thousand welcomes will not thank anyone, never mind the leader of Sinn Fein, for being party to a monstrosity such as this.
The Anglo-American idea appears to be that the worlds public will register the Irish peace process in the same moment as the invasion of Iraq and so conclude that the two are comparable. If that’s the case then we can look forward to little more than robust dialogue, healthy disagreement, intransigence and strong doses of Anglo-American democratic maturation. The hearts and minds campaign of British paratroopers in Basra will lead, in short order, to a free press and peoples councils. Unfortunately a similar campaign by British forces in Ireland lead to 30 years of Bloody Sundays, plastic bullets, torture, assassination, censorship, terrorism and guerilla warfare.
Unbelievably the summit coincides closely with the release of the Stevens report. After more than 10 years of investigations into police and British army collusion with loyalist death squads in the North Sir John Stevens (a British copper) will issue his report next week and is expected to recommend the prosecution of up to 20 senior police, intelligence and army officers who were attached to the ‘ultra-secret’ Force Research Unit (FRU). Their activities included the targeting of perceived enemies of the state for assassination. The victims included the celebrated Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane who was shot dead by loyalists in 1989. During the period in question the FRU was headed by Brigadier Gordon Kerr, now serving in Iraq and presumably still busy with hearts and minds ‘ops’.
Few in Sinn Fein will relish becoming hostage to Blairs sordid propaganda effort and fewer still who voted for the party or would do next time round will be impressed by Adams choosing the pragmatic path of least diplomatic resistance and embracing the Hilsborough war council. Thousands will travel from all over Ireland and Britain to protest the meeting. It could prove to be Gerry Adams finest hour but the women’s money suggests otherwise.
JIM DAVIS is a filmmaker. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org