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Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Lessons to be learned from the sudden crisis. Photo by: Photocall

Disconnect between US and Irish over Gerry Adams arrest

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Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Lessons to be learned from the sudden crisis. Photo by: Photocall

The suddenness of the Gerry Adams crisis revealed a major disconnect between the United States and the Irish government, which was worrying.

The Irish government very much viewed it from the internal perspective of the upcoming elections and some government supporters – including those in the media – were positively gleeful about the damage it would do Sinn Fein in the south.

Perhaps they were lulled into the belief that the sectarian beast had been tamed after the recent Irish presidential visit to London and the pomp and palaver that accompanied that.

They failed to recognize that the Adams arrest situation could very easily have developed into a full-blown crisis given the seething anger on the Republican side and the willingness among dissidents and Loyalists to exploit that.

Even Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the most tactful of politicians, was publicly outraged and threatened policing co-operation.

McGuinness has spent years finding a way, with commendable patience, working first with Ian Paisley and now with Peter Robinson.

He has even attended parties in Windsor Castle for the queen, much against his personal preference and in white tie to boot.

Given those kind of outreaches McGuinness was surely correct to feel utterly blindsided by the PSNI arrest, whatever motivated it.

The American perspective was very different than the Irish one; the arrest was seen as a fully-fledged threat to the peace process, created by sinister forces that were, as usual, unknowable. The domestic aspect of the election had no impact whatever.

We have all been lulled into a false sense of security over the peace process. The failure of the Irish state to recognize the explosive potential of the Adams arrest was a clear indication of that.

Indeed, it was only when senior politicians in America and in Britain began to voice deep concern that the Irish state became energized.

Sinn Fein did exactly the right thing by dispatching their General Secretary Rita O’Hare, who is very well known in the US, across the Atlantic immediately. She impressed on Irish American community leaders and politicians the immediate danger to the process that the arrest presented.

The reaction was swift. Irish America is especially proud of the Irish peace process. They first involved President Clinton, who was indispensable to the process at its key moments as was his envoy George Mitchell.

There were three legs to the success of the process, the US, the Hume/Adams axis and the Irish and British governments.

Time has moved on and many of the arbiters of that process – Clinton, Albert Reynolds, David Trimble, Bertie Ahern, John Hume, Tony Blair, and John Major – have moved on, but Adams still remains a key lynchpin.

The unknown consequences of the arrest were what scared figures such as Congressmen Peter King, Joe Crowley, Richie Neal and others.

Statements they made ensured the American voice was heard loud and clear in the debate while massive coverage in the media ensured that Northern Irish authorities were fully aware of the American interest.

The facts are that you could arrest many of the major political figures of a certain age in Sinn Fein or the DUP, given that they were involved in the conflict in whatever way before they became involved in the peace process.

Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley for instance took part in the creation of the Loyalist Third Force, a paramilitary movement set up after the Anglo Irish Agreement was signed and Robinson was filmed in paramilitary regalia. David Trimble also had paramilitary ties and still won the Nobel Prize.

So why go down a very dangerous path and who benefitted from such an approach?

Cui Bono as the Latin scholars say.

The fact that the issue of victim’s rights has not been dealt with is not Sinn Fein’s problem. They were ready to sign up to the agreement put forward by US envoy Richard Haass last December, but it was the unionists' leaders who balked.

Now, tragically, the McConville’s grief and suffering is judged against the worthiness of other victims of the Troubles as they all fight for just recognition of their grief and pain.

If there is one good outcome that can come of this shambolic attempt to nail Adams, it is a properly constituted victims tribunal that can adjudicate claims on a continuing and non-partisan basis.

But somehow I am not holding my breath.

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