New Yorker Discussion On Northern Ireland’s Past

An interesting conversation here between the New Yorker magazine’s Patrick Keefe, who wrote the recently published, much discussed, much praised and lengthy piece on Jean McConville and Gerry Adams, and Philip Gourevitch, a writer for the magazine who has specialised in covering the conflict in Rwanda. The discussion is moderated by Amy Davison.

Here is the audio preceded by the website’s intro:

The murder, in 1972, of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten living in Belfast, is one of the most notorious crimes committed by the I.R.A. during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Patrick Radden Keefe wrote about the McConville killing, and about the alleged involvement of the prominent Irish politician Gerry Adams, in a recent issue of the magazine. On this week’s Out Loud podcast, Keefe and Philip Gourevitch join Amy Davidson to talk about the aftermath of the Troubles and the path to peace in Northern Ireland.

There’s a common misconception in the United States, Keefe says, that the Irish conflict was largely resolved by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. “I was really shocked,” he says, “when I spent time in Belfast for this story, to find a society that’s still really profoundly divided, and in which some of the terrible things that have happened in the past stubbornly refuse to stay in the past.” Some politicians, including Gerry Adams, talk about the dangers of scratching at old wounds, but Gourevitch, who has written extensively about reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda, contends that unless past traumas are acknowledged, it’s almost impossible for torn societies to heal. “In terms of the historical process,” he says, “there has to be a sense that they’re living inside the same story.”

Barra McGrory Pursues Dying Man Over ‘On The Run’ Letter

A former republican prisoner who may have only days or weeks left to live is facing trial for an offence committed in 1977 because the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Barra McGrory claims that the ‘letter of comfort’ given to him by the Blair government promising no prosecution was issued in error.

The case is almost a replica of the controversy surrounding John Downey, the alleged IRA bomber, whose trial on murder charges arising from the 1982 Hyde Park bombing collapsed when his lawyers argued successfully that the ‘comfort letter’ he had received protected him from prosecution.

Barra McGrory, North's DPP - wants to prosecute a dying man and tear up his 'comfort letter' promising no prosecution

Barra McGrory, North’s DPP – wants to prosecute a dying man and tear up his ‘comfort letter’ promising no prosecution

It emerged later that Downey’s ‘comfort letter’ had been issued by mistake since he was wanted by British police when it was issued and the affair has pitched the legal and political authorities in Britain into an embarrassing controversy, while the Cameron government’s decision to set the other ‘comfort letters’ aside has raised charges that the British are reneging on an important agreement made during the peace process negotiations with Sinn Fein.

Sixty-seven year old Michael Burns from North Belfast has terminal COPD, a progressive lung disease which makes it harder to breathe with age, and is now receiving palliative care, which means that doctors have effectively given up hope of reversing the disease and are now focusing on making his final days comfortable.

Sources familiar with the case say that the prosecuting authorities have refused to consider dropping the case on health grounds even though Burns may not live long enough for a trial to happen.

His lawyers intend to challenge the DPP’s claim, which essentially revolves around the question of whether the PSNI made a mistake when Burns was issued with one of the so-called ‘comfort letters’ and what they should have done once they realised a mistake had been made.

They will maintain at a hearing scheduled for mid-April in the Belfast High Court that withdrawing the ‘comfort letter’ now, over a decade after it was issued and long after they realised it had been issued in error, amounts to an abuse of process by the North’s legal authorities. The authorities’ failure to act once the mistake had been identified means that the letter should stand and that Burns should not be charged or tried.

The North’s DPP, Barra McGrory will, it is understood, counter-argue that Burns should never have received a ‘comfort letter’ in the first place because he was wanted by the police in Belfast when it was issued and that therefore the letter had no standing.

It is not clear just whether this case will set a precedent for others who received the ‘comfort letters’ since the letter issued to Michael Burns was one of three that the authorities now claim were issued by mistake. Nonetheless it is likely to have an impact on the growing controversy surrounding the matter with concern growing that it could have an adverse impact on the peace process.

As far as the other 225 letters are concerned the Cameron government, boosted by a recent House of Commons committee report, has withdrawn them and asserted that they are legally worthless.

As reports emerge of further possible PSNI and British police action against those issued with the letters, dissident republicans are likely to argue that the British have reneged on an important part of the peace deal and that Sinn Fein is powerless to stop them. So far Sinn Fein has remained silent about the affair, at least in public.

The ‘comfort letter’ issued to Michael Burns was sent to him on June 18th, 2003 and like the other 227  letters said that there were no warrants out in his name, that he was not wanted by the police in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge.

Burns had been living south of the Border since 1977 when he left Belfast after an apparent shooting incident. Not long after his move he was arrested and convicted for an armed robbery and served eleven years in the republican wing of Portlaoise jail.

During this time the RUC applied for his extradition on charges of attempted murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, an offence which the Northern authorities say happened in 1977. The extradition bid was refused and when he was released he remained south of the Border until the ‘comfort letter’ was issued to him, after which he returned to his native north Belfast.

Sources familiar with the case say that the PSNI moved against Michael Burns, arresting him and charging him with attempted murder and firearms offences, before the trial of John Downey collapsed in February 2014. Confirmation of this claim has proved elusive but if true this suggests that the moves against John Downey and Michael Burns may have been part of a strategy to undermine the ‘comfort letters’ rather than a coincidence.

Movement in the case against Michael Burns has been delayed thanks to a lengthy wrangle between his lawyers and the legal aid authorities in Belfast over payments to barristers involved in the abuse of process action. The legal aid officials refused to award a payment commensurate with the complex task of preparing legal arguments and no barrister at the Bar Library would take the case on.

Burns’ lawyers sought a judicial review of the legal aid decision and last week Mr Justice Treacy ruled in Burns’ favour, thereby opening the door to what will be a closely-watched tussle in the never-ending controversy over the ‘On-The-Run’ letters.

Whether Michael Burns will still be around when it happens is, though, another question.

(My thanks to Peter Sefton who tipped me off about this story and was the first to blog about it.)

Does The IRA Still Exist? Follow The Money For The Answer…..But Don’t Listen To Eoghan Harris!

I don’t know why or how but this story about new Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan refusing to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question of whether the IRA still exists and is active in Ireland, passed me by. I only became aware of it when I noticed Eoghan Harris’ article in today’s Sunday Indo.

My first thought on reading his piece was that Harris had one hell of a nerve complaining about the media ignoring the story of a political party seeking office in Ireland while continuing to operate an armed wing. As he put it:

“Why is the fact that the party well poised to take State power may be secretly controlled by an armed criminal conspiracy not seen as a major news story?”

My, my! Aren’t Irish memories conveniently short? It wasn’t so long ago that Mr Harris’ comrades in the Workers Party (WP) were doing exactly the same as Sinn Fein is doing now, lying about the existence of its armed wing as they sought office. And I don’t recall him complaining at the time.

In fact the Workers Party, with the armed Official IRA (OIRA) still intact and running brothels with the UVF in Belfast and building site rackets alongside the UDA,  helped shore up Charlie Haughey’s second spell in government in 1982 when a deal was struck with the WP’s three TD’s. And the OIRA got involved in such dubious schemes with one main purpose: to raise money for the WP’s electoral efforts in the South – just as the Provisional IRA does for Sinn Fein.

And what about the media in those days? What did Irish journalism have to say about this sordid confection of political party and armed wing propping up an Irish government, or running brothels so that Prionsias de Rossa and his ilk could become TD’s? What did Eoghan Harris have to say about this deplorable state of affairs?

Well aside from one or two of us, myself and Vincent Browne in particular, my memory is that media behaved in exactly the same way as Mr Harris accuses it of behaving now when faced with a Sinn Fein that is being every bit as dishonest and devious about its armed wing. They turned a Nelson’s eye to the WP’s armed wing.

In fact it was worse than that. To write about the lie risked damaging your career – and even your health. I remember only too well the day I discovered that half an entire Northern Notebook had been censored by The Irish Times – removed in its entirety – because I dared write about the secret wing that Charlie Haughey’s new buddies were running. I learned about this only when I picked up the paper on that Saturday morning. The Irish Times had not even the courtesy – or was it courage? – to tell me.

The truth was that the Workers Party had infiltrated The Irish Times and much of the media – as well as semi-state bodies scattered throughout Ireland. The purpose was to bend them all in the direction of the WP’s ideology. And I don’t recall Mr Harris complaining about that!

Not only that but back in 1982 Harris ruled the news and current affairs section of RTE with an iron rod, inflicting a Stalinist-like purge of the station of any elements not considered reliable on the anti-Provo question, while advancing the careers of WP fellow travelers and imposing a WP analysis on the news stories of the day, especially those North of the Border.

When you think about it Harris is the last person in Ireland who should be lecturing the media about ethics or their refusal/reluctance to cover certain stories!

Manipulating the news and current affairs coverage of the national broadcaster to suit the ideology of a party of which you and many or your staff are secret members, is a far greater sin in my book. Irish journalism has still not recovered from the experience.

Those few journalists who did try to tell the truth about the WP were not only the target of venomous verbal attacks but came under physical threat as well.

I know that Browne was the subject of one very sinister threat while I learned from the UDA that two well known WP activists had tried to persuade the Loyalists that my job as Northern Editor of The Irish Times was really a front: I was actually an INLA intelligence officer. They wanted the UDA to kill me but thankfully the UDA knew me well enough to doubt the story and they checked it out.

(Incidentally I have always suspected that, via the same mechanism, the Official IRA/WP had a hand in assisting the UDA assassinations of Ronnie Bunting and Miriam Daly)

So when it comes to political parties seeking office while running an armed wing secretly in the background, the Sinn Fein/IRA nexus is not new and no-one knows that better than Eoghan Harris.

Nonetheless as it was then, so it is now a very legitimate question to ask. Organisations like the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA are, like their political fronts, essentially undemocratic and conspiratorial. The fear that should haunt most citizens is that once in power they will be reluctant to give it up. Elections are, in their minds, merely tactics by which power is achieved; they don’t really believe in them.

As for the continued existence of the Provisional IRA, the answer is obvious. Of course it still exists. There may not be the elaborate structures of old, the Northern and Southern Commands, the Brigades or the ASU’s but there is a skeleton organisation out there for sure.

I know for a fact that the IRA’s intelligence capability is still active, that a unit dedicated to collecting intel for the leadership, including presumably the SF leadership, exists.

We know the name of the man who heads it and the names of some of those who are active in it. And from the experience of colleagues and friends we know the sort of activity they have been engaged in. As the man said last May, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know!’ (Incidentally the strenuous efforts subsequently to remove his words from the internet are the equivalent of the bloody fingerprint left on the assassin’s knife)

An intelligence unit needs to be steered and directed, to get its marching orders and somewhere to deliver the actionable intelligence.  The logic of the unit’s existence is the presence of a leadership, an Army Council for instance. And where there is a head, a body is never far away.

There is though an even more compelling reason to believe the IRA still exists and has a leadership, even if only in skeleton form. That is the IRA’s money.

Back before the Northern Bank robbery the Irish Department of Justice estimated the IRA’s property portfolio at the €400 million mark and intelligence estimates suggested the IRA had businesses and homes not just in both parts of Ireland but in Europe, especially Portugal, and in the US and the Caribbean.

This was not a new practice for the IRA. The most senior republican in the organisation has a house in West Belfast which was originally bought and owned by the IRA and was gifted to him in the mid-1970’s by the then head of IRA finance in Belfast, a veteran republican who recently died. The house was in that veteran’s name – it is now in the name of the senior republican’s wife – but it really still belongs to the IRA.

There is more than one elected Sinn Fein politician who now enjoy the delights of a holiday home in places like the Algarve, people who would never have the wherewithal to buy such property themselves. And again the villa or apartment may be in their name but just let them dare sell it!

Now while the DoJ estimate was calculated before the 2008 property crash it was also made before the Northern Bank raid swelled the coffers even more, so the chances are that one way or another the IRA still has a very healthy portfolio of businesses, holiday homes and the like.

And with the property market gradually recovering, the portfolio will grow, making money available for the political wing to spend on elections and to reassure internal skeptics that if the peace process does collapse the wherewithal exists to replenish all those decommissioned weapons stocks.

But this is a pile of wealth that can never be liquidated and distributed amongst the rank and file. It was amassed by and for the IRA and belongs to the IRA. No individual can claim it. As long as that money is there it must be owned and administered by an organisation and that organisation is called the IRA.

 

‘…Sinn Fein Is Not Going To Transform The Lives Of The Majority Of Ordinary People….’

Three weeks ago Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein rising star and rival for the party’s leadership should Gerry Adams ever step down – and don’t hold your breath on that one – penned an article for the Irish edition of The Sunday Times which seemed designed to calm nerves abroad, in the offices of Goldman Sachs for example as well as the European Central Bank, about what could or would happen should SF ever take power in the 26 Counties.

Would Sinn Fein set up a metaphorical guillotine in St Stephens Green to chop into tiny pieces all those promissory notes signed by previous Irish governments committing the Irish taxpayer to years or even decades of impoverishment so that speculators and bankers will get their interest-laden loans repaid?

Or will SF make the right noises to get elected and then perform a majestic U-turn once bums settle into the back seats of the ministerial Mercs or those oh-so comfortable Meelano office chairs in Government Buildings?

I am indebted to a friend, who shall remain nameless, for the following analysis of Pearse Doherty’s thoughts which came not from him but from someone on the same analytical wavelength. His friend, nay comrade, put into words very adroitly what anyone who has observed this party for any length of time instinctively knows.

Here are his thoughts:

“Once the froth evaporates, here’s what SF finance spokesperson and possible future leader, Pearse Doherty, says to the Sunday Times of March 8, which he knows is read by the people with money, who want to know the real intentions of SF. What’s notable is the declaration never to repudiate private bondholders debt, only renegotiate debt to public institutions. So the private speculators, and the existing arrangements for privatising the profit but socialising the losses, (know as the Wall Street solution) are safe. The last paragraph is the logical sequel to the earlier promise to leave the wealth of the speculators untouched: ‘….there are a lot of things we would like to do for individuals who are struggling out there, but we simply can’t do it. We can’t increase tax revenue… because it would be unfair on people and would hurt industry, it would hurt the economy and business.’

“A dig at the left, similar to what comes from Labour, is part of the dampening of expectations. There might be a few tweaks, but the substance of the status quo would remain untouched. Nor could it be, with no change in the balance of taxation, no wealth tax or implementation of the actual 12.5% rate of corporation tax on the profits of multinationals – as against the 2.5% they pay on average. Instead SF will move to reduce corporation tax in the North, mirroring a development strategy based on tax breaks to attract multinational inward investment and in effect an all island race to the bottom.

“This is also expressed in the way SF relates to political struggles. With the household tax they would not call for non payment, and the same now with the water charge. Why not? Would calling for non payment effect SF popularity or poll ratings? If anything, it would possibly improve them. But it would make SF an unsafe bet for big business, multinationals and the rich minority of Irish society that is doing well at present. For if you champion mass action and breaking the rules on one issue, what’s to stop that spreading? SF is looking to be a safe pair of hands on policy and in politics.

“How should the left relate to SF? I’m in favour of joint action to defend the rights and living standards of working class people, but without illusions. By their own declaration, SF is not going to transform the lives of the majority of ordinary people, even if they were the biggest group in a coalition government.”

Watch This Video And Be Frightened. Be Very Frightened……

It is a little known fact that international treaties can be and too often are the greatest threat to a country’s democratic life-style, decision-making and traditions.

Cobbled together by civil servants and lawyers, often in great secrecy and with no public oversight, they are invariably rubber-stamped by legislatures and only later when it is too late are their inherent dangers recognised.

In the past four years I have had personal experience of this. For example, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, under whose terms the British state have confiscated interviews from Boston College, gives the British government the right to subvert rights that are guaranteed to American citizens under the US Constitution, for example the Fourth Amendment whose protection of requiring probable cause before court orders can be issued does not apply to the MLAT.

Equally, new UK guarantees on privacy can be brushed aside by the MLAT as though they never existed, as former Red Hand Commando leader, ‘Winky’ Rea is in the process of discovering in the Belfast courts, as the PSNI attempt to confiscate his BC interviews.

Bad enough as the MLAT is, it is though in the ha’penny place compared to a new international trade treaty currently being negotiated by the major Western capitalist powers.

Called the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ or TTIP as it is more widely known, the powers that this treaty gives corporations to subvert domestic governments and to brush aside democratic decisions makes the US Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporations the same status as human beings seem like a petty thing of no consequence – although others might argue that the Supreme Court decision and the TTIP are two faces of the same beast. (A similar treaty between the US and Pacific powers called the Trans-Pacific Partnership is also close to final negotiation. Between them the two treaties will encompass the entire planet.)

The video below is an explanation of the TTIP and its hidden dangers given by David Malone who runs an excellent blog called GOLEM XIV. He gives the clearest explanation that I have yet heard of a very complex and arcane subject. He calls his talk “The Death of Democracy” and once you have heard what he has to say I am sure you will agree that it is an appropriate title.

The TTIP is very close to becoming a reality. Be frightened. Be very frightened.

 

Britain Continues The War Against The IRA And Sinn Fein Stays Silent

The leaked story in today’s Sunday Telegraph reporting the British police’s intention to pursue six IRA activists who had been given so-called ‘comfort letters’ by the Blair government is another indication that the British are determined to continue waging war against the IRA despite the peace process and the reality that the Provisional movement has effectively accepted British rule in Northern Ireland.

This, along with the Cameron government’s expressed intention not to stand over the Blair letters to the so-called ‘On The Run’s’ or OTR’s – IRA suspects given promises of non-prosecution – and the pursuit of Ivor Bell, who will learn in a fortnight whether he will face charges in connection with the disappearance of Jean McConville, amount to a British default both from the spirit of the peace process and the commitments given during good faith negotiations with Sinn Fein and the IRA.

That the British intention to continue to pursue IRA suspects, try them in the courts and then imprison them amounts to an act of war against the IRA is undeniable in the context of the conflict since 1969.

Whereas the IRA’s campaign was characterised in the main by the shooting and bombing of British targets, the British response in the main took the form of trying to put as many IRA members as they could behind bars, using the police and the courts to do so (while the British also shot and killed many IRA members the greater part of their energies was spent trying to imprison them).

The fact that the IRA has completely abandoned violence against the British, has stopped shooting or bombing them and furthermore co-operated in the destruction of its arsenals while the British now trumpet their resolve to keep putting former IRA activists behind bars whenever they can, highlights an unspoken and unacknowledged reality: the IRA has ended its war against the British but the British have not ended their war against the IRA.

This would be completely uncontroversial had the Troubles in Northern Ireland ended in any way other than by a series of negotiated accords with each side making and giving concessions and no side claiming victory over the other.

This latter commitment was the defining principle of the peace process, the oil that greased the wheels: no-one came out and said ‘We Won!’ and by not doing so this enabled the already difficult process of making and demanding concessions to happen.

Implicitly and in an unspoken way, at least in public, the Troubles ended in a draw with every participant agreeing on ways of enabling each other to withdraw from the field of battle. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time to happen but without that agreement it probably never would have.

The fact that the British, or to be precise the Cameron government, are now flouting this principle amounts to a declaration of victory over the IRA and a hollowing out of the core of the peace process.

Had the Provos done something similar, for instance by announcing that the IRA was back in the business of acquiring weapons, how loud would be the cries of anger from London? And from Dublin? How grave would the resulting crisis be for the peace process? How quickly would Unionists have withdrawn from the GFA institutions?

But the Provos haven’t, and they won’t. And nor have they raised as much as a squeak in protest, at least in public, even though one very real consequence could be the abandoning of former comrades to jail time (except when their leader was briefly threatened with the same fate and that protest was quickly put down).

And ultimately it is this silence from Sinn Fein that is making it possible for the British to behave in this way. And by staying silent Sinn Fein is also admitting that the British are right; they won and to the victors go the spoils, including the right to put former adversaries behind bars, peace process or no peace process.

 

“Gerry Adams Increasingly Politically Toxic”: Washington Post Blog

An intriguing explanation for Gerry Adams’ “on-again, off-again” head to head with the US State Department during the St Patrick’  Day festivities in Wahington has come from Henry Farrell, author of the ‘Monkey Cage’ blog on the Washington Post’s online site – and it makes sense.

According to Farrell a combination of distaste at the persistent allegations that Adams ordered the disappearance of widowed mother-of-ten, Jean McConville – given added profile and credibility by this lengthy exposé in last week’s New Yorker magazine – along with the claim that he knew about the child abuse committed by his brother Liam but did nothing about it and what Farrell calls “a swirl of abuse” about rape and sexual abuse by IRA members, have transformed Adams in the eyes of Washington power brokers into “an increasingly controversial figure”.

Changed times indeed. You can read full the article below but first this piece of gossip. I understand that on the periphery of the Hillary Clinton lunch in New York hosted on Monday by Niall O’Dowd, the wannabe Irish ambassador for the next Clinton White House, Gerry Adams had a ten-minute tete-a-tete with Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs.

It would be sensible to presume that Blankfein wanted to get his own take on the leader of the political party which was about to be described as the greatest single threat to Ireland’s economic future by his Chief European economist, Kevin Daly.

The report, which warned that Sinn Fein in government could well take the same stance on Ireland’s debt as Podemos does in Spain and Syriza once promised in Greece, was published a day or so later so presumably Blankfein, whose Goldman Sachs empire was once memorably described by journalist Matt Taibi as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” did not have the opportunity to influence Daly’s report.

A pity for Sinn Fein because according to reliable sources Blankfein later told friends that he had been “….greatly impressed” by the Sinn Fein leader, “….and re-assured”.

So the banks of Ireland and Europe can breathe easily.

Anyway here is that Henry Farrell blog piece. Enjoy:

Monkey Cage

How the White House snubbed Irish politicians on St. Patrick’s Day
By Henry Farrell

March 18

 

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (never St. Patty’s Day — take it from a native born Irishman) in Washington are usually uncontroversial. Irish politicians aren’t particularly sentimental about shamrocks, leprechauns, green beer and all the rest of it. They are, however, happy to take advantage of the occasion: They fly over to the United States in droves to lobby for Irish interests, and American politicians (who like a good photo opportunity) are willing to play along. Tuesday’s celebrations, however, were different. The Obama administration snubbed two major players in Irish politics — one accidentally, the other deliberately.

So what was the accident?

Vice President Biden is genuinely proud of his Irish roots, with a particular fondness for Irish poetry. He’s also widely and genuinely liked by Irish politicians. However, when welcoming the Irish delegation (led by Ireland’s taoiseach, or prime minister), he cracked a joke that is causing great unhappiness among one, somewhat unwilling group of Irish people — Ulster Unionists. When opening the door to the delegation, he joked that “if you’re wearing orange, you’re not welcome in here.” Orange is traditionally the color of Ulster Unionists, who have historically wanted to preserve the union with Britain, and have been strongly opposed to all strains of Irish nationalism and republicanism. However, the main Ulster Unionist party is now in an uneasy power sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party. They have expressed their anger at the joke, claiming that it was a disgraceful slur against their political tradition.

This may seem like a non-issue to most Americans. But symbols can be incredibly important in Northern Ireland. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has done a lot of work promoting peace in Northern Ireland. As he notes in this video interview with Gideon Rose, symbolic issues like parades and flags are incredibly important, and incredibly divisive within Northern Ireland.

And what was the deliberate snub?

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, claims that U.S. leaders were unwilling to meet with him. Adams says that a meeting with the State Department was initially confirmed — but that he wasn’t invited to any high level meetings with the president or high officials, instead being consigned to the general reception with the hoi polloi. The United States hasn’t said anything about why Adams is being frozen out, but it likely has to do with Sinn Fein’s intransigence in a current stand-off over power sharing. Adams has also become an increasingly controversial figure. As an article published in last week’s New Yorker discusses at length, Adams has been accused of ordering the cold-blooded murder of a single mother at the height of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. He has also admitted that he knew that his brother, Liam Adams, was a child abuser, but did not reveal it to the police, and is in the midst of a swirl of allegations about rape and sexual abuse by IRA members. While Sinn Fein’s popularity hasn’t suffered as badly as you might think, Adams himself is increasingly politically toxic.

What consequences will these snubs have for Irish politics?

Northern Ireland’s political system is going through one of its periodic crises at the moment: The power-sharing arrangement is not working, because of disagreements about spending cuts. Many had hoped that the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington would offer an opportunity for the United States to bully and persuade the different parties to resolve their differences. This is now more complicated than was initially expected. The accidental snub is less important. Biden’s joke will probably do no more than to temporarily complicate negotiations. Ulster Unionists will find it moderately useful in pushing back against U.S. pressure to reach a deal. The more overt snub of Gerry Adams is more significant. It hasn’t been accompanied by any statement or explanation, and it’s less a complete refusal to meet than a downgrading of relations. But one plausible interpretation is that it is a signal from the United States to Sinn Fein, suggesting that Sinn Fein (and in particular, figures like Adams) will find a cold welcome in future unless they fully accommodate themselves to current politics, participate in power sharing, and properly resolve their past association with terrorism.
Henry Farrell is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He works on a variety of topics, including trust, the politics of the Internet and international and comparative political economy.