A brief word or two about the latest ‘crisis’ to hit the Good Friday institutions, viz the pellet fire scandal which, the media panjandrums confidently tell us, brought about Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister yesterday.
When I watched McGuinness on the BBC’s website yesterday afternoon my overwhelming thought was that this man isn’t quitting because he is fed up with Arlene Foster, the DUP and their little scheme to enrich their farmer friends (at least those with large empty sheds to heat), although I am sure he is.
No, my thought was that this man wants to go home to be with his family for his last days in this world. McGuinness is a devout Catholic, the sort who daily wears a scapular – so I am assured – and so he would also want to make peace with his God, something that promises to be an interesting exercise. Both would take precedent over Arlene and her tricks, methought.
Call me cynical but I have had more than two decades of dealings with Martin McGuinness’ comrades and so my second thought, based on that toilsome experience, was that what we were seeing was another Provo bunco game designed to make us believe the unbelievable.
The unbelievable in this case is that the Provos would really do something to endanger the Good Friday institutions. Let me explain carefully for slow learners. The Provos gave up their guns, their armed struggle and their republican ideology in return for getting their bums on seats around the Cabinet/Executive table up at Stormont.
They justified ending their war on the basis that a political deal which gave Sinn Fein the leadership of Northern Nationalism and which obliged Unionists to sit in the same room as former gunmen also had the potential to lead to Irish unity (although others would argue that it is more likely that the prime effect would be to reconcile Nationalists with the existence of the Northern state).
Whatever the truth of all that, the Assembly and the Executive, especially the Deputy First Minister slot, are all that the Provos have to show for ending their war. If they truly and seriously endangered the 1998 institutions then that would be an acknowledgement of failure.
It would be a little like that moment at the end of the children’s fairy tale when the King is naked and now everyone can see that.
It would be an admission that constitutional methods do not and can not work in the North of Ireland and an invitation to the gunmen to resume their grisly business.
I suspect that the Unionists, the DUP in particular, know this full well and it helps explain why they have, at times, treated their partners in government with near contempt. The fact is that they have got away with it now for the best part of a decade.
This can, of course, be a risky thing to do. Sometimes you can push people so far or so hard that inevitably they topple over. That Martin McGuinness’ resignation may be something of a shell game does not detract from the reality that unease and anger at the grass roots level of the Provos forced this on their top brass.
But there is another factor that I believe will prevent a crisis becoming a collapse. It is called Gerry Adams’ legacy.
The peace process is overwhlemingly the creation of one man. Gerry Adams began it way back in 1982 when he began talks with the Redemptorist priest Alex Reid (some will argue, justifiably, that it really started with the sabotage of the effort to resolve the 1981 hunger strikes), and slowly, patiently and at great risk to himself, he steered the Provos towards the Good Friday Agreement a full twelve years later.
It will take time but I am confident that history will recognise Adams’ achievement, not to discount what one commentator called ‘the smell of rotten cabbage’ that surrounds him.
I do not believe for one moment that Gerry Adams would countenance a course of action that would seriously endanger an agreement and a set of institutions that will define his role in Irish history.
We shall find out soon enough.