S‘ee in the east a silv'ry glow,Out Yonder waits the Saxon foe.’ I wonder if these lines from Amhran na bhFiann, the Republic’s national anthem, ran through the minds of the Irish army guard of honour in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance on Tuesday?
Now the Irish state was rallying its forces, putting on a big effort to protect the ‘Saxon foe’, or at least their Queen, from demonstrators. The only sign of protest she would have seen, if she had glanced to her left, was a cloud of black balloons ascending from Sinn Fein headquarters in Parnell Square.
As protests go, it was tame and tasteful. In fact, all the protests — including the violent ones — were less than might have been expected at, say, an anti-globalisation event. That told its own tale of what moves people these days.
Still, it was a difficult moment for Sinn Fein to negotiate and careful watchers of the party could discern some signs of divided councils. On the one hand, the party wanted to avoid between being outflanked by the dissidents, or being portrayed as kow-towing to British Royalty.
On the other, they wanted to avoid being drawn into any suggestion that the war was not really over, or that something truly outrageous was happening; that, too, would have also played into the dissidents’ hands.
There was a certain amount of waiting to see how things would go and how big the protests would be, while trying to steer them in a peaceful direction.
Ogra Sinn Fein, the party’s youth wing, called for protests. That was the republican default position up to now.
They were taking their lead from Gerry Adams who, while electioneering in February, said the visit was inadvisable. Mary Lou McDonald and other TDs also talked of participating in demonstrations.
Then the top leadership started hosing them down.
Martin McGuinness said that protests would be a mistake and reminded people that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were, in the last analysis, an elderly couple.
Asked in an interview if he would attend any Royal events, he said that there was still “big discussion and debate” around the Royal visit and that the Sinn Fein ard comhairle would decide.
Their decision seems to have been to take things easy and, on the eve of the visit, they became easier still with Gerry Adams issuing a statement saying that, while the visit was still premature, it could be good for Anglo-Irish relations anyway. If it is handled in this way, he added, “it will be a matter of considerable pleasure, not just for her Majesty, but for the rest of us as well”.
Mr Adams now believes that “the visit by the Queen of England provides a unique opportunity for the British establishment to make it clear that it shared Sinn Fein’s wish for “better relationships between the peoples of Ireland and Britain”.
“Much will depend,” he said, “on what the British monarch says.”
He then talked about being imprisoned at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but even behind that rhetorical flourish, it was hard |to miss the sound of gears |being changed as Sinn Fein moves on.