Belfast Telegraph

So, Gerry Adams, tell us: Whatever happened to 'Smash Stormont'?

The irony of Sinn Fein's best-ever General Election result is that the party has never had less influence in Belfast, London and Dublin, writes Henry McDonald

In his struggle to achieve civil rights in the racist south of the USA, Martin Luther King pursued his goals with an economic bombing campaign in cities like Alabama. He also pioneered the use of the 'human bomb' tactic, in which black 'collaborators' with the local white regimes were strapped into vans loaded with explosives, their families back at home held at gunpoint by King's armed militia, while the 'traitors' were forced to drive the bomb-laden vehicles towards the checkpoints of racist police officers.

Those in the civil rights movement, meanwhile, who were informing on King and his comrades, either to the local police or J Edgar Hoover's FBI, were ruthlessly 'executed' by the liberation organisation.

Indeed, in one case, Dr King himself lured back one 'traitor' who had fled to Canada to come back home to the south, the informer's mother sitting beside the preacher, pleading on the phone that her son was safe to return.

Of course, the hopelessly naive betrayer of the cause was dispatched with a bullet to the back of the head and his body later dumped over the state line in an isolated bayou.

For anyone reading this who has even the frailest grasp of 20th-century American history, you will be forgiven if you spit blood over this caricature of a political leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize for pursuing a policy of peaceful, non-violent resistance to white racist hegemony.

Yet, incredibly, this is how a man who actually knew Martin Luther King indirectly caricatured this hero of our times by comparing a man who warned that "an eye for an eye makes everyone blind" to Martin McGuinness.

You have to wonder, on one level, if the Rev Jesse Jackson has ever studied 20th-century Irish history, or read a single respected book about the Troubles.

We hardly need to remind ourselves that Martin McGuinness spent the first half of his career engaged in the kind of campaign of violence outlined above.

He is not commemorated on his gravestone as "Oglach" (volunteer) for nothing.

Only in the latter half of his life did he move away, to his credit, from the armed campaign that did so much damage and exacerbated already existing sectarian divisions.

King, on the other hand, consistently adhered to a policy of peaceful politics, which in the end forced the most powerful government on earth to change centuries of overt racist discrimination and segregation, albeit the struggle is certainly not yet over in that regard.

Yet, the Rev Jackson's absurd and ludicrous comparison of King to McGuinness while in Londonderry this week fits into a wider narrative aimed at rewriting history - particularly the history of the Provisional IRA.

Indeed, some of those who either once supported, or took an active part in, that organisation's violent campaign of resistance are even rewriting their own narratives to suit changing times and, in doing so, are distorting historical truth.

When Sinn Fein's West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey, addressed the media in London on Monday, he announced with a straight face that "all roads lead back to Stormont".

This was meant as a warning to the DUP that Arlene Foster should not take her eye off the parallel negotiations taking place in Belfast, aimed at restoring power-sharing, while it cuts a national deal with Theresa May in London.

On one level, of course, Maskey is quite right. Stability, power-sharing and cross-community government are essential to the future of this place and no back-door deals at Westminster should impact negatively on the need for it to return.

But that word 'Stormont' keeps conjuring up the flashbacks.

Remember those words painted in white on Londonderry's walls only a couple of decades ago, "No Return to Stormont"?

Or that election slogan in the post-hunger strike election of 1982, when nationalist and republican voters were urged to "Smash Stormont"?

Now, Sinn Fein is urging the DUP to be just like them and embrace Stormont.

If someone was ever to make an authentic film about this 360-degree policy turn, perhaps they could borrow the subtitle of Stanley Kubrick's Cold War masterpiece, Dr Strangelove, and call it How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stormont.

Why this recently found fondness for the road back to Stormont? Because, when it comes to wielding any proper influence over people's lives, Stormont is now Sinn Fein's best (only?) bet.

The paradox of the recent General Election is that, while the party enjoyed its best performance in a Westminster contest ever (seven MPs elected and the SDLP virtually obliterated), they exercise no influence over there.

Their old chum Jeremy Corbyn will not be Prime Minister, thanks to the 10 DUP MPs who are now the House of Commons kingmakers.

It is the DUP dictating the deal that will put the Conservatives in power on a confidence and supply basis that is going to be similar to the one Fianna Fail operates to support the minority Fine Gael administration in Dublin.

In fact, the once-unthinkable Fine Gael/Fianna Fail arrangement is, in part, designed to keep Sinn Fein's hands off the levers of power in the Republic. And it is one that has lasted for more than a year now, allowing for the smooth transfer of leadership from Enda Kenny to Leo Varadkar.

So, in both London and Dublin, Sinn Fein are shut out of decision-making, while in Washington DC they no longer have the ear of a president who is tone-deaf to foreign concerns.

The only show in town, if they so choose it, is a restored regional government at Stormont. Which is, perhaps, why someone as moderate-sounding, reasonable and personable as Paul Maskey makes the case for all roads having to flood back there.

There are mixed messages being transmitted from the Sinn Fein camp at present. Gerry Adams appears to be hostile to the idea of a quick restoration, by insisting on unrealistic demands, such as Arlene Foster not coming back as the DUP's First Minister nominee.

Adams seems to want to focus on making political capital out of Brexit and concentrating the party's fire on their rivals south of the border.

And, yet, there are other signals that the party wants to be in the front row, directing devolution back in Northern Ireland alongside their power-sharing partners.

We still don't know yet if the deal the DUP will bring back from London will tempt the other parties to make a final push towards June 29 and restore power-sharing once again. It is probably what most people in Northern Ireland - unionist, nationalist, or neither - genuinely want.

The only thing for now we can be certain of is that history continues to be written at a brisk clip, whether it is Jesse Jackson spouting nonsense in the Bogside, or republicans yearning for the institution they once vowed to smash for ever.

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