Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Dudley Edwards: By stoking fear over a return to a hard border, Gerry Adams is exploiting the Brexit issue

Co-operation, not confrontation, is the best way to achieve agreement, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I'm delighted that, as his constant whingeing demonstrates, despite having a brass neck Gerry Adams also has a thin skin. Increasingly - as he gets older and even more pompous - he takes any kind of criticism as lèse-majesté (an offence against a ruler's dignity).

Criticism from uppity journalists infuriates him.

He was moaning again the other day in the course of a speech in Cork intended to stir up more alarm and despondency about Brexit.

"There are some journalists who do their job as fairly as they can but the likes of the Irish Independent group are on the same agenda as when they vilified John Hume for even talking to me as one MP to another MP about peace," he said.

My colleagues and I didn't vilify John Hume.

But some of us certainly criticised his pan-nationalist strategy as undemocratic and ill-advised, and thought that bringing the IRA into talks was both wrong and foolish.

I was appalled that his lead was slavishly followed by Irish Governments who didn't themselves understand unionists and therefore failed to grasp that Hume simply disliked them. He didn't want them killed, but wanted them bullied, not persuaded.

As the late Sean O'Callaghan wrote in April 1998 in Prospect magazine "without any debate, and denouncing his critics as 'anti-peace'", Hume "blurred the clear dividing line between extreme violent nationalism and constitutional nationalism" that had been a feature of the independent Irish state.

"He has brought the political arsonist into the house without taking the box of matches from his pocket."

Peace, as was shown in South Africa, needed to be made from the centre outwards.

But in Ireland the perversion of the peace process was to make it from the paramilitaries inwards.

It was a gift to extreme republicanism that would in time destroy the centre parties by rewarding intransigence and thus exacerbating tribalism.

Although I think patriotism is a virtue, I'm no fan of nationalism, which has little to do with reason and much to do with prejudice.

I hear Irish people lamenting that Brexit is a manifestation of English nationalism.

Not in my book, it isn't. It's a legitimate patriotic desire to regain sovereignty.

Nationalism, as George Orwell pointed out, is always focused on "victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliation".

Just listen to the language of Sinn Fein, who peddle a particularly toxic version of Irish nationalism north and south in which anyone who doesn't share the party's aspirations to power is an enemy.

These days this is anyone who wants to find helpful solutions to the problems posed to the island by Brexit.

The party has no love for the European Union.

In 2008 and 2009 it was the most vociferous opponent of the Lisbon Treaty.

Now, however, Adams and his band of IRA veterans who dictate republican strategy see Brexit as an opportunity to make mischief that will undermine the stability of Northern Ireland, encourage confrontations between the British and Irish Governments and spread the virus of Anglophobia.

Last week Adams was warning the Cork audience "that a 'Tory-led' Brexit will be equally as bad for Munster as for the border counties" and said "the time is right for the Government to push for a referendum on a united Ireland".

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail want the Republic to be on cordial terms with unionists and the British Government, but at every turn they have Sinn Fein activists singing in unison from a negative and aggressive playbook.

What makes sense for Ireland is to use its clout to encourage the achievement of the soft border almost everyone wants through technological innovation (as supported by Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern), legal ingenuity and the best possible free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU.

What Sinn Fein demands is the fracturing of the United Kingdom by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU, and it keeps up the pressure on the Irish Government.

"I raised this with the Taoiseach today," said Mr Adams in Cork. "I said, 'you have a veto, use it'."

What responsible Irish politicians should remember is that the arsonists still have their matches in their pockets.

And I'm pleased that responsible journalists will go on pointing that out.

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