They are at it again.
No sooner had Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness stepped out from their talks with the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, yesterday than they were proclaiming the overwhelming importance of this week’s meeting between Ahern and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. McGuinness declared that it will be “probably the most important” meeting in the whole of the history-laden peace process. As usual, these prophets of significance neglect to tell people why, suddenly, so much hinges on the talks between the two leaders.
We all know the situation in which the peace process finds itself. We all know what has to be done to get out of it. It has been repeated in every story, in every newspaper, that has reported on the latest crisis since it was precipitated by the threat of the Unionists to leave government unless the IRA disbanded last Oct. 14. We all know as well that time is running out for efforts to get the devolved government back on its feet before the May 1 assembly elections. But as far as the peace process and its periodic crisis is concerned, this adds up to business as usual.
So why do Sinn Fein’s biggest political guns want us to see it as qualitatively different from all the other “make-or-break” crises?
It could be merely for ordinary political reasons, like putting pressure on Blair. He has been hounding Sinn Fein and the IRA to undertake “acts of completion” in order to move the situation forward. Sinn Fein could be returning the favor. Blair has now the power to sort it out. If he fails to meet the historic occasion that Sinn Fein has set up, it will be his fault.
Of course, we do not know what it is that Sinn Fein’s leaders have offered that is so potentially important. Clarity has never been part of this process, except in one sphere — seeking political advantage. It is clear that if the republican offer is deemed insufficient, then Sinn Fein’s nationalist constituency will not blame the party. Its politicians will be rewarded for their courage and stand to profit by it at the polls. If it is deemed sufficient, they will profit even more, as the instigators of the historic turn, which saved the peace process.
Whatever happens, hyping history has become part of the political game.