They’re a smart bunch of operators in Sinn Féin, as the carefully-orchestrated series of hints and leaks showed in the run-up to the announcement that Martin McGuinness will meet the Queen of England. Obviously, the whole deal was in the bag weeks ago, but with a fine-tuned sense of drama, they dragged it out to the last minute. Would the grassroots say Yes, or No?
Needless to mention, the whole thing slipped through like goose-shit off a shovel and the world now holds its breath as we wait for the momentous day when Martin and Liz sit down to a bag of chips and a small bottle of porter. Oh, wait — unlike the Royal Family who are well-known tipplers, Martin doesn’t touch the stuff. Another national stereotype shattered.
Anyway, it’s only fair to extend hospitality to HM. After all, the Royal Ulster Constabulary spent a sizeable part of their annual budget trying to arrange free bed and board for Martin in one of QE2’s hospitable establishments. Besides that, if he could manage to form the Chuckle Brothers with Ian Paisley, and if he could establish a working relationship with stonefaced Peter Robinson, a brief handshake with the Queen will hardly bother him, and anyway, as we saw in the South, she’s a nice old bird really. Still, the symbolism of it is, well, symbolic, though I’m not entirely sure why.
These Shinners are far ahead of me in the strategy game, but there are clues in the language. Do they know something the rest of us don’t? Spokespeople like Mary-Lou are slipping in little comments about respecting the wishes of the million unionists in this country. Nice. Subtle. Is Peter Robinson about to lead his people into a union with our hapless, broke semi State and tell the Brits to stuff their subsidies? I don’t know. Maybe they are, and for all I know, the northern nationalists are looking forward to paying €60 every time they visit their GP and hundreds on new school books every year.
Have Sinn Féin settled for what the Civil Rights marchers were demanding before they were beaten off the streets by the sectarian B-Specials? Equal treatment as British citizens? It looks a little bit like that, despite the consistent Republican line from Danny Morrison, but on the other hand, we’re dealing with formidable strategists in the likes of Adams and McGuinness. They have their homework done, they understand the mood of the grassroots. It would be interesting to know how they see the political relationships evolving over the next ten, twenty or fifty years.
Straws in the wind in a bizarre sort of way: if Tom McFeely could claim protection from the Republic as a British citizen, why wouldn’t Martin McGuinness shake hands with the Queen?