Adams waves goodbye to simple answers: David McKittrick sees the Sinn Fein president rally supporters to the new concept of peace

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The Independent Online
'WAVE 'bye 'bye to the Brits,' the republican woman said to the child in her arms, at the end of the rally on the Falls Road in west Belfast yesterday, and the blonde youngster obligingly waved towards the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Army base.

It was impossible to work out whether she really thought the police and troops would all be leaving, or was indulging in a moment of fantasy before returning to the unpalatable reality that the IRA had stopped without securing a British withdrawal.

This rally was an important occasion for Sinn Fein, for the republicans have been carefully gauging reaction to the IRA's ceasefire decision, and it is taking some time for some of its more profound implications to sink in. Gerry Adams had to strike a precisely measured tone in his speech. He is the man who has gradually taken the word 'victory' out of the republican vocabulary and replaced it with the word 'peace'.

He got his usual warm reception - these people, the republican grassroots, really do adore him. The crowd, numbering less than a thousand, was just about respectable for such an event, but was not an exceptionally big turnout by republican standards.

The Adams vocabulary has long been accepted by his followers, but although the word 'peace' has been adopted, the concept has not been been fully absorbed by all of them. Not all of them have learnt to think in terms of a settlement rather than victory; a fair few, for example, presume Mr Adams has struck a secret deal with the British which will before long give them victory.

In his short speech he felt the need to stress that the IRA was not split on the ceasefire decision. In a passage unusually explicit for a Sinn Fein spokesman, he declared: 'A united Irish Republican Army, a united army of the people, is saying to the British government, 'let's have peace'.' Mr Adams was concerned to reassure his people rather than to claim victory. Sinn Fein would be insisting in any negotiations on 'the need to build a united and independent Ireland', he said, declaring: 'All of our objectives are winnable - remember that, every one of our objectives is winnable.'

He very definitely did not tell them they had won. Then he marched his people, in good-natured mood, round to the Army and RUC base where they sang 'We shall overcome' while a man painted 'Time to go' on the reinforced steel wall. The crowd waved goodbye at the base, and a soldier at an upstairs window waved back.

A man in the crowd asked: 'Well, do we look like we're defeated?' They did not; but nor did they look as though they had won. They looked like people coming to the grips with the fact that the campaign has ended on a note which few expected, which has challenged many of their own certainties, and created new uncertainties which will last for years to come.

James Fenton, page 12