The Irish Peace Process: Adams receives polite welcome to mainstream: David McKittrick reports on the political absorption of the republicans' unloved leader

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The Independent Online
Every ambassadorial limousine in the Irish Republic scrunched to a halt on the gravel of Dublin Castle yesterday, as dozens of their Excellencies came to watch the absorption of Gerry Adams into the political mainstream.

Every limousine, that is, except one. The missing diplomat was David Blatherwick, British ambassador to the Irish Republic, whose absence caused waves of disapproval in Dublin.

The occasion was, therefore, both a genuinely historic moment and a pointer to the fact that this is going to be a long and difficult process.

Gerry Adams got to sit, for the first time in his life, with representatives of all the major southern political parties. It was a formal welcome into the mainstream, but it was noticeably not a warm one.

Nobody denounced Mr Adams and his colleagues, but the themes which concerned most of the other parties are not those which he would want to see high on the agenda. They harped on the question of the guns which are still under IRA control; the republican punishment beatings, which must stop; and, politically, they dwelt on the issue of Unionist consent - key political buzzwords in the Republic.

None of this augurs very well for republican hopes of forging a pan-nationalist front. Most of those at the table, in fact, dislike the republicans at least as much as the northern Unionists do.

None the less, Mr Adams was given a polite reception. Much warmer welcomes, by contrast, were given to the Alliance Party, which has some Protestant support in the North, and to Gordon Wilson, the Enniskillen businessman whose daughter Marie died in an IRA bomb attack at a Remembrance ceremony in 1987.

This is where the South's main sympathies lie - with the victims of the violence, who were movingly remembered by several speakers. But there was a job to be done, in bringing Sinn Fein in from the cold; and it was done, before all those ambassadors, with due dignity and ceremonial if not with warmth.

The absence of the British ambassador has caused some annoyance in Dublin, and helped to stoke an apprehension that London is not going to move as far or as fast in the peace process as the Irish government would like.

Apart from that, it was a day for poetry: speaker after speaker reached for the dictionary of quotations and produced lines from Yeats, O'Casey, Thomas Davis and Bobby Sands.

The favourite poet of all was Seamus Heaney, with Dick Spring, the deputy premier and foreign affairs minister, appropriating the line which best describes the moment: 'Hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge.'