Peace: they're getting there

FREE IRELAND Towards a Lasting Peace Gerry Adams Brandon Press, £7.95
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Back in 1969, Gerry Adams muses in this book, he was "maybe too young and too dogmatic". He portrays himself, back in those days, as trying out various non-violent political methods - marches, protests, housing agitation, squatting.

As early as page 28, however, comes the chapter with the unoriginal title of "From reform to revolution", and from then on the IRA and Sinn Fein take centre stage. Mr Adams's subsequent career was anything but dogmatic and unoriginal as he proved himself the most flexible and innovative republican leader of the century.

His leadership skills helped first to maintain the republican movement as a fearsome and deadly fighting machine, and more recently helped to persuade his movement that it was time for the killing to stop. It is possible to commend him for the second achievement while condemning him for the first.

Free Ireland is, for the most part, written in an easy, open style, which is in welcome contrast to the opaqueness of many of the deliberately indistinct speeches he delivered in the run-up to the IRA ceasefire. The book is a reissue of a 1986 work in which he laid out what was then standard republican theory. Two chapters bring it up to date.

Without armed struggle, he wrote in 1986, the issue of Ireland would not even be an issue. In those days the metaphor was of the hammer and the anvil - the IRA versus the British. He declared that the Protestants were Irish, and devoted little thought to the question of what rights they might have: the way to solve the Irish problem was British withdrawal. The question of Unionist consent really did not come into it.

The two new chapters reveal new thinking. Now "peace in Ireland requires a settlement of the long-standing conflict between Irish nationalism and Irish Unionism. We cannot make peace without the Unionists. New relationships will have to be forged between all the people of our country."

Now it's about relationships rather than victories, about persuasion rather than force. He may be over-sanguine in asserting that the consent of a majority of Unionists can be won for Irish unity if London and Dublin pressurise them enough: but the key point is that he is now thinking in terms of persuasion and diplomacy rather than force.

His book gives fascinating glimpses of stories yet untold about the peace process, including secret meetings with Catholic bishops and surreptitious contacts with the Irish government. Even while the violence was going on, Mr Adams was learning the diplomatic ropes and developing techniques that will stand him in good stead in the years of difficult negotiation which lie ahead. He has already shown more sureness of touch than, say, John Major.

The old hammer and anvil vision has gone. Now his message is that this is not a problem of military simplicities, but a multi-faceted question. He has seen - as most Unionists have yet to grasp - that the issue has become irreversibly internationalised. The Unionists have to be taken into account, but so, too, do London, Dublin, Brussels and Washington.

The book opens in the Sixties with northern nationalists fatalistic, apathetic and politically impotent. It closes with Mr Adams and John Hume, of the SDLP, two internationally fted leaders, with no question of a return to second-class citizenship, and with the republicans united and on their way into the political processes.

It gives an insight into the development of the mind of the man who has led his people from the cul-de-sac of violence towards the path of peace.

David McKittrick