To take the second item first, it was striking that the leadership couldn’t put a simple yes/no question on endorsing policing. Instead there is a huge blockbuster resolution containing a condensed version of the entire Provo programme, reiterating support for a united Ireland, the equality agenda, justice for victims of collusion etc ad nauseam. The reason for a rhetorical ploy like this is simple. A yes/no vote on the issue of policing would have posed all kinds of trouble for the Gerryites. Obviously there are the increasing signs of dissidence in the sticks; also, even though Belfast and Derry City are easier to keep a lid on, getting support for the New RUC past the Bloody Sunday families or Relatives For Justice, not unimportant parts of the base, might have taken some doing. The advantage of the blockbuster resolution is that you can either support the leadership or reject the programme as a whole. It’s a bind, and deliberately so.
Another obvious trap is Gerry’s offer to meet the dissidents. He’s pulled this trick a few times in the past, and it’s a good one. If they refuse Gerry’s reasonable offer, the dissidents risk looking so rabid and fanatical as to deter any wavering Provo supporters from going near them. On the other hand, if they agree to talks behind closed doors, such is Gerry’s history of mendacity that they’re even more fucked. The smart play in this situation, the jiu-jitsu move, would be to say that, while they have no desire to sit down around a table with Gerry, they are perfectly happy to meet him in public and debate the peace process in front of an audience. They may or may not win people over, but at least the Sleekit One would be out in the open where you could see him.
There are a couple of other classic Gerry strokes we might expect to see in the next month or two. One will be the wheeling out of hunger strikers, dead volunteers’ families and various heroic figures from republican history – at least the airbrushed version where Brendan Hughes was never on hunger strike and Billy McKee didn’t defend St Matthew’s. It’s a pity that the late Joe Cahill is no longer available to give one of his “I stood at the foot of the gallows for Ireland” speeches, but there must be a fair few of those on tape.
The other Gerry manoeuvre to watch for, especially now that several Stormont candidacies are going begging, will be a high-profile role for selected military men. These will be figures who are totally loyal to the Gerry agenda, but whose military careers will give the impression that our boy has a bunch of fearsome hardliners breathing down his neck. Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly have both played the role to perfection in the past, so don’t be surprised if Brian Keenan starts popping up giving speeches all over the place. It’s a stroke that would be characteristic of Jack Lynch circa 1969, letting the optics suggest unbending republicanism while in fact doing the opposite.
If you’re a chess player you’ll know that with time you acquire the ability to predict your opponent’s next few moves. Gerry is a great Machiavellian operator, but he only has a certain number of strokes and after a while you get to see them coming a mile off. It’s a constant source of wonder to me that so many people keep being suckered by the same gambits time after time.