First you have to consider the setting. The Provos have been holding a huge number of these commemorations in the past few months, a good indication that they’re trying to reassure the punters that they are still republicans. Several members of the leadership have also been kite-flying, though Gerry has kept close-lipped. This won’t surprise anyone familiar with Gerry’s modus operandi, which is to stay silent until he’s clear which way the wind is blowing. He would certainly never have gone for an Ard Fheis unless he could be sure of the result in advance. Finally, backslapping of the crowd is always a sure sign that something is going on. When Gerry tells the broad masses they are the most politically astute people in Europe and can’t possibly be fooled, you know an enormous bamboozle is taking place. As Fionnuala O Connor has remarked, the Provo strategy has been to retreat with a swagger and proclaim victory; they have been helped enormously by unionist paranoia and supremacism.
The policing move is of course a requirement of the St Andrews “agreement”, which was arrived at like this: Big Ian told the two governments what he wanted, the governments said, All right Ian, and nobody agreed to anything. But basically, the whole procedure tallied with the Provos’ current politics, their major demand being for Big Ian to go into coalition with them and put their bums on ministerial seats at Stormont. The whole thing accounts for An Phoblacht these days having something of the aspect of the Weekly World News, minus the intentional humour. We read strident demands that that the British make the DUP live up to their obligations and prevent them running away from the peace process. Translated, this means the Brits should make Big Ian prime minister whether he likes it or not.
Will Gerry get away with it? He probably will, if only for lack of an alternative, but not without some difficulty. He has already lost several MLAs, who have either jumped or been pushed, while the dissident roadshow on policing, comprising the IRSP, the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and various independents, continues to draw audiences significant enough that the Provos have felt the need to turn up and argue their case. But the opposition is still desperately weak politically. The deselected MLAs are keeping very quiet, and the dissidents have mainly confined their political stance to lobbying the Provos, in the hope that Gerry will suddenly discover what principled politics are. Unless there is a walkout at the Ard Fheis, it is likely that Gerry will be able to go on bamboozling for the foreseeable future.