Gerry Adams was keynote speaker last night on the next phase of his Uniting 1reland tour, speaking at Cork City Hall with a panel of six including veteran broadcaster Michael O'Muireachtaigh and ex Farmers Union leader Ruaidhri Deasy. The event was a Sinn Fein initiative, but meant to engage a broader audience, Adams said.
The objective was to start a debate about unification of North and South, and Adams had clearly been better briefed than before the general election about how to shmooze the south, His commanding though unoriginal speech was littered with sporting references, mentions of Corkmen of note and good natured but disparaging remarks about Kerry, which is what Corkonians apparently like. His chief point was that a single administration would be cheaper and examples of health service cooperation were given. He avoided talk of republican values of the kind Pearse Doherty is famous for, because of course Sinn Fein in govnt in the North is indistinguishable from any other European social democratic party happily implementing neo-con economic policy.
He was followed by speakers delivering some pretty uninspiring fare including a history of the beginning of national schools in 1850, the cost of passports for cows moving back and forth across the border and some words of encouragement from GAA managers after a difficult game.
Dr. Ruan O'Donnell held the audience with his account of our national troubles, but the idea that if we had been a united country (6 instead of 4.5 million) we would have had greater clout in negotiating the EU IMF deal seemed far fetched - and bypassed entirely the question of how a united Ireland would have prevented us from ever getting to that point - as was his rosy belief that the new government have got to grips with our economic problems and the future looks bright again.
What disappointed about the evening was that apart from Adams point about the savings to be made by uniting the two adminstrations, there was no discussion of the problems or the purpose of a single country. A packed hall was essentially none the wiser at the end of the evening than when it started. Perhaps, as Michael O'Muireachtaigh said, the idea of a united Ireland was a lovely dream somewhere beyond the horizon that would somehow one day arrive, we knew not how.
In the short term, you have to ask, why would anyone in the North want to vote for unification and suffer the nightmare of a Fianna Fail or a Fine Gael government? And what about the problems of multinationals and American interests , which are calling the shots no matter what colour flag we put up on our poles?
The best (and worst) speeches came from the floor, with one woman saying that if a united Irleand meant a panel of six men and one woman, they could stuff it. A man said to applause that every attempt to build a republic had resulted in yet another government pretty much like the last and that the pursuit of equality was far more important than the pursuit of a single but similar government. The accommodation of so many speakers for the evening meant that these questions were not answered by the panel, undermining the idea that a dialogue was being had. That may have been a matter of relief for Adams who sat uncomfortably through two rants from old timers about getting British troops out of Ireland now.
Instead the evening ended with two surreal events. Gerry Adams presented a plate for sevices to the country to Michael O'Muireachtaigh, a man who had with tears in his eyes talked about the 'little people' being given a chance to go to Trinity and about how the Queen's recent visit was the best sign yet that a republic was on the way. It was his turn to shuffle uncomfortably when Adams reminisced fondly about listening to him on the radio during his many spells in prison. And finally, just to cement the impression that this was an evening of sentiment rather than debate, we ended by looking at the backs of Adams and co lined up as they faced the flag to the sounds of the national anthem, sung beautifully if sentimentally by her off the telly, Deirdre Archbold.