Now it’s important to remember that not all unionists are declared unionists. You’ll get people from a nationalist background who present what they hope will be accepted as a reasonable façade, a perspective on politics which appears fair-minded and balanced – that is, they talk of the need to focus on bread-and-butter issues, to disown violence, not to be bogged down in the bloody past, to get on with life. But if you scrape back the smooth skin on the top of their political creed you’ll find that underneath it boils with a hatred of Gerry Adams.
There could be all sorts of reasons for this. I suppose if a loved one was killed by the IRA and you thought Gerry Adams was the head of the IRA at the time, you might hate him. But in my experience, people who have lost loved ones to either loyalists or republican paramilitaries tend to be forgiving, open people. In fact I know one person who lost a family member through IRA actions who holds Gerry Adams in considerable esteem. But then that person isn’t a unionist, declared or undeclared.
The reason for the hatred usually relates to Gerry Adams’s past – that he hasn’t said he was in the IRA, that he hasn’t said he’s sorry for all the things the IRA did. Again, I’m convinced that’s a skin. What the unionists who hate Gerry Adams really dislike is less any violence he may have been associated with and more his success in moving republicanism into politics and doing so, at least in the north, with spectacular success. It’s the future these beneath-the-skin unionists are worried about. If they talk a lot about the past, that’s because they hope that if they can rewrite the history of the past forty years here and show republicans (as led by Gerry Adams) as cruel and/or stupid and/or damaging to everything decent people hold dear, then that that might cripple the future of republicanism on this island. This hope rests on the belief that the public are stupid and won’t notice the rearrangement of the historical furniture.
They say nothing succeeds like success. True. And nothing succeeds in arousing hatred like success.