Posted By: April 16, 2014

Allison Morris. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Journalists often get carried away when describing political events - historic,
monumental, symbolic - but apart from bulking out the word count such terms are
rarely used appropriately. I have a different barometer for judging the importance
of events. if I get into a taxi and the driver says, "What do you think about...?"
then it really was an occurrence worth noting. I've written before in this column
that despite the hype surrounding the failed Haass talks not one member of the
public mentioned it to me or my journalist colleagues at the time. The same can't be
said for Martin McGuinness's recent dinner date with Her Majesty. "Here, what you
think about thon McGuinness and the queen? sure if someone had told you that 10
years ago you'd have laughed them out of town," was the running theme of several
taxi journey conversations. And when it comes to journeys what a remarkable one the
Sinn Fein deputy First Minister has been on, from the Bogside to the banqueting
table. Seated at a table dripping in gilded opulence, groaning with fine food and
vintage wine. Not the sort of place you would have ever expected the radical young
Derry rebel of the past to turn up.

Had the McGuinness of old been spotted loitering outside a royal palace he'd have
been sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy.

But it was a perfectly fitting venue for the white-tie suited and booted ministerial
statesman of the present day. There is no getting away from the fact that Sinn Fein
are now part of the establishment and despite still being leader in title it is
McGuinness and not Gerry Adams who is leading them into all-Ireland electoral
dominance. As Adams's descent into a comical caricature of himself continues - his
bizarre twitter account, talk of ducks and baths and inappropriate song lyrics, his
selective amnesia - McGuinness has gone from strength to strength.

Fully committed to the process, the party with a notoriously tight reign on its
members seems unstoppable. Old Bailey bomber Gerry Kelly will be part of the
interviewing panel for the next PSNI chief constable - another one of those
jawdropping, unthinkable-10-years-ago events. Accepting an invitation to dinner at
the queen's house - or one of them at least; she has quite the property portfolio -
was, as many have pointed out, about votes in the republic where the party is
soaring ahead in the polls. In the main, unscathed by the troubles and partitioned
for almost a century, voters in the South, coming out the back of a crippling
recession, have embraced 'new Sinn Fein' and their message of watered-down
socialism. Queen Elizabeth visiting the Garden of remembrance last year managed to
shmooze over all but the most hardline of residents of the 26 counties. The same
cannot be said for Republicans from the North, among them many former prisoners who
feel well and truly shafted. Despite being surrounded by shinners during the
weekend's royal engagements,  it is McGuinness who will bear the brunt of the
vitriol from those republicans baffled by a process of engagement with the former
enemy that is inexplicable to them. These are people scarred and damaged by a war
no-one wants to mention any more. One commentator called them 'useful idiots'. The
one-time darlings of the anti-sinn Fein media were the first to be called when a bit
of Shinner bashing was required but must have sat last week watching toasts being
made wondering when the phone would ring. The realisation is finally dawning that
it's all over and they really have been left behind, demoted to the lowly status of
an angry loyalist flag protester shouting 'traitor' and 'sell-out' from the
sidelines. A by-product of McGuinness's attendance at Windsor is that it has sent
political unionism into a tailspin in a crucial election year.

How do they attack IRA/sSnn Fein when the party is IRA no more with a leadership
that makes the right moves at the right times?

Peter robinson was forced to concede he would now be willing to meet the Pope,
albeit in a hypothetical situation as there are no actual plans for Francis to visit
the north. Uncomfortable territory for the DUP leader as the nationalist electorate
are much more forgiving than his own who punished him harshly, stripping him of his
Westminster seat following his own annus horribilis. Sinn Fein is creating a new
brand of left-of-centre politics. Is it socialism? republican? Would anyone dare
mention that dirty word of the past, Marxism? Or who remembers that brief 1970s
dalliance with communism? Of course not, it's none of the above. It is new Sinn Fein
and it is working. Voters north and south can't get enough of it.