When Gerry Adams became the Westminster MP for West Belfast in 1983 he is rumoured to have said:
“Even De Valera couldn’t win the Falls!”
He was, perhaps, making the very astute observation that Belfast was never really truly Republican within the Irish political lexicon.
Perhaps within that analysis the man from Ballymurphy saw a way out of the carnage around him.
The objection wasn’t to the British presence in Ireland per se, but to British behaviour in Ireland.
Once the reasons for the Northern rebellion were unpacked it was clear that the Border was way down the list of motivational factors.
I touched on this issue a decade ago in a piece for Magill when the first act of Decommissioning was completed.
The reasons why so many young people in the North had taken up arms against the British state was complex.
The nature of the police force was key.
Then there was the “equality agenda”.
In 2012 it is job done pretty much on both counts.
Anyone claiming that people from a nationalist background in Northern Ireland are in any way “oppressed” today are really trying too hard.
Many years ago Father Des Wilson of Ballymurphy told me that any major political deal had to be able to stand up for fifty years.
He reasoned that meant the signatories would all be safely dead by the time the rapprochement fell apart.
It was also the working lives of the next generation of senior civil servants out the door too.
The partition deal of 1922 did indeed last fifty years.
The old Stormont is dead and isn’t coming back.
Some of the unionists on the side-lines in that ostentatious parliament building complain that it is not a proper a place of proper democratic politics.
The enforced coalition is the only way that even devolved functions can be operated.
The D’Hondt generated line up creates stability.
When the 1922 deal fell apart in the late 1960s Northern Ireland was anything but stable.
The main parties like the current set up a lot.
The DUP have what they always craved, the leadership of the British tribe of Ulster.
Sinn Fein are in permanent power and have a base of operations to assault Leinster House.
In the age of Troika rule and IMF imposed austerity in the 26 counties if the “Shinners” do not grow in popularity then they’re doing something wrong.
They could eclipse the Irish Labour Party within a decade
However, they remain a Northern creation and that will be their powerbase until the revolutionary generation has passed on.
All analogies ultimately come to grief, but when Tim Pat Coogan referred to them as “the Fianna fail of the North” then he probably that wasn’t far off the mark.
De Valera himself privately accepted the reality of Partition and he knew that it would do him no long term political harm as long as he owned the permanently postponable irredentist aspiration.
The economic chaos in the Republic after the tiger died has focussed nationalist heads in the Six Counties to be sensible Redmondites like their ancestors a century ago.
In this survey only seven per cent want a united Ireland now.
I’m with them, but I have to face reality of how people in the Six Counties now see their situation and accept that it is unlikely to change in the next generation.
Now that life in the North is liveable and equitable then clearly Kieran and Siobhan don’t much mind that they have to lick the back of the Queen’s head to send a Christmas card to their cousin in Gweedore.
De Valera would have approved of such pragmatism, although he wouldn’t admit to that publicly.
Looking back to that election victory in 1983 one can only start to assess how Adams’ vision was so magisterial when so many around him had tunnel vision.