The Handshake

It was tempting to write a blow-by-blow account of Prince Charles’ visit to Ireland last week, but there was little point in doing so; the mainstream media coverage was so overwhelming that you couldn’t escape it if you wanted to. Prince Charles (hereafter to be referred to as simply “Charles”; no Englishman is the “Prince of Wales”) made many a statement about how we’ve all suffered from the enmity between England and Ireland, and I do believe he was being sincere in his empathy. He’s in a fine position for that sort of thing.

But first, there was the handshake.

That awkward public handshake between Charles and Gerry Adams, followed by a brief private meeting. Mr. Adams described the talk as a good one, and that all parties were interested in moving the peace process forward. Many in the Republic saw this gesture as a sign of hope and healing; many in the northern six counties saw it as a betrayal by Sinn Fein, particularly those that lost loved ones to the Parachute Regiment, of which Charles is colonel-in-chief. Clearly, this is not your daddy’s Sinn Fein.

It had to be a particularly difficult thing to do for both men. After all, Charles did lose his great-uncle and mentor Lord Mountbatten to an IRA bombing in 1979 (which also killed three innocent people), and Mr. Adams was interred, tortured, and demonized by the British government. Oh yes, and he was also shot several times by loyalists (as in loyal to the “crown”), possibly in collusion with the British military. It’s not a pissing contest; I have a couple of nice things to say about both men, and I have my criticisms as well.

First off, to those angry with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, or Sinn Fein as a whole, I do understand. I’ve cried red-hot tears over lost loved ones myself. But these men are politicians, and when you are a politician, and a foreign “dignitary” visits your country, you shake hands and meet. It’s called diplomacy. It may have a desired effect; it may not. Although it may be hard to swallow, it’s better than the alternative, which I fear may soon raise it’s ugly head. While SF’s leaders were visiting with Charles, their party lost an important by-election, which may have been inevitable in any case. At the same time, David Cameron and his faithful lapdog Theresa Villiers are busy campaigning for a repeal of human rights statutes which are an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. They will most likely get what they want. In which case, some folks will consider decommission off the table as well. Takes a little bit of the warm, fuzzy feeling off of the visit, doesn’t it? SF tried to live up to it’s openly stated policy of a progressive peace process, and whether or not they made headway or took a step back remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you’re going to lay blame, lay it where it belongs. SF betrayed no one. They’re just playing the game that they have to play.

And now for Charles. I’m not a huge fan of the family. They’ve never done anything to me personally, but they do hold massive sway with those who have, not to mention their millions of adoring fans. At the same time, the man is a philanthropist of sorts, and as I said, I do believe his visit was indeed in goodwill, and that he personally wishes to see a cessation of hostilities between all the peoples of Ireland and England as well.

Two things.

The visit was oddly timed. I’ll leave it up to the reader to dwell on that issue.

Secondly, I know that his finger was not on the trigger during Bloody Sunday or any of the other atrocities that the Paras carried out over the years. But as colonel-in-chief of the regiment, I do believe that a heartfelt apology, rather than an expression of sympathy, was in order.

Finally, to all those dismayed by having to watch Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness shake hands with Charles, here’s a bit of a balm.

Everyone in England had to watch it, too.

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