Gulf between Mandela and Provos
Sinn Fein is shamelessly using the late African leader for propaganda purposes, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Gerry Adams tweets from South Africa: "Visit 2 Madiba lying in state is pilgrimage 4 scores of 1000s waiting in hot sun. Honoured 2 b here. Mo laoch. Mo ghile mhear. Amandla! Xox". To those who struggle with text-speak, Irish or Xhosa, here's a translation: "Visit to Madiba (Nelson Mandela's clan name) is a pilgrimage for scores of thousands waiting in hot sun. Honoured to be here. He is my hero, my impetuous love. Power! Kisses hugs kisses".
"Se mo laoch mo Ghile Mear" is the first line of Mo Ghile Mear -- an 18th-Century lament by the goddess Eire for the exiled Bonnie Prince Charlie. "Amandla" is a rallying cry at protest meetings: the crowd response completes a phrase meaning "Power to the people".
Adams is ubiquitous in the expression of his grief and loss. On twitter there are three photos of him with Mandela, one of which is with Martin McGuinness, who tweets photos of himself from the memorial service with Bill Clinton and with Archbishop Tutu, whom he appeared to be pinning down in his seat. (He was in the same row as President Mugabe, but he resisted the temptation to suggest a selfie.)
One has to hand it to Sinn Fein. As any aspiring starlet knows, it helps to be seen with people more popular and famous than yourself. Within a few hours of Mandela's death, a huge poster was pasted on the Bogside Free Derry Corner showing Adams and McGuinness flanking Mandela. (It was vandalised by members of what Sinn Fein describe as "small unrepresentative groups" -- code for dissidents.)
In the Dail and in the media, Adams's narrative was of a long and close relationship between him and Mandela, and Sinn Fein and the
African National Congress (ANC). Because it's in the public domain, he mentioned that in his memoirs, Kader Asmal, the organiser of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement for three decades and later a minister in Mandela's government, spoke of the help the IRA gave its military wing in the bombing of an oil refinery in 1980. Adams admitted that Asmal was not a supporter of the IRA, but didn't mention that he obtained the IRA help he wanted by having his friend Michael O'Riordan, general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, negotiate it with Gerry Adams.
If one went simply on Adams's account, he was a stalwart anti-apartheid activist from 1969, became friends with Mandela and his close associates from 1995, and frequently saw his friend after that. He didn't mention the episodes I know about.
In 1996, the political scientist Padraig O'Malley, who had formed close relationships with political players in South African politics as he had in Northern Ireland, "after much badgering" persuaded Roelf Meyer of the Afrikaner National Party and Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC -- the two chief negotiators of the peace settlement -- to visit Ireland. They stayed with Tony O'Reilly, had two-hour meetings with each Northern Ireland political party and gave a joint public lecture. Being a close friend of O'Malley's, I was there, met them and sat through the meeting behind Martin McGuinness. What I took away from the event was the strong advice that peace must be made from the centre outward and negotiators should be interested parties, not outsiders. (I often wonder how the peace process would have evolved had that advice been taken.)
They reported to Mandela that sharing experiences might help break the stalemate in the talks about talks. Unbelievably, O'Malley succeeded in persuading the leading negotiators of all the parties to spend three days in South Africa in 1997 meeting key people from the South African negotiations. Mandela came for most of a day, and was amused to be told there was "an apartheid-like situation" as unionists wouldn't meet the Sinn Fein delegation. He laughed and gave two presentations. "To Sinn Fein, he conveyed a very direct message: no ceasefire and no place at the talks; to unionists: if you insist on the decommissioning of arms to accompany a ceasefire you won't get a ceasefire." Within months the IRA called a ceasefire and Sinn Fein entered the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
For political reasons, it suited unionists to conceal their relationship with Mandela and the ANC, and Sinn Fein to big theirs up. Adams took every opportunity to meet the great man and be photographed with him yet again. Yet Mac Maharaj, who had been in jail with Mandela and was one of his intimates, told O'Malley Mandela couldn't understand Adams. "When Gerry left he said, 'Chaps, what was he saying?'"
However, although David Trimble, for one, kept in touch discreetly with South African contacts, it's true that Sinn Fein fostered the ANC connection skilfully and it's no surprise that Adams was invited to yesterday's ANC memorial service. What is tasteless is the extent Mandela is used for propaganda purposes. And what is disgraceful is the consistent way Sinn Fein has peddled lies about the similarities between the lives of Northern Irish Catholics and South African blacks.
Brazenly, as Danny Morrison did on a radio programme where we had a falling-out two Sundays ago, Sinn Fein spokespeople declare that like blacks, Catholics didn't have the vote. (There was universal suffrage in Westminster and Stormont elections; in local elections, only rate-payers had the vote; yes, there was some gerrymandering.) They declare that like the ANC, they reluctantly adopted violence because there was no other route to equality for nationalists. (Sullen nationalist politicians never tried to engage with NI politics at Stormont or Westminster; and the IRA campaign was for a united Ireland, not equality.) They tell us that Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, once said he would exchange all SA's coercive legislation for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act. (That act was introduced in 1922 at a time of widespread violence; no Northern Irish government ever behaved with the brutality of those of South Africa; it was abolished in 1973.) Peaceful protest was impossible, they say, because of police brutality. (It was the IRA that wrecked the civil rights movement by resorting to arms.) And so on and on and on.
As Eamonn McCann, who has lived in Derry all his life, said the other day in the Irish Times: "It is insulting to black South Africans to imply the experience of Soweto has been much of a muchness with growing up in the Bogside." And for Adams to compare him to Bobby Sands is an insult to a great statesman.
Nelson Mandela had plenty of reason to hate, but he taught his followers instead to love. What Adams, McGuinness and the leadership of the IRA and Sinn Fein did was to teach their followers to hate. They killed, mutilated and ruined the lives and broke the hearts of tens of thousands of their countrymen and enshrined partition for generations to come. Instead of repenting, they spin and lie.
The term most often used of Mandela was "generosity of spirit". What a shame that in Ireland it is the party of the mean-spirited that seeks to steal his cloak.
Tweet that, Gerry.