Tuesday 20 March 2018

Television review: Adams and the Divided Self

The Docklands Bomb : Executing Peace (BBC1)

Illustration Jim Cogan
Illustration Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There's a Tommy Cooper sketch in which one side of his body is dressed up like a German officer, with the other profile being that of an upper-class British type.

With that air of deep sadness which Cooper exuded, convinced of the futility of his efforts, he would manouevre himself first into the German position, then the British position, and a ridiculous "conversation" would ensue.

Cooper would grind away, hoping against hope that there might be just one person in the audience - perhaps one person in the whole world - who was stupid enough to think that this was a meeting of the two officers, rather than one man desperately pretending to be both of them.

For a long time now, IRA/Sin Fein has presented itself to the public in a way that calls to mind that Tommy Cooper sketch - a slightly refined version of it perhaps, with one side in an army outfit, and the other wearing a suit, in which the audience is allowed to see just one half of this divided self, knowing that the other half is always there.

Indeed Cooper was still a big star when the IRA was developing this act of theirs, and you wonder if there were doubters at the time in the republican movement, who felt that it couldn't possibly work. That you couldn't send well-known IRA men out there pretending to be mere politicians, insisting that all matters pertaining to bombing and so forth are nothing to do with them, that you'd have to ask the IRA about that.

I mean, there must have been the odd voice raised at the time, suggesting that all those super-smart journalists would treat this obviously fictional construction with such scorn, it wouldn't last a week. That the media would simply refuse to talk to them in any circumstances, no more than they would talk to anyone else who was pretending to be something he wasn't, say, a gangland figure who for some weird reason was trying to pass himself off as a member of the SDLP.

Indeed some members of IRA/Sinn Fein may have been surprised and quietly delighted that they were being allowed on television at all, even with them using "the voice of an actor", since there was already so much acting going on anyway.

So it was instructive to see Gerry Adams on The Docklands Bomb - Executing Peace, being interviewed back in 1996, just after that bomb had brought an end to the IRA "ceasefire".

When a TV reporter asks him if he knew this bombing was going to happen, he says, "no, of course not".

The reporter suggests that it would be "outrageous", and "strange" given all the efforts that Adams and other "Sinn Fein" leaders had made to persuade the IRA to preserve the ceasefire, that the IRA would take such a decision without consulting either Adams or some of his senior "Sinn Fein" colleagues.

And then Adams lands the punchline: "It's no surprise, the IRA would not consult Sinn Fein about military operations".

Oh how we laugh at such lines, given all that we know now, looking at this scene from the last century, this little bit of history.

Except there's a slight complication here, that you don't normally find in a documentary about some terrible event that happened 20 years ago - many of the protagonists in The Docklands Bomb are indeed figures from history, they are leading quiet lives or have just retired , but one man is still out there, still saying things like "the IRA would not consult Sinn Fein about military operations", and expecting to be believed. Expecting indeed, that a significant percentage of the electorate will soon be voting for what he would call Sinn Fein, but what can also be called the IRA.

The Docklands Bomb was driven in a truck all the way from South Armagh. Two decades later Gerry Adams is still being asked about the boys of the county Armagh, and their singular contributions to the cause. And other things he couldn't possibly know about.

Except now he's handling these questions, not with his back to the wall after a massive IRA explosion, but sauntering around the constituencies on his way to a big result -- because the thing you don't hear much about the Docklands Bomb, is that it worked.

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