Friday 13 December 2019

Gerry Adams' gunpoint comments 'represent veiled threat' to journalists

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Veronica Guerin
Martin O'Hagan

Niall O'Connor and Emma Jane Hade

INTERNATIONAL organisations that campaign for the protection and rights of journalists have expressed their shock after Gerry Adams openly joked about a newspaper editor being held at gunpoint.

The Sinn Fein leader has been left disgraced following his shocking remarks, which have been widely interpreted as representing a veiled threat to press freedom in this country.

At a five-star dinner event in New York last week, the Louth TD made light of a gun being placed to the head of the editor of the Irish Independent. He later repeated the comments on his official blog.

"And when the Irish Independent condemned his actions as 'murder most foul' what did Michael Collins do? He dispatched his men to the office of the Independent and held the editor at gunpoint as they dismantled the entire printing machinery and destroyed it," Mr Adams wrote.

This morning, Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald sought to defend her party leader on Newstalk Breakfast. She claimed he was "was speaking actually more generally on the editorial line" and said the lines pursued by the Sunday Independent were "utterly scurrilous".

Mr Adams' remarks have been met with shock and dismay both at home and internationally.

The Association of European Journalists said the remarks should concern any citizen interested in the freedom of the press.

"If you have what opinion polls tell us occasionally - the leader of the largest party in Ireland - idly and historically speculating about shooting editors, then one should be worried," said the association's Irish chairperson Martin Alioth.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned the remarks.

"While we realise Gerry Adams was joking when he made a remark about 'holding an editor at gunpoint', we are not amused. We are living through a period of record violence against journalists around the world. Quite simply this is not a laughing matter," executive director Joel Simon told the Irish Independent.

Two journalists from the Independent group were murdered over their courageous writing to expose criminals. Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin was gunned down in 1996 while the Sunday World's Martin O'Hagan was killed by the Loyalist Volunteer Force in Northern Ireland in 2001.

Mr Adams made his remarks amid a growing view in political circles that he has been seriously damaged over his handling of the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.

Ms Cahill, who described Mr Adams's gun remarks as "sick", has confirmed that she has been contacted by further abuse victims who say they were subsequently subjected to an IRA kangaroo court.

The issue is due to be debated in the Dail on Wednesday.

Fianna Fail's justice spokesperson Niall Collins said last night that he viewed Mr Adams's remark as representing a "threat" to journalists.

"I found Gerry Adams's remarks to be deeply insulting and somewhat threatening and I believe he has further displayed a blatant disregard to the families of loved ones who have been murdered through the use of a firearm.

"I believe the Sinn Fein leader should immediately withdraw his remarks and instead focus on coming clean on whatever information he and his Sinn Fein colleagues have on the cover-up of child sexual abuse," he told the Irish Independent.

The National Union of Journalists Irish organiser Seamus Dooley said: "As the NUJ opposed Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, we also oppose threats to journalists from politicians.

"The price of seeking election is accepting that you will be held to account. Mr Adams is free to dislike the Sunday Independent but he is not free to threaten or use bullying language towards journalists.

"It is ironic that he should make his comments in America, where freedom of expression is prized. I also would remind Mr Adams that journalists are workers who deserve the right to be treated with dignity in the conduct of their job. If he has a complaint, let him lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman."

Meanwhile, the family of Ms Guerin, who was shot dead on June 25, 1996, also strongly condemned the comments.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Veronica's brother Jimmy said the public should expect better from a prominent political leader.

"For any political leader to make these remarks in jest is totally improper and deeply insensitive," Mr Guerin said.

"It will remind us of two wonderful journalists, one of whom was my sister," he said,

"What Gerry Adams did was most inappropriate. It is similar to someone making light of suicide, or depression, or anything else.

"It shows a deep sense of disrespect for the freedom of the press."

Irish Independent

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