Wednesday 16 January 2019

Sinn Féin's lucrative fundraising effort in US will be damaged by an 'ironic' gaffe

Lofty comparison: Rosa Parks, the ‘first lady of civil rights
Lofty comparison: Rosa Parks, the ‘first lady of civil rights
John Downing

John Downing

Journalists from overseas made a beeline for Gerry Adams during the February General Election campaign, reminding us that beyond these shores he is one of the most recognisable figures in Irish public life.

Part of it is the brutal reality that the Northern 'Troubles' were the only international story out of Ireland for the latter half of the last century. And Gerry Adams's name and face have persisted since the early 1980s, contributing to his international notoriety.

Sinn Féin has used these realities to its advantage at times, especially in the US, which has been a very lucrative source of funding dating right back to the 1840s and the day of the Young Irelanders.

So, this story will generate a lot of coverage in the US, where the use of the N-word is, for very good reason, deemed especially offensive.

Irony is often a dangerous device when put in writing. It is doubly dangerous when used in the confines of a 140-character maximum Twitter box.

Neither is irony a strong point with many Americans. But Mr Adams's main defence is that he was using the N-word in an ironic way to compare those who rebelled against slavery in the US with the rebelling nationalists in Ballymurphy.

Mr Adams's assumption that those people with whom Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams deals in the US know him, and know he is not racist, is a dangerous and arrogant assumption. Then there is the contentious historic comparison between the experience of Irish nationalists and enslaved African Americans.

There is no doubting that Irish nationalists suffered much injustice and oppression.

There is no doubt that discrimination against Northern Ireland nationalists continued right up to the close of the 20th Century in Northern Ireland. But there is utterly no comparison with the total misery and denial of all humanity with which African American slaves were treated.

Gerry Adams was already on thin ice in his reaction to discourteous treatment meted out to him at the White House at the recent St Patrick's Day festivities hosted by President Obama. The Sinn Féin leader tweeted that his situation was comparable to that of Rosa Parks, the hero of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, who refused to sit in the back of the bus.

Ms Parks, who died in 2005, is rightly revered as the "first lady of civil rights" and the "mother of freedom". Gerry Adams is no Rosa Parks. Even if he were, it is not for him to draw such lofty comparisons. That is a judgment for others to make in the fullness of time.

Sinn Féin's US fundraising is very considerable and unrivalled by any other Irish political party. Figures released last year revealed that it had raised the equivalent of €11m in the years 1994-2015, an average of over half a million euro per year.

The list of donors is prestigious and unsurprisingly includes prominent Irish Americans and trade unions. At least some of these could be alarmed enough to re-think their munificence in relation to an organisation headed by Mr Adams.

Returns at the US Justice Department show a very polished fundraising operation, built up over the years. This has established donors right across the US. It includes New York construction companies linked to Irish-American families.

More than two-thirds of the money donated came in sums of $1,000 or more from individuals and companies spanning the widest range of business.

Film actors Martin Sheen, 'Lord of the Rings' star Viggo Mortensen, Dennis Hopper, Irish actor Fionnula Flanagan and Oscar-winner Anjelica Huston also donated money.

Most money was raised in 1994-95 as the peace talks were built.

Irish Independent

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