Sunday 19 January 2020

For Goodness sake, Gerry, it's not just all about you

Gerry Adams musing on the Christian forgiveness of past sins? The omens aren't good, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

'IT'S a wonderful time to be a comic," observed Northern Irish stand-up Jake O'Kane during a recent gig at Belfast's iconic Empire Bar. "You don't have to write anything. You just read the newspaper."

He was referring to the hapless and increasingly ludicrous attempts by Gerry Adams to dig himself out of a hole after it was revealed that his brother, Liam, an alleged child abuser, had been secretly working for Sinn Fein for years -- an approach which O'Kane basically summed up as: "I have no memory of having a brother."

Which sounds about right from a man who has a similar memory loss about his time in charge of the IRA during Bloody Friday and the abduction and murder of mother-of- 10 Jean McConville, albeit that the fantasy is crumbling fast as the publication date of Provo killer Brendan Hughes's posthumous memoirs draws ever closer. Dolours Price is the latest to go public with her recollections of the Troubles, when Gerry Adams was, she confirmed last week, her Officer Commanding.

But while Gerry's ostrich act is gold dust to a comedian looking for material, you couldn't blame O'Kane and his contemporaries if they were nervous about reality's habit of proving way more bizarre than anything they could ever invent.

That's the premise behind a new BBC quiz show called The Bubble. The producers take a selection of guests, isolate them from news and television for a few days, then put them in the confines of a topical news quiz where they have to answer questions on stories without knowing whether they're true or false. As a guest said on RTE Radio's Sunday Show last week, imagine if, during the recent George Lee circus, guests had been cut off from the media and then told that the former broadcaster (or should that now read "former former broadcaster"?) had resigned from the Dail after only nine months in the job because he felt, poor thing, that nobody was listening to him.

Who'd have guessed that one was true?

All the same, there are some stories so implausible you just know they have to be true. Hence the widespread lack of surprise when it was revealed that Channel 4 had asked Gerry Adams to present a documentary on Jesus. This is a network, after all, which has previously featured Ali G, Marge Simpson and Holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad giving the Alternative Queen's Speech on Christmas Day, so Gerry riffing on Jesus is pretty much par for the course.

Channel 4 promptly got what it wanted, which was lots of free publicity for its new series, The Bible: A History, as fellow guests objected to being lined up without their knowledge alongside Gerry Adams and the Daily Mail went helpfully ape.

Never mind the quality, feel the column inches. Result: a series that few would otherwise have watched becomes must-see television.

We'll have the chance to judge the results for ourselves this evening, when Gerry's contribution goes to air; but it has to be said that the omens aren't good. Asking somebody like the Sinn Fein President to muse on Christian forgiveness is like asking an amnesia victim what they had for breakfast two weeks ago. The whole point about Adams the self-invented icon is that he believes himself blameless -- in one preview of the programme, he apparently says flat out that he doesn't think he has any blood on his hands -- so his contribution to any debate on the forgiveness of past sins is bound to consist of airy platitudes. Or indeed self-pity. And, sure enough, that's there too. Another sample quote: "Bad things have been done to me, I have to forgive those who did them."

Not much sign there of taking the beam out of one's own eye first. It's exactly the same approach that the Sinn Fein boss took to the abuse of his own niece, and his subsequent discovery that his father was a child abuser too.

Only a couple of weeks ago, he was telling Ryan Tubridy on the Late, Late Show: "I intend to get therapy." It's all me, me, me.

Any responsibility for bad things, meanwhile, has to be couched in the vaguest and most generalised manner: "We are not perfect and we do our best." That's the Royal We presumably, otherwise known as the Majestic Plural.

Adams is the master of this distancing tactic. Once the subject comes too uncomfortably close to his own moral culpability, he broadens it out into a philosophical or political debate. It's classic psychological evasion. First person when you're the "victim". Third person when you're the culprit.

A taste of what to expect from Gerry's pilgrimage to the Holy Land has already been provided by the man himself on his blog, where he can be found asking: "If Jesus had been Irish, what would he have done?"

Only somebody whose horizons are so narrow that they process every experience and thought through the prism of the struggle for Irish unification would reduce the Christian message to the level of a fifth-form essay competition in this crass way.

Who cares what Jesus would have done if he'd been Irish? He wasn't. More interesting to talk about what Jesus was, what Jesus said, what Jesus meant -- not what you, trapped in your little local sectarian Ulster bubble, want to make of him. But then that's Ulster for you. It's like a simulacrum of Plato's Cave, whose inhabitants never really believe that anything is real except the crude shadows which they themselves have cast on the wall.

Perhaps that's the real insight which Channel 4, even if unintentionally, is offering here. That people never really manage to escape their own limitations. Think of it as the human tragedy.

So, for Gerry Adams, Jesus can only ever be viewed as just another bearded potential liberationist who "lived in an occupied country"; Jesus is simply a distorting mirror which reflects back the Belfast man's self-satisfied image of himself.

Shown a first-century tomb in the desert, Adams even compares it to the tunnels at the Long Kesh internment camp. It's all a bit pathetic really. You can take him to the Via Dolorosa, but ultimately the Falls Road is all he ever sees in his mind's eye.

You'd almost pity Adams for his utter lack of imagination if he wasn't, as Jake O'Kane also put it in his Empire gig, such a "lying beardie blighter". Only he didn't say "blighter".

That's the thing about comedy. It really gets to the heart of the matter better than 1,00 over-hyped Channel 4 documentaries ever could.

Sunday Independent

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