Wednesday 22 May 2019

Adams would do well to walk away now - but he isn't the only one hurting politics

Gerry Adams should think about moving aside to prevent his baggage from harming Sinn Féin. Younger party members like Mary Lou McDonald would then stand a better chance of challenging Fianna Fáil
Gerry Adams should think about moving aside to prevent his baggage from harming Sinn Féin. Younger party members like Mary Lou McDonald would then stand a better chance of challenging Fianna Fáil
Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

Let me tell you about 1983, the year when prison officer Brian Stack was shot. That was the year when a car bomb exploded outside Harrods in London, killing six - three police officers and three civilians.

It was the year when a guard and an Irish soldier were killed during a shootout in Leitrim, after the IRA kidnapped businessman Don Tidey.

It was the year when 38 republicans broke out of the Maze Prison in Lisburn, and a prison officer died of a heart attack after being stabbed by an escapee.

Throughout the North, people were shot while cutting a hedge, cleaning a shop window, delivering letters, leaving the dole office, having a flutter in a betting office or doing milk deliveries.

Here's what thousands of families have had to learn to live with following the Good Friday Agreement: peace doesn't mean justice for those who lost loved ones and saw their killers go free. Peace just means an end, more or less, to the cycle of death.

In 1983, the death toll was bloody - just as it was in all those other years of a civil war lasting three decades. In the year when Mr Stack was paralysed, people also died in explosions from bombs hidden in a lamp post, a digger, a farm outbuilding, various cars, a derelict building and in the ceiling of a college classroom, where RUC members were hearing a lecture.

They were shot outside churches, and Queen's University, and one man walking along the street was beaten to death by loyalists. Death rained down in landmines, booby-traps, mortar bombs, bullets, bricks, fists and boots. These details were compiled by Malcolm Sutton for the index on CAIN, the Conflict Archive on the Internet.

Every last one of those deaths was tragic and utterly wrong, whether they were soldiers or police officers or IRA volunteers or civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In excess of 3,500 deaths occurred as a result of the conflict, according to CAIN. Between 1998 and the present, the dissidents' campaign has claimed roughly 150 lives, by comparison. Figures can be anonymous. But behind each death is a face, a name, a family.

The funerals have all but stopped now thanks to the peace process, which required compromise. That doesn't mean justice should be set aside. But this week's charades in the Dáil are about politicking - not justice.

The Stacks will never receive the answers they seek through politicians manoeuvring for electoral advantage (all parties are guilty of doing this), or by confronting Mr Adams at a press conference. A truth commission is how victims are most likely to get some limited satisfaction.

But Her Majesty's government is resisting one because of what Judge Denning (in another context) called the "appalling vista" - a dirty war fought by the British forces in the North while claiming to be peacekeepers.

Pressure from Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin for an independent truth forum would benefit the Stacks, if they are genuine about helping victims of the Troubles. But I wonder with how much conviction the Irish authorities are promoting it?

The Stack brothers have given us a compelling image of a loving father whose company and guidance they were denied. Not only did the IRA murder him, they lied about it for decades - a scenario which has cast a long shadow over that family's lives. It's clear this week's political row is a last resort - they tried quiet meetings with senior Republicans but without satisfaction.

They believe Gerry Adams is withholding information, and on the balance of probabilities, it seems likely that he is. As an elected representative, he has clear responsibilities. Yet if he starts supplying the names of IRA members, he runs the risk of assassination. Already, he needs protection from dissident republicans. I don't see how that would shore up the peace process: quite the contrary.

The Stacks are being used by parties opposed to Sinn Féin. Fianna Fáil brought Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams into the mainstream but they'd have preferred him to stay in Stormont - they don't want him facing them in Leinster House, with his party nibbling at their support base. Mr Martin, the could-be Taoiseach, is having a field day with this case.

I'm bone weary of the selective amnesia in the Republic regarding the Troubles. The Stack case is beyond sad. As are many, many of those deaths which politicians will never mention. Nothing to be gained. But with a general election an ever present possibility under this shaky Coalition, there is a material benefit to causing damage to Sinn Féin and particularly its leader over the Stack case.

I'm equally jaded by the cant and point-scoring that passes for debate in the Leinster House chamber where TDs gather, among them opportunists, greasy-pole climbers, self-promoters, chancers and hypocrites. Politics are being played out here, rather than a genuine attempt to help the Stacks find answers or accelerate justice for their father.

Yes, the IRA murdered him and it should never have happened. It was as appalling and needless as all those other deaths in London, Leitrim and various points of the North mentioned earlier - and the numerous deaths there isn't the space to list here. Mr Stack's murder was wrong not because the IRA wasn't meant to kill Irish security forces so his was an unsanctioned killing, but because all murders are wrong. There were no legitimate targets.

No one could dispute Mr Adams's contribution, and the risks he took for peace. But his baggage is harming his party. He needs to make way for younger members of the party - although, ironically, Fianna Fáil has much to lose from a strong replacement for Mr Adams.

Members of the Sinn Féin old guard aren't the only politicians causing damage. The cynicism of other parties and individuals, including Mr Martin and Alan Farrell, is a sight to behold.

The people on both parts of this island voted overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 to avoid further needless deaths, such as that of Mr Stack. And the peace process is a success.

This may be inadequate consolation to the Stack family, but it has saved other lives. Amid the sham indignation aired in the Dáil, we need to bear this in mind, too.

Irish Independent

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