Friday 13 December 2019

'Once upon a time' is no basis for history

Those who tell fairy tales about armed struggle need to be challenged more vigorously on air

Current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (left) and former republican publicity chief Danny Morrison
Current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (left) and former republican publicity chief Danny Morrison

Eilis O'Hanlon

Freud suggested that distant memories might not actually be recollections of real events, but rather "memories of memories" and that these idealised versions of what once happened were so far removed from the original experience that they're no longer authentic or reliable in any meaningful sense.

It's starting to seem as if the current wave of what can only be described as "Troubles nostalgia" is providing a particularly noxious example of this affliction in action.

Last weekend, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams sent the following tweet to his 64,000 followers on Twitter: "Just listened to Danny M with Aine Lalor [sic] on RTE radio. Brought back many memories."

He was referring to the interview with former IRA propagandist Danny Morrison on Marian Finucane's radio show, which was being fronted that day by Morning Ireland's Aine Lawlor; and if Adams' words conjured up images of a cosy fireside chat, akin to an episode of The Rock And Roll Years with added armalites and ballot boxes, then that wouldn't be far off the truth.

Normally, republicans have to work a bit harder before slipping their rose-tinted narrative onto the airwaves. This time it was practically fed to Morrison on a plate, as Lawlor declared: "You know the thing that has always struck me as most remarkable about the North, and about the IRA in particular, is that you had this generation of pretty ordinary young men. You'd have gone on and maybe been a journalist. Gerry Adams worked in the pub. You were all ordinary people who got caught up in extraordinary decades." One could almost hear the violins welling up in the background.

Lawlor acknowledged that these men did "really dreadful things, people would say", but this approach is meat and drink to smooth operators such as Morrison, and soon he was in full flow, describing how he was, back then, "a pacifist with long hair" ("it's hard to see you with long hair now, Danny," laughed Aine roisterously), who "resisted and resisted" the temptation to join the IRA before giving in and didn't even support armed struggle until "after internment, when I was trying to study A-level English and history and every night there were explosions in the street."

He almost made his early life sound like a sketch from Little Britain, with Danny as the only pacifist in the IRA village. And he wasn't done yet.

Explaining the origins of the conflict, Morrison asserted that "the IRA hadn't even fired a shot when the British Army surrounded the Lower Falls . . . and dropped gas from helicopters into the area and shot dead anyone who came out of the house". That incident was the infamous Falls Curfew of July 1970, when a search for weapons ended in a 36-hour lockdown of the area during which four civilians were killed by soldiers. A seminal moment all right, but why over-egg the pudding by preceding it with the untrue statement that "the IRA hadn't even fired a shot" until this point?

The IRA had been active in the weeks before the curfew - justifiably so, perhaps, as they sought to defend Catholic areas from attack - and the formation of the Provos some months earlier was a clear indication that armed conflict with "Crown forces" was next on the agenda. The British plan to disarm the Provos backfired spectacularly, but it didn't come from nowhere.

It's a journalist's job to know when false impressions have been given and to amend them, but it happened again when they were talking about the deaths of the hunger strikers in 1981 and Morrison said that prison staff "had never been attacked prior to that period, prior to the blanket-protest period". Those are two different periods and Lawlor should have immediately clarified for listeners that the murder of prison officers began five years earlier when they were targeted by the IRA in retaliation for political status being removed from prisoners by the government .

Those who want to make the case for armed struggle are free to do so, but they should be put through their paces mentally the whole way, because to do otherwise is to treat listeners as if they were children to be enchanted rather than grown-ups who deserve the courtesy of being let in on the full picture. Accuracy matters. That goes for loyalists too, who should be challenged vigorously when peddling the lie that their sectarian violence was similarly reactive .

But it's ludicrous not to recognise the particular importance in challenging nonsense when it comes from within the so-called "nationalist family", because they're uniquely our problem. Loyalist lies are damaging to the historical record, but the consequences are containable. The same can't be said of the falsehoods peddled by SF, which they're using as an intellectual Trojan horse to sneak past our defences.

It's long been a given that republicans spin a line for gullible foreign journalists, but it's quite something when they deliberately choose to treat a Southern audience the same way. That's not how you talk to those you regard as equals.

Sunday Independent

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