Tuesday 17 September 2019

Seamus Mallon is right: Gerry Adams hasn't gone away

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Sinn Fein trolls often take me to task for supporting different political leaders and parties down the years.

But my changes always had one consistent aim: to back the political leader or party most likely to stand up to Sinn Fein/IRA's sectarian nationalism.

Seamus Mallon is one of my great heroes because he never minces words in pursuit of moral clarity.

Last week, speaking about Gerry Adams on Vincent Browne's film, Gerry Adams: War, Peace and Politics, he said: "He's a hard man to like. He's an even harder man to trust."

Mallon is the last of a dying breed: Northern nationalists who reject Sinn Fein because of its past sectarian legacy.

All my adult political life my greatest fear has been that Sinn Fein would smuggle Northern nationalist bigotry, and ambivalence about political violence, across the Border into the Irish Republic.

Proof of how that ambivalence can colonise the mind of even good clerics was the late Fr Alec Reid's description of Gerry Adams on Browne's film: "A man sent by God."

Beyond that I have four points to make about Browne's messy profile of Gerry Adams, starting with his attack on the credibility of Richard O'Rawe, a former Long Kesh hunger striker.

O'Rawe was the PRO for the hunger strikers and in his book Blanketmen he charged Adams and Danny Morrison with prolonging the hunger strike for political purposes.

Picking, or rather nit-picking, at O'Rawe's account, Browne used a few dashed off notes in the diary of Brendan Duddy (the British government's secret conduit to the IRA) to claim O'Rawe was wrong to say Danny Morrison brought an offer from the British to Long Kesh on July 5, 1981.

But had Browne made a cursory check he would have found the YouTube video of Brian Duddy being interviewed by journalist Brian Rowan at Feile An Phobail in Belfast in 2009, during which Duddy points at Danny Morrison in the audience, reminding him of his visit to Long Kesh.

Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, who are no fans of mine, both carry detailed confirmation of O'Rawe's account on their websites, The Broken Elbow and The Pensive Quill.

That bit of flawed journalism was typical of a flawed film profile of Gerry Adams in which much was glossed or glossed over.

Rather than bore you by rehashing other minor errors let me move on to my other three criticisms.

First, Adams and the IRA were presented in binary terms as lone protagonists, locked in struggle with an equally lone antagonist, the British government.

Sidelined in Browne's story were the two key political players who really prevented Adams and the Provos from winning their sectarian war: Northern Protestants and the people of the Irish Republic.

The Protestant people of Northern Ireland stood firm under the savage sectarian onslaught - and unlike their nationalist neighbours, steadily refused to support loyalist paramilitaries.

The Irish Republic also rejected the IRA's campaign, travelling in Peace Trains and taking to the streets in protest.

Second, Browne failed to challenge the cliche that we should be grateful to Adams for giving us peace.

Austin Stack answered that firmly. Adams started the fire like an arsonist, so why should we be grateful to him for belatedly calling the fire brigade?

Finally, let me note another glaring gap in Browne's film - the failure to examine the fundamental act of bad faith that lay beneath all that Adams did from the early 1980s.

Because as Ed Moloney asserts - and many of Adams's former colleagues agree with his analysis - by the early 1980s Adams knew the military campaign was lost. By 1993 it lay in ruins with RUC Special Branch running informers at the highest level in the IRA's ranks, in a successful counter-terrorist campaign which saved many lives.

But back in the 1980s, although Adams knew the military campaign was doomed, he allowed the killing to continue for another 10 years before talking to John Hume.

Activists like Anthony McIntyre now ask why he and others spent so many years in jail for conducting what Adams knew was a pointless struggle?

As I said at the start, my acid test for Irish politicians is whether they are willing to confront the danger that nationalist ambivalence about IRA violence could corrupt the moral life of the Irish Republic.

Hence I keep a close watch on the positions of Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin in relation to doing a deal with Sinn Fein.

Accordingly, during the Fine Gael leadership campaign I supported Leo Varadkar and strongly opposed Simon Coveney.

Basically I believed Varadkar was more likely than Coveney to take a tough line with Sinn Fein.

But his appointment of Coveney to look after Northern Ireland badly dented my trust in him.

Furthermore, my early belief that a Leo Varadkar-led Fine Gael would never do a deal with Sinn Fein has been almost dissipated by his flag-waving and subtext signals.

Gerard Howlin, in both the Irish Examiner and on the Pat Kenny Show, seemed to share my belief that on balance Leo Varadkar is more likely to form a limited alliance with Sinn Fein than Micheal Martin - who has deliberately burned all his bridges behind him rather than let Sinn Fein cross over.

The Taoiseach's statement on the eve of Mary Lou McDonald's coronation did not dispel my fears. Most of it stressed the gap in economic policies between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.

Economic differences are easily bridged with a Tony Gregory deal as depicted in Colin Murphy's new play Haughey/Gregory.

The Taoiseach's finger-wag at McDonald's Sinn Fein compared poorly with Martin's scathing attack - reported in the Irish Independent but not in The Irish Times - in which he damagingly depicted Mary Lou McDonald as a "good soldier".

Adding it all up, I believe Leo Varadkar has left the door open to a deal.


Finally, I applied my iron rule - where you stand on Sinn Fein - to the brief debate on women's suffrage in Dail Eireann last Tuesday.

This gave speakers a fine chance to show feminist solidarity with Councillor Noeleen Reilly, who had just resigned from Sinn Fein, charging party members with both bullying and physical assault. But not a whisper about it.

Replying to the debate, Minister Josepha Madigan - who went on to read a dull speech about Fine Gael's record on women's issues - began with the following mysterious opening sentence which I have watched several times without being any the wiser about what she meant.

"Thank you Leas Ceann Comhairle, I just have a few concluding remarks so I'll be erudite."

Erudite sounded less promising than concise but what followed was neither.

But Seamus Mallon was certainly erudite in his excoriation of Adams's tribal legacy in an interview with Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times last Friday.

Asked if Adams would leave the stage to Mary Lou McDonald, he replied:

"He will not be able to survive without the adulation, the massaging of his ego."

Sunday Independent

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