“We can be revisionist and that’s a good thing to be at times”

Fascinating two part interview with Gerry Adams by Nick Stadlen in the Guardian. Here’s some of the noteable points from part one.Adams lays out the core of his own belief:

Yes, but a united Ireland is a united Irish people. There is the core of republicanism in terms of its development, going back 200 years, to break the connection with England. As Wolfe Tome said, the never-ending source of all our political evils. And what it means, to replace the name of Irish man and Irish woman, to unite Catholic and Protestant at the centre. So there are the particular circumstances I think of Irish history, there is the fact that there was conflict going right back to the first conquest of the island, and you know, in more recent, modern times for every decade for perhaps the last hundred years, even though some of it might have been quite small, isolated, armed actions.

There were also the high points – the Black and Tan war, the 1916 rising, the partition of Ireland and so. So that when the civil rights struggle developed in the 1960s, and was crushed as cruelly as it was, the instinct because of the tradition and the strength of the physical force tendency, was almost for republicans faced with armed aggression was to go back looking for armed ways of resisting or combating that. And for the 70s, I suppose, republican strategy was dictated by armed actions, as opposed to political and other considerations. And then the situation became quite quickly militarised. And then you had that lengthy stalemate which went on, we know, for almost 30 years.

On the difference between Sunningdale and the latter day settlement of 1998/2007:

…in terms of the detail, the institutional and other requirements, the status of the constitution, the equality agenda, and more particularly the inclusive nature of this current process, then there have been sizeable differences between what was on offer in ’74 and what we negotiated out in more recent times. Now if you ask me: “Would it have been better that a gradualist approach had been taken in ’74, that there had been some other initiative taken?”, it just isn’t possible to answer that question because, again, dealing with the reality at that time, British policy was about repressing republicanism; British policy in the last decade, or so, has been about trying to find some accommodation with republicanism. And that is the part of the jigsaw which allowed and which created the space for the type of compromises which underpin the Good Friday agreement.

And on the initiation of ‘Operation Banner’:

They were brought in in support of the civil power. They were run in their initial until the collapse of Stormont by Stormont unionist ministers. They stood by while the pogroms occurred, particularly on the second night of the pogroms, where a number of streets torched, and arsonists including B specials and RUC officers torched neighbourhoods … that’s like saying the British troops were sent into Cyprus or into Kenya or into elsewhere in peace, that’s like the reason why they’re in Iraq at the moment [laughs], these are all spurious reasons. The fact is if a Labour government at that time had embarked on a deep-rooted strategy of reform, not only would you have avoided a conflict, but arguably we would now be in a united Ireland because the whole raison d’etre of this statelet was to allow unionism to be top dog.

That was the psyche of the unionist ruling class, whatever about working class unionist who, in my view, benefited not a jot from the union. But certainly, instead of going for the military option – because once you go for the military option you go for the security option and you’re on the road to repression, and it was only a short period – this isn’t just about Ireland, it has happened everywhere, where instead of dealing with the causes of the conflict, instead of trying to give people their rights and to protect those rights and defend those rights and create conditions where people can feel a sense of ownership, the repressive option was reached for. Whatever the intentions were.

To which Stadlen responds with the following:

NS: Well the intentions are very important, aren’t they, because you’re saying that the achievement, from your point of view, of the Good Friday agreement, is that the British veto has gone, but what I’m suggesting to you is that the British veto, should at any time in the last 30 years the majority of people in Northern Ireland had wanted a united Ireland, would never have been exercised.

GA: I know, but the likelihood in a situation where Sinn Fein, for example, was a banned organisation, where internment was used as a matter of course, where the Special Powers Act, which Vorster of South Africa at one point said he envied, that he wanted – this is a man who was one of the founding fathers of the apartheid system – arguably, he said, that the Special Powers Act was something that needed to be in place. So you cannot have a situation where this was a political slum of the so-called United Kingdom, and people were subjected to dreadful conditions of both poverty and deprivation and disadvantage. The island itself was partitioned, but within this part of the island conservatism, in both parts of the island arguably as a result of partition, conservatism ruled, but in this part it was institutionalised in the law. The place we’re doing this interview in Stormont was a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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