“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.

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  • Garibaldy

    “And then secondly, and I’m not speaking for the IRA here, the use of armed actions were never about building the united Ireland, they were always about protesting or standing up to British policy, or British strategy, so there are two separate parts, I suppose, to any situation which involves armed struggle.”

    Amazing statement.

  • kensei

    He keeps trying to press on the “Unionist veto”. But the principle of consent is not the Unionist veto. The Unionist veto is Unionism retaining the ability to block Independence against the democratic wishes of the people, as they did once before. The Principle of Consent means if Unionism loses the vote, that’s it – 50%+1.

    Is it the same as the wishes of all 32 counties as republicans want? No. But as Adams says, it’s a compromise.

  • Sean

    I think he was trying to talk Gerry into a corner and he failed miserably

  • Lorraine

    i agree with sean, all that waffle about sunningdale and gfa being the same is a load of bollocks. the sdlp NEVER represented the broad republican/nationalist electorate, hence the sunningdale scenario excluded the broad republican/nationalist people. definitely excluded sinn fein who were “illegal” back then!

  • me

    He didn’t fail sean, your bias wants to believe he failed. Adams was in a corner, like it or not.

  • Token Dissent

    A superb interview. Stadlen’s calmly persistent style highlights the gaping contradictions and plain lies in Gerry’s “republican theology”.

    Lorraine – I am afraid that certain things such as elections prove that the SDLP did represent the vast majority of nationalist people. Its only when the Provos stopped killing that SF’s support rose dramatically. People had the chance to vote for ‘Republican Clubs’ candidates and they rejected them. Sinn Fein was then made legal in 1974, and pro-violence republicans still performed awfully

    Adams says many remarkable and frankly schizophrenic things here.

    – The IRA campaign wasn’t for a united Ireland per se. It was to take on the Brits and their policies.

    – But, the campaign was never to right the wrongs of discrimination, or unfair policies. It was to get a level playing field for unionists and republicans to do democratic battle, WITHIN NORTHERN IRELAND!

    – The IRA always sought “the assent” of the people of Northern Ireland. Republicans always wanted to gain this “assent” (very different from “a veto” mind) and “unite the people”…partly by bombing their towns and villages, and shooting them in their homes.

    – Today’s Council of Ireland and power-sharing is completely different from that of 1974, because of…you know…”mechanisms”.

    – The Brits “set up” all the loyalist groups. Yes that’s right, Harold Wilson established the UVF in 1966. And the bastard was controlling the UDA and the UWC in 1974.

    – He celebrates the IRA’s policy of “giving adequate warnings” when planting bombs, IN THE SAME BREATH as being – ever so slightly – sorry about blowing people up in cafes and bars.

    If I was a long-standing provisional republican I would be very confused as to what I bought into.

  • A fascinating interview.

    I think that possibly Nick Stadlen laboured on about past Republican policy way too much because he really missed the opportunity to explore some of the very interesting stuff that Adams was beginning to say about his future direction.

    It is clear that he sees the growing economic co-opertaion between North and South as a pivotal mechanism by which his party can build a political platform to argue for Irish Unity within the forseeable future.

  • Token Dissent

    mac, I agree that some of the things Adams had to say on the future were note-worthy, but the topic of the interview was the conflict 1968-1998. Its therefore pretty logical that past republican actions and ideology should be at the centre of the discussion!

  • The Penguin

    Why is it that no nationalist or republican ever quotes Wolfe Tone correctly?

  • kensei

    “Lorraine – I am afraid that certain things such as elections prove that the SDLP did represent the vast majority of nationalist people. Its only when the Provos stopped killing that SF’s support rose dramatically. People had the chance to vote for ‘Republican Clubs’ candidates and they rejected them. Sinn Fein was then made legal in 1974, and pro-violence republicans still performed awfully”

    There is no doubt the SDLP was the lead voice in Nationalism and had significant electoral weight but I don’t think they carried the same sort of broad spectrum support SF do now – a lot of Republicans simply didn’t vote.

    “Adams says many remarkable and frankly schizophrenic things here.”

    Actually, he doesn’t say what you are saying, but I can’t be bothered going through the list. There’s a lot of spin there, but there is a certain internal logic to it.

    This is actually much more interesting as a reading of current thinking than raking over the past anyway.

  • TD,

    I did realise that, however it was Nick Stadlen who actually decided to expand the interview at the end and ask questions about future direction. Just felt that it could have been explored a bit more. Maybe someone else might take up the mantle…

  • kensei

    “Why is it that no nationalist or republican ever quotes Wolfe Tone correctly?”

    Wiki gives these ones:

    “To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country–these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irshman, in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter–these were my means.”

    “To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, that was my aim”.

    “If the men of property will not support us, they must fall. Our strength shall come from that great and respectable class, the men of no property”.

    Is he really substantially out in sentiment?

  • Pete Baker

    One interesting line from Adams in that interview

    “So we can poke through the embers of the last 30 years, and in fairness I’m not very interested in doing that.”

    Indeed.

  • Garibaldy

    Kensei is right about the importance of this as being about current thinking. Note that just after the revisionist bit he says he doesn’t want to rewrite history. I would suggest that virtually whole thing is an exercise in the rewriting of the logic and motivation of the Provisional campaign, as well as large chunks of other history.

    For example, to suggest that Sunningdale was less of an all-island agreement than the GFA when the council of Ireland was what brought it down in the first place is laughable (never mind the fact that the GFA is an all-isles agreement). It would be much more honest to say that the Provos in 1974 had no interest in peace or politics and were still convinced they could achieve their goals by violence.

    However, Adams knows that a large segment – probably the majority – of his target audience neither knows nor cares about the reality of the past. Many of their young voters unquestionably accept the narrative they have been fed in constant interviews, newspaper articles, TV shows and columns by PSF and its cheerleaders over the past nearly two decades.

  • Garibaldy

    Kensei,

    Is there a part of the interview where Adams talks about the men of no property or socialism?
    I thought that was noticeably absent.

  • kensei

    “Is there a part of the interview where Adams talks about the men of no property or socialism?
    I thought that was noticeably absent.”

    I don’t think so. Though they don’t talk much of “socialism” these days anyway – it’s all rights based language.

  • kensei

    “I would suggest that virtually whole thing is an exercise in the rewriting of the logic and motivation of the Provisional campaign, as well as large chunks of other history.”

    I disagree here. You are right to a point, but when he says that physical force republicanism has a history that made it an option, there is truth in that. When he says that republicans felt they had no other option, there is truth in that. When he says the IRA phoned warnings and are different from say, Al Qaeda, there is truth in that. When he says the logic was based around armed action rather than politics because of the campaign there si truth in that. When he says the British Government trying to deal with republicans rather than vilify them was important, there is truth in that. It’s not that Republican thought was ever so totally monolithic or everything he says is nonsense, just he wants to negate the influence of the past on the future and so highlights or downplays to do that (sometimes to extreme levels).

    but then, he is leading a political party.

  • me

    How does adams version square with the meetings held at the start of the troubles, particularly with the IRA who did not want a sectarian war. It was the PIRA, who wanted that, thats why John Kelly et al broke from the officials, because they needed to defend people within the north. There was nothing back then about equality, or getting civil rights within IRA circles, it was about defence and a United Ireland. There were other options open at the time. The SDLP, well voted for by nationalists was trying out sunningdale, yet adams would have us believe it was around this time that he began to think differently?

    Where is the mans logic? He is trying to put a new spin on facts, interpet history in a new way, and try to airbrush out any fault at the door of the IRA. I couldn’t believe half the stuff he came out with!

  • Garibaldy

    Ken,

    Much truth in what you say. Although let’s remember Adams was part of a delegation that met the British and the talks broke down in (large?) part because the Provo demands were totally unrealistic AND because their analysis of the situation saw no role for the segment of the Irish people that adheres to unionism, who were viewed as cyphers controlled by London. It was simply Brits out up until perhaps the early 1990s. Similarly with the feeling there was no other option. There clearly was, right from the reforms of the NI state by 1970 forward, but many of the Provos, especially those at the sharp end and who now lead PSF, were fundamentally uninterested in pursuing it. Their feelings were dictating their actions, but were totally undemocratic and self-absorbed to the point of narcissism.

    I also agree that politicians play down or highlight parts of the past to suit, but this has gone well beyond that.

  • Cuchulainn

    to be honest, i was waiting for him to say that it was himself that talked John Hume into thier secret talks, and it was his work behind seens that got peace,

    believe me, that will apper very soon!

  • Mayoman

    Well hey, Cuchulainn, it certainly wasn’t Paisley, was it!!!!

  • Sean

    Lol and you accuse me of reading what I want as opposed to whats written

    Did he try to get Adams to condemn IRA actions? yes
    Did he succeed? not by a mile

    Did he try and link Adams as a member of the IRA? yes
    Did he succeed? not by a mile

    Did he try and get Adams to say that the last 30 years was a waste of energy? yes
    Did he succeed? not by a mile

    Did he try and get sunningdale to be equivalent to GFA? yes
    Did he succeed? not by 2 miles

    This was a master class in getting your message out against a hostile interviewer. Any one who was equivocating or unopinionated as to the nature of the troubles just had the english perspective crushed into a ball and disposed of in the trash lol

  • Token Dissent

    Kensei,

    “Actually, he doesn’t say what you are saying, but I can’t be bothered going through the list. There’s a lot of spin there, but there is a certain internal logic to it.”

    After listening to the interview people can judge for themselves if I have put words into Gerry’s mouth.

    I am interested in this view that SF now represents a broader range of nationalists than the SDLP ever did. I had a wee re-read through CAIN and the turn-outs figures seem to have stayed pretty consistent through the Troubles. I know it’s difficult to judge due to boundary and demographic changes, but the figures in nationalist constituencies for the 1973 Assembly appear to show a very broad and strong support for the SDLP. I know that turn-out within the unionist community has declined, can anybody free me of ignorance regarding these trends within nationalism?

    http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/election/ra1973.htm
    http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/issues/politics/election/2007nia/ra2007.ht

  • Rory

    Why, MA, do you assert that John Kelly’s breaking with the Goulding-led IRA because, as you say,” they needed to defend people within the north” was sectarian, as you say, “It was the PIRA, who wanted …..a sectarian war” when in fact the defence of the nationalist people was necessitated by a sectarian attempted pogrom by unionist civilians aided by RUC and ‘B’ Specials?

    When does defence against sectarian attack become itself a sectarian act?

  • me

    Rory,

    I’m referring to what was said at the time, the (official) IRA did not want a sectarian war because of the principle within republicanism to embrace protestant catholic and dissenter. No I did not say, defence was sectarian, but you have to admit they (PIRA) did take it beyond defence – with legitimate targets in order to get rid of the British presence. Where does the policy of making NI ungovernable equate with defence or civil rights?

    Sean,

    If you fail to grasp the inconsistencies your laughter is that of a fool.

  • The Dubliner

    “And then secondly, and I’m not speaking for the IRA here, the use of armed actions were never about building the united Ireland, they were always about protesting or standing up to British policy, or British strategy, so there are two separate parts, I suppose, to any situation which involves armed struggle. One is the armed struggle itself which is a destructive phase, and then there is whatever follows that, which is hopefully building a more constructive phase.” – Gerry Adams

    Although he claims that he is “not speaking for the IRA,” he has de facto admitted that PIRA were vigilantes and militant nationalist fascists who used violence to serve their own private agenda and selfish interests. If the violence didn’t have the aim of ejecting British rule (merely of reforming it), then it the cloak of republicanism cannot be used to excuse it. It remains purely as it always was: a sectarian murder campaign. He also de facto admits that they used violence as a means of attaining political power. It is deeply shameful that he and his sociopathic fascist ilk where rewarded by the state and its citizens for their despicable methods and demented, crinimal agenda.

  • kensei

    “I am interested in this view that SF now represents a broader range of nationalists than the SDLP ever did. I had a wee re-read through CAIN and the turn-outs figures seem to have stayed pretty consistent through the Troubles. I know it’s difficult to judge due to boundary and demographic changes, but the figures in nationalist constituencies for the 1973 Assembly appear to show a very broad and strong support for the SDLP. I know that turn-out within the unionist community has declined, can anybody free me of ignorance regarding these trends within nationalism?”

    The SDLP got 22%. An impressive figure. Not a lot of other Nationalists there though – maybe a total of 25-26%, probably some more went alliance; let’s even say its as high as 30%. The Nationalist percentage at the last Assembly election was closer 42%. Demographic changes only partly explain that difference. Part of it was that Republicans didn’t vote, or spoiled their ballot. SF these days get the people who didn’t vote then, and a section of those who did. There has also probably been a shift from Alliance to SDLP on the Nationalist side too.

    So I’d guess they cover a bit broader cross section than the SDLP did the seventies (not incredibly so, as you lose the light green vote at the other end).

  • Sean

    Oh I read the inconsistencies but the interviewer failed miserably at nailing Adams on them so what can I say Adams won!!

  • Alan

    “Oh I read the inconsistencies but the interviewer failed miserably at nailing Adams on them so what can I say Adams won!! ”

    So you admit that there are inconsistencies. You also admit that Adams won by not getting “nailed” on those inconsistencies.

    So it is more important to avoid admitting inconsistency than it is to avoid being inconsistent. Which said, begs the question do you define inconsistency as hypocrisy or mendacity?

  • me

    He defines inconsistency as a win. Obscure the issue = a win.

  • Sam Hanna

    “you’re going to see more of a focus, particularly as the economy in the south, if it continues, more and more focus on all Ireland matters, because it just makes sense, in an island this size, with only 5 million people. To have duplication or competitiveness between two sectors is ridiculous. The business sector has long recognised Ireland as a single economic unit, that makes sense. Take any sector, agriculture, it makes sense. Energy, it makes sense. Health, it makes sense. Go through any of the issues which are societal needs, they’re all best served by harmonisation or reconfiguration or cooperation. Even the DUP, in fairness to them, recognise – they may describe it as good neighbourliness – but they recognise that it makes sense to cooperate with the rest of the island of Ireland. And that’s the future. The future isn’t about integration with Britain. The future isn’t about strengthening the union. The future is about strengthening the all Ireland nature of all of these matters.”

    Why was this hogwash not challenged. Adams, like all uneducated shinners, assumes that Ulster is a paralysed segment of the island when in fact it is integrated to one of the largest economies in the World. Using his logic, he should really be arguing for an integration of the South into the UK where it could flourish as a self-governing region with the benefits of being tied into a major world power. That has been tacitly agreed by Bertie and his boys since they embraced fully (and continue to do) the conept of almost total integration in a Euopean Superstate.

    The Catholic campaign of genocide by the Shinners against the Protestant community was simply a sectarian war to wipe them out. They tried it in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries before the idea was resurrected again by the IRA in the 20th.

  • Sean

    I know you people really arent used to politics but when a politician gets to spout his diatribe with out being challenged on its inconcistencies then ye he wins

    And second every politician is beset with inconcistencies

    take you lord and master paisley, he claims to be a man of god yet he promoted violence against his political enemies! they are hugely inconsistent policies!!!

  • Sean

    the campaign og genocide was started byt the prods in the 20th century cant answer about the rest

  • halftone

    I’ve just listened to Mr. Adams. De Valera would envy his casuistry. I felt sorry for the poor Englishman. Picking up mercury with a fork is still a problem.

    The Englishman’s first mistake was to take Article 3 seriously. This was one of Dev’s conjuring tricks. It was enacted in 1938 when the Irish Free State was a member of the Commonwealth in good standing. It had no legal effect whatsoever. It may have provided a rich seam for Unionist rhetoricians to mine but I doubt if they took it too seriously. Nobody else ever did and Mr. Gerard Adams certainly did not. If he were invited to dismiss it as a chimera he would do so. Instead he is allowed to pour out clouds of obfuscation.

    I loved his pretence of not knowing that it was George V whose call for reconciliation led to the truce of 1921 – a nice touch.

    He also runs rings around the poor man on the question of the ‘Unionist Veto’. The policy that Stormont would have to agree to any change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status was to prevent a majority of BRITISH voters from pushing through a north-south deal. This may seem far-fetched today but it could easily have happened – in 1940, for instance. There was never a policy that a unionist MINORITY could exercise a ‘veto’. The significant difference between the consent principle in the current arrangements and the guarantee given to the Stormont regime is that the unionist ‘community’ now could hold an effective ‘veto’ even if they are in an electoral minority.

    I could go on but life is short.

    The classic example of Dev’s comic ingenuity was the famous ‘Special Position of the Catholic Church’. The Unionists who ran in tears to Mother England for protection against this Romish aggression were well aware that the formula was first devised by Napoleon Bonaparte in his Concordat with Rome precisely to reject the Papal demands that Catholicism be re-established in France. Dev’s formula was a perfectly calibrated snub to Catholic pretensions. Yet it lives on as proof positive of his ultra-Catholic triumphalism.

    Mr.Adams, to do him justice, is trying to do for the North what Dev did for the South- weave a web of constitutional fictions both strong and flexible enough to contain the passions of a civil war. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  • FRU

    Game set and match.

    LOL

  • The Penguin

    kensei
    “Is he really substantially out in sentiment?”

    The sentiment is not what I was alluding to.
    The point I make is that every nationalist and repubican quotes Tone wrongly. And why do they do that?
    It doesn’t matter to the same extent as it wouldn’t matter if people suddenly started quoting Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar line as “Countrymen, Romans and friends lend me your ear”.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    kensei et al.

    If I remember right (from an extract, mind you), there’s a part in Alastair Campbell’s memoires that recounts the meeting between SF and the British at which Adams is asked to drop the call for “a 32-county socialist republic”.

    I would check the dates to be sure, but I don’t think Adams has uttered the phrase in years.

  • Alan

    “I know you people really arent used to politics but when a politician gets to spout his diatribe with out being challenged on its inconcistencies then ye he wins.”

    Not a diatribe surely, more a plume of effervescent inconsistencies. The problem for Adams is that the politics of the pigstye has to be left behind and he has still to do that.

    While you can talk about unionist veto, you also have to recognise an equivalent nationalist veto – in that insufficient nationalists actually vote for UI.

    Now get this – in order to achieve by democratic means what Adams purports ever to have been the goal of republicanism – Adams has to attract people to his cause. If he wants to unify protestant and catholic a la Tone, he has to attract protestants to his cause.

    You don’t start the process by ignoring people’s reality and presenting them as some lumpen force that can be justifiably ignored . You can’t present them as pigs and say you are pushing them further into the sh*t. You can’t reduce real people to the term Unionist Veto.

    If Adams cares about a future that can be shared, then the inconsistencies that you so lightly dismiss have to be challenged by the republican movement.

  • Alan

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

    or

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

    Sorry couldn’t help it !

  • Jospeh O’Connor&Gerard Devlin

    The oldman Gerry is always surprising.How does he think to unite Ireland?I’d like to understand…I’ve never met a so demagogic man like him…We,catholic and republican people,have already understood his position:inside the empire!Sunningdale was much better than stormont,without 3.600 deaths.But Gerry doesn’t care it…

  • Follow The Money

    Gerry interviewed in the Guradian.

    I think it is just as significant as the many PLO/Fatah interviews they have undertaken. Apart from the usual take-the-money-and-govern for imperialism similarity with Fatah. There is another important plea that both militarists have made often:

    ‘We could do no other *then*’

    Strange isn’t how freedom to act only came to SF/PRIA when they laid down their arms.
    And when they *do try another way* it as if the Nationalist cause – Irish Unity had never existed!

    As someone said that is an amazing admission.

    It reminds me of Bobby Ewing in Dallas when asked about past episodes

    “But weren’t you….didn’t you…”

    and Bobby replies sweetly.

    ‘All that never happened’.

    Well just like Bobby – Gerry is OK now as he turns his political umberella upside down to collect the pennies falling from heaven.