I don’t intend to comment much on the fulsome apology of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, or the PIRA apology for their “mistakes” he referenced, beyond noting that the man it was directed at, Colin Parry, had already dealt with the possibility that such an apology would be proffered
“I don’t want an apology, I don’t expect an apology. That is not on the agenda, if I got one it wouldn’t mean anything.”
Nor do I intend to comment much on the attempt to usurp the consultation of the Eames/Bradley group, beyond noting that a focus on the perpetrators and what they have to say to their own people might be more beneficial than what Adams is suggesting.
However, he also called for a victim-centred truth process to help Northern Ireland deal with its bloody past. That process, he proposed, should involve all people, including those in England and the Republic of Ireland, bereaved or maimed during the Troubles. “A truth process must reach out to these people,” he argued.
On the one side there were nationalists and republicans who were denied basic human and civil rights, including the right to vote, access to housing and work. The north existed under a permanent state of emergency, with special laws, special courts and a range of state armed paramilitary organisations to implement its will. The civil rights campaign of the 1960s was an attempt to initiate reform. The demands were simple — the right to vote, an end to discrimination in jobs and housing, and the repeal of the special laws. On the other side was the unionist government, the unionist establishment and the British government.
Adams goes on to argue that
By the mid to late 1970s it was obvious that there was a military stalemate. The British could not defeat the IRA — the IRA could not militarily defeat the British.
And the violence continued with each side seeking to develop new strategies, new tactics, new and more deadly ways of killing each other.
Within republicanism, armed struggle was the dominating tendency. There was a belief that only the IRA could move the British government. There may have been misgivings or serious concerns about particular military operations but there was no real dissent from armed struggle. It was taken for granted that that was the way of things.
While I was of the view that no military solution was possible I also felt armed struggle was a necessary form of struggle and I defended this position without being dogmatic about it.
But how to break the impasse?
The Sinn Fein leadership carefully considered this and concluded that if the impasse was to be broken then republicans needed to go on a political offensive. And we realised very early on that this would require republicans taking initiatives. At its core it would require Sinn Féin constructing a viable political alternative to armed struggle which could deliver republican goals.
In a letter I wrote in the early 1980s to Catholic Bishop Cahal Daly, who was a vocal opponent of republicans I said: ‘Those republicans who engage in armed struggle, or who defend the legitimacy of armed struggle in pursuance of Irish independence, do so, not through any fixation with physical force, but through a necessity. Those who voice a moral condemnation of this tactic have a responsibility to spell out an alternative course by which Irish independence can be secured. I for one would be pleased to consider such an alternative.’
I have to say it became clear very quickly to me and to others in our leadership that if we were to wait on others providing the alternative it would never happen. They were locked in a mindset.
The quote from the letter dated in the 1980s, however, would not seem to be as conclusive as Adams would appear to believe.
And it ignores other elements of the struggle which were deployed – in a “campaign which drew its lessons from previous such periods in Irish history, as well as from contemporary experience around the world.”
After all, it might already be too late..