Interesting essay by Colm Keena with thoughts on the very long (and very secret) career of Gerry Adams. Hs views are fairly subjective views, but how John’s touched on the deep and early (and lasting) enmity between the SDLP and the IRA, it might provide a useful counterbalance to some of the conjecture there…
What struck me… [was] the way the movement for civil rights in Northern Ireland, encouraged as it was by other such movements around the world targeting oppression, became so particularly violent.
The reason for this, I decided, lay in the fact that Adams, and others like him steeped in the culture of Irish republicanism, were of the view from the start that the civil rights question in Northern Ireland would quickly become the national question.
And he and other republican true believers were convinced that the national question could be resolved only through violence: the Brits would have to be driven out.
Because they held this view, republicans saw the eruption of violence in the North (which they encouraged) as an opportunity. If the scale of the violence and killing could be increased and maintained, the British would tire and leave.
There’s that old familiar form versus content argument again. In fact Keena’s views (he speaking in Vincent Browne’s Op Ed slot) are on Adams’ own romantic form of nationalism are every bit as uncompromising as Gerry Fitts’ were, as they say, “back in the day…”
But it is less the violence Keena seems to object to than the romantic origins of the violence:
A bewildering aspect of researching Adams was reading newspaper reports about the truly awful deaths and maiming suffered by the victims of IRA atrocities – for instance the shoppers slaughtered and maimed on Bloody Friday, in 1972, when the IRA set off 26 bombs within 80 minutes in central Belfast – and contrasting this with Adams’s fictional writing.
One short story concerned an IRA volunteer (you have to believe it is Adams) who goes out after curfew in Belfast to help an injured hedgehog. The story is enormously sentimental and it seemed generally that when Adams sat down to write fiction he found himself inescapably drawn to romantic depictions of life in the IRA.
Maybe in real life he lay in bed at night in Belfast safe houses while around him in the city people mourned their maimed and their dead, and young British soldiers patrolled the streets, and he thought the whole scenario romantic.
This seemed to me then, and still seems to me, to be at least plausible. How else could the stories be explained?
And he closes pretty stridently…
Adams’s principal political motivation remains his dream of a united Ireland. Personally I think that his stated allegiance to democratic politics is subservient to this dream, and that even if this view is wrong, to act on a belief to the contrary is to take a great risk.
Adams is a member of the Dáil, Sinn Féin is in power in Northern Ireland, the party is on the rise in the Republic, and it seems it will hold the position of Dublin Lord Mayor in Easter 2016.
Indeed it is possible it will be in power, north and south of the Border, come the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the event that did so much to feed the romantic view of political violence which has so blighted this island.
It is not difficult to imagine Sinn Féin wanting to use the anniversary to influence popular views on the legitimacy of the Provisional IRA’s campaign, thereby justifying Adams’s career, and providing a boost to the republican tradition.
People who voted Sinn Féin need to pay serious heed to these dangers. At least part of the energy within Sinn Féin comes from its militant nationalist tradition. That tradition is a menace. We should eradicate it.
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