I don’t intend to spill a lot of ink responding to Gerry Adams’ recent statement taking yet another swipe at the motives of those who were interviewed and who did the interviewing for the Boston College oral history archive.
That is because I have already answered a very similar charge from Mary Lou McDonald.
Essentially Gerry Adams is saying that anyone who is interviewed about the Provisionals who is not with his programme and makes allegations about his IRA career and history that he contests and denies, must be making them up for malicious and mendacious reasons.
Implicitly he is also saying that such people should not be allowed an audience and should be ignored or even silenced.
The core issue is the denial of his IRA membership from which all else flows, including the Jean McConville affair. Without that denial of their shared lives, and the shunting of responsibility onto others that it implies, I seriously doubt whether Brendan Hughes would ever have given Boston College an interview and I don’t think Dolours Price would have gone to the Irish News to speak of her role in disappearing Jean McConville (it is conveniently forgotten, incidentally, that she never mentioned Jean McConville in her interviews with Boston College).
And if they hadn’t spoken, the Jean McConville business would never have emerged in the way it has. It is important to remember that Gerry Adams brought all the business about his IRA membership and role in Jean McConville’s death on himself. If he had not denied his IRA past (and that does not mean admitting it either) none of this would have happened.
Personally I do not give a tinkers whether Gerry Adams is, was or ever wanted to be in the IRA. But when a major political leader tells such an obvious falsehood about a defining part of his life – and by extension must be capable of telling lies about other issues of more direct relevance to others’ lives – then I do believe that it the journalist’s job, and the historian’s too, to subject that claim to the most stringent scrutiny.
Let me give an example from the place where I now live, the United States. Let us imagine that as a journalist I had been covering the career of Barack Obama for some years and was intimately familiar his family history. I knew for example all about his White mother from Kansas and his Black father from Kenya.
And let us suppose that when Barack Obama decides to make a run for the White House he suddenly changes his life story. Now he claims, in an effort to maximise the African-American vote, that his mother was actually a Black woman from South Carolina or the Bronx, not a White one.
What should the ethical journalist do? Should he or she just tamely report the claim and leave it there – perhaps at most noting en passant that not everyone accepts his story – or energetically investigate it and if he or she finds that Obama is lying then say so? There is no doubt in my mind what the principled journalist should do.
Well, ignoring the central falsehood in Gerry Adams’ life story would be very much like accepting Barack Obama’s Black mother claim – and equally unacceptable to any journalist with integrity.
Even though the US media is a shadow of what it was pre-9/11, I would like to think that enough journalists there would rise to the challenge and show Obama to be a liar.
Can we say the same about the Irish media in relation to Gerry Adams’ life story? I would like to say yes but I am not sure I can. But I can understand why and I have full sympathy for those in the media so affected.
The reason why Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald attack myself, Anthony McIntyre and the Boston archive in the way they do is not just because they dislike us, or the little bit of the product which they know of, that has come out of the archive.
No, it is to intimidate others in the media so as to discourage them from delving too deeply into the Provisionals’ secrets. The message is clear: dig too deep and we’ll do to you what we have done to Moloney & Co, we’ll call you the same names and behind your backs we’ll blacken your reputation to your colleagues and your employers. Now, see if you like that!
The problem is that it works.