Monthly Archives: November 2017

Some Thoughts On Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams announces plans for his retirement at the SF ard-fheis in Dublin

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

It was supposed to end with Gerry Adams in Aras an Uachtarain, the name Ireland gives these days to the one-time British vice-regal lodge in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, which now houses Ireland’s mostly ceremonial, powerless President. It is the nearest thing Ireland has to Buckingham Palace.

Adams ending his political life as President of Ireland was the secret bit in the peace process strategy; it was supposed to crown a series of political triumphs that would flow from the IRA ending its war against Britain, the centrepiece of which would be the sight of Sinn Fein rear ends seated around cabinet tables on both sides of the Border. Not Irish unity but a pretty good facsimile.

The current resident gives a clue about the qualities Ireland normally seeks in its Presidents. Galwegian, Michael D Higgins, a former leading figure in the Irish Labour party is an all-round, good guy about whom nobody has a bad word to say.

Gerry Adams’ qualification for the office was to be of a very different sort. His claim lay in the leadership role he played in ending the killing in Northern Ireland and winding up the Provisional IRA, lock, stock and all its decommissioned gun barrels. A grateful Irish electorate would reward him with the highest office in its gift.

That is now unlikely to happen. Adams has not only served notice that he has no intention of standing for his Dail seat, the Irish parliament, at the next election but he has already ruled out a run for the presidency, recognising that his race has almost been run.

As the Sinn Fein faithful gathered in Dublin this weekend to bid farewell to Adams, one of the first motions they debated and approved allowed Sinn Fein to enter a coalition government as a minor partner, junior to one of the other major parties, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

This was actually another acknowledgement of failure, every bit as eloquent as Adams’ retirement.

When, in the early 2000’s, Sinn Fein first seriously sought elected office in the Republic of Ireland, the plan was simple and promising. On the back of delivering the peace process in the North, Sinn Fein would present itself as the new, bright, hopeful future for Ireland, a breath of fresh air in a political system that seemed moribund and essentially unchanged or challenged in decades.

If it went to plan, Sinn Fein would sweep all before them and enter government as the dominant party. Since the late 1970’s all governments in Dublin have been coalitions and politics have largely been about which party emerges as the boss.

Sinn Fein’s promise to its voters and grassroots activists was that it would not enter coalition playing second fiddle, would not compromise on enacting its programme. Others could join it in government, but Sinn Fein would call the shots.

Now, along with those lofty hopes for Adams’ elevation to the presidency, that promise has been cast to the wind.

The irony in all of this is that the person who made all this possible in the first place is most responsible for the disappointment and failure that now faces Sinn Fein.

There can be no doubt that there would have been no peace process, no decommissioning, no standing down of the IRA without Gerry Adams.

In the early 1970’s when he rose to become Belfast IRA commander, Adams was widely recognised, not least by his opponents, as a master military strategist who had, while commander of the second Belfast battalion, forced the British to introduce internment, an act that destabilised Northern Ireland almost entirely.

Internment boosted recruitment to the IRA, the British responded with Bloody Sunday and as Ireland rose as one in anger to protest, were then forced to impose direct rule. All had changed utterly.

When the IRA faced defeat in the mid-1970’s Adams charted a way out. The IRA was re-organised and by the late 1970’s was once again a military force to be reckoned with, as the deaths on the same day of Lord Mountbatten in Co Sligo and eighteen paratroopers in Warrenpoint bore bloody witness.

It was Adams who secretly nursed an ambition to run Sinn Fein in elections and grasped the chance to realise it during the H Block hunger strikes of 1981, by running Bobby Sands in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and other prisoners in seats south of the Border. He made electoral politics respectable in the Provos by associating it with military sacrifice.

Sinn Fein’s subsequent success in the Assembly election of 1982 terrified establishment politicians in Ireland but also created an unresolvable tension between the IRA and Sinn Fein: if one prospered the other had to languish.You couldn’t bomb factories one day and ask for votes the next from those who had lost their jobs.

That tension, that contradiction intensified with every election that followed.

It was at the end of the day a contradiction that defied resolution; one or the other had to prevail and the only question we cannot yet answer is whether Adams knew this at the time, or was just lucky.

The roots of the peace process, the rise of Sinn Fein and the fall of the IRA, lay in that conflict and while the full story of what happened has yet to be told, we know enough to recognise that without Adams’ caution and skill, not to mention deviousness, in handling the IRA, it could all have ended in a very different way.

During this lengthy, tortuous and often dangerous journey Adams made one serious error. He denied what everyone knew, that he had been a member of the IRA.

Now traditionally, Irish republicans never admit to being in the IRA (not least because that would bring a jail term), but neither have they believed it was acceptable to deny it, for to do so would be disown their comrades and their life’s meaning. Instead their response would be along the lines of ‘mind your own business’, although not always put so politely.

Adams’ decision to deny his past was at first regarded internally as a clever ploy which confused the IRA’s enemies. But as the peace process gathered speed and as Adams rubbed the shoulders of establishment politicians, more and more of his comrades came to regard his denial as a ploy to distance himself from some of the IRA’s worst excesses, to blame others for things he had ordered them to do.

It was this, I firmly believe, which persuaded one time close comrades like Brendan Hughes to go public on Adams’ alleged involvement in episodes like the 1972 disappearance of Jean McConville, the widowed mother of seven, killed because of her alleged role as a British Army informer.

Adams’ denial of IRA involvement thus focused attention on his record during the years of the worst IRA violence in a way which might not have happened had he been less mendacious about his past.

To Sinn Fein’s political enemies in the Dail this was a gift from the Gods. Hardly a year has passed since Adams took his seat in Leinster House that has not seen one or more extended scandals centred on claims about Adams’ alleged involvement in this or that murder or outrage.

He became politically radioactive and when Micheal Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein’s natural partner in coalition made it clear that he would never enter government alongside a Sinn Fein party that had Adams as its leader, the script for his retirement from politics was virtually written.

Adams and Sinn Fein had hoped that they would enter Dail politics and ultimately Government Buildings by putting the IRA behind them. Instead the IRA has haunted them, keeping Adams’ alleged role in violence to the fore of the public’s consciousness and preventing Sinn Fein from making the breakthrough into government and Adams from ever laying his head on a pillow in the master bedroom of Aras.

That is perhaps the greatest irony of the peace process.

(This piece was originally written for a British outlet but since it was not taken up, I have reproduced it here)

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The Pursuit Of Anthony McIntyre Is An Act Of Vindictiveness

Malachi O’Doherty has an interesting piece in today’s Belfast Telegraph critical of the PSNI’s decision to pursue the Boston College paramilitary archive on the very sensible grounds that in a society trying to end a conflict while the need to address the past remains unresolved, it was probably the very worst course of action to take.

His argument, which is indisputable, is that the effect has been to discourage former paramilitaries of all stripes from talking candidly about their past, thus making much more vexed, if not impossible, the already difficult process of healing old wounds with the cooling balm of truth.

At the outset of the invasion of the Boston archive the authorities could argue that they were motivated by the search for justice for the orphaned family of Jean McConville, one of the first of those ‘disappeared’ by the IRA in the early 1970’s. And they probably had public opinion on their side.

But with the passage of time and as the McConville case has faded into the background, more base motives appear to be driving what remains of the investigation. That is especially apparent in the continuing pursuit of Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA activist and prisoner who was the lead researcher for the republican part of the archive.

Virtually every other interview given by republican and loyalist activists to Boston College was returned a long time ago or otherwise accounted for. Some did not ask for theirs back and others have died, but when he requested his interviews McIntyre was refused. Then when the PSNI came for them with a subpoena they were handed over. Why was that? Why were his interviews kept back?

The request for McIntyre’s interviews has by all accounts been a clumsy, poorly researched business and that has sharpened the suspicion that the PSNI/Prosecution Service investigation has been prompted by vindictiveness and anger at all the trouble he has caused.

First of all he took part in a project which was not under the control of either the British, Irish or Stormont governments and which had not been ratified by the leaderships of the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles, particularly the Provisional IRA.

The project was not under the control of those who created and drove the peace process in other words and might therefore delve into and uncover secrets that the powers that be, especially in the IRA, preferred to keep hidden. It might actually do what it set out to do and unearth some truth.

Pursuing McIntyre can thus be seen as part punishment for breaking unwritten rules about how the past should be dealt with and part warning to others not to follow suit.

Add on to that his role as a very effective and at times cutting critic of all those involved in the investigation, not least Boston College itself, and it is not difficult to make a case that the pursuit of Anthony McIntyre is more a witch-hunt than a genuine criminal investigation.

The hounding of Anthony McIntyre is not the only example of the politicisation of the Boston College investigation.

On April 29th, 2014, a day before Gerry Adams was arrested for questioning about the disappearance of Jean McConville, Thomas P O’Neill III, a son of the famous speaker of the US House of Representatives, a Boston College trustee and a leader of the Irish-American community in Boston, published an op-ed in The Boston Globe which inter alia criticised the PSNI probe of the Boston archive on the grounds that it was sectarian, that it was focusing only on republicans and had left loyalists alone.

Not long afterwards the PSNI sent a subpoena to Boston College seeking interviews given by Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea, a former alleged figure in the Red Hand Commandos (RHC) as part of the archive on Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) activists.  The UVF and RHC were close allies.

A coincidence or a piece of blatant politicking by the PSNI? It was the first ever move by the PSNI against the Loyalist part of the archive and the timing was a disturbing indication that peace process or no peace process, the police in Northern Ireland were still not beyond allowing political considerations and/or pressure to dictate or influence their activity. Again, Rea’s interviews had been held back despite requests for their return by his lawyers.

Here is Malachi O’Doherty’s article. He is to be saluted for treading where most other journalists in Belfast will not go. Enjoy:

Malachi O’Doherty: Why our oral history isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if Boston College case succeeds

Anthony McIntyre’s partial victory against the PSNI is welcome, writes Malachi O’Doherty, but with Stormont in abeyance, a priceless historical resource is at grave risk

November 15 2017

It was probably inevitable that the police, once they learned that former paramilitaries had told their stories to Boston College researchers, would lust after the chance to read their scripts. The interviews, conducted by Dr Anthony McIntyre, an old Provo himself, promised to have priceless material in them.

With his insight into the paramilitary life, having lived it to the full, McIntyre was likely to reach the parts that other academics couldn’t.

When I first heard of the project, I thought it was wonderful. Here were the gunmen and bombers telling their stories – on the condition that they would not be made public until after they died.

Journalists and writers and interested groups, like victims and their families, the security services and plain historians, had a resource that would open up to them to potentially help to right the wrongs of propaganda and lies.

And there wasn’t much else happening to assure us of a legacy of information and attitude that would potentially counter the half-truths and ambiguities of peacemaking.

None of this was going to be good enough for the police, however. They weren’t going to be happy to have to wait for an old gunman to die before they could read his confession.

They would want him in the dock – even if they could only secure a two-year sentence for crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

And it wasn’t their job to ask what the rest of us might be losing when they went after the interviews; but what we were losing was massive.

When the first subpoenas against the material emerged, several of those who gave interviews asked for the recordings and transcripts to be returned to them. Those have all probably been destroyed now. Certainly, some of them have.

And a legacy of the fright that momentarily obliging paramilitaries got is that they clammed up for researchers, or, at least, became more guarded.

They are not going to concede information that might incriminate them.

This is a radical change. In the earlier periods of the peace process, some former paramilitaries had been remarkably frank with writers like Kevin Toolis and Ed Moloney and with the Press.

And, thankfully, research continues beyond the scare that the PSNI created, but always with the thought in mind that the police have a will to make arrests and get convictions, even for offences committed decades ago. And even that they are pushing for results that almost inevitably elude them.

The strongest signal of this intention was the arrest of Gerry Adams in May 2014. Republicans said at the time that this was politically-motivated action by “dark forces” in the PSNI. It was, in fact, no less than a determined attempt to put Adams in jail.

And while those of us who write the history of the Troubles might fulminate about Adams’s blithe refusal to ever concede he was an IRA leader, he knows that, if he did own up to it now, he would be arrested again. The effort to create a record of the past through oral history is now being inhibited by the police.

That would not be such a problem if the other mechanisms available to us for securing information about the past were functioning. But they aren’t.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) collated a huge amount of valuable information but distributed it widely to interested families, so there is no central record of its work available to us. And some of the reports that have come into the public domain have proven to be remarkably slight, repeating only what was known, including clips from newspapers and references to books.

In effect, they recycle what oral history we already had, rather than add to it.

The Fresh Start agreement developed plans for an oral history archive but without the Executive sitting to allocate resources to such a scheme, it is currently in abeyance.

There was a plan to create a peace centre at the Maze prison site but that was scrapped by Peter Robinson as First Minister, out of a fear that it would endorse the IRA.

During talks with the parties on the legacy of the past, Richard Haass proposed a museum of the Troubles, an idea I had myself aired previously in articles in this paper and others.

There were no serious takers, although there is a Troubles archive at the Ulster Museum and a record of the art of the Troubles, compiled with the assistance of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

And there have been other fruitful projects, like the BBC’s series of victim stories, which were aired through one year in the late-1990s. Gathering stories of the past is part of the work of all media outlets.

Journalists, however, tend to focus on the story of the day and not to collate their work.

The exception to this was the remarkable Lost Lives archive, a record of all the killings of the Troubles period. But Lost Lives was not oral history; oral history is a record of the stories of individuals. It is memoir.

It is a flawed record in many ways, because people who were at the same location will remember differently what happened there. Sometimes they are demonstrably wrong.

The Boston College project was a brilliant effort to draw on the stories of the paramilitaries.

The police are continuing to seek to advance cases against some of those who told their stories, even though, as evidence, they appear not to be strong.

Dr McIntyre himself has legally challenged the police efforts to access his own story and has now scored a point in the court battle.

The police have been given two weeks to explain why a “defective process”, which brought McIntyre’s recording back to Belfast, should not be grounds for sending it back to Boston.

The case proceeds against Ivor Bell, allegedly one of McIntyre’s interviewees. The defence argues that he suffers from dementia and is not fit to be tried.

The Boston College project was potentially of immense value to historians and to future generations of traumatised families and it has been scuppered by the police, blundering in, to little benefit to themselves, trampling in size nines over the best prospect we have had of an historical corrective.

They are right to be getting on with their work while the politicians fail to develop an alternative. But there are costs beyond security concerns that no one is seriously yet taking into account.

Belfast Telegraph

 

Russia Breathes Sigh Of Relief As Ireland Exits World Cup

Russians from Moscow to St Petersburg flooded city streets last night in celebration when it became clear that the Republic of Ireland soccer team had been knocked out of next year’s World Cup.

A classy Denmark team humiliated the Irish in the second leg of a qualifying game in Dublin by five goals to one, including a hat-trick scored by Spurs attacker Christian Eriksen.

“We just can’ believe it’, said Yuri Chekninski, a bus driver in Moscow. “We were dreading them getting through. Imagine what it would have been like, three weeks, maybe more, of having to listen to ‘The Fields of Athenry’ every day and night! Now we are so happy!”

Chekninski said he and his friends were so upset at the prospect of thousands of Irish fans bellowing the song endlessly that they were planning to rent a holiday villa on the Black Sea during the tournament.

“Even that might not have been far away enough. One friend was even thinking of volunteering to fight in Ukraine. Anything but ‘The Fields of Athenry’.”

Older Men Chasing Young Girls – An Evangelical Thing

A fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times by Kathryn Brightbill putting Roy Moore’s sexual dalliances with young girls in the context of American evangelical Christian culture, viz. it is considered quite normal in such circles for older evangelical men to seek out teenage girls for relationships and marriage.

In evangelical eyes Moore’s only sin may be his failure to secure the mothers’ permission to pursue their daughters. This culture gap in US society may help to explain why Republican leaders in Alabama and other states with large Christian electorates are not turning against Moore whilst others in Congress are.

Roy Moore’s alleged pursuit of a young girl is the symptom of a larger problem in evangelical circles

By Kathryn Brightbill

We need to talk about the segment of American culture that probably doesn’t think the allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are particularly damning, the segment that will blanch at only two accusations in the Washington Post expose: He pursued a 14-year-old-girl without first getting her parents’ permission, and he initiated sexual contact outside of marriage. That segment is evangelicalism. In that world, which Moore travels in and I grew up in, 14-year-old girls courting adult men isn’t uncommon.

I use the phrase “14-year-old girls courting adult men,” rather than “adult men courting 14-year-old girls,” for a reason: Evangelicals routinely frame these relationships in those terms. That’s how I was introduced to these relationships as a home-schooled teenager in the 1990s, and it’s the language that my friends and I would use to discuss girls we knew who were in parent-sanctioned relationships with older men.

One popular courtship story that was told and retold in home-school circles during the 1990s was that of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman, who turned their history into a successful career promoting young marriage. Most audiences, however, didn’t realize just how young the Chapmans had in mind until the site Homeschoolers Anonymous and the blogger Libby Anne revealed that Matthew was 27 and Maranatha was 15 when they married. Libby Anne also drew mainstream attention to Matthew Chapman’s writings, in which he argued that parents should consider marriage for their daughters in their “middle-teens.” At that point the Chapmans stopped receiving quite so many speaking invitations.

The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning.

Child marriage advocate Vaughn Ohlman followed more or less the same arc. He made a career out of speaking at home-school conventions until the wider world heard tell — again thanks to Homeschoolers Anonymous — of his planned retreat for families to arrange child marriages.

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson advocated for adult men to marry 15- and 16-year-old girls and deemed age 20 too old because “you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” Home-school leader Kevin Swanson, whose 2015 convention was attended by several Republican presidential candidates, defended Robertson on his radio show after the story broke. Advocating for child marriage hasn’t slowed down Robertson’s career. He just got a new show on the conservative digital network CRTV.

As a teenager, I attended a lecture on courtship by a home-school speaker who was popular at the time. He praised the idea of “early courtship” so the girl could be molded into the best possible helpmeet for her future husband. The girl’s father was expected to direct her education after the courtship began so she could help her future husband in his work.

In retrospect, I understand what the speaker was really describing: Adult men selecting and grooming girls who were too young to have life experience. Another word for that is “predation.”

Much of the sexual abuse that takes place in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, or IFB, churches involves adult men targeting 14- to 16-year-old girls. If caught, the teenage victim may be forced to repent the “sin” of having seduced an adult man. Former IFB megachurch pastor Jack Schaap argued that he should be released from prison after being convicted of molesting a 16-year-old girl, asserting that the “aggressiveness” of his victim “inhibited [his] impulse control.” In the wake of the Schaap case, numerous other stories emerged of sexual abuse cover-ups involving teenage girls at IFB churches. In another high-profile case, pregnant 15-year-old Tina Anderson, who was raped by a church deacon twice her age, was forced to confess her “sin” to the congregation.

Prominent conservative Reformed theologian Doug Wilson has a documented history of mishandling sexual abuse cases within his congregation. Nevertheless, he continues to be promoted by evangelical leaders such as John Piper, whose Desiring God site still publishes Wilson’s work. When a 13-year-old girl in Wilson’s congregation was sexually abused, Wilson argued that she and her abuser were in a parent-sanctioned courtship, and that this was a mitigating factor.

There’s no shortage of such stories. A Presbyterian Church in America, or PCA, pastor attempted to discipline a woman who warned home-school parents of the convicted sex offender in his congregation. (The sex offender had gone online to solicit a 14-year-old girl for sex.) Another PCA church allowed that same convicted sex offender to give the invocation at a home-school graduation ceremony. He wasn’t perceived as an attempted child rapist, and he was “repentant.”

Growing up, I witnessed an influential religious right leader flirting with some of my teenage friends and receiving neck and shoulder massages from one of them. I’ve been expecting a scandal to break with him for years, but in the meantime, this man has put significant time into campaigning for anti-trans bathroom bills while deeming trans people “predators.”

The allegations against Roy Moore are merely a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not a Southern problem or an Alabama problem. It’s a Christian fundamentalist problem. Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, who leads the organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment), believes that the sexual abuse problem in Protestant communities is on par with that in the Catholic Church.

The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse. We’ve told our stories on social media and on our blogs and various online platforms, but until the Roy Moore story broke, mainstream American society barely paid attention. Everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue. It isn’t.

Kathryn Brightbill is legislative policy analyst at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit advocating for the interests of home-schooled children.

Gerry Adams Says He’d Be Jailed For Lying If He Admitted His IRA Past

For the benefit of those of my readers who haven’t got access to the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, which lurks behind a paywall, here is Gerry Adams being interviewed by Justine McCarthy in today’s edition.

The person who alerted me to it described the interview as ‘arslikhan’. Read below and you can decide for yourselves. This was the takeaway line for me, but make your own minds up on that as well:

‘If you said you were in the IRA, what would happen? “I’d probably be jailed for telling lies.”‘

Hmmmm. Don’t think so.

Publication Logo
The Sunday Times (London)
November 12, 2017 Sunday
I’M VERY MUCH AT PEACE WITH MYSELF

Gerry Adams talks to Justine McCarthy about Martin McGuinness, the ‘partitionist’ media and life after Sinn Fein

“You’ve a hole in your jumper,” says Gerry Adams, “and I can’t avoid looking at it.” He’s not the only one distracted. A framed slogan on the wall of his fifth floor office in Leinster House proclaims: “I believe in justice. I haven’t a liberal bone in my body.” The words were Fidel Castro’s, or so he’s been told.

The Irish proclamation – which he calls “my mission statement” – also hangs on the wall, along with a photo of the Sinn Fein president schmoozing the Dalai Lama.

At next weekend’s ard fheis in Dublin’s RDS, he will announce the date he agreed with Martin McGuinness for his retirement as Sinn Fein’s leader. Next November seems a likely date. By then, Adams will have been the party’s president for 35 years and will be 70. “I’m a bit tired this evening,” he says, “from going up and down to the [Stormont] talks but I’m feeling good, yeah, touch wood.”

He has a squint in his right eye and recurring pain in his left arm, from when a bullet was removed in 1984 after he was shot several times in a Ulster Defence Association (UDA) assassination attempt. How did being shot feel? “Sore. I was blessed by very incompetent assassins.”

Another time, a grenade was thrown at his home. After the Royal Ulster Constabulary searched the driveway, he found the grenade lever – part of a shipment from South Africa organised by Brian Nelson, the UDA’s head of intelligence and a British informer. Adams made the grenade lever into a key ring and still uses it. More recent death threats have emanated from dissident republicans. He calls them “micro groups”. He doesn’t carry a weapon for protection, on either side of the border. He keeps fit by walking a minimum of five miles a day.

“I’ve lots of things to do, if God spares me. I want to win the poc fada championship again. I want to write books, read books, plant the garden. Live to see the grandchildren grow to a good age.”

Such pleasant plan-making may ring cruel to IRA victims and the bereaved, such as those of the Enniskillen bomb attack 30 years ago. Of course Adams denies ever belonging to the organisation. He would, though, wouldn’t he, knowing he would be arrested if he said otherwise? If you said you were in the IRA, what would happen? “I’d probably be jailed for telling lies.” Did he and McGuinness, a former IRA commander, ever talk about making their peace with themselves or their God after the Troubles? “We never had that type of discussion. I’m very much at peace with myself. Martin was very much at peace with himself.”

Wasn’t McGuinness religious? “Like any of us who came from a Catholic background, he may have moved a bit away from the rituals of all that. That isn’t to say he didn’t go to mass. He did, regularly, but I think he’d have described himself as spiritual in recent years.”

Adams says he thinks about the north’s former deputy first minister “every day” since his death in March. He had resigned as deputy first minister in protest over the “cash for ash” scandal in January.

“Being sick had nothing to do with him resigning. The night he resigned he was in the hospital in Derry getting really strenuous, invasive treatment. He’d already decided to resign. I argued, ‘Martin, you should do it in Derry.’ He wouldn’t. He wanted to come and see Arlene [Foster, the first minister] himself, which I think is a mark of the man.

“I said to him, ‘You need to fight for yourself now because you’ve fought for everyone else.’ And he said, ‘The doctors have told me I’ll either be OK or I’ll be dead in three months.'” The Stormont executive has remained suspended since McGuinness quit. Might it be restored by Christmas? “It’s very unlikely,” Adams says, unless there’s “a step change in the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP’s) position” on Irish language policy, legacy issues and same-sex marriage.

He also predicts that the DUP’s supply and confidence agreement with the Tories “will end up in tears for the DUP – because it always has. British governments always act in their own interest”. Does he accept Sinn Fein has no chance of getting into government in Dublin after the next election, with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael refusing to countenance coalition with them? “We don’t want to go into .government with them. But there’s a difference between incompatibility of policy and saying these folks aren’t fit for government, these are the untouchables. So it’s OK in the north but it’s not OK here.”

The establishment in the southern state, he says, is “deeply partitionist”.

“Moving north to south is like moving between two different planets, mostly because of the media. You saw the social media uproar about the map that was used on The Late Late Show that showed just 26 counties. We’re told what traffic is like in Patrick Street in Cork and Fairview but never what it’s like in Omagh. Northerners really resent that.

“Dana once said northerners always look to the south but southerners rarely look to the north. One thing northerners would feel offended about is when the word ‘Ireland’ is used to describe the 26 counties, or ‘national’ is used to describe the state.”

He recalls staying at a campsite in Co Mayo when his children were young and being registered as “Northern Irish”. He challenged the woman checking him in if she would describe herself as western Irish. “The partitionist view is reflected in the media, especially in the state media,” he says. “The biggest offenders are the Independent group of newspapers.”

Also on Adams’s bucket list is a successful referendum on Irish unification by 2022. “I trace a lot of the ills on this island to partition and to the process of colonisation we endured as a people. We had two really conservative, patriarchal states that were anti-women and anti-intellectual. Writers that are celebrated throughout the world were banned.

“Think of the dynamic that would be created by uniting orange and green. I think we will have a united Ireland. It’s an ongoing process of regeneration.

“We had two really conservative, patriarchal states, anti-women and anti-intellectual.”

Brexit, A Hard Border And A Dish Of Codswollop

Yesterday, I spent a very enjoyable lunchtime at a nice restaurant in one of the most monumental buildings in America – New York’s Grand Central Station – with old friends from Ireland, took the train home, switched on the radio and there on the afternoon news magazine on our local public radio station was more nonsense about how a Brexit-induced hard border in Ireland could re-ignite the Troubles.

I should have stayed downtown.

WNYC is not alone, alas, in peddling this canard. Virtually every media outlet in the Western world, and beyond for all I know, has fallen for the absurd proposition that if Brexit produces a Border between North and South resembling that which existed pre-EU, then the guns and bombs will almost certainly be back on the streets of Belfast, Derry and south Armagh.

Here, for example, are two of the most normally cautious and careful news magazines to be found on any news stand in this country or in Europe, The Economist and Newsweek, one British, the other American, opining on the matter.

First, The Economist:

During the Troubles of the 1960s-90s, the border was dotted with army checkpoints and watchtowers, as well as (until 1993) customs controls. The melting away of the militarised frontier into a mere line on a map was perhaps the most visible achievement of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 accord that largely brought an end to three decades of violence.

Yet there is a serious risk that a hard border could return. After Brexit, this will be the only land boundary between Britain and the European Union.

Nobody predicts that violence is about to return to Northern Ireland. But a return to a hard border would further destabilise an already fragile political situation. One peace-loving old-timer jokes that he would personally blow up any installation erected on the border.

And this is Newsweek:

But any significant change to the Irish border threatens to damage business, and new barriers could also stoke old tensions. Making it significantly harder to travel between Northern Ireland and Ireland might enrage one half of the bitter Northern Irish political divide; the Republicans and Nationalists who eventually want to see a united, independent Ireland. Impediments to travel between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., meanwhile, would be problematic for the Unionists; Northern Irish people who want the province to stay joined with Britain.

And here is a video produced by the European parliament, implicitly saying the same by invoking the need to protect the peace process from a hard border.

 

The problem with this analysis is that it starts from a flawed and overly simplistic premise, which is that the Troubles were all about the Border, when they really weren’t. It may look that way to the uneducated outsider but the truth was a whole lot more complex.

The Troubles were sparked by two things: first, a demand from the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland for civil rights, for a greater measure of equality and for institutions, such as the police, which acted in a way which could command their support and allegiance. Second, the refusal/reluctance of Unionists to acquiesce.

In the early days of the civil rights campaign the national question, i.e. the demand for Irish re-unification and the removal of the Border, figured hardly at all in the protests. In fact civil rights leaders were keen to stress that reform not revolution was their priority.

Most Unionists however chose to see it all very differently, regarding any demand for change as a challenge to the existence of the state.

The response of Unionists was to regard the civil rights movement as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and to meet it with obdurance and violence, either directly via the RUC or more often by way of the mob, Burntollet and Bombay Street being bloodily eloquent examples.

The fact that a significant section of Unionism would not countenance reform and was prepared to use violence to preserve its privileges persuaded a significant section of the Nationalist community that the place was irreformable and had to be pulled down. Hence the Provisional IRA and its quarter of a century of violence.

But those who did advocate that approach were always in the minority. The bulk of Nationalists gave their votes to the SDLP, a party which embodied the politics of reform. The Provos only came to command Nationalist politics when they moved into ground once dominated by the SDLP.

The fact that the party most violent in its opposition to the Northern Ireland state eventually accepted its existence as long as it was made a warmer and more welcoming place for Nationalists, as happened when the Provos signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, is surely compelling evidence that the Border played a secondary part in the genesis of the Troubles.

None of this means that a hard Border will be entirely harmless. Life for a significant section of the population on either side of the Border could be made more complicated and difficult. But the idea that this could so enrage Nationalists that they will again reach for the gun is unsustainable nonsense.

Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first civil rights marches in Coalisland and Derry and there now exists, on paper at least, a settlement that essentially addresses satisfactorily the question raised by civil rights: whither the place of Nationalists in Northern Ireland?

Via the offices of Sinn Fein, Nationalists now have a guaranteed place in government while all the other demands of the civil rights movement of the Sixties have been met, some in spades.

Most Nationalists appear content with the Good Friday Agreement, even if it is in cold storage as I write this post, and in that gratification it is possible to discern the underlying truth of the Troubles, which is that they were never really about the Border but about the well-being and position of Nationalists in the existing constitutional status quo.

So, why has so much of the world’s media, not to mention foreign governments, fallen for the hard Border codswollop?

Well, the Troubles have been over for nearly two decades and a new generation of journalists and politicians are coming to the Troubles possibly for the first time. They come to the topic more in ignorance than enlightenment and in such circumstances are ideal prey for the unscrupulous.

Foremost among those peddling the ‘hard Border equals new Troubles’ nonsense has been Sinn Fein, who have even staged mock Border crossings for the media with controls of such severity that they resemble nothing that I can remember from my student days of trips to Dublin when the EU consisted of just six countries in a common market.

But such reconstructions make great YouTube videos and wonderful propaganda which untutored reporters and politicians are quite happy to accept. They know no better.

The hard Border scenario presents Sinn Fein with endless political possibilities and it certainly helps to have in the background a seemingly intractable deadlock in the talks to revive Stormont. That gives credibility to the dark warnings.

Is that why Sinn Fein have just recently discovered the centrality of the Irish language or marriage rights for gay and transgender people? Is that why agreement in the negotiations to restore the Good Friday Agreement has so far proved so elusive? Will Stormont be revived only when Brexit is settled?

Or am I being just too cynical?