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11 August 2004

The Imperfect Peace: The Irish charmer

Ruth Dudley Edwards on the change of face for Sinn Fein's leader.

Like many people who prefer truth to lies and substance to style, over the past decade - watching the world smarming up to Gerry Adams - I've been howling at the moon: 

He claims not to be in the terrorist organisation. He and his pals have ruined the lives of tens of thousands, poisoned community relations and destroyed indefinitely any possibility of having the united Ireland they set out to get. How can you be so criminally gullible?' 

And so on and on and on. So how can they be so criminally gullible? How has Adams, the ugly face of an ugly movement, moved from pariahdom to superstar? Well, the ghastly truth is that Adams has brilliantly caught the zeitgeist - the spirit of our times. Reason is out: presentations skills are all. 

It was no accident that Bill Clinton - shameless liar and master of false sincerity - was in the White House when Adams began his international career. 

It was principally Adams - Northern Ireland's Cromwell - who fashioned the Provos into a highly efficient, zealous, merciless New Model Army. 

And when he realised they could not win militarily, it was principally Adams who refashioned them into a force for a different world - that of spin and celebrities - with himself made-over as a sanitised, tree-hugging Cromwell with the warts airbrushed out. 

The journalist, Ed Vulliamy, wrote of how, during Adams's first visit to the United States in 1995, Donald Trump, rampant capitalist, serial wedder of trophy wives and notorious megalomaniac, 'held a fund-raising lunch for Sinn Fein under the chandeliers of the Essex Hotel. . . Adams, surrounded by fawning celebrities, said in the middle of his address: 'Here comes my trump card' - and in walked the Don.' 

So what attracted Trump, and Bianca Jagger and Angelica Huston and rich Irish-America? Well, initially, of course, it was the fashionistas' appetite for terrorist chic, but once he had them in his ambience, it was Adams whose synthetic charm got them on board the SS Provo

That crucial 1995 event was covered by Nora Davis, a young journalist whose father had emigrated from Sligo. The 'well-groomed men in expensive suits and jewel-laden women…were gathered…to hear Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, work magic with his words…Called a terrorist by some and a saviour by others for his relentless efforts to lift Northern Ireland out from under British rule…[now] he was rubbing shoulders with many of the country's Irish-American power elite. I listened to Adams tell me why, as a first-generation Irish American, I should be angry that for more than 600 years the British have controlled Ireland's six northernmost counties.'

Feeling that like many Americans born of immigrant parents, she lived in a no-man's land - Irish to her American peers, but a "Yank" to her Irish cousins - Davis's 'confusion about my ethnic identity filled me at the Essex House; pride for my heritage flushed my cheeks as Adams first spoke to his audience in Gaelic - even though I did not understand a word.'

Switching to 'a lilting English' (yes, honestly), Adams explained 'that he was "humbled" by those Irish Americans who actively support Sinn Fein's move to unite Ireland, "who could have forgotten their homeland, and could have assimilated." My pride grew, even as I realized my patriotic buttons were being knowingly pushed by this refined and poetic speaker. "Our island is still partitioned . . . We have to make peace with a government that has sought to oppress us," Adams said of Britain. His words swayed me, making me sympathise with Sinn Fein.' 

Remembering her training as a reporter ('be objective, show all sides of the issue, try not to involve yourself in the situation'), Davis put the unionist case briefly, but then added: 'So much for the reporter in me. The Irish in me is inclined to dream with Sinn Fein about the future of a united Ireland.'

Martin McGuinness could not have done what Adams did. Although they share many horrible characteristics, he lacks the hollowness and vanity that made Adams a perfect candidate to become a celebrity in our sick times. 

The Stepford Provo looked right and sounded right, told the audience what they wanted to hear and made them feel part of something important. 

Unchallenged in his Big Lies by governments constrained by the peace process, he got his bandwagon rolling nine years ago and it hasn't stopped since. 

He changes the beliefs he's peddling along with his clothes. 

His popularity will last as long as this zeitgeist prevails.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards