No, Gerry, you were never kept on a plantation
Gerry Adamsís excuses grossly insult his unionist neighbours, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Tom Burke
YouTube has a clip from a 2009 interview with Gerry Adams reminiscing about a favourite song that was a comfort to him in jail. “After a very brutal incursion into the prison wing, the prison officers beat everybody and the wing was deadly silent and from way down the wing we heard this little voice going “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. Within five minutes, “there were 100 men singing at the top of their voices.”
Apart from the inconvenient truth that Adams had left jail a year before the song was released, the story differs dramatically from what was in his 1996 autobiography, Before the Dawn, where there was nothing about a beating but prisoners were having “a great session” on the anniversary of internment. At 4 a.m. they began banging bin-lids, which caused prison staff to arrive in riot gear and leave some time later after shouting abuse. “I imagined I could hear a collective sigh of held breath being released as an eerie silence settled over the wing. Suddenly a voice rose in song from one of the cells near me. ‘We’re on the one road, sharing the one load,/We’re on the road to God knows where…’” Everyone joined in and “by the time we had the song finished our appetites had been whetted and our concert continued until some time after the light of dawn
had entered our cells.”
There are two main strategies that Adams has when dealing with the truth. The more understandable one is designed to get him out of innumerable jams over such pesky issues as the IRA, the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville and his failure to take action over his brother Liam’s abuse of his own daughter Aine.
The second is designed to distort the past to justify IRA crimes, which involve the libelling of those he hates: the English, unionists, anyone who thwarts him, and, indeed, the victims of Provisional IRA violence whom he wants to believe had it coming. If they were in uniform, Adams needs to paint them as brutal savages.
He’s in a distinguished line of cynics or ignoramuses who peddle a version of Irish history where the only good guys are nationalist victims driven to violence by their evil oppressors — what the historian Liam Kennedy named the MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever) version of history. That Adams now believes his own propaganda as unquestioningly as his dimmest follower was evident from the Django Unchained row. The important issue wasn’t really his tweeting of the N-word, for which he apologised.
No, what was staggering was his explanation as to why it was fine to have tweeted that he was a Ballymurphy “N-----” and the slave Django an “uppity Fenian”. His excuse that “Nationalists in Nth were treated like African Americans” was shocking. At one go, he made light of the terrible history of African Americans and insulted the unionist community he claims to want to reach out to. As the commentator Alex Kane put it: “Nationalists in Northern Ireland were never the property of unionists. They were never kept on plantations. They were never denied an education. They were never used as slave labour. There was never a law which permitted them to be chained, hobbled and shot on sight. There was never an ‘underground’ which assisted nationalists to escape from the ‘owners’ and take them to a place of safety.”
Liam Hogan, the Limerick-based researcher into slavery, has flatly contradicted Adams’s additional claims about Irish people being sold into slavery. Such myths, he has shown, help add a “veneer of credibility to what is a well-known white nationalist conspiracy theory more commonly found on Neo-Nazi and Neo-Confederate forums.”
“Why,” asked Professor Kennedy recently, “have Irish ultra-nationalists and Irish-American junkies for violence such an appetite for tales of English infamy and unparalleled Irish suffering.” He suspects the answer lies in “racial hatred, as projected by the Citizen in Ulysses. Collective hatreds need to surf the past to give the semblance of substance to what are ultimately untenable, prejudiced views. (Think of the anti-Semitic blood libel.)”
I think he’s got it. Gerry Adams isn’t prejudiced about skin colour, yet his love of victimhood is such that he can’t bear to admit that, for instance, African Americans or black South Africans have had a worse time than the Irish. In his slurs about the English and about Northern Ireland unionists, he’s a racist through and through.
Ruth Dudley Edwards' 'The Seven: the life and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic' was published by Oneworld on March 22