documentary was hyped up before the broadcast - producer
Gearóid Ó Cairealláin promised
Andersonstown News readers a "bigger picture"
than ever before; Catherine Morrison flagged a "revealing"
interview with Gerry Adams, and tempted viewers with
promises of "surprising revelations".
one-hour programme ambitiously tried to cover the
life of Gerry Adams from 1948 to the present day,
and the evolution of the Irish republican movement
he joined at the age of sixteen.
a lot of detail had to be sacrificed.
these omissions significant?
one sense Adams was born inside the movement - many
close relatives, including his father, were part of
the "republican family", and were punished
harshly by the Orange State of Northern Ireland. The
documentary covers this part of the story well, making
good use of scarce resources - contemporary photographs
and film - up to the end of the 1960's.
and better quality resources - both visual and documentary
- were available to tell the story from the early
1970's to the present day - but this is where the
main problems occur.
familiar with the recently published Ed Moloney best
seller ("A Secret
History of the IRA") - or the many and
varied reviews this book has attracted - will be struck
by critical gaps in the story.
publication of the Moloney book - in which Gerry Adams
looms very large - the Sinn Féin President
denied he was ever a member of the Irish Republican
remarks in the documentary that, during several recent
visits to South Africa, he could not find anyone defending
the old Apartheid régime; in the same way,
nobody today can be detected in the 26 Counties supporting
the Section 31 banning of Sinn Féin from the
documentary makers knew that nobody credible could
be persuaded to repeat the lie that the Sinn Féin
leader was never an IRA member. The problem is even
trickier when you tell the story of the Provisional
IRA's rapid growth in the early 1970's, and refer
to Adams being released from internment in the Long
Kesh prison camp to participate in secret IRA/British
could this "secret side" of the Republican
Movement be described without contradicting Adams?
If Aisling Ghéar repeated a literally unbelievable
claim, it risked magnetically attracting ridicule
following solution was lined up: two interviewees,
Séamus Mac Sheáin and Póilín
Ní Chíaráin, referred to the
IRA military background of Adams. Mac Sheáin
said the Sinn Féin President should "own
up to that part of his life", and there was nothing
to be ashamed of.
party leader was spared the task of denying IRA membership.
is high quality spinning - ranking alongside the achievements
of Eoghan Harris when he and his colleagues did a
similar job for Official Sinn Féin/the Workers'
Party in the 1970's and 1980's, up there with the
presentation job performed for Tony Blair's New Labour
machine by Peter Mandelson.
revealing is the wrong descriptive word
for this type of operation - concealing
sums it up much better. The same applies to the documentarys
account of how the campaign in favour of republican
political prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh changed
direction in late 1979.
is noted that the movement dropped its insistence
that campaigners had to endorse the IRAs armed
campaign as well as the prisoners demands for
political status, and the then leadership group around
Gerry Adams deserves credit for taking this step.
But sole credit for proposing this change is given
to the strategist Jim Gibney. Gibney probably
was the first person within the republican leadership
group who favoured this change, but he was not
the first republican to do so. Furthermore, a significant
number of campaigners fought for such a change of
strategy long before the Sinn Féin leadership,
and took initiatives which brought them into direct
conflict with the Adams current.
example, this reviewer, at the time a member of Peoples
Democracy, participated in a three day Burntollet
Commemoration march in early 1979, which campaigned
for political status, and spent an evening discussing
this very issue with the leading republican Kevin
Agnew*. Perhaps other readers of this review, who
were politically active at that time, might like to
add their own accounts of this significant change
in republican thinking.
that year Bernadette McAliskey ran for the European
Parliament as a Smash H-Block candidate,
and was bitterly attacked by a republican leadership
dogmatically opposed to running candidates in elections.
Sinn Féin newspapers denounced the initiative,
adding vicious attacks on mosquito groups
such as Peoples Democracy for good measure.
are just a few examples of the gaps in the documentarys
conclusion it is necessary to go back again to the
documentarys highlighted links between Adams
and the African National Congress. We are shown celebratory
footage of Adams meeting the veteran ANC leader Nelson
Mandela, and the current ANC Government Minister Kader
Asmal - who spent many years exiled in Ireland and
led a very effective Anti Apartheid Movement with
his partner Louise.
coincidence Asmal recently wrote to the Irish Times
querying critical coverage of his partys role
in Government and growing unease amongst it left-wing
allies. This provoked a response from Brendan Archbold,
an official working for MANDATE, the shop-workers
and bar-workers trade union.
points out that a number of people working for the
South African embassy in Dublin have been barred from
joining the union - by South African anti-worker legislation.
During the apartheid era (from 1984-87) eleven workers
in Dublins Dunnes Stores - ten women and
one man - were locked out of their jobs for refusing
to handle South African goods. This struggle made
world headlines. Kader Asmal spent a lot of time on
this picket line in solidarity with the workers. The
eleven workers were members of MANDATEs predecessor,
times have now changed.
now says to Kader Asmal Shame on you, Minister
(Irish Times, January 27).
choices made by Asmal and Adams are not very different
- perhaps unintentionally, the TV documentary has
drawn attention to the similarities.
Moloney's "Secret History" describes a shocking
frame-up of one time Sinn Féin General Secretary
Christine Ní Élias. One faction in the
republican leadership - in which Adams was a central
figure - smeared this Canadian woman as a British
agent, forcing her to eventually emigrate from Ireland.
Kevin Agnew was the only member of a three person
investigating committee who had the courage to stand
up to the Adams leadership and support Ní Élias.
One republican source told Moloney this was the movement's
"Dreyfus Affair" - to date nobody in the
current Sinn Féin leadership has made any comment.
Such events are not referred to in the "Gerry
Adams" TV documentary.
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