Most news media
will only cover a few issues in any meaningful depth,
and a new "crisis" will soon crowd out
what was until recently considered a grave situation.
Darfur will crowd out Iraq, Iraq overshadowed Palestine,
and so on. News editors will justify this by stating
that the public suffers from an attention deficit;
they suggest that the public can at most focus on
two issues at a time, and only where a "crisis"
has erupted. However, conflicts don't follow a media
agenda, and injustice may persist even after the
TV cameras have moved on. Compounding the problem
is that once the spotlight moves elsewhere, politicians'
interest will also wane. The next time the media
focus will return is only when the "bang-bang"
It is the news media
that really suffers from an "attention deficit
disorder", and as the recent war in Iraq attests,
the news media has also lent itself to manipulate
the public into silence. To understand what is happening
in the world and to demonstrate true solidarity
with people struggling for a modicum of justice,
it is important to reject the news media determined
a peoples' demand for justice should not be determined
by the fickle media agenda, but it should be constant.
It is for this reason that it is important to discuss
the ongoing developments in Northern Ireland. There
may be a perception that "peace has broken
out" in Northern Ireland, and there are enough
politicians toasting champagne or slapping each
other's backs to prove this point. However, deep
divisions and significant tensions remain in that
society, and many issues have not been addressed.
About Gerry Adams:
Gerry Adams is the president of Sinn Féin,
a nationalist political party in Northern Ireland.
He also served as a member of parliament for West
Belfast from 1983 until 1992. In line with not recognizing
the authority of the British parliament, he did
not attend at the House of Commons. Besides politics,
Adams is a prolific writer. His latest two books
are Before the Dawn: An Autobiography (Heinemann,
London 1996). His latest book is Hope and History:
Making Peace in Ireland (Brandon, 2004).
Paul de Rooij: Was anything substantive achieved at the recent
talks at Leeds Castle?
Gerry Adams: The negotiations at Leeds Castle did see some
progress made. However, there was progress towards
a comprehensive agreement, I saw no sign of that
as far as the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] was
concerned. In the weeks since then there has been
no evidence to suggest that the DUP has changed
its position. Yes, Mr. Paisley traveled to Dublin,
and I welcome that, but the fact is that the DUP
continues to put unrealistic demands aimed at changing
the power sharing core of the Assembly and other
fundamentals of the Agreement. It persists with
its objectionable refusal to accept Sinn Féin's
mandate or the rights of our electorate and the
rights of citizens who support other parties.
Since Leeds Castle the Sinn Féin leadership
has been involved in intense discussions with the
governments in a bid to close the gaps which exist.
That work is still ongoing.
PR: Some commentators [e.g., Harry Browne] were astonished
that the key aspect of Sinn Féin concessions
weren't noted in the British press or acknowledged
by Tony Blair or Ahern. Is it the case that the
British gov't or the unionist parties have not appreciated
key moves by Sinn Fein?
Adams: You will not understand the nature of the conflict in Ireland
unless you set it in the context of Britain's colonial
involvement over many centuries, the partition of
the island, and the ongoing British claim of jurisdiction
over a part of the island.
So, while the British
and Irish governments and indeed some unionists,
do understand the efforts and risks Sinn Féin
has taken to achieve a peace settlement, we each
have our different conflicting goals; Sinn Féin
wants and end to the union, an end to British jurisdiction
over a part of Ireland; the British and the unionists
want to retain that, although they may differ over
the shape of that union. We are therefore at odds
over the core cause of conflict -- which we see
as continued British interference in Ireland --
and what needs to be done to resolve it.
PR: We know what unionist parties and the British government
want in such negotiations. What were Sinn Fein's
main demands, and have those issues been addressed?
Adams: Sinn Féin wants to see the full implementation of
the Good Friday Agreement. That means the British
government implementing with 'rigorous impartiality'
its responsibilities in respect of equality and
'civil, political, social and cultural rights,'
agreed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
It hasn't done this. Nor has it honored its commitments
on issues like a new accountable, democratically
controlled policing service or the demilitarization
of our society.
Our position going
into this negotiation is very straight forward
to insist that the British government implement,
in good faith, all of those many commitments that
it has so far broken.
PR: Has the British government exerted any pressure on unionist
parties so that they would fulfill their obligations?
Adams: The Good Friday Agreement [GFA] is about fundamental constitutional,
political, social change. It is about a process
of sustainable change which ends inequalities and
embraces citizens on the basis of equality. However,
the experience of the past six years, since the
GFA was agreed, is that the British approach to
the implementation of the Agreement has in the main
been dictated by matching progress to how much change
unionist parties are prepared to accept. The rights
and entitlements of citizens are being determined
by how much of a row unionists will kick up.
The reality is that
British policy tolerates and perpetuates institutionalized
inequality and many in political unionism see no
imperative to co-operate with their nationalist
neighbors, or nationalist and republican representatives.
This view is reinforced by the fact that the apparatus
of government, the symbols, and senior management
of the institutions of the state are predominantly
unionist. British policy is also an obstacle to
the practice and achieving of equality of treatment
and parity of esteem.
The un-elected and
unaccountable 'Northern Ireland Office' [NIO] is
a particular example of the need for urgent change.
The NIO runs the six-counties almost as a private
fiefdom. British Direct Rule Ministers fly in for
a few hours a week, very often simply to rubber
stamp decisions pre-formulated by Senior NIO officials.
And too often, those who work within and for the
NIO, demonstrate an unapologetic devotion to the
unionist cause. In addition the hundreds of unaccountable
quangos [PR: see below] are filled to overflowing
with those appointed by the NIO and deemed by that
body to be safe hands. The manifestation of Unionist
governance for the Unionist people is preserved.
A non-British audience may require some explanation.
Quangos are quasi-governmental agencies. These bodies
usually deliver government services, but their boards
aren't elected, and usually stacked with the incumbent
party's appointees. Most government services in
the UK were either privatized or removed from democratic
accountability during the Thatcher era.]
PR: Tony Blair is a discredited leader and most probably must
be viewed as a "lame duck". Is this apparent
during the negotiations?
Adams: However Tony Blair is viewed by others the fact is that
he is the British Prime Minister. He will almost
certainly still be the British Prime Minister after
the next elections. Our responsibility is to work
with him and persuade him to implement the Agreement.
We also constantly raise with him the need for him
to change British policy from one of supporting
the union to one of ending the union.
PR: The Blair government has been notorious for the way it
addressed the few issues it has chosen to pursue,
e.g., the never-ending fox hunting saga. Have the
issues of Northern Ireland been addressed more forcibly
Adams: I think I have already given you a sense of our criticism
of the way in which the British government has implemented
the Agreement. It has failed to deliver in the terms
agreed six years ago. Sometimes these failures are
failures of focus or concentration but often they
are the deliberate machinations of interests within
the British system who remain deeply opposed to
the peace process. Progress is most often made when
Mr. Blair is focused on the issue. When his concentration
shifts to other matters then the problems multiply.
PR: Until recently, walls have been built in Belfast. What
has been done to integrate the societies to heal
the distrust and enmity?
Adams: There have been ghettoes in Belfast since the town was
first constructed and most clearly since the industrial
revolution. The walls are a more recent manifestation
of the divisions in our society which are a consequence
of the colonial policies of past British and unionist
governments. There are real efforts being made to
build bridges across these divides and they have
met with some success but there is no easy answer
to sectarian divisions carefully fostered by governments
and unionist political and business interests over
PR: Catholics and Protestants still go to separate schools,
and it seems that the first time the communities
meet is at university. Is the school system going
to be integrated? And what are the impediments to
Adams: It is important to realize that the existence of Catholic
and Protestant and Irish medium or non-denominational
schools are not in themselves bad things. Too often
there is a simplistic view presented of this conflict
as sectarian. While there is a sectarian element
to it, its roots are firmly located in Britain's
colonial presence in Ireland and the continued partition
of our country.
Adams: While he was Minister for Education, my colleague Martin
McGuinness allocated more funding to integrated
schooling than any British Minister ever did. We
understand its importance but we also have to take
account of the society we live in and the desire
for families to have their children taught in schools
which reflect their values. However, as the peace
process continues to develop, as our society comes
to terms with its past and builds a new future,
then the issue of education will become less about
the religious or non-religious nature of the school
but the standard of education taught.
PR: The recent census in Northern Ireland forced respondents
to be categorized in about 20 different ways. Even
if a person didn't want to be classified in the
available categories, it was forced upon them. It
seems that the divisions are forced upon the communities
by government policy. Do you think this will eventually
be phased out?
Adams: It is understandable that governments in trying to address
the needs of society will seek to secure as much
information as possible to allow decisions to be
taken which are informed and the best interests
of citizens. That's not a bad thing. But like all
information, it can be used to discriminate, to
oppress, to exclude. That is why the institutions,
and the rights and entitlements of citizens accorded
in the Good Friday Agreement are so important. It
is why we have been pushing so hard for a Bill of
Rights for the north.
PR: In some countries on the continent ethnic conflict was
defused by finding some commonality among erstwhile
antagonistic groups. For example, the adoption of
a common European identity seems to have dampened
the Walloon vs. Flemish ethnic tensions in Belgium.
Has there been any discussion to do the same in
Adams: There have been some limited efforts to persuade people
here to look at Europe as a point of commonality,
others have tried to persuade citizens that instead
of seeing themselves as either 'Irish' or 'British'
they should seek to define their identity in terms
of being 'northern Irish'. But none of this has
had any real impact. My view is that instead of
seeking to disguise or hide what we are or believe
we are we should embrace our differences and see
them as positives, and as strengths.
I may not agree
with the Orange Order. I may oppose its efforts
to hold triumphalist marches through nationalist
areas where they are not wanted, but I do respect
the Order's right to exist and I will defend their
right to march. They have to learn to respect the
right of other citizens to hold a contrary opinion.
For that reason dialogue is very important. Regrettably,
the various loyal institutions refuse to speak to
Sinn Féin and most refuse to speak to nationalist
residents. That remains an important piece of work
in the time ahead.
PR: Sinn Féin has a branch of its party contesting elections
in the Republic of Ireland. Is the issue of Northern
Ireland of much concern there, and is this the key
issue drawing Irish to vote for Sinn Féin
Adams: Sinn Féin is the only party organized throughout
the whole island. Next year we celebrate our 100th
birthday. In the recent elections in the south of
Ireland, we made significant progress and achieved
major breakthroughs in Dublin and other parts of
the state. Instinctively most people in the south
want to see a United Ireland. That is most obvious
in the fact that increasingly political parties
in that part of the island are also including the
demand for a United Ireland as part of their manifesto
PR: Sinn Féin purports to be a leftist
party. Can you explain why you as leader of Sinn
Féin attended the Bush-Blair war summit in
Hillsborough in May 2003? What explains Sinn Féin
failure to criticize the US and its recent wars?
Why have you attended the World Economic Conference
in New York but not the World Social Forum in Brazil?
Adams: Whatever else President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were
talking about at Hillsborough they were also dealing
with our peace process. So, we had an obligation
to be there and to use that opportunity to talk
about what is after all the most important issue
for the people of Ireland. Nonetheless, I used the
occasion to present both leaders with a letter outlining
our total opposition to what was then the imminent
invasion of Iraq. I told both that they should not
invade and I have repeated that both to them and
to their officials at every opportunity. Our criticism
of the war has resulted in Sinn Féin being
criticized by people in the USA. I am consequently
somewhat puzzled by your question which suggests
that we have not criticized the war in Iraq. And,
by the way, while we did not receive an invite to
attend the World Social Forum in Brazil I have been
invited and will attend the European Social Forum
in London next week.
PR: What is Sinn Fein's policy on migration into Ireland?
And can you explain its position regarding citizenship
in the recent referendum in the Republic of Ireland?
Adams: Sinn Féin wants to see a comprehensive immigration
policy that is positive, compassionate, human rights
compliant and anti-racist. That policy must fully
recognize the positive contribution of immigrants
to Irish society and to the Irish economy.
We oppose the Irish
Government's policy of deporting Irish child citizens
along with their non-national parents, and are calling
not only for the deportation orders in such cases
to be vacated, but also for the Government to introduce
legislation affirming the equal right of all citizen
children to remain in Ireland in the care and company
of their parents regardless of the national or ethnic
origin of their parents.
The only appropriate
legacy for a nation scarred by emigration is a positive
immigration policy that recognizes the dignity and
rights of migrants, and that also recognizes that
immigration is an enormously constructive social
and economic force whose potential must be harnessed
in the best interests of our future.
vigorously opposed the recent Citizenship Referendum.
The Government proposals stripped some Irish children
of their rights on the basis of where their parents
came from. The proposals were introduced to coincide
with the recent local and EU elections in an attempt
to divert attention away from the government's appalling
record on housing, healthcare, and other matters.
It was designed to exploit people's fears regarding
immigrants and asylum seekers.
by the National Consultative Committee on Racism
and Interculturalism (NCCRI) shows clearly that
the volume of racist assaults are running well above
the 'average' numbers normally reported. That there
has been a sharp increase during and since the passing
of the Citizenship Referendum should surprise no
one. Sinn Féin, along with others, warned
that the referendum would lead to an increase in
racism, and unfortunately we have been proved right.
PR: During your recent lecture in London, a BBC journalist
asked you a single question, i.e., if it was true
that you were fond of PG Woodhouse. Has the BBC
ever addressed the Northern Ireland issue in a more
intelligent way than this, and how do you evaluate
its coverage during the past few years?
Adams: With some honorable exceptions most British media coverage
of the conflict and in particular of the British
role in it, has been poor. British public opinion
has been poorly served by a media which failed to
tackle the real causes of conflict, address issues
like collusion between state forces and loyalist
death squads and much more.
PR: It is curious to an outsider to find that the nationalist
community will wave the Palestinian flag, and adopt
a sympathetic position vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
At the same time, the unionists tend to wave the
Israeli flag. What is the origin of this and are
people aware of the situation in occupied Palestine?
Adams: In the course of three decades of conflict republicans
and nationalists came to identify with other peoples
engaged in struggle against oppression. This is
true of the Palestinians, of the ANC and others.
Over those years we built up solidarity links and
today there are very active solidarity groups in
Belfast and elsewhere helping the Palestinian people
in whatever way they can.
came to favor the Israeli side. DUP politicians
like Peter Robinson visited Israel at the invitation
of right wing politicians there. I don't know how
well informed unionist opinion is on the conflict
in Palestine, but nationalist and republican opinion
is very well informed.
PR: You just published another book. What are the issues you
are addressing this time?
Adams: Hope and History recounts the events around the
birth of the peace process. It seeks to give an
insiders account of developments, of the key people
involved and of the practical steps which were necessary
in order to make progress. It's not intended as
a history book but for those interested in conflict
resolution it would be a useful addition to their
Paul de Rooij is an economist living in London. He can be contacted
(NB: all attachments will be deleted automatically).
article first appeared in Counter
Punch and has been reproduced with the permission
of Paul de Rooij.