An unhealthy obsession with Gerry Adams… April 28, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Did anyone read Ruth Dudley Edwards piece in the Sunday Independent this last weekend? It was – as is the wont of that paper and its daily twin, an attack on Sinn Féin, and Gerry Adams in particular. I’ve meant to comment on how any even cursory view of their politics stories will almost inevitably offer up a couple of anti-SF stories, and most focused on Adams, every week. Sometimes they are more frequent. That they are near enough all froth, faux outrage over non-events or non-comments or misinterpretations, is neither here nor there. The Independent papers clearly know their target audience. It’s difficult to know whether it reflects worse upon the papers themselves or that audience. I think its 50:50, but others opinions will vary.
None of this is to suggest that Adams or SF are beyond critique or criticism. But the words logical, reasoned and principled surely should inform such critiques and criticism.
Anyhow RDE offers some boilerplate about how Adams has spent his life ‘opposing pretty well everything that came across his line of vision and prevented him getting his way’. Such as?
…the Northern Ireland state, Brits, unionists, Orangemen, the SDLP, securocrats, capitalists (unless they’re American donors), revisionists, partitionists, dissidents, media lackeys and so on and on. Not the IRA, of course, of which he was never a member but for which he has empathic understanding. And not anyone who thinks he’s wonderful.
An odd analysis, one would think if one looks at the fact the peace process was in train perhaps marginally longer than the conflict itself in the North (a bit ambiguous this, but say the conflict was from 1970 to 1996 or so and the peace process from 1990 to date. Again opinions will vary). Or that Adams and others in SF and PIRA came to terms with historic adversaries including…er… pretty much all the above, bar the obvious.
Nor, and this is particularly notable, does she bother to engage with the implacable attitudes of some on that list above. Truly there’s only one original sin in her book.
Anyhow, after such a list it is curiously unimpressive to read where her thoughts take her next. Parochial is the word that springs to mind.
Gerry’s hierarchy of hate-figures list is not set in stone, of course. These days, Micheal Martin tops it. They are engaged in a war for the republican soul which requires a lot of casuistry from both about physical force nationalism, though if Micheal’s difficulty is real, Gerry’s is awesome.
And so we are treated – using the term lightly – to her thoughts on the varying degrees of error of Martin and Adams in regard to republicanism.
As Newton Emerson put it last week in the Irish Times, Micheal Martin was “implying he was more republican but only in the less violent way.”
And then she makes what are actually some thought-provoking points. Not terribly well, it has to be said, but interesting:
All they agree on is that 1916 is sacrosanct. “The anti-nationalist revisionists have been marginalised,” said Micheal. “The arguments of the 1970s and 80s that we should reject the tradition of 1916 are now confined to a small fringe.”
Gerry is with him. “For our part, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein agree that there would be no Irish State, no level of independence and no amount of sovereignty, however limited, for Ireland, but for the revolutionary republican tradition.”
For her this is error piled on error. For some of us her interpretation will be error piled on error.
Where to begin? I don’t quite know what Micheal means by “anti-nationalist revisionists”, but if he’s talking about unionists, then after decades of murder and destruction in the name of republicanism, they are more critical of the violent tradition in Irish nationalism than ever.
If he’s talking about people like John Bruton, Fr Seamus Murphy SJ and a vast number of others who believe the 1916 leaders had no moral legitimacy, we are mostly happy to be citizens of an independent Irish Republic but regret that it didn’t emerge peacefully, as it certainly would have, had the Irish people wanted it.
That last is simply incorrect, though it is a most expedient line if one wishes to deny the legitimacy of 1916.
But we’ve ploughed that ground sufficiently on this site. As to the first, and this is something she appears to share with many, yes, republicanism has changed, but then so has everyone else. Power-sharing was hardly accepted at all by the UUP until the GFA itself, and completely anathema to the DUP until well into the last decade. And it is notable that she sees partition flowing from 1916. But surely she is aware that it was implicit in the home rule agreement that she (clearly) views as a precursor somehow to ‘an independent Irish Republic’? Or perhaps not:
Without the violence of 1916, politicians would have had a chance of reaching a constitutional agreement without bloodshed: because of it, the island was partitioned and the hearts of the two main tribes hardened against each other.
Offered without even an hint of supporting evidence. One is meant to take it as read as being correct.
Anyhow, that’s by the by. The stuff about revisionism is actually more useful.
Anyway, Micheal is talking rubbish about the marginalisation of dissent. There is a far more lively public debate about the legitimacy of 1916 these days than there ever was in the 1970s and 1980s. Just look at the letters pages of the newspapers for starters. Most of our young adults today have not had years of heavy indoctrination, are cosmopolitan and prepared to think critically about their nation’s sacred cows. (Mind you, the patriots-and-Brits take on 1916 that is being fed to some schoolchildren at the moment may be storing up trouble for the future.)
And what of this remarkably partial defence of British rule:
But if Micheal Martin blurs history, Adams simply lies about it. Those who “seek to elevate what has been termed the ‘constitutional nationalist tradition’ in Irish history at the expense of the revolutionary republican tradition… ignore the reality that in the Ireland of 1916 there was no democracy”, he explains, thus blithely writing out elections for parliamentary and local government, a constitutional, not absolutist, monarchy, not to mention free speech, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a public service open to all and Home Rule on the statute book. This is what the seven anti-democratic signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, who were a sub-group of a tiny secret society, set out to overthrow.
Does she genuinely believe that the situation in Ireland in 1916 prior to the Rising was as she describes, that the functional and effective aspects of British rule were as benign as she presents? No word at all how the British state had bent under the pressure from Unionism. Nothing about the entirely skewed form of parliamentary representation, or the appallingly restricted franchise. Or about how Home Rule itself was utterly compromised.
The Brian Hanley talks linked to on this site this week underscore this. In Dublin TCD could elect 2 MPS to Westminster, both Unionist, the rest of the city elected 4. Just 33,000 men (and only men) had a vote in Dublin out of a population ten times that number in the city as a whole. Property, gender and other qualifications ensures the disenfranchisement of many many tens of thousands more men and women in the city. Local elections had similar qualifications, albeit some women were allowed to vote. As Hanley notes, ‘democracy as we know it today did not exist in 1916’. Further, he notes that home rule as envisaged then did not include women’s suffrage. The Home Rule party, Redmond himself, were adamantly opposed to both suffrage and women’s participation in that party.
And I mentioned last week that I find this line about the Irish people as gullible consumers of nationalism or republicanism (of whatever stripe) as hugely insulting. But it’s also in political terms rather stupid. There is no chance of a second Troubles, the context and dynamics are now so radically different that it would take ruptures unlikely to occur in the medium to long term to even bring us marginally closer to such an eventuality.
But I think she is wrong about revisionism of her stripe not being marginalised. Her thesis about 1916, one shared with Bruton and the indefatigable Fr Murphy is not shared by the overwhelming majority of people in this state (and by extension this island). The state itself, subsidiary institutions, cultural formations, all the media – whatever about the space afforded to ‘dissenting’ voices, often a disproportionate space given their numbers, all are as one in being of the opinion that the Rising was legitimate. It goes further. So does the British state. So do other states.
Nor, and this she and those who take a similar view ignore completely, is that legitimacy regarded as mapping onto all else. Their wilful misunderstanding of the dynamics of the 1960s in the North means that they offer an amazingly reductionist view of the relationship between 1916, nationalism and the Troubles. But without ignoring some impact it seems much more logical to suggest that the conflict that ensued was largely a product of those dynamics referred to a sentence or so back. But that’s problematic for them because it means there isn’t a single font of political conflict on the island but multiple ones. Small wonder that the sight of Adams in Dáil Éireann is so troubling to them because that suggests layers of complexity in regard to the histories and relationships on this island (and between these islands given the centrality of SF to the GFA/BA) that make their take on it seem partial and partisan.
That the same, or largely the same, group who have made this the central obsession of their political lives disagree is their choice, they are fortunate that they number amongst them a few who have a relatively high media profile.
Again though, there’s an odd parochialism, and personalisation in her conclusion. She writes:
Gerry Adams will always put his cult before his country. He is aching to be leader of the Opposition, so he can get his snipers in the best position to destroy and demolish everything the Government does and reap the electoral rewards of the anarchy that would ensue.
To his credit, Micheal Martin is putting the national interest first in holding the centre. If he keeps his nerve, while Gerry goes on opposing things for cynical party advantage, at least he won’t be doing it from the best seat in the Dail.
This is it? This is her ‘revisionist’ project in all its glory in 1916? Just about keeping Gerry Adams (and SF – though that seems to be less important than the man) from being ‘leader of the opposition’? It seems small beer for all that effort, all that supposedly existential struggle for the heart and soul (and history) of the Irish people. Doesn’t it?