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Gerry Adams N-word tweet: SF president's bye-ball an own-goal for Radio Ulster

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 04/05/2016

Gerry Adams at Connolly House, Andersonstown Road Belfast. Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye
Gerry Adams at Connolly House, Andersonstown Road Belfast. Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye

The regular round-up of the day's newspapers on Tuesday's Good Morning Ulster revealed two things.

The first was that Leicester City winning the Premier League was dominating the headlines in all the national titles. The other was that the story hadn't made it big on the front pages of any of the locals.

Undeterred, BBC Radio Ulster still made Leicester the top story.

Relegated to second place was some apparently minor row about Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams disgracing himself again by using the racially-charged n-word during a late night brain freeze on Twitter.

That's what homegrown newspapers had all considered most important that day. The BBC in Belfast begged to differ.

In the whole two-and-a-half hours of Tuesday's edition of the flagship news show, a total of three minutes was devoted to discussing the row, even as it continued to cause shockwaves, not only in Northern Ireland, but further afield. It's not as if the story has run out of steam, after all.

On the contrary, Adams is keeping it bubbling with a series of increasingly bizarre comments, including the assertion he has "never seen myself as white", leading many to conclude that not only was Dorothy not in Kansas anymore, she was barely on planet Earth.

The decision to downplay Adams' blunder has to rank as one of the most perverse ever by the BBC. Speaking on the show, Lance Price, one-time Labour Press officer, and Loretta Todd, former University of Ulster linguistics professor, made no excuses for Gerry Adams. If anything, they thought the SF leader should have been more aware of the power of words to cause offence, because language is a tool politicians use every day.

Nor did Todd waver when Good Morning Ulster presenter Julie McCullough suggested that this might be a "generational" issue, and that young people were more attuned to these nuances than their elders.

"Anyone with sensitivity" would know not to use the n-word, the retired academic rightly insisted.

They all agreed that social media was not the place for detailed arguments about history and politics, and that irony was easily lost in such a crude medium as Twitter; but can anyone imagine the reaction if it was Arlene Foster who'd used the n-word on Sunday night instead of Mr Adams? Leicester would barely have got a mention, and it's doubtful that the resulting bun fight would have been diverted into similar musings on what was wrong with social media.

In fact, if any unionist, from MLA down to the lowliest councillor, made equivalent remarks the BBC would be down on them like a proverbial ton of bricks, and they'd surely be out of the door by now. Unionists were forced on the back foot to defend themselves last autumn simply because then SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell was overheard claiming the DUP "don't want a Taig about the place".

The BBC, in effect, was giving Adams an easier time over words he'd actually used than unionists got for words that they hadn't.

It could be that there's a sense of weariness in the media with the SF leader. Every few weeks his foot seems to make the same bee line for his mouth, and his party colleagues and supporters are forced to contort themselves into painful shapes to explain away actions for which they'd be demanding resignations if it was any other public figure.

It could also be that, only two days away from an election, the BBC didn't want to be accused of sabotaging SF's vote by making too much of Gerry's latest gaffe. But there's a big difference between not overplaying an incident and deliberately underplaying it.

The fact is that the leader of the second largest party in Northern Ireland publicly used the word "n*****" on Sunday evening, but Good Morning Ulster only devoted half as much time to talking about it as it did to the preceding interview with broadcaster Collette Maguire about her experience in the previous day's Belfast Marathon.

It makes you wonder what the BBC would have dredged up to ignore the Gerry-shaped elephant in the room if Leicester hadn't won the League. Taylor Swift's new hairdo, perhaps?

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