Belfast Telegraph

Why Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams' joke about the Press failed to raise a laugh...

By Paul Connolly

Gerry Adams is in hot water with many free Press campaign groups after an attempted light-hearted remark at a New York fundraiser. He told the assembled crowd how the "original" IRA previously dealt with a critical Press, with Michael Collins ordering a raid on the offices of the Irish Independent in 1919.

As I'll demonstrate, it wasn't just the "original" IRA who wrecked a newspaper's printing press: the Provos did it, too. And killed a man as they did.

Mr Adams reportedly told his American audience about Michael Collins' action: "He went in, sent volunteers in, to the offices, held the Editor at gunpoint and destroyed the entire printing press. That's what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I'm obviously not advocating that.."

The Sinn Fein president repeated the remark in a blogpost on November 7, this time omitting the final qualification.

There was instant storm of protest at the remarks, not least among Independent News & Media, publishers of the Irish Independent (and, incidentally, of this newspaper).

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF), which together claim to represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, sent Mr Adams a letter pointing out that two INM journalists have been murdered in the past two decades - the Sunday Independent's Veronica Guerin by gangsters and Martin O'Hagan of the Sunday World.

Martin was murdered by loyalists, but let us not forget that, in 1989, he was abducted and interrogated by the Provisional IRA.

The WAN-IFRA and WEF letter added: "We respectfully remind you that even a facetious reference to attacking journalists is entirely inappropriate."

Now I entirely accept that Mr Adams did not mean to convey the message that there should be attacks on journalists, or newspapers. And also that he played a leading role in helping to end the conflict.

But his attempt at a joke was completely inappropriate, not least given his own controversial role in Northern Ireland's history.

As I mentioned earlier, it wasn't only the "old" IRA that bombed a newspaper and destroyed its printing press. The Provos did it to the Belfast Telegraph on September 15, 1976, murdering one of our workers, Joseph Paton.

The bombing was no accident, but a deliberate attempt to silence the Belfast Telegraph: a Ford Transit van containing a bomb packed with up to 100lbs of explosives was driven into the loading bay almost directly underneath the newsroom and adjacent to the printing press.

Two gunmen in the van actually opened fire on our workers, injuring one of them, before running off. When the device exploded it left Mr Paton, from Lisburn, with fatal injuries, and tragically he died in hospital four days later.

Dozens of people, including journalists and printers, were injured. There is a series of dramatic photographs of Belfast Telegraph staff being carried bloodied and dazed from the building.

The newsroom and printing presses were badly damaged, but the Provos' bid to silence the paper failed. With the help of industry colleagues, a small newspaper was published the next afternoon So it wasn't just Michael Collins who attacked newspapers and destroyed a printing press. The leaders of the Belfast 'brigade' of the Provisional IRA can add that glorious action to their list of "achievements" as well.

So far this year, 42 journalists have been killed while carrying out their profession around the world. The UN-designated International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists marks the global campaign against impunity for those who attack journalists, and others, for exercising their right to free expression.

It was held on November 2, just days before Mr Adams' insensitive comments. He really should know better.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com @BelTelReaderEd

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