Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Gerry Conlon wronged, but sympathy of Gerry Adams an insult

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Calls for Gerry Adams to step aside as Sinn Fein leader, so that the party can maturely prepare for government in the Republic, are wide off the mark. In fact, it is worth having Adams still there as a reminder of the incredible ability of the party's doublethink. Not just on economics, where the party implements Tory policy in Northern Ireland, but is somehow left-wing in the south, but also on the thing that produced Sinn Fein in the first place – the Troubles and its legacy.

And they haven't gone away, you know. Not a bit of it. The effects of the recent period of violence will be with us for many years to come, as will, it seems, Gerry's weasly words when it comes to describing them.

Thus, when Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four died on Sunday, Adams was double-quick to express his great sorrow and remind us of the Government's wrongful jailing of Conlon for 15 years for a bombing he never committed.

But Gerry Conlon was in jail because the IRA bombed Guildford, just as the Birmingham Six, who were also wrongfully convicted, were in jail because the IRA decided to bomb pubs in Birmingham.

If Adams felt so strongly about the incarceration of these men, he and the IRA could have just named or produced the actual bombers. That would have solved it, surely?

But Adams wants to have it all ways. Yes, what the Government did to Conlon and others was very wrong, but it is nothing short of perverse to have Sinn Fein protesting about it. Would they have preferred that the real IRA bombers were arrested? Hardly.

Or would they have preferred that nobody at all was arrested and convicted for the Guildford bombings, which killed five people in two pubs, and injured scores?

As it happens, in 1977, the Balcombe Street gang, an IRA unit who were about to receive huge sentences for other bombings, half-claimed that they were also responsible for the Guildford bombings. Could they be believed?

As Sinn Fein leader, Adams could have confirmed their claim. But on that occasion he was strangely and understandably mute. It would be better now if Adams remained mute when such cases are discussed. But, of course, this is not his way.

He still insists on speculating about the IRA's Disappeared, for example, in a way that further offends the families and blurs the lines of responsibility for who was actually responsible for these people's murder.

Adams acts not only as if he is not part of Sinn Fein and the IRA, but also as if neither of these bodies are actually connected to the consequences of their actions. It is a fiction that reassures some of the Sinn Fein base, but which the wider public completely sees through.

For decades, they saw how the IRA carried out atrocities, and then profited from the reaction, and over-reaction, of the authorities, such as when it resulted in wrongful arrests and convictions. Or, in the case of the Guildford bombings, led to the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The republican movement could then seize on the mistakes and abuses of the authorities as more weapons in their propaganda war.

Sinn Fein has been highly vocal in seeking a full picture on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Except that Sinn Fein and the IRA are partly responsible for the bombings, as the-then taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, said in a brilliant and brave statement on the day of the bombings. The IRA led by example, he said, with their relentless bombings in Northern Ireland and in Britain.

And so Sinn Fein didn't just create the conditions for these atrocities, and for injustices like that done to Gerry Conlon, but they then profited from them and made them part of their agenda.

Adams then acts as if he's doing us a great service by offering advice and help on finding the Disappeared, as if he was not part of the machine that actually disappeared them.

Granted, there were atrocities done on both sides, but these victims would not have been disappeared – and Conlon would not have been jailed – if the IRA hadn't prosecuted their murderous campaign.

And, having been part of the cause of getting Conlon wrongfully locked up, Sinn Fein might at least have done more to free him, instead of coming in now to remind us of how he was mistried.

After all, Conlon did the time for the IRA's crime. And that's the real injustice.

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