Belfast Telegraph

You won't find the moral high ground there, Gerry

Gerry Adams' contribution to the Channel 4 documentary, The Bible: A History, revealed the Sinn Fein leader's moral vacuity, argues Owen Polley

Vancouver 2010 has attracted widespread criticism, however, on Sunday evening, the BBC broadcast the most entertaining Winter Olympics event to date. Ski-cross features four downhill skiers, all hurtling down a snowboard track at break-neck speed simultaneously.

They perform death-defying leaps over yawning chasms, execute hair-raising manoeuvres in order to overtake their opponents and the inevitable tangled skis cause all manner of spectacular crashes.

It was only the second most hair-raising spectacle on TV that night. The moral contortions which Gerry Adams accomplished on Channel 4's The Bible: A History were performed so brazenly that they made the viewer's jaw drop more readily than any ski-cross champion.

The Sinn Fein president's meditations on 'the Jesus story' proved predictably contentious. Adams relied on a noxious blend of moral relativism and abstraction in order to develop his 'gospel' of the Troubles.

Its implication is that killers in Northern Ireland are no more culpable than their victims. We each carry a shared responsibility for creating a society in which violence became inevitable.

And at the bottom of all Ireland's problems lies the 'original sin' of occupation, perpetrated by the English, by 'the Brits', diminishing the guilt which Gerry and his comrades might otherwise be forced to carry.

The decision to schedule the documentary on Sunday proved unerring. This week the Old Bailey bomber, Dolours Price, is scheduled to present vital information to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR).

She alleges that Adams was the officer commanding the Provisional IRA in Belfast, directly responsible for setting up two secret cells, 'the Unknowns', tasked with 'disappearing' suspected informers.

These allegations implicate Adams in the killing of Jean McConville, who was abducted, shot and buried on a beach in Co Louth, during the 1970s. The murder is a notorious example of IRA brutality and fanaticism.

During The Bible, Adams talked about forgiveness and said that, after three decades of 'war', "all of us have plenty to forgive and be forgiven for".

Perhaps. But anyone with a shred of decency would concede that some are more guilty than others. McConville's daughter has called for Adams' arrest in light of Price's claims.

The issue of 'the Disappeared' is particularly emotive, because many of the victims were drawn from the very communities which the IRA now claims it engaged in conflict to protect.

On a handful of occasions during the documentary, the producer did attempt to tease out of the Sinn Fein president some meaningful reflections on his own contribution to the sum of human misery in Northern Ireland. He was largely unsuccessful and the documentary was Adams' story, in his own words, coloured by his all-pervading revisionism.

Therefore we had "stupid operation" rather than barbarous mass-murder, "political activist" rather than terror chief. The Shinners' lexicon always bristles with euphemism, but even by their Orwellian standards, Adams is the moral gymnast extraordinaire.

Faced with a victim bereaved by the IRA, Adams emphasised 'corporate' rather than individual responsibility. Alan McBride's wife and father-in-law were killed, along with seven other civilians, in the Shankill Road bombing. The Sinn Fein leader infamously acted as pall-bearer for Thomas Begley, who planted the explosives, along with his colleague Sean Kelly, and died after they went off prematurely.

Adams, and other figures within Provisional Sinn Fein, claim that McBride's victimhood, and the victimhood of his wife Sharon, are precisely equivalent to that of Begley and his family.

The fact that the IRA operative knowingly planted a bomb, in a busy shop on a Saturday afternoon is, effectively, irrelevant.

This logic, which insists that everyone is equally to blame and implies that individuals cannot be held responsible for their actions during a 'conflict', is seductive for paramilitaries and their representatives, but it is also a dangerous, immoral, unacceptable notion.

Not one of the 'actions' carried out by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland was justified or justifiable. There was not a single terrorist here, no matter how young, no matter how benighted his/her personal circumstances, who had no other option.

However loud the clamour from revisionists and apologists becomes, the truth remains that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland did not support or participate in terrorist activities.

The hundreds of thousands who were not involved, who were actually repulsed by the murder and mayhem unfolding around them, were not part of some privileged elite, nor were they immune from the communal pressures and political forces of the day.

Likewise, those who did murder and maim cannot wheedle out of responsibility for their actions by claiming special dispensation. It wasn't the fault of the 'Orange state', it wasn't due to their youth or naivety, it wasn't because of 'the Brits'. The blame lies squarely with them and with them alone.

It was clear enough from Sunday's documentary that Gerry Adams has few genuine regrets about the havoc wreaked by his movement. His reflections, religious, moral and political, were contorted above all by an overweening conceit.

He likes to portray his contribution as a peacemaker in the face of severe provocation.

Adams claims that he does not evade personal responsibility for his part in 'the conflict'. Yet, to date, he has not even admitted membership of the IRA, far less acknowledged the extent of his involvement in its violent activities.

It is Dolours Price, after all, who will brief the ICLVR rather than Adams. And that is the reason why, ultimately, this self-serving documentary revealed only a moral vacuum.

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