Belfast Telegraph

Gerry-built version of history has never stood up to scrutiny

Exaggerations about the past - and his role in it - are nothing new to Gerry Adams; his books are full of them. Malachi O'Doherty reports.

By Malachi O'Doherty

Gerry Adams must be wondering why people are reacting so badly now to his routine exaggerations. He has, for most of his life, been making similar claims about the scale of suffering of nationalists to those he listed in defence of his offensive tweet.

Some thought his only indiscretion there was to use the N-word and accused him of a "racist slur". More pertinent was his comparing life in Ballymurphy to the oppression of African American slaves. Yet there was nothing new about that.

He has many times compared the British treatment of Irish nationalists to the persecution of the Jews in Europe and to the discrimination against blacks under South African apartheid. And he has rarely been called out on it. So, he must be wondering: why now?

In The Guardian this week the writer Gary Younge agreed that the use of the N-word hurt him as a black person, but accepted that the comparison between the experience of slaves and the people of Ballymurphy "makes sense".

One of the great propaganda achievements of Gerry Adams and Danny Morrison in the 1980s was their winning over of much of the British Left and key members of the Labour Party to this grotesque vision of the Irish as a people who were about as downtrodden as a people can be.

Ken Livingstone, who was leader of Greater London Council at the time, wrote: "The only thing that is remotely comparable is the Holocaust against the Jews."

He was contributing to a collection of essays by Pluto Press in 1985, in which writers were asked to envisage Ireland After Britain. In his piece Livingstone acknowledges that he has already been severely criticised for this analogy, yet insists it is valid.

"If you sit down and study the track-record, there is no way you can avoid the conclusion that millions of Irish men and women have died because of British involvement. And it is millions."

Presumably he includes the potato famine of the 1840s in that. This was handled with cold, capitalistic calculations for sure, but even if Queen Victoria had personally taken the food out of the mouths of every Irish child and made British responsibility plain, the loss of life would not approach that in the Nazi death camps.

The more common effort to compare the experience of Catholics in the North to the ghetto Jews of Europe was the use of the word "pogrom" to describe sectarian riots in Belfast. It was only ever used, of course, for loyalist attacks on Catholics; not for republican attacks on Protestants.

When Adams and Morrison worked for Labour Party support they persuaded Livingstone, Tony Benn and others that the cause of the IRA was like many other freedom struggles they already supported, and that they owed it to the beleaguered nationalists of the North to support them in their demand for an end to the cause of all their woes - the partition of Ireland.

And the grievance of Ireland had to be painted on that scale to justify the IRA campaign.

For Livingstone and Benn, it would have been unthinkable that working-class people should be shooting police officers and blowing up part-time soldiers on their farms, or starving themselves to death in prison, if the pain they suffered under British oppression was not commensurate with such extreme protest.

Benn provided the rationale for the British management of sectarian strife.

He argued that what he called "the loyalist veto" - the consent principle - was a charade. It allowed Britain to pretend that it was defending the interest of the majority in Northern Ireland. The real reason for occupying Ireland was to preserve Nato.

He wrote: "As long as there is a loyalist veto, no loyalist extremist has to worry about the basic civil rights of that minority. They know that, if they go on ignoring the rights of that minority, no matter how strong the reaction against them is, they can always rely on the Army, or the SAS, to come in and defend the status quo."

And that was because Nato needed Northern Ireland.

Adams is hardly wondering why all this overstatement and exaggeration was not noticed before, because it exposes the reality that no one is reading his books, for it is all there.

Much of the media leapt on his claim this week to have been a "founding member" of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

He has already described his role in detail. He was one of a group of young republicans around Billy McMillen, the Belfast IRA leader, who attended the first meeting of NICRA in the International Hotel in April 1967 to vote in the first executive.

The republicans were instructed to vote for the communist Betty Sinclair. Adams and others say that this was part of a strategy to create a diverse body that would not be conspicuously controlled by the IRA.

Some in the IRA, he said, genuinely wanted reform; others, like himself, wanted to use the civil rights protests to demonstrate that reform would be refused and that the rights of nationalists were denied in order to preserve the Union.

One historian this week told the BBC that Adams was only 14 at the time. In fact, he was 19.

This is all in an essay Adams wrote for a collection put together by Michael Farrell 20 years after the start of the civil rights campaign.

If Adams helped vote in the first executive, then it is not a lie to say that he was a founder member, though he was very much a backroom strategist.

In several places in his writings he claims that he helped devise a strategy of pushing Gerry Fitt and others up against the police lines in October 1968 in Londonderry, because he, getting injured, would get more media attention than a few young IRA men like himself that nobody knew.

Even when he was courting the Left and bemoaning the "pogroms" of August 1969, he couldn't help taking a little credit, even at the expense of the credibility of the lie that the Falls was attacked in a backlash against the civil rights protests.

He says he was at a meeting of activists in the Wellington Park Hotel discussing how they might take the pressure off rioting in Derry. The plan was to create riots in several areas to overstretch the police to breaking-point - which they succeeded in doing.

In his book The Politics Of Irish Freedom (below), very much addressed to the audience of the Labour Left, Adams says: "We left the meeting to make petrol bombs."

He has said that the police questioned him about his writings when they held him in custody two years ago this month to prepare a charge against him of membership of the IRA, but found nothing there.

That incriminating gem is on page 33.

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