The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Carefully Crafted Message - Little Revealed, a Lot Concealed

Review of "Gerry Adams", television documentary, broadcast on TG4 (Irish language Channel), Saturday January 25 2003;
produced by Aisling Ghéar
John Meehan • 31 January 2003

This documentary was hyped up before the broadcast - producer Gearóid Ó Cairealláin promised Andersonstown News readers a "bigger picture" than ever before; Catherine Morrison flagged a "revealing" interview with Gerry Adams, and tempted viewers with promises of "surprising revelations".

This viewer dissents.

This one-hour programme ambitiously tried to cover the life of Gerry Adams from 1948 to the present day, and the evolution of the Irish republican movement he joined at the age of sixteen.

Inevitably, a lot of detail had to be sacrificed.

Were these omissions significant?

In one sense Adams was born inside the movement - many close relatives, including his father, were part of the "republican family", and were punished harshly by the Orange State of Northern Ireland. The documentary covers this part of the story well, making good use of scarce resources - contemporary photographs and film - up to the end of the 1960's.

Extra and better quality resources - both visual and documentary - were available to tell the story from the early 1970's to the present day - but this is where the main problems occur.

People familiar with the recently published Ed Moloney best seller ("A Secret History of the IRA") - or the many and varied reviews this book has attracted - will be struck by critical gaps in the story.

Following publication of the Moloney book - in which Gerry Adams looms very large - the Sinn Féin President denied he was ever a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Adams remarks in the documentary that, during several recent visits to South Africa, he could not find anyone defending the old Apartheid régime; in the same way, nobody today can be detected in the 26 Counties supporting the Section 31 banning of Sinn Féin from the airwaves.

The documentary makers knew that nobody credible could be persuaded to repeat the lie that the Sinn Féin leader was never an IRA member. The problem is even trickier when you tell the story of the Provisional IRA's rapid growth in the early 1970's, and refer to Adams being released from internment in the Long Kesh prison camp to participate in secret IRA/British Government talks.

How could this "secret side" of the Republican Movement be described without contradicting Adams? If Aisling Ghéar repeated a literally unbelievable claim, it risked magnetically attracting ridicule to itself.

The following solution was lined up: two interviewees, Séamus Mac Sheáin and Póilín Ní Chíaráin, referred to the IRA military background of Adams. Mac Sheáin said the Sinn Féin President should "own up to that part of his life", and there was nothing to be ashamed of.

The party leader was spared the task of denying IRA membership.

This is high quality spinning - ranking alongside the achievements of Eoghan Harris when he and his colleagues did a similar job for Official Sinn Féin/the Workers' Party in the 1970's and 1980's, up there with the presentation job performed for Tony Blair's New Labour machine by Peter Mandelson.

But “revealing” is the wrong descriptive word for this type of operation - “concealing” sums it up much better. The same applies to the documentary’s account of how the campaign in favour of republican political prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh changed direction in late 1979.

It is noted that the movement dropped its insistence that campaigners had to endorse the IRA’s armed campaign as well as the prisoners’ demands for political status, and the then leadership group around Gerry Adams deserves credit for taking this step. But sole credit for proposing this change is given to the “strategist” Jim Gibney. Gibney probably was the first person within the republican leadership group who favoured this change, but he was not the first republican to do so. Furthermore, a significant number of campaigners fought for such a change of strategy long before the Sinn Féin leadership, and took initiatives which brought them into direct conflict with the Adams current.

For example, this reviewer, at the time a member of People’s Democracy, participated in a three day Burntollet Commemoration march in early 1979, which campaigned for political status, and spent an evening discussing this very issue with the leading republican Kevin Agnew*. Perhaps other readers of this review, who were politically active at that time, might like to add their own accounts of this significant change in republican thinking.

Later that year Bernadette McAliskey ran for the European Parliament as a “Smash H-Block” candidate, and was bitterly attacked by a republican leadership dogmatically opposed to running candidates in elections. Sinn Féin newspapers denounced the initiative, adding vicious attacks on “mosquito groups” such as People’s Democracy for good measure.

These are just a few examples of the gaps in the documentary’s analysis.

In conclusion it is necessary to go back again to the documentary’s highlighted links between Adams and the African National Congress. We are shown celebratory footage of Adams meeting the veteran ANC leader Nelson Mandela, and the current ANC Government Minister Kader Asmal - who spent many years exiled in Ireland and led a very effective Anti Apartheid Movement with his partner Louise.

By coincidence Asmal recently wrote to the Irish Times querying critical coverage of his party’s role in Government and growing unease amongst it left-wing allies. This provoked a response from Brendan Archbold, an official working for MANDATE, the shop-workers and bar-workers’ trade union.

Archbold points out that a number of people working for the South African embassy in Dublin have been barred from joining the union - by South African anti-worker legislation. During the apartheid era (from 1984-87) eleven workers in Dublin’s Dunnes’ Stores - ten women and one man - were locked out of their jobs for refusing to handle South African goods. This struggle made world headlines. Kader Asmal spent a lot of time on this picket line in solidarity with the workers. The eleven workers were members of MANDATE’s predecessor, the IDATU.

But times have now changed.

Archbold now says to Kader Asmal “Shame on you, Minister” (Irish Times, January 27).

The choices made by Asmal and Adams are not very different - perhaps unintentionally, the TV documentary has drawn attention to the similarities.


* Moloney's "Secret History" describes a shocking frame-up of one time Sinn Féin General Secretary Christine Ní Élias. One faction in the republican leadership - in which Adams was a central figure - smeared this Canadian woman as a British agent, forcing her to eventually emigrate from Ireland. Kevin Agnew was the only member of a three person investigating committee who had the courage to stand up to the Adams leadership and support Ní Élias. One republican source told Moloney this was the movement's "Dreyfus Affair" - to date nobody in the current Sinn Féin leadership has made any comment. Such events are not referred to in the "Gerry Adams" TV documentary.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

3 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Carefully Crafted Message - Little Revealed, A Lot Concealed
John Meehan


What if They Give an Election and No One Comes?
Eamon Lynch


The Conscience of a King
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Lost Honour, Lost Cause
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Bogota Diary
Jimmy Sands


The Tongue
Anthony McIntyre


Glossary of Occupation

Paul de Rooij


26 January 2003


Drugadair and the Drugadiers
Anthony McIntyre


Thesis Antithesis
Paul Dunne


The Hungry Continent
Terence McMenamin


Sean Torain


Do They Talk to You?
Annie Higgins


Fight Against American Hyper-Imperialism and Oppression

Sean Matthews


The Letters page has been updated.




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