Hari and the Magician

In these less than troubled times I don’t make an effort to read interviews with Gerry Adams. Sinn Fein’s fall from republican grace no longer interests me to the extent that it once did and one Adams interview is pretty much the same as another. That I made a point of reading the one he did with Johann Hari for the Independent was more because of the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Hari has long been a powerful writer who, given to much reflection, often sees things through a prism that pulsates with insight.

From Adams’ perspective it was not a strong interview. It seems to be the way as of late. The eternal president has failed to cut the mustard since the debacle on RTE in the run up to the 2007 general election in the Republic. Not only that but he is persistently dragged beneath the surface of credibility by a self created albatross fashioned by his denials of IRA membership past or present. He comes across as instantly implausible, giving rise to suspicions that this lies behind his not having featured in the contentious hunger strike debate fuelled by the claims of Richard O’Rawe in his challenging book Blanketmen.

That said, he still managed to pull something out from his bag of tricks. Having negotiated such a small return for the great effort expended in the IRA’s armed struggle, Adams, chutzpah personified, made the remarkable comment that ‘this has been the only IRA campaign that has succeeded. Because every other one fought and then another generation had to pick up the fight, and continue fighting.’ A cynic might take the view that is only true to the extent that Sinn Fein will do its utmost to tout on any new generation inclined to take up the fight the Adams leadership abandoned.

The IRA campaign was an unmitigated failure, achieving only an internal solution, something the organisation pledged throughout its existence to thwart. Adams' point would be true if the IRA had fought for an internal solution rather than against it. But no amount of revisionism can alter the historical record which is out there for all and sundry to look at and judge for themselves.

In his interview Hari puts forward the thesis that Adams ‘decided to shift his goal: to aim for full equality for Catholics within a partitioned Ireland, and argue for reunification solely at the ballot box.’ It seems an accurate enough summation of the Adams position, the only problem being that Hari rather than Adams said it. Elsewhere Adams and his permanent leadership cabal have been consistent in claiming that there is something transitional about their acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement rather than the less dynamic stages theory outlined by Hari.

Even if we reject Hari’s static interpretation of the Sinn Fein project in favour of the more dynamic transitional properties ascribed to it by Adams, the whole ensemble in which Sinn Fein is currently enmeshed is undeniably reformist and fails to resemble republicanism as long articulated by the Provisional movement. Whatever its merits as a reformist strategy, as a republican project it falls abysmally short of its own stated goals and can hardly be held up as an outcome untainted by gross failure.

When it came to the matter of what else might be in his bag of tricks Adams looked less like he was pulling a rabbit from a hat and more like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The Sinn Fein leader handled the magician’s trick of making things disappear in a very clumsy fashion. While strenuously denying any involvement in the disappearance of Jean McConville he seemed ill at ease with Hari’s line of questioning.

When, a few years ago, Adams met two of her children, he told them: "Thank God I was in prison when she disappeared." But he wasn't. He was jailed more than six months later. Is she the body in his mental attic, the one he can't forget? … His usually long sentences begin to fracture … And he looks like he has run out of words. There is a long silence … He looks down, then away.

Forced to abandon an earlier claim that he had been in prison at the time of her disappearance, he knows that he could not maintain the falsehood and emerge as unscathed as he had from his recent ridiculous assertion in the face of irrefutable evidence that he had been singing in his jail cell ‘Look on the Bright Side of Life’ a year before the song was even released. Narrating demonstrable fictions around a war crime is a much more risky venture than narrating them around a song.

Culpable or not, his depiction by Hari reinforces the implausibility that has come to characterise his media performances. Undoubtedly heroic in the face of British abuses he remains confronted with the logic of Emerson that every hero becomes a bore at last. Even Harry Houdini would be hard pressed to devise an escape from the consequences of that.


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  2. Great piece, A. Not much to add as you note to what's been said or not said by the Bearded One, but that explanation of how the IRA this generation met not defeat even by his standards or lack of took some convoluted phrasing. I think he's more inspired by Dev than he might let on. Cute hoor.

  3. Anthony

    Can I ask a question that flags up in my mind frequently whilst reading through the articles from time to time.

    Why do you feel the need to emphaise so often your own opinion that the IRA campaign was a complete (you have used other adjectives) failure.

    I don't have an issue with your opinion at all, that's what we're all entitled to, it's the frequency and emphasis on this point that I find a little puzzling. You must realise that there are many of your ex-comrades who would disagree with your assertion, and that a lot of them continue to work for and aspire to the ultimate objective of reunification.

    I believe that the IRA campaign was totally legitimate and the right thing to do. I believe the war was the main reason why we have equality in the North, why we have so much rights and access to Irish language for our children and communities, why the RUC no longer exists and nationalist amd republicans hold positions of power in many organisations and institutions. Imo, we would never have achieved as much change, had it not been for the brave men and women of the Army, who got the attention of Downing Street through their deeds and intentions, and provided a negotiating lever that could not be ignored.

    Of course, we didn't achieve a United Ireland by the time the campaign was (rightly imo) called to an end, but I don't equate the above achievements and future aspirations arising out of their inspiration as failure. I don't think we ever thought that the brits would just up and leave through military aggression on our behalf - I think we always aspired to some sort of time bound commitment on their behalf - alas it didn't happen, and a different tactic had to be deployed, but to describe this as total failure is disingenuous, in my opinion of course!



  4. Hello Westie,

    I don’t feel the ‘need’ to emphasize the point. I think the opposite may be true – all the proclamations about the undefeated army show a ‘need’ to deny the obvious. I suppose I have long been impressed by Christopher Hitchen’s professed membership of the United Front Against Bullshit. So when I read bull I tend to comment on it. That is why I comment on religion quite a bit. Nothing more filled with bull than that. If you consider the nonsenses that are put about – Gerry never in the IRA, Freddie Scappaticci not a tout, Bobby Tohill’s kidnap a barroom brawl, decommissioning would never happen, Joe O’Connor shot himself (or something as near as to make no difference) – all that prompts me to comment. So when I read nonsense like I did in the Hari piece that the Provisional IRA campaign was the only one not to end in failure the bullometer hits the ceiling and I am tempted to comment. Not much wrong with setting the record straight. It might irritate you to be reminded of the obvious but that is not my intention.

    It matters not in the slightest that many of my ex comrades disagree. They all disagreed on the issue of decommissioning as well. They can have whatever opinion they want but it is not binding on me. Given that I found my own opinion more reliable over the years than theirs there is no reason for me to pay too much attention to what their view on anything is. If they want to believe Ireland will be united in 2016 that is up to them. I don’t believe it for a second and have no doubt that my opinion on this will prevail.

    How much equality is there in the North? Sinn Fein and the DUP alike have equal rights to call for republicans to be jailed and touted on. The Irish language – shafted; the Maze regeneration proposal – shafted; devolution of policing and justice – shafted. As Peter Robinson says the North is being run to a unionist agenda.

    When was the RUC disbanded?

    In terms of reforms there have indeed been quite a few and things are the better for it. But the Provisional movement was an anti-reformist movement. It laughed at the idea of equality as being of any real benefit within a partitioned state. I thin with hindsight they were wrong but that was their position. A revolutionary energy aimed at abolishing partition was harnessed to energise reform within a partitionist framework.

    The type of change that was achieved was not worth one volunteer’s life. I know no volunteer who risked life for what was gained. What we have today we always regarded as a total defeat. I think you are right about ‘the brave men and women of the Army’ but their bravery was used for a different project altogether. The bravery they put in was not reciprocated by what political results came out.

    Westie, I think you are a reformist and I have not the slightest criticism to make of you for that. I am not a revolutionary and prefer reform myself. But I am not going to describe it as something other than it is. Were the SDLP to have had an armed wing then today’s outcome could be claimed as a victory. They never wanted to smash Stormont but to be in it.. But that can hardly be said of Sinn Fein with its armed wing.



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  6. Wonderfulformyage,

    the same reason I don't comment much on Danish politics at all or French or German. No time to follow it, no time to write about it.

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  8. Wonderfulformyage, family connection does nothing to influence my political views or interests. My wife is more tuned into the healthcare debate than I am although my view of the US healthcare system has never been warm. Obama is better than what went before but I dislike the way he is surrounded by control freaks eager to suppress discussion and marginalise critics.

    The US being a world leader matters not – something either captures my interest or it does not. The world is a mosaic made up of big and small pieces. People choose what they want to look at or are drawn to it for whatever reason. The scent is raised and off we go where our noses take us.

    Danish politics and French are covered by enough English speaking media so following them would not be as difficult as you suggest. Rwandan politics and Argentinean which I have been more interested in are in a similar position. It would be different if I wanted to write a biography on Bagasora then French would be a necessity but that is not where I am at.

    I think the scenario you outline has long been reached – whereby SF and the peace process generate little interest. I sometimes wonder why I still write about it – the scorpion and the frog comes to mind; it’s in my nature. The United Front Against Bullshit also helps explain. As contender for Bullshitter of the Year (every year) SF has few rivals.

    Back to 69. I just don’t see that happening. It is a major victory for unionism to have seen off republicanism and to be faced with that sorrowful lot up at Stormont screaming bull day in day out. SF will make it work because there is nowhere else to go. A defeated IRA, a redundant republicanism with no future prospects, an internal solution. It does not augur well but things would need to change drastically before 69 comes round again.

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  10. Wonderfulformyage, a bleak outlook but one which is not without merit. I don't think it will go that far but time will tell. The defeat of the IRA was so comprehensive that it is instructive in itself. If its campaign could ony achieve what might have been achieved anyway and has dissuaded many from wanting a united Ireland what has a return to anything similar to recommend it, even if a 1969 does come about?

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  12. Alarming the level/depth of the hippocrisy Adams and Co. have. There's talk now of Unionists seeking money from Lybia. [Money was their only ever objective since plantation] What odds that Adams and Mcguinnes will fall in line as requested and throw their weight behind this campaign?
    Is no one able to put them and US out of our agony?

  13. Have been thinking about the Adams assertion that the Provisionals 'won.' Won what exactly, the right to enter local UK/NI politics on the same footing as the SDLP? Talk about doing things the hard way!
    Adams was in the Dail the other day on the NAMA bill observing SF TD'S making fools of themselves. Maybe some of the FF lads will have pulled him to one side and enlightened him to the fact they never decommissioned or sucked the truncheon to engage in domestic politics when their war was over.
    It's a real comedy show now watching this out of touch ego in operation...back to the Falls I think for the provo Daniel O'Donnel lol.

  14. What the Provisonals under Adams et al accepted in the end was pretty much what the SDLP had been arguing to put in place over the previous thirty years.
    Sunningdale for the remedial learners!

    I don't think it was a complete defeat for PIRA, but it most certainly was not a victory either.

    Essentially what they won was limited (or comprehensive, depending on your point of view) equality for "Irish Nationalists" under the British Occupation in the British Occupied North of Ireland.

    And very little else.

    As well as of course undermining Ireland's national and territorial unity by agreeing to the alteration of Articles 2 and 3, and giving the partionist dominated political establishment in the South a get-out-clause on Reunification.

    Well done, boys!

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