That Adams is even on TV being relentlessly grilled about ‘murder’ amounts to about five goals down before the first ball of the game has been kicked. It is a PR nightmare and a critic’s wet dream. Adams hardly helps his own cause when he describes IRA killings as murder and seeks to defend that characterisation on the grounds that all killings are murder, which quite evidently they are not. Moreover, Sinn Fein approved an arrangement on policing and justice that permits British law enforcement agencies to pursue and prosecute people like him for pre Good Friday Agreement political offences. This invalidates any insinuation Adams might make that the conflict is a thing of the past and that we should refrain from going there in terms of public scrutiny (looking at the British excepted of course). His own party has legitimised the type of questioning he finds so objectionable.
Rather than get the credit he thinks is his due for his supposed understanding of what constitutes murder Adams merely invites the follow up question of why he directed a murder campaign. He is unable to convince anybody, other than an American groupie in Dublin it seems, that he was never a key IRA leader at the heart of its military strategy.
What moral difference then is there between him and the late Harold Shipman if murder is murder is murder? Is what may then be termed the ‘stench of murder’, as it was so icily put to Martin McGuinness during his failed presidential campaign, to be allowed to waft through society without as much as a cursory question? What sort of society would Ireland be if Harold Shipman in pursuit of the health ministry portfolio could come on television and object to any questioning about the fate of his patients?
There is a double disjuncture at play here which is proving problematic for the Sinn Fein leader. Adams has long sought to carve out a political career for himself as a leading politician on the island of Ireland. Given his military past he could more easily do so had the guerrilla proved successful. That would have resulted in a more positive discourse around the application of an armed strategy. The men of 1916 and War of Independence behaved no differently from Adams, yet the state formation that flowed from their actions has legitimised their war making. Whatever dubious victory Adams may claim in his coment to Johann Hari that 'this is the only IRA campaign that has succeeded', it is very much viewed as something whose significance is limited to the North. Playing second fiddle to the DUP at Stormont as part of an internal solution over which the British are sovereign is a far cry from statehood no matter how territorially limited Irish nation statehood has undoubtedly been. Partition not only firewalled the Southern body politic from the Northern conflagration but it also helped douse any cross border spread of legitimacy that might have accrued the way of IRA leaders like Adams. Simply put, the losers’ pen signs surrender documents. It does not write history.
Adams is further caught in the disjuncture of how political violence was subject to different experiences in the North and the South. Denizens of cities like Cork or Dublin simply are not culturally attuned to the same degree as citizens of Belfast or Derry to have a nuanced approach to the type of violence that the North underwent. To Southerners it was a ‘black North’ phenomenon that sometimes polluted southern society. As the South did not have to breathe in the toxic fumes of British and unionist repressive rule and subjugation it is not as understanding of the actions of a killing machine as efficient as the Provisional IRA. As Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole pointed out to me recently, when the oppressed are seen to kill considerably more people than the state oppressing them, its claim to be the effect rather than the cause of political violence is greatly diminished.
These awkward joints are there for all to see and no amount of buffing makes them go away. While they fail to disappear, Gerry Adams for as long as he is in public life will face questions about things that did disappear.