Martin Mansergh is deeply committed to the peace process and has been for almost as long as anyone can remember. Not without justification he believes himself to have been one of the early architects responsible for the current edifice. He has battled tenaciously to navigate it to a safe port and away from the violent waves sometimes caused by peace process partners not entirely committed to peaceful means. Martin Mansergh is without question someone who has made a considerable emotional investment in the peace process and is eager to defend it against all who might cause it some “inflight turbulence.”
Yet the peace process is not something that is restricted to the securing of peace. It is also a political project strategically utilised by Sinn Fein to fuel its expansionism across the island. It goes without saying that the peace process has not always been a peaceful process, as the Northern bank robbery revealed. The then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when left with no option, openly accused members of the Sinn Fein leadership of having prior knowledge of that robbery. Prior to that, he had been given to claiming that when the IRA spoke it was worthy of belief. It was of course arrant nonsense but underscored the way in which the peace process at times has sought to stupefy the Irish public.
It is important therefore not to frame the peace process in a one dimensional optic, where it is only to be viewed as driven by the search for peace and nothing else; and where those with serious misgivings about the moral quagmire it spawns are smeared as enemies of the peace, their judgement to be scorned and their own contributions to peace undermined because they are not enamoured to the opacity or partisan instrumentality of the process.
It is axiomatic that the peace in the peace process be protected. But that is no reason to protect the political careers of its main beneficiaries. The process should be transparent and held up to public scrutiny at all times. The figures at its centre should not be shielded. Imagine the health of society had public scrutiny of Bertie Ahern’s financial affairs been shelved on the grounds that he was a central figure in the peace process.
The peace process has become one of the Big Brothers of the modern Irish era. No other project has demanded and received such intellectual acquiescence, nor breathed such censorious fumes throughout political discourse.
It is in such a context that we find Martin Mansergh, an academic, arguing that the peace process be protected from academic research and hurling disparagement upon those who unlock non peaceful secrets. The Boston College oral history project in this jaundiced view is simply without merit because people not acquiescent in the myths of the peace process are incapable of Mansergh’s much cherished deference of having “respect for your betters.”
While the Boston College project was never about holding Gerry Adams to account it was very much about bringing to the surface knowledge from the republican subterranean world. And when Mansergh refers to “Adams’s past IRA association” it would be remiss of any historian to bury references to Adams out of concern for the peace process. While some concession should be made to Diarmaid Ferriter’s assertion that history retrieval and current affairs are separate strains, neither must it be insisted upon that they are mutually irreconcilable. History is yesterday and yesterday is current affairs.
Martin Mansergh seeks to strip authenticity from the interviewees by labelling them as so embittered they would give testimony against Adams via oral history. Why is whistle blowing admirable for garda but bitterness for former members of the IRA? Does Mansergh think Gerry Adams should be protected in a way that Alan Shatter should not?
Mansergh is right in arguing that the Boston College oral archive was “commandeered by the PSNI.” Perhaps he should direct his ire its way given that it not the Boston College researchers who arrested Gerry Adams. And spare us the bull about the police only following the evidence. In the week that sees the 40th anniversary of the Dublin Monaghan bombing there is no PSNI subpoena issued in pursuit of documentation within the bowels of the British state security apparatuses that would shed light on that horrific war crime.
Mansergh’s argument topples under the weight of its own inconsistency when he suggests that the Good Friday Agreement amounted to a de facto amnesty that should have precluded the arrest of Gerry Adams. He could have vociferously flagged up his amnesty claims when Gerry McGeough, Seamus Kearney and Bobby Rodgers were all convicted for offences supposedly amnestied. Forgetting Pastor Niemöller’s words he waited until the PSNI came for Gerry Adams.
Ultimately, what is going to protect intellectual investigation from Martin Mansergh and the peace process?