On reading Niall O’Dowd’s recent Irish Voice column, the thought struck me that he might also be double jobbing by writing Saoradh statements. The same torturous logic is a feature common to both. O’Dowd continues to entertain his detractors when as a newspaper columnist, and not a circus clown, his job is to persuade others, not parody himself. His reasoning is something I have not quite figured out.
Although a member of the Adams camarilla he doesn’t seem the worst of people, quite personable and courteous to me on the few occasions we have interacted. I can only imagine that he is a firm believer that truth must be the first casualty in peace, seeming to share Adams' own aversion to it. He not only pretends to believe serial liars but is eager to recycle their trash long beyond salvaging point.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s widely acclaimed book Say Nothing is obviously having such an effect on brand Adams in the US that O'Dowd has been put forward to redirect the onlookers away from the areas designated "secret graves." The entire column was spent trying to savage the book. Perhaps use of the word "savage" will lead to accusations that I too am a racist. In trying to shield Gerry Django from anything faintly suggesting truth recovery, he accused Keefe of sailing close to the racist wind for having once opined that the brute came out in Adams when the former Provisional IRA chief of staff proposed in a plausibly deniable manner that the Independent newspaper should be shut down at gunpoint. Even if Keefe’s take on this matter is inaccurate it is simply wrong, not racist. When Adams once claimed of unionists that “the point is to break these bastards” the inherent sectarianism suggests O'Dowd, if he genuinely wants to confront a strain of racism, should look upwards to his caudillo.
While conceding that Keefe’s “prose and narrative are superb”, Say Nothing is dismissed as a "Get Adams" exercise, penned by an author whose critical insight is lacking and seriously flawed. The implication is that O’Dowd’s insight is substantive and flawless. The hilarity that will cause to erupt needs no prompting from this quarter. The emails I got from friends and journalists were not out of concern, merely derision. Seriously, as an investigative journalist, O'Dowd does not have a patch on Keefe. There is no way in this world would Keefe sacrifice his professional reputation by, say, telling Americans that Roberto D'Aubisson was an okay sort of guy - look, he is a former combatant but who is now a peace activist and heads a political party back home. Everyone who delves into his past is a Bob Basher and pro-war. Just shut up and get with the peace process.
The complaint that there is no interview with “Gerry Adams, a central figure in the narrative” is groundless, for as Keefe wrote in the New Yorker, "Adams declined repeated requests to speak with me for this article". Sinn Fein denied access to the great leader each time Keefe approached them in respect of the book. The New Yorker article exhibited a brilliant piece of investigative journalism but for O’Dowd it merely revealed Keefe's dislike of Adams. This type of slapstick journalism is made look even more fatuous when placed beside O'Dowd's characterisation of anyone who dissents from the old caudillo as an "Adams Hater." O'Dowd really needs to develop a more pluralistic outlook and accept that for every photo of a studious Adams seated amongst people he is looking out for, there are others, more authentic, depicting Adams in the midst of people he is looking to screw over.
For O'Dowd, Keefe had already made his “dislike of Adams” very evident in the New Yorker article. This is a lengthy exploration of Adams' supposed role in the disappearance of Jean McConville, which some speculate helped frustrate Adams gaining access to the White House.
In the wake of that New Yorker piece Gerry Adams was on the receiving end of an apparently deliberate White House snub when he was denied face-to-face meetings with Obama or senior administration officials during the 2015 St Patrick’s Day festivities and palmed off with low level State Department officials instead.
Keefe stands accused of having presented "the disastrous Boston College tapes episode as of major significance without any sense of what was really going on." He had a much better sense of what was going on than O'Dowd who since the outset has either demonstrated a monumental ignorance or promoted an equally monumental fabrication. The real sense of what went on has long since been settled. The narrative about the Boston College project, its rights and wrongs, its flaws and failings, its ethos and ethics, have been well documented and hardly need revisiting here. The only people left sharing O'Dowd's view are those who believe Adams was never chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. Which explains why he began immediately tweeting his article to Sinn Fein in Belfast and Derry, themselves alone capable of buying into it. Nobody serious takes Niall O'Dowd seriously when he writes hagiographies about Adams.
The Boston College oral history project, which O'Dowd argues informed "a large part of the book’s narrative" - he really does need to get out and about more - was also a 'Get Adams' exercise according to O'Dowd. This larkin about line was tried before by an English fantasist only to fall flat on its face and has not been heard of since.
Myself and Ed Moloney were described as “two avowedly anti-Adams journalists and researchers”. One of the long standing reasons for being opposed to Adams is that he is, in the words of Kieran Conway, a "mendacious lying bastard." Should journalists and researchers not be avowedly anti-serial liars and their mendacity, and instead defer to lies in the interest of the peace process? What sort of peace is in the peace process if it cannot tolerate being peacefully dissented from?
Even more inanely, in an act of cerebral hari-kari, O'Dowd cites Boston College spin doctor, Jack Dunn, who “confirmed the project was ill-conceived and amazingly, took Adams side.” Damnation enough given the number of times Dunn has been caught out. A character with his reputation in seemingly unwarranted ruins as a result of the Spotlight film on clerical child rape in Boston, will not be regarded as the most reliable witness.
Dunn's claim that Boston librarian Robert O’Neill’s mistake was "in hiring Ed Moloney" as project director is as lacking in surprise at it is replete with self service. But for Moloney’s crucial early intervention having upended Boston College’s design to surreptitiously surrender all tapes to the British police, matters would have been infinitely worse. Dunn presumably wishes O'Neill had hired someone more compliant, a person like, well, Jack Dunn, who would have emulated the College's roll over at the first sign of trouble, and shafted the participants.
“Boston College tapes were an all-out attempt to get Adams which almost worked" is arguably the most scurrilous and malevolent of O’Dowd’s assertions in his slavish deference to the Adams narrative. Through it he has sought to leave an impression that the BC project and the PSNI were in cahoots to have Adams prosecuted. This is a slur that even Danny Morrison, who has smeared more people than David Duckenfield, would be proud to have launched.
O'Dowd does admit that Adams has been lying about his membership of the IRA but goes on to defend the denials on the grounds that without them there would have been a prosecution. It seems never to have occurred to O’Dowd, the man who slams Keefe for an alleged lack of critical insight, that Adams need not have lied but could as effectively have fallen back on the “no comment” response to probes about his membership of the IRA. Adams' lying was not to avoid prosecution but to manipulate public opinion in pursuit of his political career. But in Niall's Niche journalists and researchers are not supposed to tackle issues of public deception. Critical insight means an ability not to see what is there.
At the heel of the hunt, O'Dowd knows that the Adams brand is taking a serious battering in the States, and Keefe is not getting the hard time from Irish America that Adams acolytes might have hoped for when he promotes his book from coast to coast. O'Dowd's insistence that "knowing the context is key to writing about Northern Ireland" is true. We can now safely assume what his context is alibi.
Adams, a martial politician, is being described frequently and unambiguously by Keefe as a person who ordered a war crime. At a time when Adams is almost certainly plotting his course to Phoenix Park in 2025 and almost as certainly a futile endeavour if he does not persuade a potential voting bloc, Irish referendum permitting, the US Irish diaspora the stench of decomposition must be excised from the narrative. The pests who help retain it must be fumigated. That's Niall O'Dowd's job, and Upton Sinclair had the prescience to see him coming a long time ago with his quip that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”