"To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we own only the truth." - Voltaire
Last week, the former IRA leader Gerry Adams appeared in the witness box at the Ballymurphy massacre inquest. He claimed to have witnessed nothing other than a couple of armed IRA volunteers running past him as they made their way through Springhill Crescent, in his view, possibly to fire into Springmartin estate or provide "covering fire." True or not, we might never know, but part of his remaining testimony – hard to call it evidence when he offered none – was less than honest. His enduring resistance to truth recovery was underscored by an insistence on never having been a member of the IRA.
He was not subpoenaed, leaving observers to wonder why he even appeared given that he brought nothing of substance. In line with past performances he ensured the proceedings were focused on him and not the victims. He knew he was going to be asked the obligatory IRA question, for which he has no convincing rebuttal and his answer was always going to pose a risk to the integrity of the relatives' quest for truth, by giving their critics leverage they had no right to.
The Sligo blogger, Alfie Gallagher, observed of the Adams contribution:
“I was not a member of the IRA, I have never disassociated myself from the IRA and I never will until the day I die."
The most remarkable thing about this statement is that it is a compound lie consisting of a logically interlocking chain of three individuals lies in which the fraudulence of each successive lie is demonstrated by the preceding lie!
Few would expect Adams to front up and admit his role in the IRA. The PSNI he promised to put manners on would prosecute him. Yet there is no reason why the need to avoid self incrimination should extend to lying. The option of saying "no comment” has always been one he has obstinately refused to utilise.
Again made to look ridiculous with the dog ate my homework type deflections – he was only getting a lift from others on IRA active service - he was spared some blushes by relatives of the dead who rightly applauded him from the public gallery when he queried the line of questioning from a Ministry of Defence barrister, insisting that the focus should have been on the killers from the Parachute Regiment, which it would have been had he not turned up. The relatives did not applaud him for his lying. Critics of their quest for truth should be robustly challenged if they imply that the applause was for lying in the midst of a truth recovery setting.
The message sent out on that day was that it was fine to lie at the inquest.
Fortunately, a former Para chose not to tread in the footsteps of Adams by denying he was ever a member of the Parachute Regiment, who had only ended up in Ballymurphy in August 1971 courtesy of a lift from some rifle wielding blokes in maroon berets and khakis who just happened to be passing as they headed to some duck hunting event in Springfield Dam. Earlier this week the former Para told the devastating truth of what was inflicted on the civilian population of Ballymurphy by trigger happy psychopaths who "were out of control, killing people on the street and knowing that they would be protected," thugs who had avoided jail by enlisting in the Paras.
The Parachute Regiment rampaged through Ballymurphy like ISIS in Paris. The people of the estate were subject to mass murder methodically carried out over the course of three days in 1971. It is crucial for both them and wider society that truth is accessed and that they are given the respect, and their slain loved ones the truth, they each deserve.
The truth forum the relatives struggled so hard to secure should never have been polluted with lies. Adams, who has weaponised truth only to find himself impaled on his own aversion to it, showed the living no respect and the dead no truth. He has bequeathed a moral inversion that stains the narrative of republicanism: a former member of the Parachute regiment told a massacre inquest the truth while a former member of the Provisional IRA told it lies.