Gerry Adams would rather praise fa­nat­ics than re­spect democrats

What irks the Sinn Fein leader is that for­mer Taoiseach Liam Cos­grave did his duty and de­fended the Repub­lic against the IRA, writes Eilis O’Han­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment -

THERE’S a psy­cho­log­i­cal the­ory that holds the faults we most strongly crit­i­cise in other peo­ple are those of which, deep down, we know our­selves to be guilty.

It’s re­mark­able how of­ten politi­cians con­form to the rule. Con­sider the lat­est com­ments by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who de­clared in the Dail last week that for­mer Taoiseach Liam Cos­grave, who has died at the age of 97, had been a “con­tro­ver­sial and di­vi­sive fig­ure”.

To say that this was stun­ning in its lack of irony or self-aware­ness would be to take un­der­state­ment to a whole new level.

Adams even nar­rowed it down fur­ther, to pro­claim that Cos­grave had been a di­vi­sive fig­ure “dur­ing tur­bu­lent and con­tro­ver­sial pe­ri­ods of our his­tory”, by which he pre­sum­ably meant the 1970s, when the Fine Gael leader served as Taoiseach. Cue the col­lec­tive sound of jaws hit­ting the floor.

If Cos­grave was “di­vi­sive” in the worst days of the Trou­bles, what does that make Gerry Adams?

He de­nies be­ing a mem­ber of the IRA, for what lit­tle that’s worth, but the repub­li­can move­ment of which he was part — and whose role his party still stoutly de­fends — was hardly a force for un­der­stand­ing and to­geth­er­ness.

The term dur­ing which Cos­grave was Taoiseach, 1973 to 1977, in­clude four of the five worst years for vi­o­lence. In 1973, 253 peo­ple were mur­dered. In 1974, there were 294 vic­tims. In 1975, it was 258. In 1976, the to­tal was 295, in­clud­ing 207 civil­ians.

For Adams to feel that he has the moral author­ity to ac­cuse any­one of be­ing “con­tro­ver­sial and di­vi­sive” in that era beg­gars be­lief.

Any politi­cian’s legacy is fair game for crit­i­cism. Cos­grave can be held ac­count­able for fail­ing to se­cure jus­tice for vic­tims of the Dublin and Mon­aghan bomb­ings, as well as for the failed at­tempt to pros­e­cute the Ir­ish Press for its cov­er­age of the mis­treat­ment of repub­li­can pris­on­ers. To ad­mit that this was not his gov­ern­ment’s finest hour is ab­so­lutely not the same as sup­port­ing the Provos.

Cos­grave, like­wise, could be crit­i­cised for tak­ing what many would re­gard as a re­ac­tionary Catholic stance on mat­ters such as con­tra­cep­tion. No Taoiseach’s record is un­blem­ished.

But his was also the gov­ern­ment which signed the Sun­ning­dale Agree­ment, which in­sti­tuted the first power-shar­ing as­sem­bly in North­ern Ire­land. He mis­han­dled the af­ter­math, but to call any man who has Sun­ning­dale on his record “di­vi­sive” is galling in the ex­treme, not least when this was the tem­plate ul­ti­mately ac­cepted — a long litany of deaths later — by the repub­li­can move­ment in the form of the 1998 Belfast Agree­ment.

Adams nat­u­rally qualified his re­marks by say­ing that Cos­grave was di­vi­sive “for some peo­ple”, as if it wasn’t the SF leader who was say­ing these things, but neb­u­lous folk, whose com­ments he was pick­ing up in the ether and merely re­lay­ing to the Dail like a hu­man ra­dio trans­mit­ter. He also said “to­day is not the day to an­a­lyse this”. Then why bring it up at all?

Of course it is not pos­si­ble to be in pol­i­tics with­out di­vid­ing opin­ion. The mildest man­nered of politi­cians will at­tract an army of en­e­mies and crit­ics.

There’s also noth­ing wrong with speak­ing ill of the dead. Some­times the dead de­serve to have ill spo­ken of them. It is sen­ti­men­tal­ity to imag­ine that death should im­me­di­ately ab­solve a hu­man be­ing of all fault. Had Adams wanted to lay into the for­mer Taoiseach, he would have been per­fectly en­ti­tled to do so. It was the sly, pas­sive-ag­gres­sive way in which he phrased his dis­ap­proval — disin­gen­u­ously open­ing up a de­bate by rais­ing what “some peo­ple say”, only to im­me­di­ately shut it down before the end of the very same sen­tence with “but to­day is not the day” — that was most re­pel­lent, typ­i­cal of his in­tel­lec­tual dis­hon­esty. It’s like creep­ing up on an op­po­nent, sneak­ing in a punch, then im­me­di­ately hold­ing out a hand and ask­ing to be friends.

Adams of­fered his con­do­lences to Cos­grave’s fam­ily, which was the least one might ex­pect, as well as telling Fine Gael that they could be rightly proud of their for­mer leader — not that they needed his per­mis­sion for that. But his con­do­lences were me­chan­i­cal when com­pared not only with what he said when Cuban dic­ta­tor Fidel Casto died, but also with how he spoke af­ter for­mer DUP leader Ian Pais­ley’s death in 2014.

Adams said at the time that he was “shocked and sad­dened to learn of the death” of the loy­al­ist fire­brand, call­ing it a “very sad time.”

Quite why he was shocked by the death of an 88-year-old man who had been suf­fer­ing ill health for some time is a bit of a mys­tery, but his words were no­tably warmer, more af­fec­tion­ate.

The late Martin McGuin­ness also ex­pressed his “deep re­gret and sad­ness” at the news, adding: “I have lost a friend.” Nei­ther man was fool­ish enough to think they could get away with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing they’d not ex­actly been singing from the same hymn sheet as Pais­ley through­out the course of the Trou­bles, but they were markedly more pos­i­tive. And this was for a man who had stoked vi­cious sec­tar­ian ten­sion in North­ern Ire­land for decades; a Protes­tant hate-preacher in the mould of Is­lamist cler­ics Abu Hamza or Abu Qatada — old men who love to send out young men to die on their be­half. In­no­cent men, women and chil­dren died be­cause of Pais­ley’s words, but he was show­ered with syco­phan­tic flat­tery on his death.

Pais­ley’s legacy in­cluded fierce op­po­si­tion to the Sun­ning­dale agree­ment Cos­grave helped to ne­go­ti­ate, and which loy­al­ists, spurred on by “Big Ian”, brought down, spark­ing two fur­ther decades of blood­shed. He was also a man who was ob­sessed with sodomy and cam­paigned against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to the end, a fact also po­litely glossed-over by SF, de­spite now threat­en­ing not to re­store de­volved gov­ern­ment in the North un­less same-sex mar­riage is le­galised. It didn’t stop them shar­ing power with Pais­ley.

The truth is that men­tally, Gerry Adams still lives in West Belfast. He doesn’t re­ally know or un­der­stand what men like Cos­grave were all about. To repub­li­cans, Cos­grave is just one of a list of Free Staters who “failed” the North, by which they mean he didn’t get be­hind the IRA as every true Ir­ish­man should. They think the tough anti-ter­ror­ist leg­is­la­tion he was will­ing to en­act against the IRA was a be­trayal, when it was about se­cur­ing the Repub­lic against an­ar­chy.

That was Cos­grave’s duty as Taoiseach, but they ul­ti­mately feel more sol­i­dar­ity with fa­nat­ics such as Pais­ley — who threw them­selves into the seething mael­strom of civic con­flict then mel­lowed in old age — to bor­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al­ists such as Cos­grave. Pais­ley’s path echoed their own. Cos­grave was alien. They pre­fer fel­low slow-learn­ers, be­cause they feel less judged by them. Those who be­haved badly dur­ing the Trou­bles don’t want those who be­haved well re­mind­ing them of their moral short­com­ings.

There might also be an­other rea­son. For­mer Labour min­is­ter Conor Cruise O’Brien, who served as Min­is­ter for Posts and Tele­graphs un­der Cos­grave, once said: “Liam al­ways sounded like a man who felt it would be ex­tremely sin­ful to give the public what it wants.”

To shame­less pop­ulists such as Gerry Adams, who would say and do prac­ti­cally any­thing to fur­ther his ends, that will al­ways be the gravest sin.

‘For Gerry Adams to ac­cuse any­one else of be­ing di­vi­sive dur­ing the Trou­bles era beg­gars be­lief’

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