Gerry Adams is the pre-eminent republican activist of our times. A former President of Sinn Féin, he served as MP for West Belfast and as a TD in the Dáil over a four-decade period of frontline elected politics.
He is the author of several books including Before the Dawn, The Street and Other Stories and Falls Memories. His latest collection of short stories The Witness Trees will be published in the autumn.
He describes himself as "an optimistic and hopeful activist" and publishes a famed Twitter account.
THIS article is (once again) dedicated to all candidates from all parties and none and their families as well as all the valiant souls who work hard on their behalf. I thought this would be a good time to give these thoughts again, slightly amended, with a special thought for the majority of candidates who won’t get elected. In West Belfast there are seventeen candidates battling for five seats. Seventeen into five won’t go. Think of them as you digest all the outcomes. Good luck to them all. Good luck especially to all Sinn Féin’s candidates. It is a great honour to represent Sinn Féin in any capacity and a huge privilege to seek a mandate from your peers for our historic republican mission. I hope we have a great result. That’s all in the gift of the electorate. So I thank all the voters as well as all the candidates.
ONE week to polling day and the pundits and pollsters are filling the airways and column inches with their take on who will be the big winners and who will be the losers. Who will emerge with more or fewer Assembly seats? Will the Protocol galvanise a so far lacklustre unionist campaign? Will the DUP/TUV and their loyalist allies succeed in frightening unionist voters into toeing the line? Or will Sinn Féin up-end a century of partition and the northern state by taking enough seats for Michelle O’Neill to become First Minister? Most of the parties have now published their election manifestos. Where they stand on the constitutional issue, the cost of living crisis, Brexit and a host of other matters that are of varying importance to the electorate are pretty well understood by the public.
MY recent tales of singsongs in the H-Blocks have triggered more reminiscences of other such events. Two in particular stand out and both were after Long Kesh was burned down. That was in October 1974. Following that eventful evening prisoners lived a very primitive shanty-town like existence among the ruins of the Kesh until the new huts were built. After the fighting stopped, the wounded were tended to, the British Army pulled back we quickly readjusted to living in the ruins of the camp. Some remnants of burnt huts remained after the fire and that gave shelter of sorts. I was in the internee end. In Cage 2. Some intrepid souls re-plumbed the piping from the demolished wash huts and there was an open air bathing area for those fussy folks who were obsessed by cleanliness, like Mr Sheen, one of our older dapper comrades. Someone lit a fire below a tank filled with water and our intrepid plumber – was it Gerry Fitz, the Commander? – fixed up a shower and soon there were warm showers. Al fresco. That’s how we ate also.
ON Sunday Irish republicans across Ireland and globally will commemorate and celebrate the men and women who rose up against the British Empire and in favour of an Irish Republic at Easter time 1916. A century later their extraordinary courage is often passed over by some, particularly in the political establishment in Dublin, who occasionally pay lip service to their sacrifice. A few even dismiss it as foolish and a mistake. But to understand the risks they were taking and the immensity of the challenge they faced it is important to remember that at that time the British Empire was the largest in world history. It was the global super power of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
THE democratic question remains the key issue internationally. It has been so since people asserted their right to citizenship. At the heart of that is the entitlement to self-governance. That is governance of the people, for the people and by the people. Without outside interference by others. This issue, or the denial of this right, creates and underpins conflict. That’s what is at the core of the conflict in Ukraine, Palestine and other places. It was the cause of conflict in our own place and remains the main cause of division here. Some have reduced this question of democracy to whether the unionist parties will vote for a Sinn Féin First Minister. This is an important question. Without doubt Sinn Féin accepts the right of a unionist to that position if that’s what the electorate decide. But none of us should be surprised at the two main unionist leaders refusing to state clearly their acceptance of a Sinn Féin First Minister if that’s what the people decide. Doug Beattie can speak for himself but it is clear that Jeffrey Donaldson is gearing up for a post-election negotiation and this is part of his tactical approach. Of course he also may not be prepared to accept a Sinn Féin First Minister. If so he should say so. Loudly and clearly. Either way he should spell out his intentions. But the issue of democracy is a more profound one than the à la carte attitude of the DUP to the election of a First Minister.
ON April 1, 1970, the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army formally took its place in the ranks of the British Army. The UDR was a locally-recruited militia established by the British Government following its disbandment of the B-Specials the previous year. When it too was disbanded 22 years later it had achieved an even greater level of sectarian notoriety than the Specials. Micheál Smith, who is an advocacy case worker with the Pat Finucane Centre, and who previously worked as a diplomat in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, has just published ‘UDR Declassified’ – an account of the British Army regiment which looks at the “background to the regiment and the traditions from which it was born...” The book also examines “the range of illegal, collusive and murderous acts of some of its numbers...”
ONE unionist Twitter account at the weekend posed the question: “How many different ways can the DUP tell us we MUST vote DUP no matter how incompetent or corrupt they have been?”
THE Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to dominate the news agenda. Lines of tanks and armoured vehicles inexorably move toward Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. Images of hospitals and family homes bombed and destroyed, of refugees, particularly children, the elderly and disabled forcibly fleeing has led to a massive outpouring of solidarity. People want to help. Some provide food and clothing for shipping to Ukraine. Others offer to provide shelter for those refugees who make it to our shores. All very worthwhile and commendable.
HERE are two photographs. One is of a school. Totally destroyed. Levelled. Classrooms reduced to rubble. The work of students scattered across the ground. The other is of a hospital. Mickey and Minnie Mouse and other favourite Disney characters look down over floors strewn with the flotsam of war. Life-saving equipment destroyed. Walls and floors shattered by shrapnel. Both buildings were the target of rockets indiscriminately fired at civilian targets. Had these images been taken in Ukraine and resulted from attacks by Russian war planes or rockets the international media would have plastered them over their front pages. Politicians in the EU, Britain, the USA, and elsewhere, including Irish Government Ministers, would have been falling over each other to express their outrage and condemnation.
THE big story of the moment is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Like many of you I have been watching the round the clock news reports emerging from what is now a war zone. The television images and photographs are distressing. Burning buildings, the skeletal shell of others already destroyed. Russian tanks and armed soldiers. And terrified citizens and families, many with young children, desperate to escape. There have been images also of ordinary citizens determined to resist and fight the invader. Of people hunkered down in the street making petrol bombs. The film footage of an elderly woman confronting a Russian soldier reminded me of many similar instances in our own experience, not least the ‘March of Mothers’, many pushing prams, who swept aside British soldiers’ as they brought food to the besieged community in the Falls who were under British military curfew in July 1970. These images are a shocking visual record of the violent abuse by one state of its smaller neighbour. The response of the citizens of Ukraine and the televised images of petrol bombs being prepared or street signs being removed is reminiscent of exactly the same popular actions here during the Battle of the Bogside or in Ballymurphy or many other communities. For many republicans the language of outrage from some sections of the Irish and international media and of the political establishments rings hollow when set against their silence or collusion in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or the plight of the Palestinian people struggling against the apartheid Israeli state. Or the struggle here in the North. So I am quite cynical about the rhetoric and the intentions of some of the international leaders. Nevertheless, this cannot be allowed to distract from the unacceptability of the Russian government invading and violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the right of the people of that country to exercise their fundamental right to national self-determination and independence. The Irish Government is a member of the UN Security Council, as well as of the European Union. It must use these important positions to argue for an end to the invasion, an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and the intensification of dialogue to find a peaceful way forward.
THE singular message emerging from the conflicting voices within political unionism at this time is their opposition to the election of a Sinn Féin First Minister. Whatever other differences there may be between the different strands of unionism on other issues like how to oppose the Protocol, on this they are united. In part this is because a republican First Minister exposes the very basis of a northern state which was always intended to be ruled by unionism in the interests of unionism and to the exclusion of all others. But it also challenges the core, fundamental conviction of many unionists who believe that they have the right to veto any decision or outcome that is not in their interests. Including the democratic outcome of an election. The Assembly election in May provides an opportunity to challenge this undemocratic, biased and discriminatory philosophy. Will there be a republican First Minister? I don’t know. That’s for the people to decide. And whatever they decide has to be accepted. For those not sure of who to vote for? Listen to the policies and arguments from all of the parties. Whether it’s on the constitutional question or on broad policy issues make your decision based on the facts.
SOME politicians rarely, if ever, see the irony in the words they use. Take Boris Johnson. He is currently using the dispute between the Ukraine and Russia to distract attention from the Downing Street Partygate scandal. As more and more voices within his own party are questioning his leadership credentials, Johnson is busy presenting himself as a leader on the world stage standing up for the rights of others. And so we get: “We won’t accept a world in which a powerful neighbour can bully or attack their neighbours... all people have the right to live safely and choose who governs them.” In a short period in which two Police Ombudsman reports exposed the extent and depth of British state collusion with loyalist death squads and the families of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane and Sinn Féin Councillor John Davey marked the anniversaries of their murder through collusion, Johnson’s remarks carry a strong whiff of hypocrisy. British policy toward Ireland is the very definition of a “powerful neighbour” that bullies and attacks its neighbour. Johnson is an English nationalist. He leads a party and a government that proudly defends Britain’s imperial past, including the invasion and occupation of countless small nations and the murder and subjugation of millions of people.
COLLUSION between British intelligence, the RUC, the UDR, the British Army and loyalist paramilitary organisations is a fact of life here. This is indisputable. A succession of reports have confirmed the extent to which loyalist death squads operated under the patronage of the British state. This week the Police Ombudsman produced another report. It examines 11 killings in the South Belfast area, five of which occurred on Wednesday, February 5, 1992. That morning two UDA killers walked into Graham’s bookies on the Ormeau Road and opened fire. They killed five people and wounded nine others. Claims of collusion between the UDA and British security agencies were dismissed at that time by many in the political establishment and most of the media. 30 years later and within days of the anniversary of that atrocity, the families were handed a Police Ombudsman’s report that confirmed collusion. It also confirmed that one of the weapons involved was part of the consignment from the apartheid South African regime brought into the North by British intelligence and its agents within the UDA/UVF and Ulster Resistance. Collusion worked hand in hand with a British strategy which sought to demonise republicans and the wider nationalist community. Every effort was made by the British and Irish governments and our political opponents to marginalise and censor Sinn Féin. The five who were killed in the Ormeau Road bookies were the victims of this strategy. So too were the three people killed in the Falls Road Sinn Féin office the day before. Last Friday we held a short ceremony outside the office to remember Paddy Loughran, Pat McBride and Michael O’Dwyer. They were shot dead when RUC officer Allen Moore walked into the office claiming to be a journalist. Within moments he had killed Paddy and Pat, who worked in the building; and Michael, a young man in the office with his two-year-old son to discuss a constituency issue; and wounded two others. Allen Moore went on to take his own life.
SOMEHOW human beings, including this columnist, put more stead in twenty-year anniversaries than in nineteen-year ones. So in the case of Bloody Sunday 50 years seems more important than 49. Why this is so is worthy of some research, which is at this point beyond capacity. But fifty years it is since that fateful day. In less than 30 minutes it was all over. The shooting began at 4.10pm. When it ended, 13 men and boys were dead. Another was to die weeks later. Another 14, including one woman, had been shot and grievously wounded. On our television screens we could see the deadly consequences. The still bodies in their pools of blood. One moment alive. The next dead. Lines of men were filmed being frogmarched by British soldiers and forced against walls. A community in shock. Bloody Sunday marked a watershed moment in our history. For many, Bloody Sunday also marked a personal turning point in our lives. I know that many of my friends, my peer group, reflected on our memories of that day as we recalled where we were. It was a moment when many became convinced that a state that could plan, carry out and defend the public execution of citizens had no legitimacy. Many didn’t know about Britain’s recent colonial past. Its use of counter-insurgency techniques. The application of state violence, including mass murder and torture, to advance its objectives in Kenya, in Aden, in Oman and other places. The employment of collusion and of counter-gangs to kill political enemies and civilians. All of that was to become known later. But for the avoidance of doubt, it should now be clear to everyone that killing people on Bloody Sunday was the intention, the plan and the reason for the deployment of the Paras in Derry, just as it was in Ballymurphy months earlier. On January 30, 1972, and in the days that followed it was about the victims and their families. It was about demonstrating – by attendance at the funerals or other protests, including the civil rights march in Newry the following Sunday – that we would not be intimidated off our streets. For many it became a difficult emotional balance between shock and anger and a desire for revenge. It was a reminder of the injustice of the British state’s involvement in Ireland and of the failure of politics. And as the British state’s propaganda machine went into overdrive to defend the Paras, and British and unionist politicians accused the victims of being gunmen and bombers, the anger and frustration grew. Seamus Heaney caught the mood:My heart besieged by anger, my mind a gap of danger.I walked among their old haunts.The home ground where they bled;And in the dirt lay justice like an acorn in the winterTill its oak would sprout in Derrywhere the thirteen men lay dead.The Road to Derry.