The Unforgiven

Eoghan Harris is a commentator accustomed to transgressing republican shibboleths. In his latest Sunday Independent piece he ponders Gerry Adams’ response to a family history disfigured by involvement in campaigns of terrorist violence, as well as paedophilia.

Although Harris takes a circuitous, and rather more interesting route, he reaches a conclusion which echoes my own reflections on the Sinn Féin president’s skewed sense of morality. It is ‘time (Adams) took the final step and admitted that the armed struggle “besmirched” the tricolour as much as the abuse’.

Gerry Adams might command sympathy by describing shame at the abusive actions of his father. He might, Harris hints, even seek to exploit a national mood of sympathy, as the Republic of Ireland as a society grapples with its own issues around clerical and institutional abuse. But if we are generous, and allow that Adams’ motivations may not be exclusively tactical and manipulative, still, we can hardly applaud his candour or courage.

It would take genuine courage for the Sinn Féin MP to admit that he was a member of the Provisional IRA, and that its murderous campaign, like the campaign perpetrated by its predecessor and his father’s generation, was a disgraceful, bloody and unjustified aberration.

Harris is charitable enough to evoke Shakespearian complexity and the duality of man. Adams’ crucial role in the ‘peace process’ can still be chalked up as a positive in his favour.

I am less inclined to ascribe mainstream republicanism’s about-turn to a ‘better angel‘ residing within any of its leaders. Strategic pragmatism lead the provisionals in Sinn Féin and the IRA to cease, rather than renounce, violence. The wider movement remains wedded to gangsterism, crime and vigilantism, all of which are wont to bubble to the surface (occasionally bloodily) from time to time.

‘Hope’ might persist. But it is a fragile edifice. If Adams and his ilk show genuine contrition for their campaign it will become sturdier. However we will know that Northern Ireland is healthy, and a robust hopeful future lies ahead, only when the idea of voting for a party which has yet to renounce its history of violence and terror, makes the vast majority of people here, sick to their stomachs.


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