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14 May, 2020 14:20

Harmless tree hugger or IRA boss, Gerry Adams’ vindication matters little – the English simply don't care about Northern Ireland

Harmless tree hugger or IRA boss, Gerry Adams’ vindication matters little – the English simply don't care about Northern Ireland

The Supreme Court found Adams was detained in prison without a fair trial, but few in Britain will be concerned about this victory for the eccentric Republican figurehead who hugs trees and loves teddy bears.

You’d be sadly mistaken if you presumed Gerry Adams’ historic legal victory on Wednesday will make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

The former Sinn Fein president has had two convictions for attempted escapes from the Maze Prison in 1973 and 1974 – which saw an additional four and a half years added to his sentences – quashed by the Supreme Court. It deemed the original detention “unlawful” because his intern without trial had not been “considered personally” by the then-Northern Ireland Secretary, Willie Whitelaw.

Perhaps it would be a very different narrative today if the British government had accepted liability of their own volition, but they allowed Adams’ case to drag on for 10 years.

And they themselves had to be dragged  – almost kicking and screaming, just like when Adams himself was illegally interned – into their highest court in the land, before five judges who ruled in favour of the Irishman.

UK getting off lightly

Boris Johnson’s government is getting off lightly here without any substantive embarrassment, because there are more pressing matters at hand as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a headache for them, but any compensation forked out to Adams will be a bitter pill to swallow.

The only risk this has of blowing up further is if there’s a tidal wave of other prisoners in the same boat as Adams, which would put a stain on the image of Rule Britannia.

This is a possibility, because there are up to 2,000 other Irish men and women who were held“without due process.” As Adams states, “The onus now is on the British government to identify and inform other internees whose internment may also have been unlawful.”

But don’t hold your breath. I genuinely don’t believe the English give a flying f**k about the Six Counties. My view is backed up by a new YouGov survey that highlights how “half of Britons do not care if Northern Ireland left the United Kingdom.”

It would be much different now if Jeremy Corbyn was PM. There’s no doubt he would have made a big song and dance about it, because Adams is his friend. Tony Blair – thanks to his mother being from Donegal – is the only British leader in living memory who cared about the North in any meaningful way. The Loyalists are in denial if they think otherwise.

The reality is that the English ‘snowflake’ generation wouldn’t be able to pick Adams – with his hippy long grey hair and matching beard – out of a line-up if they had to. They have no idea about his backstory, which is hardly surprising because their lack of Irish knowledge is “shocking,” according to leading academic Joan Redmond.

A bogeyman for some Brits

Yet for older generations who remember how the IRA targeted mainland Britain, this doting 71-year-old grandfather – the elected face of the Republican movement – will always be the personification of evil. They only stopped bombing England because, as I once observed in my Irish Sunday Mirror column, “The Provos understood it was a real game changer for guerrilla warfare when the world was left horrified by the sight of two planes plunging into the Twin Towers.”

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a much softer side of Adams, having conducted several in-depth interviews with him, and my impression couldn’t be further removed from his old warlord public image.

I’ll lay all my cards on the table here: I was born in Dublin and am a non-practising Catholic. But I am not a Nationalist per se, because I have serious reservations over reunification, which you can read about here.

I am, therefore, in a position to speak about Adams without any political partisanship. He is an eccentric character, to put it mildly. One example – and you might not believe this, but I have the taped interviews to back it up –  is that he told me he likes to embrace trees to help “calm” himself.

He explained: “My theory is this: the tree gets its energy through its bark. If you get a big tree – and the tree is maybe 150 years old and [has] been there for a long time – it’s quite powerful. It will withstand wind, it will withstand drought. So, it’s the energy going up the bark of the tree. If you hug it, you just get a sense of calmness. Try it.”

Even more amazingly, Adams somehow managed to persuade Tony Blair to hug a tree. “It was during a fairly frantic talk. Tony Blair said, ‘You’re not serious?’ And we were in this big English estate, in one of these stately homes, and I said, ‘No, just try it’. And he tried it. And that was the big breakthrough in Irish-Anglo relationships,” he earnestly told me.

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Teddy bears and chocolate

There are other bizarre tales, too, such as his enthusiasm for collecting teddy bears and taking them to bed. He once tweeted that two of them, Tom and Ted, were in a same-sex relationship, before announcing their engagement. Then there’s his addiction to chocolate and his admission that he dreams about Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, and his authorship of a recipe collection entitled ‘The Negotiators Cookbook’. I’ve always enjoyed his weird sense of humour but felt the recipe book was in bad taste, considering 10 of his comrades died during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

There’s no doubt that Adams’ outlook on life changed after he survived an assassination attempt, and the man I got to know – with his constant cheerfulness and perpetual beguiling smile – is more like “the boy who didn’t grow up,” as it was once suggested.

It’s hard to believe this is the very same man who was allegedly the leader of the IRA  – ordering countless deaths, including Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow with 10 children who was executed over claims she was an informer.

Adams has always denied being in the IRA – not because he wants to disassociate himself from it, but rather because, as he once pointed out to me, he would be arrested if he ever admitted to membership of an illegal organisation. The furthest he would go was when he told me: “For better or worse, I’m in a leadership position, okay? So, I accept responsibility.”

Time for the truth

I feel the past can only truly be laid to rest if there’s a ‘Mandela-style’ truth and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland, with Adams and others guaranteed immunity from prosecution. It’s the only way we will get most of the answers and find the remaining ‘Disappeared’ – those abducted and killed during the Troubles.

The English also need to come clean about all the blood on their hands here too – such as framinginnocent people, their shoot-to-kill policy, and helping Loyalists plant bombs in Dublin and Monaghan.

It’s time to stop sweeping everything under the carpet. And it’s also about time the English started taking an interest in Ireland again. A good place to start would be by teaching schoolchildren Irish history, because as the 18th century Irish statesman Edmund Burke said,“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.