Gerry Adams: Truth and Reconcilliation, not Revenge

Saturday, 3rd May 2014 at 19:23 UTC 3 comments

The recent arrest of Gerry Adams has been a stark reminder of just how short the time gap is between yesterday’s violence and today’s fragile peace has been for Northern Ireland. In the immediate aftermath, it has the potential to harm public safety, for both British and Irish alike. But its also a sign that a key stage of the Peace Process is now overdue by several years.

I should start by laying out my position on a few basics. I am not in any way a “Northern Ireland Expert”, nor did I overly specialise in Conflict Resolution during my time as a Peace Studies student in Bradford. Whilst I feel revulsion at the things the British government once did to the people of Ireland, I’m no apologist for violence on either side of the conflict. The Good Friday Agreement should be implemented without prejudice and further steps taken to ensure a meaningful and lasting peace.

The problem is, what would a meaningful and lasting peace look like? The conflict has been going on for a century or several, depending on which lens you view your history through. No one should deny that both sides have resorted, for whatever reason, to criminal brutality, and many perpetrators are still alive. What is remarkable is the number of those who have been brought to the table and become a part of building something approaching a peace. There are still gangs of criminals operating under the pretext of the troubles, and none of my suggestions from here-on-in are intended to be applied to them.

Arresting Gerry Adams was an act of gross stupidity bordering on a deliberate act to sabotage the Northern Ireland Peace Process. This point stands entirely separate of any historic crime that Mr Adams and his presumed associates have committed. Guilty or innocent, the immediate effect on the safety of those working for British and Irish state, as well as those working on the ground in Northern Ireland, is huge. Its very likely that some Whitehall civil servants will be sat with their heads in their hands trying to figure out how to redeem the situation as quickly as possible.

For the Peace Process, keeping Gerry Adams free and able to function is of paramount importance. Without him, the miracle of the handshake between him and Martin Trimble is no more. A recognisable and trusted half of a split-figurehead, Adams credibility with his ‘side’ rests on the fact that he was a man of war and now he is part of a negotiated peace. The two halves of that story go hand in hand.

But if arresting him was wrong, does that mean we should pretend no allegation exists? The community is hardly served if those accused of violent crime are simply waved off as too important to jail. On the other hand, how far would recriminations have to go to clean out every possible legal case? What could Martin McGuiness be accused of? If both were in jail, would there be anyone strong enough to galvanise the resolve of either side to keep its back turned against violence?

The time for Truth and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland is overdue, perhaps by as much as five years. There are many who need that truth in order to move on with their lives, many who need to be reconciled – and for some, time is running out. The South African example shows just how difficult the whole process can be, but also how useful and necessary it is. It is one of the final pieces of a jigsaw left incomplete. Why? Perhaps the triumphalism and subsequent hiccups in establishing and maintaining the Northern Ireland assembly. Perhaps the potential for embarrassment for the British State – how far could any Truth and Reconciliation process go without interviewing some of Thatcher’s cabinet, for instance? Sadly, its pretty unlikely under the current Conservative government.

For Gerry Adams, it means the need to tell the truth and keep playing his role in moving the country towards an ever-longer period of peace.It means being in the place both the Irish people and British government need him to be if another cycle of violence is to be avoided.


Entry filed under: Ethics, News, Northern Ireland, Peace, Politics.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Robert B  |  Saturday, 3rd May 2014 at 21:11 UTC

    I think you’ve gotten your handshakes/shakers badly muddled! McGuinness and Adams belong to the same party; Adams and McGuinness both shook hands with Tony Blair; McGuinness shook hands with the Queen. David Trimble and John Hume staged a couple of handshakes to promote the GFA, but Trimble refused to shake hands with Adams. Paisley infamously took care never to shake hands with McGuinness when they were First / Deputy First Ministers, and so far as I am aware Robinson has continued that tradition.

    You might be interested in the 2009 Eames Bradley report, proposals for dealing with the legacy of the past which regrettably sank like a lead balloon; these questions resurfaced as a major strand of last Autumn’s failed Haass talks; amnesties and immunity rose even higher up the agenda with the fall-out from the Downey trial in February.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 3rd May 2014 at 21:16 UTC

    Someone else pointed out that I’d gotten Martin McGuiness and Martin Trimble conflated. I thought they had eventually decided to shake hands in public? I shall take a look at the Eames Bradley report. I wonder if current events might hasten, rather than diminish, moves towards some kind of amnesty-based accountability?

  • 3. Robert B  |  Saturday, 3rd May 2014 at 22:13 UTC

    You’re at least half right. David Trimble (UUP leader; signed the GFA, and First Minister 1998-2002; now a Conservative peer) did eventually shake hands with Adams in 2003; but it took place at a private meeting (so no photos) and wasn’t publicly acknowledged until weeks or months afterwards. It did become a biggish story at the time – not least because of the previous refusal – but almost lost today from google and, it seems, my memory!


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