THE apology by Gerry Adams for the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996 should be welcomed by everyone. It should not be dismissed merely as a stunt by Sinn Féin in its efforts to gain respectability.
Perhaps it is true that Adams was, in the words of Noel Whelan in last Saturday’s Irish Times, “backed into a political corner” when he issued the apology in the Dáil during statements by party leaders on the murder of Garda Adrian Donohoe.
But no matter. The fact is that he did issue an apology for the murder of Jerry McCabe. Many have said that the apology came 17 years too late. Perhaps that is true too. It certainly came too late for Garda McCabe, his wife and his family. But should Adams have refused to apologise? He was not going to win, no matter what he did. Are we going to expect an apology from Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Féin leaders for the whole armed struggle lasting some 30 years?
Leader writers in The Irish Times and Irish Independent, who went to expensive schools like Blackrock and Belvedere Colleges, have no understanding of what was going on in Northern Ireland when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were growing up on the streets of Belfast and Derry. Catholics, Nationalists and Republicans were treated like second-class citizens. They did not have the same rights as the majority Protestant Unionist population had. The fact that Protestants in the Republic were also treated as second-class citizens in the same period is neither here nor there in this context. Catholics in the North were denied their right to housing because of their religion. Their right to vote was curtailed, as was their right to certain jobs. Stormont was, as a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland said, “a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people”.
Catholics and nationalists appealed to the British and Irish governments to intervene in the name of fair play, only to have their appeals rejected. Neither government wanted to interfere in the internal affairs of the northern state.
Eventually, the Catholics rose up in a mass movement under the banner of the Civil Rights’ Association and demanded their rights, as people in the United States of America had been forced to do a few years previously. But their marches and rallies were banned by the Stormont Government and they were beaten into submission by the police. Their houses were burned down by loyalist mobs in some parts of Belfast and they were murdered in their homes by elements in the so-called security forces.
I am sorry for the history lesson but those facts have either been forgotten or never understood by editorial writers in some of our national media.
This was the atmosphere in which Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were reared. They felt they had no option but to join the IRA, although for some strange reason Gerry Adams always denies being a member of that organisation.
Over a 30-year period, the IRA fought a bitter war against Crown forces and that war sometimes spilled over into the South. Like all wars, it was a dirty one and some terrible things were done on all sides.
Since he came into power, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologised for the murder of 13 innocent people by British soldiers on the streets of Derry in January 1972. Nobody, to my knowledge, accused Cameron of having apologised 40 years too late. Sure, it was too late for the victims and their families and sure, that atrocity in Derry all those years ago created a bitterness and a thirst for vengeance among Catholics and nationalists that is still there today. But I think most of us accepted that apology from David Cameron at the time as a genuine one and an admission that the British had done a terrible wrong on that awful day on the bloody streets of Derry.
Accepting and welcoming David Cameron’s apology does not make us a supporter of Cameron or of the British government. No more than welcoming and accepting Gerry Adams’ apology makes us a supporter of Adams and Sinn Féin.
Cameron’s apology did not bring back to life the bodies of those innocent people butchered by British soldiers. The apology issued by Adams did not bring back Jerry McCabe or any other garda cruelly gunned down by the IRA. But I look on the apology by Adams as another step by Sinn Féin and the republican movement on a long journey started by Adams nearly 30 years ago when they first recognised the authority of Dáil Éireann and the courts of justice here. Other steps on this journey included the ending of the armed struggle, the peace talks, the surrender of arms and the formation of a government in Stormont in partnership with their deadliest enemies.
This was a very long and slow process. Gerry Adams made a lot of enemies along the way, including many of his former comrades, who today accuse him of selling out. Some go so far as calling him a traitor. He was unable to attend the recent funeral of his former devoted comrade, Dolores Price, for that reason.
This long journey from terrorism to democracy is an old one and one that was undertaken previously by Fenians a century-and-a-half ago, who joined with Parnell and the Irish Party and later by Michael Collins and his followers, who founded the Fine Gael party. Later still, it was walked by Eamonn de Valera, Sean Lemass, Frank Aiken and others when they founded Fianna Fáil. Sean Mac Bride was chief-of-staff of the IRA in the 1930s before he went on to found Clann na Poblachta and became Minister for Foreign Affairs in a Fine Gael-led Government. I will never accuse Eamon Gilmore or Pat Rabbitte of ever being terrorists but they were members of the Workers’ Party, which had strong links with the Official IRA some 30 years ago.
So let us accept and welcome Gerry Adams’ apology. It does not have to influence what way we vote at the next election. We will judge Sinn Féin on their merits then and not on what the IRA did over the 30 years wars.