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Political language - and with variations this is true of all political
parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists - is designed to make lies sound
truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity
to pure wind.
A Spade A Shovel
As young republicans, we were always given the type of advice articulated by the anarchist Michael Albert - powerful oppressive propagandists rewrite history to show their roles as always virtuous. Not us, however. Our philosophy could never be labelled 'revisionist'. That pejorative adjective was something we hurled with fierce conviction in the direction of others who happened not to share our worldview. And who also deliberately falsified the historic record solely to justify their 'deviations'. Later in life I came to share the view of a Dublin politician who put things more bluntly - we just tended to hate those who disagreed with us.
Recently in the United States the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams explained, plausibly enough, to his many audiences that while the bombers of the World Trade Centre were terrorists, the IRA were not. Pointing out that Menachem Begin, George Washington and Nelson Mandela were all dismissed as 'terrorist' in their day Adams contended that the terror label is bandied about willy-nilly. Elsewhere, by way of illustration Gerry Kelly explained, equally persuasively, that 'a Palestinian, a U.S. congressman, a British soldier or an Irishman will have different views on what a just war is. There is no one definition of a just war, or of terrorism.' The one quibbling point in the position of Adams, however, is that the reference in Begin's case was justified but less for his tactics against the British and more for his activity against Palestinian civilians once the state of Israel had been founded.
Adams went on to define terrorism as 'the deliberate targeting of civilians. In my view the IRA has never deliberately targeted civilians.' The first part of the statement is agreeable enough but the second part is only sustainable through delving into the opaque world of revisionism. Such an assertion is simply not true and Adams, more than most is aware of it. After all, despite being in prison he was central to attempts to get the IRA to halt its sectarian assassination campaign of 1974-1976 which was in large part directed against non-military targets with the clear purpose of killing civilians. Three such attacks that stand out were the bombing of the Mountainview Tavern, a similar attack on the Bayardo Bar and the attack on a mini-bus at Whitecross carrying Protestant workers. Six, five and ten Protestants respectively lost their lives. Some IRA volunteers in Long Kesh contemplated resignation from the Republican Movement as a consequence.
In my view it is true to argue that the IRA was not a terrorist organisation. But it is indisputable that it did target innocent Protestant civilians and was therefore culpable, by the very definition of the present Sinn Fein leaders, in terms of the application of terrorism. Although it has been alleged by Des O'Hagan of the Workers Party that Gerry Adams once told him that he was prepared to wade up to his knees in Protestant blood to achieve a united Ireland, there is nothing elsewhere that can be found to support the view that Adams had even a remotely sectarian strain to his thinking. Many of those critical of him testify to his opposition to sectarianism. This is not to say that his political strategising ultimately did not amount to sectarianism - but exclusively in a structural and strategic sense and never attitudinal. For if the Northern state is plagued - as has been claimed by Chris Ryder and with whom many republicans at one time did concur - by a virus of sectarian irreformability then any strategy that challenges those entrenched societal structures with a view to producing change no matter how minimal will always occupy a point on the sectarian continuum.
That aside revisionism is demonstrably not the exclusive property of 'the other side'. Perhaps it may be said that republicans having chosen to describe reverse thrust as forward momentum are more in need of revisionism to conceal the magnitude of their departure. Republicans on the ground who seek to critique revisionism are welcome only if it is the revisionism of the 'other side' upon which they focus. Memory equipped republicans who possess, a la Michael Ignatieff, a healthy awareness of the gulf between what was practiced and what was preached and are prepared to dig a bit further with the 'spade' of their own reasoning will be told to clear off and take their ‘shovel’ home with them.
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