Events have a way of occurring side-by-side to remind us when we’re engaging in cant. It’s like the fat man in the silent movies who finger-wags at others to take care when navigating an icy side-walk, then two minutes later falls on his own fat bum.
Earlier this week, the German newspaper Der Speigal asked Gerry Adams if he believed violence was legitimate. Adams replied that believed it was “in given circumstances”. He went on to talk about the situation that nationalists found themselves in, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where those who were seeking civil rights were attacked and on occasion killed.
This has upset a number of people. Robin Swann, the current leader of the UUP said that Adams’s comments “pose very real and serious questions for the current Sinn Féin leadership of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill as to whether or not they agree with them [Gerry Adams’s words]”
The Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said “violence is never the answer and murder can never be justified.” And Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was killed by the IRA, was furious that Gerry Adams was “still justifying the murder and mayhem that was caused here. Has he learnt nothing?”
Of course, British prime ministers and unionist leaders have been preaching the same lesson as that which Ann Travers is directing at the former Sinn Féin leader: the way to resolve differences is through discussion and negotiation – engaging in jaw-jaw, to war-war, to borrow a term from a man who spent much of his life working for peaceful resolution of difference, Winston Churchill.
Then blimey, I get up this morning and turn on my radio to listen to the BBC’s Radio Four Today programme. It’s wall-to-wall with reports of the overnight attack by the US, France and the UK on bases in Syria. Theresa May, the British prime minister explains to listeners that this was in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria, in order to make clear to Assad that chemical attacks will not be tolerated
How’s that for ironic conjunction of events? Gerry Adams’s critics are all over him for daring to suggest that in certain circumstances violence could be legitimate, and next thing the Americans, French and British are busy sending their jets and warships to Syria so they do a bit of missile violence in that far-off place. If you want to know a man’s philosophy of life, George Bernard Shaw used to say, don’t listen to what he says, watch what he does.
But that was violence by three states, you say. And it was in reaction to chemical attacks by President Assad of Syria on his own people. Mmm. So how would Theresa and Co suggest the Irish people should have reacted, after the British authorities here attacked ‘their own people in Ballymurphy and Derry with live rounds, and in many cases left them dead?
No, on second thoughts, Theresa, don’t bother explaining. Irish violence is bad, American/French/British violence is good. We get the message.