Gerry Adams The Andrew Marr Show BBC One 4 February 2018

The Andrew Marr Show
BBC One

Andrew Marr sat down with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams last week in Dundalk and talked about the future of Sinn Féin, Brexit and Irish unity.

Andrew:   Now then, few political lives divide opinion like Gerry Adams. For some, he’s a man of blood who defended many IRA atrocities during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. To others, he’s a courageous peacemaker who was instrumental in the Good Friday Agreement twenty years ago. After thirty-five years as president of Sinn Féin Mr. Adams is standing down this month and handing over to a new generation of Republican leaders. I sat down with him last week in Dundalk near the Irish border to reflect on his life campaigning for a united Ireland. I began by asking him whether he had failed in that endeavour?

Gerry:  No, because when I joined Sinn Féin, which was over fifty years ago, it was banned, it was outlawed. There was no prospect, really, of a strategy for Irish unity. If I look back now, a half a million people vote for Sinn Féin. We’re the second largest party in The North. There’s now a peaceful way to get Irish unity.

Andrew:  Your old comrade, Martin McGuinness, never saw it. Do you think you’ll see it?

Gerry:    Yes, if I live long enough and you know, with Martin’s passing, I suppose, proves to all of us that you can’t be certain about anything. You know Martin – I miss Martin every single – day so, is an Irish Republic, is Irish unity inevitable? No, it isn’t. It’s only going to happen if we work at it. I come from a very, very straightforward position: I want to see an end to the British connection with Ireland.

Andrew:  How much does the Brexit vote help your ideal of a united Ireland?

Gerry:  


Gerry Adams with Andrew Marr
Photo: BBC News

I think we need to be very, very careful that we don’t see Brexit as something which can be exploited. Brexit is disastrous for the people of Ireland. The British government are not at all clear about what their future relationship with the European Union’s going to be and they are arguing that they’re going to leave the customs union and they are going to leave the single market and that will end up a complete disaster for people here on the island of Ireland. The agreement that was made recently, which moved the negotiations into their second phase, was a fudge. It’s filled with contradictions. The, the…

Andrew:  …Fudge is not always bad.

Gerry:   Well, it is not always bad if it gets you over a particular difficulty. Tonnes of business people are totally dependent on the flow back and forth of business and commerce across what is an invisible border. When a hard economic border comes back that’s going to stump that – it’s going to destroy that.

Andrew:  If it comes back. If it comes back. One of your own MPs, Mr. (Chris) Hazzard, has said that if it comes back those customs posts and those hard pieces of infrastructure along the border could become a target for dissident Republican groups and mass civil disobedience and we could see the return of violence around the border. Do you share that worry?

Gerry:   Yes, I would. He didn’t say it was likely. He said it was a concern. And one has to be concerned that this would be exploited but look – you see, people have got used, after decades of conflict, people have got used to peace so the images which you may have or which I may have of border checkpoints and of heavy patrols and all of that…

Andrew:  …They belong to history…

Gerry:  That all belongs to history and nobody wants that back.

Andrew:  Now these debates are going to be thrashed out on the floor of the House of Commons and there are going to be some very substantial votes. If Sinn Féin took up its seats and even voted once or twice you could change the course of British history and change the course of history for the whole island of Ireland. Is it really worth Republican principle not taking those seats and not engaging in those votes?

Gerry:   Well before I deal with that let me tell you the solution to this problem: The solution to this problem is special designated status for The North within the European Union and that is do-able…

Andrew:  …but the Irish government don’t like this idea and nor do they like it in Brussels. They think it sets too many precedents for the rest of the EU.

Gerry:   Well, I don’t know whether they like it or not because they’re very flexible in terms of how they deal with the European Union and its relationships with the various different states and with political will that is very, very, very do-able. Now coming back to the issue of Sinn Féin taking our seats at Westminster: We just received the largest vote that we ever received…

Andrew:  …and you have leverage.

Gerry:   No, sorry,sorry, Andrew – we, when we get a mandate – obey that mandate and stay true to that mandate. But that vote was a vote for no British involvement in our affairs. The centre of political gravity being on the island of Ireland. So we will not betray those people who had a choice.

Andrew:   Let’s talk, if we may now, about the past: Why did you not join the IRA?

Gerry:   Because I was active in Sinn Féin when the IRA was just nonexistent. In the 1960’s after the Border Campaign the whole trajectory within Republicanism was to build politically and I’m one of the very small group of people who were activists before the pogroms in 1969 – I’m one of the very few Republicans in there. Now, having said that and, you know, it’s a matter of history, the IRA’s gone, Andrew. The IRA is gone. And I mean my position has been consistent that I was not a member of the IRA but I’ve never distanced myself from the IRA.

Andrew:   Well that’s the, so that’s – were you never tempted to join?

Gerry:   No, no, I wasn’t. No. I had my role in the struggle. I’d like to think I’ve served the struggle well.

Andrew:   Because, I mean you always supported the armed struggle. You always defended the IRA. You were treated by members of the IRA as a kind of commander when you were in Long Kesh and everybody who studied you – I mean I range from British politicians to journalists – they all think you were in the IRA. You always say: No, I wasn’t and I wasn’t on the Army Council. Why is it that everybody else, including the people who left their testimony in Boston and so forth, are sure that you were?

Gerry:  You’ll have to ask them that, Andrew. And you know some day I’ll do an interview and this issue won’t arise. Now I don’t mind dealing with the issue but I make the point again: See, the IRA have gone. I did defend the IRA but I also was very critical of the IRA at times. I don’t condone everything that the IRA did.

Andrew:  You were very, very vociferous and very clear in condemning the Manchester Arena bombing by an Islamic group. What is the moral difference between that, for instance, and the Birmingham Pub bombings?

Gerry:   Well the Birmingham Pub bombings were wrong. I condemn that as well.  I don’t have any compunction about it.

Andrew:   But those again, those were innocent people going in just to have a pint of Mild and listen to a jukebox.

Gerry:   Oh, no, no – but I gave you my answer to that. I mean I would wish that no one, no one, had been killed or injured in the course of the conflict.

Andrew:   At some point you changed your mind about the physical force process and about the use of violence. When and why did you change your mind?

Gerry:   Because we were able to create an alternative. When you can put forward an alternative sensible people will embrace that alternative because no one wants to be either supporting or part – no one sensible, wants to be supporting or part of armed action – so once you present an alternative – it’s when you close down the options, when you say to people…

Andrew:  …So it was tactical rather than moral. It wasn’t you saying: This is morally wrong. Killing people like this is the wrong thing to do, morally – it no longer works is what you’re saying, in a sense.

Gerry:  No, no, sorry, Andrew, I’m better able to tell you what I think on these matters than you to put words into my mouth. If we want to talk about morality you’d need a longer show than this. But look, you can only make moral judgments about people when you walk in their shoes and that’s, that’s, thankfully, is we’re talking here about history, we’re talking about something that has passed…

Andrew:   …So there was not a moment when you looked at the death of Tim Parry or some kid…

Gerry:   …Of course! Of course!…

Andrew:   …or whatever and you thought: This has gone far enough. I can no longer stick with this…

Gerry:  …Of course! Of course! And I said that at the time…

Andrew:  …it was a moral revulsion?…

Gerry:   And I said that at the time. So how could anyone, even if it’s accidental, how could anyone stand over the killing of a child or stand over the killing of a civilian? It’s a much different matter entirely, if you want to be into all of that, if it’s soldiers versus soldiers but in the awfulness of and the horror of war you cannot stand over some of those incidents.

Andrew:  You spent a lot of time sitting on the other side of the table from a whole stream of British leaders – very, very early days – Ted Heath and Willie Whitelaw and so forth and then John Major, Tony Blair, Peter Mandleson, Mo Mowlam – which of those did most for peace in Ireland in your view?

Gerry:   Well I suppose Tony Blair – you know and I would have big issues with him around Iraq and other matters and we actually, myself and Martin, warned him about not getting involved in Iraq.

Andrew:   Did you?

Gerry:    Oh, yes, yes! We said to him: Don’t, don’t do – look at the Irish experience – don’t go in there. But he was given an opportunity, if you’d like, on a plate and he seized it.

Andrew:   So Tony Blair – and now Tony Blair’s party is led by a very, very different man who’s always supported a united Ireland, he’s been a big backer of yours over the years – what difference would it make to the island of Ireland and to Sinn Féin and your cause to have Jeremy Corbyn as British Prime Minister, which he might well be?

Gerry:   Well I would like to see Jeremy in that position for the benefit of the people in Britain – leaving Ireland out of it. I think Jeremy is an outstanding politician and I hope…

Andrew:   …Let’s put Ireland back into it…

Gerry:   …I hope my endorsement of him isn’t used against him in the time ahead. But yes, he and Ken Livingstone and others kept faith and they were the people who said, when others said no, talk. They were the people who were open to conversation about how to deal with conflict and how to get conflict resolution processes but look – let’s not preempt the next…

Andrew:  …Of course not…

Gerry:  …general election.

Andrew:    Gerry Adams, are you a man of faith?

Gerry:   Yes, I am. Yes.

Andrew:   So one day you’ll be judged by your maker and when you’re being judged by your maker will you be able to say: I have clean hands?

Gerry:   Well, the one thing that I understand about faith – and you know, as you get older you reflect on all of these things – the one thing I know about Jesus is that He forgave. He didn’t go round condemning. Treat people with dignity and people will respond in a dignified way. Treat people badly and people will respond badly.

Andrew:   Nobody gets to write their own obituary – but what would be the headline on yours?

Gerry:   Well, God knows. I’m not really interested. You know, some people say to me: What’s your legacy? I won’t be around, you know?

Andrew:   None of us will. Gerry Adams, thank you very much indeed for talking to us.

Gerry Adams The Michael Reade Show 31 August 2017

The Michael Reade Show
LMFM Radio Louth

Michael Reade speaks to Sinn Féin president and TD for Louth, Gerry Adams, via telephone about the 1991 IRA execution/murder of Co. Louth farmer, Tom Oliver. (begins time stamp ~ 1:08)

Michael:  In July of 1991 the IRA executed a thirty-seven year old farmer from Co. Louth because, it said, Tom Oliver was an informer. A statement in An Phoblacht at the time read:

The IRA has a duty to protect its organisation, its Volunteers and the back-up provided by its supporters. Tom Oliver’s death was due to his willingness to act as an agent for the Dublin government’s Special Branch.

The Gardaí in Adree have re-opened the investigation into the killing of Tom Oliver and there are appeals for information. Sinn Féin’s president and TD for Louth, Gerry Adams, issued a statement this week saying that the shooting of Tom Oliver was a grievous loss for his family and was unjustified. Like all victims the Oliver Family deserves supports and this includes the right to truth. And Gerry Adams is on the line with us this morning. And a very Good Morning to you and thank you, indeed, for joining us here on the programme this morning. I think the Oliver Family are probably listening to us this morning and are anxious to hear what you mean by that – how can they get the truth that they so desperately seek?

Deputy Adams:  Well Good Morning, Michael. I want to deal with two issues here if I may. The substantive issue being how the family of Tom Oliver can get to the truth. The other issue, which I’ll come to later if you let me, is the opportunistic and very cynical way that other local representatives, I think they’re Peter Fitzpatrick and Declan Breathnach, have seized upon this issue to attack Sinn Féin. Now, there have been thousands of people killed in the conflict. The victims, the families who have suffered, and Thomas Oliver had a large family, that their loss is very, very grievous. They deserve to get to the truth. The processes that have been established to do that go back to the initial proposition which came from Sinn Féin which was to put in place an independent international body to establish a commission to look at all of these killings and inquire into what happened and get explanations for families. Now, that’s still the Sinn Féin position but other parties and the two governments did not– the British government did not agree to that so we then moved to bring forward a series of other propositions – and we actually agreed a series of measures which was in December of 2014 at Stormont at the Stormont House Agreement and that is to put in place an information retrieval process which would give any family that wants it the opportunity to get information and which would be put together in a way which would actively encourage and, I suppose, persuade those who may have information to come forward on that basis. Now that remains, both of those propositions, in my view, the best way for any family which seeks the truth – and they’re absolutely entitled to that – to get to that truth.

Michael:   You say that the shooting was unjustified. He was shot several times in the head and obviously brutally tortured as well. Do you believe that the killing of Tom Oliver was murder?

Deputy Adams:    Well by definition any killing is, in fact, murder. Obviously this is a politically motivated killing and we’re into the very vexed issue and you know – this’ll write the headlines for the yellow press in the next few days and the Independent group of newspapers will have a little field day which serves no one at all – it doesn’t serve anybody, it doesn’t serve the Oliver Family, it doesn’t serve the greater search for truth, it doesn’t serve any of these propositions. There was a conflict. The conflict, thankfully, is over. As I’ve said many, many people died as a consequence of that. They come from all sections. They come from the combatant section, if you like – from the British Army, from the state forces, from the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), from An Garda Síochána, prison officers, IRA Volunteers, those involved with Unionist paramilitaries. The IRA, of course, perpetrated many of these incidents and events and you know I have a longstanding position while not accepting everything that the IRA did of accepting the general legitimacy of an armed response to the occupation that was ongoing in The North at that time. Things were really…

Michael:  …And Tom Oliver was killed ‘on command’. You believe that was a legitimate command?

Deputy Adams:   Well I’m not going to get into all of that, with respect…

Michael:  …Okay, well I’m not going to ask you to write ‘tabloid headlines’ as you put it but…

Deputy Adams:  …No, Michael, but, Michael, more important…

Michael:  …you disagree with me then. Well, I think…

Deputy Adams:   …Michael, Michael…

Michael:   I’m sorry, Mr. Adams, but we have been contacted by the Oliver Family and I believe that it is important to the family that I ask you to address this question as to whether it was an act of war on command and that that command was legitimate.

Deputy Adams:   Well first of all, when I said to you I’m not getting into all of this I’m quite prepared to answer questions but there has to be a purpose behind the question. It’s clear, the IRA acknowledged the…

Michael:  …Okay, well let me…

Deputy Adams:  …Sorry, sorry…

Michael:   …Well, well, well – let’s shoot forward. The question is…

Deputy Adams:  …Michael, are you going to let me finish this? You have to let me answer…

Michael:   Well, you asked me – okay, okay, okay, okay – and I will, but…

Deputy Adams:  …You have to let me answer…

Michael:   …the reason I was interrupting you is because you asked me if there was a purpose to the question, I was about to explain the purpose of the question which is that the Oliver Family would like to hear from the IRA, or from the IRA through Sinn Féin, that Tom Oliver was not an informer.

Deputy Adams:   Well first of all, the IRA have gone. That’s Number One. Second of all Sinn Féin have no information on any of this. Third of all, it is a matter of historical fact that you read this at the beginning of this report that the IRA acknowledged that it shot to death Tom Oliver, it made allegations at that time that he was acting for the Special Branch – that’s there, that’s the assertion that was made at that time – that’s not me endorsing that, that’s not me justifying that, that’s me simply saying, as you said at the beginning of this report – that that is the fact. Now, the allegation of an informer, of anyone being an informer, notwithstanding everything else that has happened, is still a deeply wounding one for loved ones of those who have been killed. I know that myself. I’ve met the families of those who have been the victims of all sides but including the victims of the IRA so I understand how the family feels about this issue but the fact is, as you read out at the beginning of the report, the IRA killed the man, the IRA gave its reasons for killing the man – and that’s the historical record.

Michael:   Do you believe that Tom Oliver was an informer? Or do you have a view on that? Because there appears to be two contradictory stories told about Tom Oliver. One was that he aided and abetted the IRA campaign by providing them with sheds so that they could store weapons and explosives and that over a six year period he was giving information to the Gardaí. Another story is that that never happened – that he didn’t had these links or if he did he never informed on the IRA but what happened was that he discovered a barrel with weapons inside, he didn’t know what was inside the barrel, he reported this to the Gardaí. They discovered weapons and some IRA members were arrested as a result. What’s your understanding of the history behind this?

Deputy Adams:   I have no information. I have no information whatsoever on any of those matters. My information on this is limited to what I read about at the time and what was, generally speaking, in the public arena at the time. I have no other information on this.

Michael:   People listening, and I’m not making an accusation here but I am making an assumption and I would imagine it’s probably right to say that people listening will be very sceptical that you haven’t got information or that you haven’t sought to get information given the links that you have to the IRA, Gerry Adams, and the close association that you have had with them and that this has been an issue for over a week at this stage. Last Wednesday we discussed on the programme how the Gardaí had to re-open this investigation and we had made continuous calls to Sinn Féin in the intervening period.

Deputy Adams:   Well first of all I don’t have any other information. It’s not my responsibility investigate any of these matters – that’s a matter for An Garda Síochána. I don’t intend, if you don’t mind me saying so, investigating any of this. I’m a public representative. I have a responsibility to support An Garda Síochána and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and to cooperate with them and I do that to the best of my ability and I’ve put my neck on the line on many, many occasions to do that. So let’s not muddle the roads here and let’s get back to what is at the core of all of this: Do the family of Thomas Oliver deserve the truth? Yes, they do. Is there a way of getting the truth for them? Yes, there is. I have outlined that at the beginning of this interview. It may or may not succeed. There are many, many, many people, unfortunately, in exactly the same position and all we can do is, as an act of solidarity with them, is to do our best to create a climate and to put in place structures and processes – which is what the two governments and the other parties have done. They’re not working at this point. Why are they not working at this point? Because the British government refuses to bring forward the legislative basis to put in place that information retrieval process that was part of the Stormont House Agreement and they refuse to do that. And I mean I spoke to the British Secretary of State on this in Washington just a month ago because they are exercising what they call a ‘national security veto’ and they have completely snookered the whole process which would create a context where those who may have information on any of these issues would feel able to come forward and to give that information.

Michael:   Can I ask you what you mean when you say you won’t investigate this? Are you saying that you won’t approach the IRA or your contacts in the IRA to get clarification on why Tom Oliver was shot? And if, perhaps, that was a mistake and if it was a mistake, as his family would contend, that a statement would be issued to the effect that Tom Oliver was not an informer. Because if you are saying that that’s not something that you’re willing to do people will ask well why were you willing to contact the IRA about other killings, historical killings – you took the Stack Family, for example, to meet members of the IRA.

Deputy Adams:    And that ended very badly.

Michael:   Yes.

Deputy Adams:   As you may know, and I made it clear after that, that my ability to assist the families of victims was severely undercut by the way that whole initiative played out. So I’m very, very clear in my own head in this. My responsibility as a public representative is to create the structures and to create the climate and to actively encourage anyone with any information which can help any victim’s family, including the family of Tom Oliver, that they should do that. I’m not going down the road that I’ve been down before which was exploited grievously by Sinn Féin’s political opponents which jeopardised any authority that I may have and influence that I may have within the broad Republican constituency – because remember, in the Stack case, that I did go and get a former IRA person to assist in a little process which was done in good faith and that didn’t work out. Now, I have no regrets about that. I think I did the right thing but that has severely undermined any way of dealing with these issues informally. Secondly, and I repeat what I said earlier and please don’t ignore this, Michael, the IRA has gone. The IRA as a structure, as an organisation and so on and so forth, no longer exists. Yes, there are lots of former IRA people about the place getting on with their lives and so on and so forth and many of them, I think, would be willing and would be prepared to help in these processes but there needs to be in place the measures which have been agreed – these are not ‘makey-up’ measures – these are thoughtful conflict resolution measures which have been put in place after lots of research, after lots of learning from other processes and after lots of discussions and they’ve been actively blocked, they’ve been actively blocked at this time by a British government which was up to its neck in killings and in organising others to do killings – including in Co. Louth by the way as well as in Dublin and Monaghan and right across The North and including many members of Sinn Féin and their family members – so as someone who negotiated the release from prison of the people who shot me, of the people who bombed my home and so on I’m totally committed to getting families truth but it has to be done in a structured way which everybody signs up to and which is not open to the type of cynical, opportunistic attacks on Sinn Féin that we’ve seen in the recent past.

Michael:   You speak about this from a number of perspectives – one of those perspectives is as a public representative in a constituency where a man was shot dead. Do you believe that the people who shot Tom Oliver dead should be prosecuted for murder or do you believe that they should be pardoned under some extension of the Good Friday Agreement?

Deputy Adams:   No, I the Good Friday – part of the Good Friday Agreement allowed for the release of political prisoners and obviously that was a very, very important element of it. Now families are fully entitled – as they want to see investigations and they want to see prosecutions and…

Michael:   …Do you believe that…

Deputy Adams:   …sorry, let me finish my point. And part of the recent measures which Sinn Féin agreed to include that so we have signed up for that. At the same time, filling the prisons again – and you know not all families want prosecutions by the way – but filling the prisons again, putting people back into prison – and people could not go to prison for any more than two years – I don’t think would be counter-productive but at the same – I don’t think would be productive but at the same time I absolutely uphold the right of a family wishes to see prosecutions – of course, they’re entitled to that.

Michael:    Do you believe that the IRA Volunteers who shot Tom Oliver dead should be charged with murder and would you ask people in your constituency who undoubtedly have information about the people who were involved in that killing should assist the Gardaí and come forward with that information?

Deputy Adams:   Well first of all, I would have a very strong position, while defending the right of a family to prosecutions – and I think all of us have a duty to cooperate with the Gardaí in that regard – I repeat what I said a moment ago – I think it would be totally and absolutely counter-productive. I don’t think it would assist the wider process that all of us are engaged in but of course families are entitled to that so we have these two conflicting imperatives and I think what we have put forward thoughtfully seeks to put victims first and deal with their concerns and their needs but at the same time understanding the huge challenges that all of this presents for those of us who have invested a huge amount of time in building a peace process.

Michael:   Gerry Adams, thank you, indeed, for…

Deputy Adams:    …Sorry, sorry Michael. Michael, I just want to make a point as I said at the beginning.

Michael:   About the political comments that were made?

Deputy Adams:   Yes. Yes. I have no problem with the Fianna Fáil TDs or indeed the Fine Gael TDs appealing for people to come forward with information but as Peter Fitzpatrick has made an appeal to Sinn Féin – that’s opportunism, that’s totally and absolutely cynical. He and Declan Breathnach have said that he believes, and I’m quoting from an LMFM report, that there are people living in the Cooley area who know exactly who killed Thomas Oliver. Now, has he gone to the Gards? It was also said, contrary to what I have said, that the IRA is still active in Co. Louth. They’re not. Has he gone to the Gards? Has he brought this information forward? These remarks are entirely negative, they’re opportunistic, they’re cynical. Of course we all have a responsibility to help the families of victims but we also have a responsibility not to play party politics with these issues.

Michael:   And we have to take everything every politician says as a political statement. On the other hand, I’m sure you’ll accept that the statements that were made were following meetings that the two TDs you mentioned had with the Oliver Family and, indeed, that we here on this programme were contacted by the Oliver Family and they asked that Sinn Féin, specifically yourself, Mr. Adams, would make a statement in relation to this.

Deputy Adams:   And I did that.

Michael:   Yes.

Deputy Adams:   And I did that. But I am not dealing here with the legitimate positions of Thomas Oliver’s family. I’m dealing with what I see as the completely opportunistic and cynical remarks – you know, there must be an election pending – we saw it in the first election I contested, we saw it in the last election and they make these allegations, they make these assertions and does anybody ask them – I didn’t hear your interviews with them, Michael, did anybody ask them what’s the basis of their allegations? Did anybody say: Have you got proof? Has anybody said to them: Did you go to the Gardaí? I mean, have they gone to the Gardaí?

Michael:   As I say, they have met with the family and I believe that the statements that they made on the programme were representative of the family’s views.

Deputy Adams:   No, no, well sorry, sorry, Michael, if I could just come back to you again and this is…

Michael:  …Okay…

Deputy Adams:  …and I’m reading from one of your reports…

Michael:  …Yes…

Deputy Adams:  Deputy Fitzpatrick says he believes that there are people living in the Cooley area who know exactly who killed the Louth man.

Michael:    Yes.

Deputy Adams:   Right?

Michael:    Well that also follows reports at the time that there were two men that brought Tom Oliver to his executioners and that their business was shunned in local pubs so it follows that there are people locally who at least suspect those who were involved.

Deputy Adams:   No, you’re better at this than me but that’s – look at what your report says: Deputy Fitzpatrick says he believes there are people living in the Cooley area who know exactly who killed the Louth man. So he believes this, he has information in this – has he gone to An Garda Síochána with this information?

Michael:   Okay, we’ll ask him that specifically then.

Deputy Adams:    Thank you, Michael.

Michael:   Thank you, indeed. Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president and TD for Louth. (ends time stamp ~ 23:59)