20 MAY 1995, Page 44

It means just what I mean it to mean

Kevin Myers

FREE IRELAND by Gerry Adams Brandon, £7.95, pp. 256 Much of the war in Northern Ireland is about words. Take the word freedom. It carries codes. As does the word Ulster. So the Ulster Freedom Fighters are Protestant cut-throats who want a Protestant Ulster, ie, dominance of their tribe within North- ern Ireland. Gerry Adams also calls himself an Ulsterman, but his greater tribe spreads over the island of Ireland. He too wants the dominance of his tribe. Each side calls its dominance freedom.

This is not Irish. This is human nature.

Drippy Americans doing their world tour of liberation movements — if it's Thursday it must be the Sandanistas, Toosday was the oppressed Corns of Tintagel — wander up the Falls Road with their bright smiles and their wide eyes, gazing at the evidence of oppression all round them, such as, right before those eyes, the mightiest govern- ment-funded house-building project in the history of the United Kingdom; maybe they have arranged an interview in the Sinn Fein headquarters with one of the many Belfast IRA leaders who by special arrangement receive their British dole through the post. Oppression indeed.

And in the course of that interview, they will hear much about the apartheid within Northern Ireland, and about the non- sectarianism of the IRA.

Republicanism is nothing if it is not resolute- ly non-sectarian . . . Irish republicanism is almost by definition an ideology of the dis- possessed seeking equality.

That paragraph from Free Ireland is an almost perfect encapsulation of how people like Gerry Adams — who carried the coffin of the IRA mass murderer of Protestants queueing in a chipshop — are fooled and misled by language. For just as freedom has many meanings, so too has republican- ism, especially in Ireland.

At one linguistic level, republicanism is the simple preference for a state which draws its legal authenticity from powers given by free citizens. But in Ireland, it has another meaning. It is the expression of armed and militant Catholic nationalists who wish to impose their will regardless on the state, regardless of the wishes of the citizens. These two republicanisms are locked in permanent conflict, just as the two forms of freedom within Ulster are mutually hostile. Gerry Adams uses the word 'republicanism' in two meanings in the quote above: and like people every- where who baulk at the word 'dominance', he weaselly chooses the term 'equality' to describe the real ambitions of the IRA.

The point to understand here is that the misapprobation is genuine, for the most part anyway. He really does get confused between the different meanings of `freedom' or 'republicanism'. But that is the nature of tribal politics within divided societies; each tribe generates a vocabulary outwardly similar to the language spoken by its opponents, but with a vast treasury of different meanings known only to initiates.

In the context of Ireland, much of the tribalspeak on the Catholic side laments the loss of the Ulster Presbyterians from their 'republicanism' of the late 18th centu- ry. Gerry Adams says of this:

Had they remained untouched by the neo- fascism of Orangeism, they would in alliance with their Catholic fellow countrymen, have undoubtedly transformed Irish society.

So Orangeism — 200 years old this year — is neo-fascist, eh? Might not its status as a precursor of fascism by a clear century and a quarter indicate that it has a vitality and a vehemence — however deplorable which have carried through to today? Orangeism, with is dreary triumphalism and infantile swaggering, is one authentic expression of identity: the very determina- tion of Orange marchers to stop and jeer where Catholics have been butchered would suggest that these people are not about to rush into the arms of Gerry Adams and his friends the day Westminster cuts the painter and Northern Ireland is lefting bobbing in what I suspect could be an uncomfortable wake.

Gerry Adams' account of Irish history is an excellent example of the intellectual confusion which rests at the heart of the IRA cause — villainous Brits, heroic long- suffering Irish, that kind of stuff. This `Pirated videos!' could be dismissed if it were just a pose. It is not. The fables and fictions of victim- hood, well-fuelled by the institutionalised bigotries and military excesses within Northern Ireland, form the real world of Gerry Adams and his kind. He argues with conviction. He believes these falsehoods. All tribal elders do. They have to. They lead their tribe.

Tribes nowadays tend to express their tribalism in terms of political superiority. In Adamspeak, 'Republicanism' is superior to `loyalism', whose followers are 'the unfortunate dupes of salaried politicians and victims of colonialism'. No doubt Zulu- Inkatha hear comparable condescension from the comrades of the ANC. It does not incline them to put away their assegai, or their Kalashnikov, which nowadays speaks the one common tongue of world tribalism.

But the ANC comrades seem to have abandoned the suicidal heresies of social- ism. Not Gerry and his friends, who want `the expulsion of imperialism in all its forms, political, economic, military, social and cultural'. Christ, what's left? The Book of Kells? Meanwhile socialism will mean

the main means of production, distribution and exchange are socially controlled and . . . production is based on human need rather than private profit.

Very interesting, Gerry. By the way, have you been speaking to your American back- ers like this?

And your Orange fellow-countrymen? You think this will cut much ice with them? Perhaps they might prefer the other future you map out for them here, as Irish speak- ers — The reconquest of Ireland will begin with the reconquest of the Irish language.'

The reassurance he gives to the South which generally detests Sinn Fein — are hardly awe-inspiring; whereas he says at one point, 'we realise that ordinary people accept Twenty Six Counties [ie. the Repub- lic] institutions as legitimate,' he then says, `I would not insult anyone by asking them to join a Thirty-Two County State based on the present Twenty-Six county model, or by offering it, or any aspect of it, as a blueprint.'

I see. So what Sinn Fein is offering is a largely Irish-speaking socialist paradise from which all imperialism — the BBC, Japanese computer firms, the unionist par- ties, American car-part manufacturers, etc have been expelled, and the existing institu- tions of the Republic discarded.

Mmm. And some poor bastard from the British Government has to sit down with this man and listen to all this garbage? Well, I suspect it's not as bad as it seems. Adolescent fol-de-rol like this is fine for the troops. In the war of the long lunch which awaits him — mints, Mr Adams, more coffee perhaps? — he will prove to be intellectually more formidable than Free Ireland suggests. God, I hope so.

Kevin Myers is a columnist with the Irish Times.