What to make of Gerry Adams’ recent observations about Michael Collins’ tactics with the critical media of nearly 100 years ago? Speaking at a $500-a-plate Friends of Sinn Féin fundraiser in New York City, he said:
He [Collins] went in, sent volunteers in, to the [newspaper] offices, held the editor at gunpoint, and destroyed the entire printing press. That’s what he did. Now I can just see the headline in the Independent tomorrow, I’m obviously not advocating that.
As context, Adams and the Irish Independent have feuded for years. Now Adams is feeling extra pressure related to the Mairia Cahill abuse scandal.
According to the Independent:
…there is no evidence that Michael Collins or any of his followers held a gun to the editor of the Irish Independent/Freeman’s Journal. In 1919, a crowd of IRA men smashed the printing presses because of the newspaper’s criticisms; in 1922, Rory O’Connor, a Republican leader, smashed the presses because the newspaper was pro-Michael Collins.
Regardless the historical inaccuracy of Adams’ remark, the Independent‘s editors and other journalists in Ireland and elsewhere are outraged by the comment. An Independent editorial said:
If Mr Adams knew a little bit more about the Republic, he might understand the sensitivities of the Irish media about journalists being held at gunpoint. Someone might tell Mr Adams that Veronica Guerin, a crusading journalist, wife and mother, was murdered at gunpoint.Mr Adams might also recall that the courageous journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was kidnapped by the IRA, was shot by their terrorist kissing cousins the LVF.
The National Union of Journalists’ Irish organizer Seamus Dooley told the Independent his group opposes threats to journalist from politicians.
The price of seeking election is accepting that you will be held to account. Mr Adams is free to dislike the Sunday Independent but he is not free to threaten or use bullying language towards journalists. It is ironic that he should make his comments in America, where freedom of expression is prized. I also would remind Mr Adams that journalists are workers who deserve the right to be treated with dignity in the conduct of their job. If he has a complaint, let him lodge a complaint with the Press Ombudsman.
Joel Simon of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists told the Independent:
While we realize Gerry Adams was joking when he made a remark about ‘holding an editor at gunpoint’, we are not amused. We are living through a period of record violence against journalists around the world. Quite simply this is not a laughing matter.
To date, neither of the media organizations has issued statements on their websites to bolster their comments reported by the Independent. And other than IrishCentral‘s coverage of the dinner, I haven’t seen any U.S. media reaction to Adams’ remarks.
Adams tells the same story about Collins and the press in his personal blog without the qualification that he is “obviously not advocating that.” He uses the episode and other stories of violence from Ireland’s revolutionary period to expose the hypocrisy of contemporary politicians who praise Collins but “ignore the brutality and the violence the men and women of that generation of the IRA” while condemning the IRA of the late 20th century.
I’ve given Adams the benefit of the doubt more often than not over the years. He played a critical role in helping to end the Troubles, and I general support his party’s goal of reunifying the 32 counties. But as a career journalist I can’t abide casual cracks about holding editors at gunpoint or destroying printing press. Instead of telling the dinner crowd he wasn’t advocating such action against the Independent, Adams should have noted the important role of a free press, even one that’s critical of him, in a free country.
But to me what’s more disturbing than Adams’ remark is reporting about the “laughter” and guffaws it drew from those well-heeled Irish-American supporters of Sinn Féin. Their amusement at threats to the free press scares me more than Adams.