To millions of people the world over, Gerry Adams is the essential, unwavering face of struggle for a free and united Ireland. Jailed repeatedly for his beliefs and subjected to intimidation tactics, he also survived being gravely wounded when his car was riddled with bullets in an assassination attempt His story has inspired countless books and his character has been portrayed in a number of films. In a land of tales and legends, his will be told for countless generations.
I had an opportunity to interview Gerry on a range of topics. He is well versed and so intertwined in the rich tangled skein of Irish and world history, there really isn't much we couldn't have a conversation on. From the 60's and 70's worldwide freedom movements, which saw the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa, to Americas internal struggles against racism and an unpopular war in Vietnam, our conversation touched on these and many other issues.
As our conversation began after the hellos, there really wasn't any hesitation, we jumped right into the interview. Gerry told me to "fire away" with my questions, so I did.
I had some questions on various topics starting from the days of World War 2, to current problems and their solutions. Gerry shared his vision for a united Republic of Ireland and how far that struggle has come. I will be writing excerpts from this interview in the coming days and weeks, this is an introduction to that conversation we shared.
Right off the bat we jumped into a firestorm of controversy here in the US and in Ireland, regarding the legal tug of war for possession of the Boston college tapes. The war is being waged in US courts between the right of privileged/protected information and the governments intrusion into that right. Boston College and the Obama Justice Department are slugging it out in court over this.
These tapes were part of a dialogue between seven members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) & the college itself who was doing an oral history of the struggle during violent times in Ireland, known as "The Troubles". Boston College recorded combatants from both sides in Northern Ireland, a conflict between the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority. These tapes were made under an agreement of protection that they would not be made public until all participants died.
Boston College is fighting the order for them to release these tapes. But under terms of a treaty, U.S. officials want possession of these tapes in order to share those interviews with Northern Ireland police investigating a 1972 homicide.
I asked Gerry if he had any idea why the pressure was being brought to bear on Boston College after all of these years by the Obama Justice Dept. Gerry said "I have no comment on any of it, as it was something between those interviewed and the College itself....whatever is on those tapes" As far as motivations behind the investigation, he surmised " it was some factions of the anti republican people trying to resurrect old wounds".
To me that was fair enough as I think many involved in all of this want to put the tragedies behind us and move on. Gerry was instrumental in helping to steer the longstanding bloody conflict, into a direction where the guns (Armalites) and bombs were put aside, to be replaced by talk, negotiation and votes. I lauded him for his efforts, however he refers to his role as "only being a part of a great collective that has brought seismic change to the Island of Ireland".
But the seismic change which Ireland is going through is not without growing pains and there are still wounds that need to heal. In that vein I asked Gerry about the recent pardon of the 5,000 Irish Army "deserters" that left their posts to fight with the British against the Nazis in World War II.
In a tone that was to be repeated throughout our interview, Gerry said "that in these enlightened times, why not pardon the men and take the stigma off of their families?" This occurred 70 years ago," a general pardon signals a general healing for the Irish people and will mean closure to the issue. Besides, many other Irish went off to fight against the Nazis and many hundreds of thousands died in that cataclysmic war. But there were strong feelings at the time and some factions in Ireland supported the fascists, so bitter feelings brewed in some corners".
We next talked about Gerry's participation in the peace process, his interaction with the United States and the help received from the Clinton administration. He has profound feelings of gratitude for that help.
But he also was quite moved when he met one of the linchpins of the American civil rights movement, it was a momentous occasion for him and provided a bond that held fast over time, stretching across the Atlantic Ocean. These topics we will cover in the next installment.
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