|Issue No 2||26 February 1999|
Piers on Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams' visit to Australia this week provided fertile ground for our favourite purveyor of prejudice.
Piers' piece would make compulsory reading for any Peace Studies student as a case study in the type of ingrained hostility that lies at the heart of all protracted conflict.
While most media interviews rightly focussed on how the Republicans and Unionists were working towards greater understanding, Piers dusted off his persona as the Cold War warrior who can't understand why the guns have stopped firing. Only this time its the Hibernians under the bed.
He grills Adams on his past IRA links, he dismisses his visit as a fundraising exercise for Sinn Fein and he takes swipes at the likes of Thomas Kenneally ("carping about the place like stage Irish leprechauns") before asserting that Australia is becoming a source of funds for "foreign political groups with dubious connections".
In doing so, he not only ignores the important work done by both sides in the Northern Ireland peace process, he actually reinforces the divisions that lie at the heart of the Troubles.
Three of the landmark geopolitical conflicts of the 20th Century -- Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, South Africa -- are inching towards resolution because both sides decided to ignore history for a moment and look to the future.
Yasser Afarat sat down with the Isrealis, Nelson Mandela worked with his former torturers and the two sides in Northern Ireland have joined with the Blair Government in inventing a new future.
But here's Akerman, still taking sides, picking victims and playing the public bully.
The problem with Piers is he's actually quite naive. He doesn't seem to understand the process of moving towards peace requires goodwill, understanding and a suspension of prejudice.
To place the weight of history on Gerry Adams's shoulders, misunderstands not only Adams, but Northern Ireland itself.
In terms of his actual allegations, there are some sizable holes in his argument.
Piers' alleges the IRA uses drug money to buy guns. Workers Online's Northern Ireland expert assures us that the IRA has never participated in the drug trade.
If anything, the Republican movement has been criticised for being too tough on the use of recreational drugs within the communities the IRA has traditionally policed. Those who have dealt in drugs in these communities have been harshly dealt with.
Piers also slips up when he delves into Irish history with his expose on the Irish groupings. He claims the Casement Group, one of three Australian organisations supporting Sinn Fein, is named after hero Roger Casement.
In fact, the Group draws its name from Casement Park in Belfast, the scene of an ugly incident in 1988 which led to the arrest of more than a dozen Republicans.
Pedantic? Sure, but little facts are the building blocks of a world view.
Piers concludes his piece by advocating tourism to Northern Ireland over listening to the likes of Adams "an avowedly partisan politician"
If you did go to Belfast, you'd find a statelet where Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants, with a police force which is 94 per cent Protestant in a population that is 42 per cent Catholic.
And you'd find a statelet of people who are not only sick of war, but aware that they still have to work through a peace process.
Piers appears to be advocating we all become diplomats roving the world stage, taking snapshots from our secure hotels rather than listening to people with a story to tell.
It is worth noting that previous British Governments legislated to censor the Sinn Fein story - throughout the 1980s, the British electronic media were barred from carrying Adams' voice. Some television channels resorted to running footage of Adams speaking with an actor lip synching the Republican leader's words.
During his Australian tour, Adams himself puts the case for an Australian contribution to the peace process.
"I don't know of a conflict resolution process that was successfully brought to a conclusion that didn't have international support," he said.
"We want peace in the East Timor, we want peace in the Middle East and we are glad to see peace in South Africa but we want peace in Ireland as well. That's where I think people like yourselves (Irish-Australians) have a role.
In a piece published next to Akerman's, Miranda Divine (not known for her revolutionary world view), holds a light to Piers' own diplomatic skills at the Adams interview.
She recounts how Akerman shoves a jug across the table when Adams asks for a glass of water and then proceeds to grill him on whether or not he was ever a member of the IRA.
What shines through all of this is that Piers totally misses the point about selling peace.
Peace is about breaking stereotypes, not reinforcing them; about looking at the bad guys in a different light; about listening for a change, instead of just mouthing the old slogans of conflict.
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