Critics round on Adams over racism row and civil rights claim

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Gerry Adams’ attempts at damage limitation over a racially offensive tweet have raised further questions amid claims he helped found the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.

The Sinn Fein president faced a barrage of criticism after tweeting, “Watching Django Unchained - A Ballymurphy n****r,” on Sunday night.

The Oscar-winning film he was referring to is about slavery in America.

Mr Adams has admitted his controversial tweet - which was removed from his Twitter account after 20 minutes - was inappropriate, but defended his comparison of the treatment of Irish nationalists to African Americans.

“I apologise for any offence caused,” he said.

“I have acknowledged that the use of the n-word was inappropriate. That is why I deleted the tweet. I stand over the context and main point of my tweet about the Django which were the parallels between people in struggle.

It is a case of somebody not particularly well read on this area of history

“Like African Americans Irish nationalists were denied basic rights.”

At a press conference outside Sinn Fein’s Belfast headquarters, the Louth TD went to say he had been one of the driving forces behind the NI Civil Rights Association (NICRA) - provoking ridicule from some political rivals.

“The civil rights movement here, of which I was a founding member, was inspired and based its approach on the civil rights campaign in the USA,” Mr Adams said.

SDLP Foyle tweeted: “The only person who believes Gerry Adams founded the civil rights movement is Gerry Adams,” while the party’s youth chairperson said: “Beyond belief. In no way, shape or form was Gerry Adams a founding member of the civil rights movement.”

Meath TD Thomas Byrne tweeted: “In fairness, Gerry Adams’ claim to have been involved with the civil rights movement tallies with his non-membership of the IRA.”

One of those who took issue with the Sinn Fein leader’s slavery comparison was the Irish director of the world’s oldest human right organisation - Dr Aidan McQuade of Anti-Slavery International (ASL).

Dr McQuade described it as “overblown”.

Speaking to RTE Radio, the London-based charity boss said: “When one makes a mistake the best you can do is own up to it.

“It is a case of somebody who is not particularly well read on this area of history and hence not particularly sensitive whenever he is publicly speaking on it but it ties in with that narrative he has of north of Ireland victimhood.”

The DUP’s Nelson McCausland said: “Having compared himself to Rosa Parks only a few weeks ago Gerry Adams has now moved from the bizarre to the indefensible. That he would delete the tweet, then claim that his use of it was ‘ironic’ before being forced to say it was ‘inappropriate’ demonstrates very clearly the mess the Sinn Fein president put himself in. We should not forget Gerry Adams’ previous description of unionists as b*****ds, whom he wished to ‘break’.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the remarks were “contemptible” and added: “I find it extraordinary that the leader of a political party can even think to utter the words that he did. To try to liken the fight against slavery to what was happening in Northern Ireland in the 1960s is contemptible. And then for him to claim that he was one of the founders of the civil rights movement - even (Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister) Martin McGuinness must be rolling his eyes at that one. The civil rights campaigners wanted to reform Northern Ireland, not destroy it. This is just Gerry Adams trying to re-write history.”

Colum Eastwood, the SDLP leader, said Mr Adams’ tweet “shows a staggering deficiency in judgment and he needs to apologise unreservedly”.

Belfast journalist Tim Brannigan, who was the only black prisoner on a republican wing in the H-Blocks, also questioned the comparison.

“Gerry and Sinn Féin won’t need me to tell them just how toxic it is. I don’t think that you can equate what was happening in Belfast in 1965 with slavery,” he said.

Independent councillor Ruth Patterson said she was “appalled” to learn of the tweet. She added: “No doubt Gerry Adams will say he was hacked, or perhaps he will deny ever even being on Twitter. Whatever he says we will all, I am sure, take his word for it.”

TUV East Londonderry candidate Jordan Armstrong said: “In many counties Adams’s tweet would spell the end of a political career. However, given that many seem prepared to gloss over his justification of murder this is unlikely to happen. Unionists need to ask themselves if they really believe a party led by such an individual is fit to share power with.”