Ruth Dudley Edwards: An unusual experience in court for Gerry Adams

For those of us who are not fans of Gerry Adams, there was some interesting news this month on the libel front, when he had a rare legal setback.

By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 12:01 am
Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author and commentator, who writes a column for the News Letter every Tuesday. She is author of 'The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions' and her most recent book is 'The Seven: the lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish republic'
Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author and commentator, who writes a column for the News Letter every Tuesday. She is author of 'The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions' and her most recent book is 'The Seven: the lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish republic'

Presumably with a view to preserving his reputation of a man of peace, he is suing the BBC for defamation over a 2016 “Spotlight” programme. It included, he says, a false allegation made by an anonymous source that he sanctioned the murder in Donegal in April 2006 of Denis Donaldson, a senior member of Sinn Féin, whom Adams had outed a few months earlier. Donaldson had then confessed publicly to having been in the employ of MI5, disappeared from public view and was found shot dead in April in a Donegal cottage.

The BBC’s defence is that the programme was responsible journalism on a subject of public and vital interest and that it was carefully investigated and put out in good faith. It claims additionally that despite his denials, Adams had been a leading light in the IRA during its campaign of violence throughout the Troubles, a member of its Army Council and had a history of not condemning the killing of informers.

Adams has plenty of experience of courts and lawyers and for reasons best known to himself he decided to sue in the Republic of Ireland, where he has had a few set-backs.

First, in mid-March, in the Irish High Court, Justice Emily Egan ruled against two of his pre-trial motions to prevent certain material going before the court.

She rejected the attempt to remove sections of the defence and said they should be seen by the jury, and that the BBC was entitled to discovery from him of relevant material regarding his alleged membership of the IRA and its army council.

Then, last week, she said that Adams should pay both parties’ legal costs in respect of the two motions, which were heard over two days before the High Court last year. The grounds for her decision included his “outright refusal” to provide the information sought at the voluntary stage.

She did, however, agree that there should be a stay on the costs until the outcome of the action. This will drag on and on.

I can’t read a news item about Adams without having a wearying sense of déjà vu, but reading his dreary blog is worse. I see him as the public voice of veteran republicanism.

The latest begins by explaining that whatever happens in the May election, “Sinn Féin’s efforts to secure a unity referendum will continue” and then tells us to buy raffle tickets in aid of the Moore Street Preservation Trust which raises money for the campaign to save what he calls the “1916 Moore Street Battlefield site”. Prize: a Mauser rifle from the 1914 arms shipment.

This is followed by a report of a celebration in Belfast of a twelve-year-old Irish language investment fund at which some presentations were made which included a photograph of Adams himself.

The previous week was about neutrality: “Micheál Martin’s willingness to consider holding a Citizens’ Assembly on neutrality is in stark contrast to his refusal to consider a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue of unity. It would appear that sending Irish men and women off to fight wars in other places is more important than ending the schism on the island of Ireland caused by partition and finding a peaceful future with our unionist neighbours.” 

Then, a reminiscence. “I was shot around this time in 1984. My Uncle Paddy died on St Patrick’s Day after visiting me in the hospital. He loved being Irish and always drowned his shamrock on our national day. So I always raise a glass to him on the 17th.”  

The 25th anniversary of the World Book Day “reminded me of the volume of publications produced by former republican prisoners. There is my own modest contribution and Danny Morrison’s offerings, including his current timely book about the false narrative from the Dublin establishment about the good old IRA.” 

There are more goodies to look forward to, including another batch of prison memoirs, Gerry Kelly’s new book of poetry and “Richard McAuley [his bag carrier] and I are publishing a new book on the Armagh women in the next few months”.

He is mindful, “that this time 41 years ago Bobby Sands was on hunger strike and writing his prison diary on scraps of paper to be smuggled out.

“Bobby’s poetry, prose, political polemic and other writings in Irish and English are now part of the tradition.

“So we republican authors have added a lot to the understanding of the struggle and in particular the prison struggle. Little wonder the British Government says it plans to commission an official history. They are too late.”

The British government will finance an official history of the Troubles — which like all such publications will be properly researched and written by distinguished historians with access to state papers including intelligence records.

They might even be able to tell us if Adams was ever in the IRA.

Ruth Dudley Edwards can be found on Twitter at @RuthDE

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