Fergal Keane, BBC Special Correspondent, Order of the British Empire, makes a living sneering for Britain. Anyone who has watched his Story of Ireland video will know what I mean. Every few sentences of his narration contains a sneer against the Irish and their history. It would perhaps be condemned as racism if read by an Englishman. Which is probably why Keane was employed for it.
Keane is, of course, a famous war reporter for the BBC, going about the world and discovering its awfulness and the awful people who live in it. He looks for evil and finds it wherever he goes and sneers at it. And he sneers with an Irish accent to show this is not the English sneering at the trouble the British Empire left behind in the world. He is a well-spoken Irishman with the eloquent turn of phrase that only the Irish possess with the English language.
I remember reading in a book by John Redmond’s nephew (Redmond-Howard) how the Irish could serve the Empire, if they were given Home Rule. Their great talent was the literary one. The Irish were to be the froth upon the Imperial substance with their wonderful use of words which the English had lost when Puritanisation took the joy of life out of them. The Irish had “the gift of the gab” as they used to say – a gift they would give to the Empire if it accepted them as junior partners in its great project of making Greater Britain across the world.
Bernard Shaw once said that Ireland was “plagued by clever fools who say the wrong thing in the most skilful way.” Britain has made it its business to cultivate this type so that they now say the right thing in the most skilful way, in service of the State.
Fergal Keane has now started writing a column for the Sunday Independent. Now there’s a combination! He has found the transition from reporting for the BBC to writing for the Irish Independent seamless. His words need no changing. There seems to be no national difference in transferring them from the official broadcasts of the British State to the Irish newspaper. The two are of one mind.
A couple of months ago Keane said the following about 1916, which is included on the BBC website and was republished in the Sunday Independent:
“We cannot pretend that there is no link between the violence of 1916 and 1969… It inspired successive generations of republicans to take up arms. The proclamation made very clear the right of armed men to act in the name of the Irish people without asking their permission. Now, after 30 years of butchery, we have a working peace process… But as recently as this month the remaining minority who espouse physical force nationalism were still killing fellow Irishmen, basing their right to do so on the actions of the men of 1916.” (SI 20.3.16)
The BBC took their cue from Fergal Keane that any residue of violence in Belfast was something to do with 1916, that it continued to inspire the deed. 1916 had to be marked – it was imperative that it should be. Reports of any act of violence, no matter how unconnected with history were followed with some reference to the centenary of 1916. It could not be let go off with enthusiasm, patriotism and pride. Where Keane sneered the BBC followed with a connecting of contemporary violence with 1916.
There is, in fact, little connection between 1916 and the Northern conflict. The leaders of the Rising ensured that it did not have an Ulster aspect. They realised the significance of the complication of the North and made sure there was no fighting there – despite Northern enthusiasm to take part. As a result there were more Londoners in the GPO fighting by Pearse’s side for the Republic than there were Belfastmen.
The War in the Six Counties was an internal event, generated by the perverse political entity of ‘Northern Ireland’ and the Pogrom of the Unionist Party of August 1969. It may have referenced 1916 as it got going but 1916 neither caused it or motivated it.
Keane has this week wrote a very nasty piece in the Sunday Independent about Gerry Adams, following his tweet that used the notorious n word that one is not supposed to use. The SF leader said that he was a kind of black man from Ballymurphy in the scheme of things enjoying a movie about an ex-slave in the U.S. giving his tormentors their come-uppance. And that’s all he said, in the social media equivalent of scribbling on toilet walls.
Gerry Adams has a very frivolous attitude to social media which has disconcerted his enemies. How can this formidable man be so frivolous and so weird? What is this stuff he tweets about naked trampolining and plastic bath ducks? But Adams, engaging in a little frivolity whilst watching a movie, strayed into territory where he could be got. And out of less than 140 characters great reams were filled with righteous condemnation that did not appear when the Irish Times infamously called its editor “a white nigger” or when Elvis Costello sung of British soldiers in the North of Ireland: “All it takes one itchy finger, one more widow, one less white nigger. Oliver’s Army is on their way…”
Keane reads a lot more than what Adams said in less than 140 characters in his scribbling on the ether:
“The Gerry Adams’s study in comparative suffering between northern Catholics, the oppressed of Apartheid South Africa and civil rights-era African-Americans reflects something different to a confused meandering about history. Nor is he simply indulging a national gift for exceptionalism. This is not just about Catholics and their suffering, but the exceptional company in which Sinn Fein associates have sometimes placed Adams. By their reasoning he stands with Nelson Mandela. According to his own view of the past, he not only belongs in the same company as civil rights hero Rosa Parks, but among the millions sold into slavery, the whipped, degraded, raped and murdered of America’s pre-Civil War southern states. Can he really be so convinced of this that he will tweet the toxic N-word?”
That is known as a canard. A canard is a false, deluding statement designed to confuse the audience, as it presents someone or something in a bad light by spreading an untruth. In short, the views attributed to Adams by Keane are views never expressed by the SF leader and are the views of Keane himself, which he would like Adams to hold so that they could be righteously condemned.
“I imagine him visualising his place on a sunlit summit with his arms around the shoulders of Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. But this is not what the judgement of history, in this age of leak, revelation and more sceptical thinking, is going to deliver. There will be no repeat of the myth-making of the revolutionary period, no gods made of men, as was the case with Dev and Collins.”
Imagination seems to pass for reporting these days. It has done in the Sunday Independent for years anyway. Great imagination is necessary for producing the same old story against Adams and the Northern Catholics over and over, year after year, by columnist after columnist, for ever and ever, Amen.
Here’s Keane hoping as many others before him have hoped:
“At some point the younger generation of Sinn Fein leaders will surely decide it is time for him to move on and enjoy a fruitful retirement divided between Belfast and some part of Donegal where there is no access to wifi.”
But back to Fergal’s personal odyssey:
“Back in the mid-1980s, I lived in Belfast, but was beginning to specialise in South Africa. I travelled to the country first in 1984 and witnessed apartheid in all its indignity. I went to live there after Mandela left jail and the country began its bloody march towards democracy. I saw it go from a time of dehumanising segregation that reached into every part of black people’s lives – the complete denial of democratic and human rights, the age of massacre and death squads – to the election of Mandela as the first leader of a non-racial democracy. It was very different from the Belfast I left behind.”
1984 was a quiet year in Belfast. The present writer lived in the greater Ballymurphy area then. It was comparatively quiet there too. The Republican Army had been disorganised by the information of the ‘supergrass’ Robert Lean and the Volunteers were keeping their heads down. But it was a fairly regular occurrence in 1984 still to have your front door smashed down at night and British soldiers standing round your bed with rifles pointing. It was not unknown to be threatened with death by the security forces and generally harassed. And Gerry Adams, Member of Parliament for West Belfast was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by Loyalist death squads about that time.
Such was ordinary life in a quiet period in Belfast in 1984. But I bet Fergal Keane didn’t experience any of it before he went after greater action in South Africa.
In December 2013 the Sinn Fein Leader, Gerry Adams, formed part of the Guard of Honour at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. The ANC had encouraged fraternal links between the ANC and Sinn Fein over decades and there had been a military alliance with the IRA.
Kader Asmal revealed in his memoirs, ‘Politics in my Blood’, how the IRA helped carry out a spectacular coup de main against one of the South African regime’s most important strategic installations, an oil refinery at Sasolburg in 1980. This was the most significant military blow against the Apartheid regime and it was facilitated by Asmal, Adams and Michael O’Riordan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. It involved the IRA training of MK cadres as well as reconnaissance of the target by Irish Republicans (See Manus O’Riordan, Irish Political Review, January 2014).
In 1990, on a visit to Dublin, Mandela shocked the Dublin and London Establishments, along with their respective medias, by continually insisting that Britain should be negotiating with Sinn Fein, without preconditions, to end the conflict in Ireland. In 1998, when a deal had been concluded, Cyril Ramaphosa, who led the ANC in its war on the white supremacist Government of South Africa, assisted the Republican leadership in selling the peace agreement to its rank and file in the Republican heartlands.
The ANC saw a greater parallel between South Africa and Ireland. But who are they to tell Fergal Keane, O.B.E. that.