PUBLISHED10/11/2014 | 02:30
You’d think for $500 you’d get a better quality speech. When the address is delivered by a rewriter of history though, you’d hardly expect him to stick to facts.
In November 1919, during a raid on No 76 Harcourt Street, the then headquarters of Dail Eireann, Michael Collins made what is described as a “daring escape” through a skylight. His route took him through the Standard Hotel, via another skylight located over the staircase, where “he was obliged to swing himself clear of his perilous position at the same time as he released his hold of the skylight opening”.
A month later, the IRA’s failed attack on the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord French, took place at Ashtown in west Dublin, where Martin Savage was killed and Dan Breen wounded. After the incident, the Irish Independent published an editorial condemning those who took part in the attack.
Action was taken as a warning to the proprietors of all newspapers “that such unpatriotic comment at the height of the fight for freedom would not be tolerated”. A group of 30 IRA men raided the offices and smashed the print works with “sledge hammers and crow bars and heavy wrenches” – aided by members who worked in the pressroom who knew what equipment to break to cause the most damage.
During the raid, the editor was reputedly held at gunpoint by an unmasked Bill Judge while Paddy Kelly covered the rest of the staff. “When I leave here I will forget your face, and if you are wise you will forget mine,” Judge told the editor.
In a curious aside, a week later, Judge returned to the editor’s office on a “business call” on behalf of his firm. Although recognising each other, there was no reference to the previous encounter.
Gerry Adams has twisted this incident from the War of Independence into a veiled threat about holding a newspaper editor at gunpoint as he attacked this newspaper group over the coverage of Mairia Cahill’s IRA sex abuse allegations. Adams justified his claim by attributing the action to Michael Collins – even though Peadar Clancy and Michael Lynch are more often associated with the organisation of the printing press raid – as he joked to guests at his lavish $500-a-plate fundraiser in New York that he was “not advocating that”.
But he dropped the gag a day later when he wrote: “And when the Irish Independent condemned his actions as ‘murder most foul’ what did Michael Collins do? He dispatched his men to the office of the Independent and held the editor at gun point as they dismantled the entire printing machinery and destroyed it.”
Adams apologist-in-chief Mary Lou McDonald defended her party leader, saying this newspaper group was being “sensitive”: “I understand that he referred back to Michael Collins, who was the person in question who had the confrontation with the editor of the Irish Independent.”
Actually, McDonald ought to brush up on her history. Collins was a wanted man by the British authorities and experts have pointed to the naivety of linking him to the incident.
“There’s no way Michael Collins would have compromised the intelligence operation by being there in person,” said Gerry O’Connell, Honorary Secretary of the Collins 22 Society.
Walking in the front door of the Independent Group’s current offices on Talbot Street, editors and journalists alike are reminded of the dangers of their work – and why, yes, people in this newspaper are sensitive about murder threats. A plaque of Veronica Guerin, with the quote “Be not afraid”, hangs on the wall of the reception.
Veronica Guerin was murdered in 1996 because of her exposure of criminal elements in the ‘Sunday Independent’. And Martin O’Hagan of the ‘Sunday World’ was murdered in 2001 as a result of his work reporting on loyalist paramilitaries.
Adams’s attacks on this newspaper and our sister titles is nothing new. But it’s not isolated. Sinn Fein regularly complains vociferously about any questioning of their position. Witness their attacks on Fintan O’Toole in the ‘Irish Times’ for his dissecting of their stance on Mairia Cahill or their attacks on Miriam O’Callaghan of RTE for asking Martin McGuinness about his IRA activities.
It’s nothing new either and it doesn’t even have to be critical coverage for it to fall foul of the Sinn Fein censors. When the party’s fledgling economic policies were independently assessed a decade ago by the ‘Irish Examiner’, the paper was attacked in the Sinn Fein propaganda sheet, ‘An Phoblacht’, despite party TDs believing the analysis to be fair. A veiled threat to one media outlet is a threat to all.
All the more sinister when it comes from Adams himself, a man who has led a paramilitary organisation though, of course, he denies it.
On a wider level, what’s even more insidious is Adams’s attempts to draw parallels between Collins’s IRA and the action of the Provos during the Troubles.
Adams attempts to rewrite history by ignoring the mandate of the overwhelming vote for the then Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election. Rewriting history, he attempts to portray the Provos as the direct descendents of the IRA of the War of Independence as he refers to ” The IRA of that time, like its successors of our time…”.
But he goes way too far when he attempts to legitimise the IRA’s interrogation squads, to which Mairia Cahill was subjected when she made her rape allegations.
“During that period the IRA operated what would today be called kangaroo courts to meet out summary justice…”
Nowhere in the annals of the Old IRA history is there evidence of its members engaging in rape of minors and it being covered up by their superiors – unlike the Provos and their political wing “of our time”.
Michael Collins’s legacy deserves greater respect than comparisons with Gerry Adams.