I was on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s Sunday Sequence this morning, along with Alex Kane and Dawn Purvis. Our discussion was preceded by a 20 -minute interview with Gerry Adams, where William Crawley asked him about a number of things, including the killing of Jean McConville, the conviction of his brother Liam for sex crimes against his daughter and about whether he had considered resigning as party President. I don’t share the political viewpoints of either Alex or Dawn but we still managed to have a civilized discussion on the points raised in the interview and what the best prospects were for a way forward in our society. Afterwards the three of us agreed that it was good to be on a programme where elbow-room was given: the Gerry Adams interview was twenty minutes long and our discussion was over half-an-hour. Even that’s not ideal, of course, but it’s a long way from the three-minute sound-bite.
Picture my astonishment, then, when I went on to Twitter later to see that a number of people felt it was appalling that the interview was aired, particularly on Remembrance Sunday. There were a few bone-brained insults hurled at me but that’s how some people interpret the notion of political debate: squeeze as many nasties as you can squeeze into 140 characters. But I thought the objections to the interview being aired at all was truly dismaying.
Those of us who are old enough know we’ve down this road before. For years, both north and south of the border, Sinn Féin people were banned from the airwaves. They weren’t even allowed to express their views on a topic like mushroom-growing. One man tried to, on RTÉ radio, and when he made clear he was a Sinn Féin party member, his mushroom-growing perspective was quickly cut off. If anything, the ludicrous picture of Gerry Adams and other Sinn Féin people moving their lips while an actor’s voice said their words boosted Sinn Féin, since most sensible people saw the absurdity of the ban.
Over the past few days and weeks there have been a considerable number of programmes on radio and television where those involved were highly critical of the Sinn Féin president. Today, he was interviewed for twenty minutes on the matters raised by those programmes. And some people are outraged that his voice should be heard? Given the distance we have come - where people who once wouldn’t sit in the same studio as Sinn Féin people are now sharing government with them - it’s near-breathtaking that there are people who are indignant that Sinn Féin’s president be featured in an interview. No one’s suggesting people need to agree with all or any of what Adams said. But to use the fact that this is Remembrance Sunday as a reason for not hearing him is surely contrary to the notion of democracy for which so many thousands of men in the British armed forces died.
Rather than castigate William Crawley or the BBC or anyone else, it’d make more sense to commend him and the Corporation for allowing the man accused to respond to his many accusers.
I know, I know. Democracy would be so much better if it wasn’t for all those bad people who think differently from you. But as Tony Soprano used to shrug: “Whatchyagonnado?” (No, Virginia. Tony’s question was rhetorical.)