Adams comparing US slavery with nationalist plight ‘overblown’
Irish chief of global anti-slavery group critical of Sinn Féin chief’s incendiary remarks
The Irish director of the world’s oldest human right organisation has described Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’s attempt to compare the struggle against slavery in the US to the plight of Irish nationalists as overblown.
Dr Aidan McQuade, head of the London-based charity Anti-Slavery International (ASI), was responding to a controversial tweet Gerry Adams posted on Sunday night when he used the N-word and appeared to draw comparisons between a slave character in the Quentin Tarnatino film Django Unchained, and the treatment of nationalists in Ballymurphy in west Belfast.
In 1971 eleven people were killed in the Ballymurphy area by British soldiers. Mr Adams acknowledged he “made a mistake” in using the N-word in his tweet at the weekend. He initially defended using the racist term but later said its use had been “inappropriate”.
“When one makes a mistake the best you can do is own up to it,” he told RTÉ Radio. The Louth TD faced strong criticism on social media on Sunday night and into Monday after he posted the tweet to his 110,000 followers using the word. “Watching Django Unchained – A Ballymurphy N****r!” Mr Adams tweeted. A second message read “Django – an uppity Fenian!”
Dr McQuade, from Killeavy, south Armagh, said: “Direct correspondence he is drawing between the experiences of nationalists in the north of Ireland and those of African Americans in chattel slavery in pre-Civil War United States is overblown.
“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 online posts, which have since been deleted, were picked up by the international press, including the Washington Times. Mr Adams first insisted his use of the N-word was ironic and it was not his intention to cause offence. In a statement from Mr Adams, he said he has been opposed to racism all his life. Then in a second statement on Monday afternoon, Mr Adams added that while “there are parallels between people in struggle, the tweet was inappropriate” and he apologised for any offence caused.
“I stand over the context and main point of my tweet about Django which were the parallels between people in struggle,” continued Mr Adams’s statement. “Like African Americans Irish nationalists were denied basic rights. The penal laws, Cromwell’s regime, and partition are evidence of that. In our own time, like African Americans nationalists in the North, including those from Ballymurphy and west Belfast, were denied the right to vote; the right to work; the right to a home; and were subject to draconian laws.
“This changed because we stood up for ourselves. We need to continue to do that. 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.
“I have long been inspired by Harriet Tubman; Frederick Douglas; Rosa Parks; Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who stood up for themselves and for justice.”
Dr McQuade has been the head of ASI for a decade. It was formed in 1839 and its patron is Oscar-winning director of Twelve Years a Slave Steve McQueen. The slavery expert said: “The positive thing that can be said about this is there has been for some years in the United States talk about ‘the Irish were slaves too’, going around Twitter and other places.
“It has been latched on to by extreme right-wing elements in the United States in order to denigrate things like Black Lives Matter and civil rights questioning around the killing by police of young black men, in particular.
“And so one can see there is something in Adams’s recent narratives which is trying to put the experience of Irish nationalists in the north of Ireland in solidarity with those experiences of young black people in North America at the moment.
“In this, he is very much, as usual, following the lead of (former SDLP leader) John Hume in terms of that expression of solidarity and that inspiration from Martin Luther King and others.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr Adams’s words are “contemptible and beyond the pale”, while Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson said for the leader of a political party to use the N-word “simply beggars belief”. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the use of the tweet showed “a staggering deficiency in judgment” and the DUP’s Nelson McCausland said Mr Adams’ change of position from “ironic” to “inappropriate” demonstrated “very clearly the mess the Sinn Féin president put himself in”.