Magazine article The Spectator

What Did You Do in the Long War, Gerry?

Magazine article The Spectator

What Did You Do in the Long War, Gerry?

Article excerpt

Do not be fooled by the title. Before the Dawn is not a trashy romantic novel but the autobiography of Gerry Adams. The vulpine grin of the President of Sinn Fein stares out from the dust-jacket; the book itself is written in his usual style, folksy yet ponderous. Make no mistake, the autobiography of Gerry Adams (unlike the speeches of Robert Runcie) is all his own work. But what sort of work is it? It might be thought presumptuous for any man of 48 - even one of Adams' notoriety - to write his memoirs, but Before the Dawn is of even more limited scope than its subtitle might suggest. The book covers only the first 33 years of his life; the years since 1982 are crammed into a brief epilogue. And (as will be seen) Adams has written his autobiography to conceal rather than reveal the truth about his life.

Much of Before the Dawn will not surprise those familiar with Adams' previous work. He writes about his Belfast childhood with saccharine sentimentality. (How one longs to read the life of a Republican activist who was the son of a drunken father and a foul-tongued mother!) His boasts about his early sexual experiences ring strange in a man once compared by the gushing Edna O'Brien to a Celtic monk. His crude Marxism and nationalism are more predictable. Adams' account of the history of Northern Ireland is not so much tendentious as mendacious. The old falsehoods are trotted out: Northern Ireland was a `one-party state' and `an apartheid state'. He goes so far as to assert that the province lacked adult suffrage; in fact, the franchise both for elections to Westminster and to the devolved parliament at Stormont was the same as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. His opinion of the Irish Republic is little better: he disparages it as `the Twenty-six County state'.

It is in his account of the Troubles that Adams' talent for fiction becomes most apparent. (He even includes in this autobiography a short story about an IRA sniper - a curiously modish device. They never talk of anything but post-modernism in the shebeens of West Belfast.) Nowhere does he mention explicitly his membership of the IRA. His terrorist links are easy to trace in well-known secondary sources: he became commander of the Belfast brigade of the IRA in 1972 and (after a brief spell in prison) joined that organisation's Army Council, becoming its head in 1979. He is often credited with helping to restructure the IRA in the late Seventies. …

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