William Crawley (WC) interviews Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams (GA) via telephone from Dublin about his 'bastards' utterance while addressing a party meeting in Enniskillen. Thanks to TPQ transcriber for putting the work in to this on their own initiative.
BBC Radio Ulster
25 November 2014
WC: Gerry Adams joins me now from Dublin. Good Afternoon to you, Mr. Adams.
GA: Good Afternoon, William.
WC: “Mea culpa” - this is the Latin phrase which means “I'm to blame”. It doesn't mean in itself “I'm sorry”. Are you sorry today?
GA: Well, I'm sorry for using the “B” word and I don't mean bigot. I mean the other word that was inappropriate and people would be offended by it. The full transcript of my remarks will show very, very clearly that I wasn't talking about Unionists. I was talking about bigots. I was responding to a question which was about: What's the point in Republicans trying to do business when there's a cadre or a cohort who clearly are against the type of changes that are contained in the various agreements that the political parties have signed up for? So to put my remarks into context would be useful. And Rodney Edwards, in his written summation of what I said, is very fair – where it's very clear that I'm talking about bigots and I make no apology for that.
The fact is there are bigots. They are racists. There are homophobic people and misogynists out there and we have to face up to them. I used the wrong term – and it wasn't a scripted remark it was in the cut and thrust of a question and answer – a discussion – at a very, very good public meeting. It's also my view that some of those who are bigots within Unionism - and let's be clear about this – Unionism has no monopoly on bigotry – but that they're putting off their own traditional voters – there's an increasing number of people who aren't voting because they don't have anyone within Unionism who's giving the consistent, positive leadership that's required in these times. And then I asked, as you played in your tape there: Who could be afraid of equality? Who could be afraid or who would be against treating someone the way you want to be treated yourself?
WC: Well, let's come to equality because many commentators regard that as the more significant aspect of what you said last night - not your use of coarse language but actually the use of the phrase “Trojan horse” - the “Trojan horse of equality ”. The SDLP and the Ulster Unionists today saying: The mask has slipped. Now every time you speak about equality people will think it's a form of political trickery; a subterfuge.
GA: No, it's not. It's an end in itself in it's own right.
WC: Why did you use the phrase Trojan horse?
GA: Well, just in terms of the cut and thrust of the discussion back and forth...
WC: ...But a Trojan horse is an image of deception.
GA: Well, if that is the case then that was another inappropriate use, of course...
WC: Well, that is the case in the Greek myth itself isn't it? Do you regret using that phrase now – Trojan horse?
GA: Well, yes and no. Because: 1) Sinn Féin have been consistent: Equality, fraternity, freedom are the core values and principles of Irish Republicanism and I would argue of any democratic system which is truly citizen-centered and rights-based. So equality in its own is a right. And then equality as a means to an end because people are artificially divided on this island and partition in the first instance....
WC: ….We understand that equality is important but the Trojan horse image is the image of what looks like a gift but is in fact a secret, hidden threat - an attack. Why did you use that language?
GA: Well again, these were unscripted remarks. You're right in your interpretation of that piece of Greek mythology...
WC: So you just didn't understand what the Trojan horse language meant?
GA: No, I do understand it. But you have to bear in mind that I was answering questions and there was a sense within the question about what's the point. And what the point is: That no matter about those who hark back to the old days, no matter about those who have formed an anti-agreement axis who use very offensive, premeditated, carefully rehearsed, offensive remarks and who put their face against normal modes of behaviour - that equality has to be pressed home at all points... (crosstalk).
WC: I understand that that's what you were trying to say but that's not what you said, Gerry. You used the image of the Trojan horse, which is a deception image, and now, instead of us talking today about Gregory Campbell, we're talking about you because of a political gaff on your part - aren't we?
GA: Well, fair enough. And we all make mistakes. I've never been remiss at all about owning up to mistakes that I have made. But here's - here's...
WC: ...That was the second mistake: the “B” word and the “T” word.
GA: ...but here's the other point you want to look at, you see: If there was equality - what value would there be in the Union? If there was equality – if working class Protestants – people who are Unionists because they were born into that particular constituency - and in my view, while many people may have an affection for the Union those in the elites always embraced it because it was to their self-interest or to their advantage. So equality as a right should be fought and campaigned and advocated but equality also a means of people being able to unite around issues which we have in common as opposed to artificial issues which are used to divide us that's where the Trojan horse metaphor comes into play...
WC: I still don't see the appropriateness of the Trojan horse metaphor.
GA: Well, I've already acknowledge that that also may have been a mistake but I don't want to lose the thrust of what I was arguing last night. And what I was arguing last night on the one hand is: Why would anybody be against treating other people the way you want to be treated yourself? Why would anybody be against a future which is based upon equality and respect and tolerance - and by the way - even though my audience was a very progressive audience and I thought the discussion and debate - I learnt a lot from it and I told people that last night that I learnt a lot from it. I also challenged the audience that we need to understand Unionism – that we don't understand Unionism – when's the last time people there talked to Unionists?
Why do we allow those who are on the extremes who are from that fundamentalist position – and it isn't just that they're against Catholics - they're against Presbyterians, they're against Methodists, they're against Muslims, they're against the Church of Ireland - they're against anybody who doesn't subscribe to their own, little, narrow, conservative view...(crosstalk)...
WC: ... That's all well and good – that might have been in your mind – but what you did last night was actually put Sinn Féin in the eye of a storm today and make yourself sound like a politician who lacks maturity – who was either tired when he was making these off-the-cuff remarks but nevertheless someone will be asking today, Gerry, if you are now a liability as the leader of this party.
GA: Well, first of all the party will make up its mind on that. But let me say we did an hour and a half or a two hour meeting. There's been a zeroing in on maybe two sentences and there were other people...
WC: ...That's because you called people “bastards”, Gerry – not the language of a mature politician.
GA: I didn't call people – I called a certain category of people who are bigots, who are homophobic, who are racist and I've already said “mea culpa”...
WC: Well, you didn't say that in the speech you said that in a clarifying Tweet afterwards.
GA: Sorry...I didn't say what in the speech?
WC: You didn't say you were referring to bigots and homophobes and racists in the speech.
GA: I did! Have you read what I said?
WC: We've listened to the audio.
GA: No, you listened to two sentences from the audio, William. Listen to the audio. Let Rodney produce the audio. His written piece on it makes it very, very clear...
WC: Well, Rodney has also tweeted this. Let me ask you about this...
GA: Sorry, no, William, don't miss the point...
WC: I'm not missing the point - I think you've made that point three or four times already – I'm not missing the point.
GA: Well, let me make it again. Rodney makes it very, very clear in the summary that he put out hat I was talking about bigotry now I have already acknowledge my use of the term “bastards” was inappropriate but I was only talking about bigotry. And as I said at the beginning of this interview I want to stand over the main thrust of what I was saying because there are bigots out there, there are racists out there, there are people who are misogynists and who are homophobic and some of whom have banded into an anti-agreement coalition and they have to be faced down. Now I may have made a hames of how I put that last night but the main thrust and the correctness of the position that I'm articulating is there for all to see.
WC: Let me ask you about something else Rodney Edwards from The Impartial Reporter has tweeted as a direct quote from your comments last night. He says, and this is quoting you: “I think the Assembly could collapse. I don't think Unionists have a game plan. The Assembly for many is the alternative to war.”
Did you say those words?
GA: Well, I said more than that. I was asked the question: Could the Assembly collapse? I said it could. I said I thought that Unionists were sleepwalking - that they didn't have a game plan to collapse the Assembly but that the negative axis within Unionism was dictating the pace. I said that Sinn Féin had a two-pronged objective: one was to stop the Assembly from collapsing and two was to make sure the Assembly delivered for people.
WC: And if it doesn't deliver?
GA: It will deliver. It's the will of the people. The will of the people ...
WC: ... So you're not convinced that we're teetering on the edge of an Assembly collapse?
GA: No, we could be – we could be...
WC: ...we could always be...
GA: Well, the fact is that the DUP leadership have torn up a whole series of agreements including programme for government agreements, including executive decisions and that has undermined the credibility of the Assembly in the eyes of many people.
But the will of Sinn Féin – I mean Sinn Féin comes to these matters as problem solvers – we want to find solutions. So if there's a will within all of the parties in the Assembly, not just to sustain the institutions, to build upon them, to embed them and also and important – and remember I was in Fermanagh, you know west of the Bann - the I5 put to one side by the Irish government - small, rural businesses collapsing under the weight of Tory austerity policies - farmers in difficulties - the spectacle of fracking hanging over people - these are all real life and death issues that people want to see dealt with and those are the issues that the Assembly and the executive, in consultation and conjunction with the government in Dublin, need to be deliberating on for people right across the island.
WC: Which brings us where we are now in this talks process. We've had some colourful language all week from “curry yoghurt” and “toilet paper” to now your use of the word “bastard” and onto your use of the expression Trojan horse. This is a very dysfunctional relationship you have with your partner in government, the DUP, is it not?
GA: Yes, of course it is. Yes.
WC: Is there any hope that these talks could make any progress with two sides engaging in this kind of rhetoric?
GA: Yes, because you see what we have to appreciate that there are elements within Unionism who want the trappings of ministerial office without the obligations or the responsibilities.
There are those who want a career out of an Assembly or out of Councils without the obligations or the responsibilities of office. We also have international treaties, agreements, which were endorsed by people across this island, which have not been delivered upon by the two governments in terms of their responsibility as co-equal guarantors of all of these important issues. And what is at the heart of all of this is the concept, the principle, the notion, the objective of equality.
And for the life of me – and you know I represented West Belfast for quite a long time and I upheld the rights of the people from deprived backgrounds, disadvantaged backgrounds and Loyalist parts of that constituency as I did for people who were Republican and those who had no politics at all. For the life of me how could anyone from the Unionist fraternity be against equality unless they have an agenda different from the one which they've signed up for in terms of programmes for government and all of the rest of it.
So yes, yes, Sinn Féin certainly is involved in these talks with a mind to finding solutions to these problems. We need our partners in government to join with us in that enterprise and we need the two governments to uphold their obligations.
WC: Okay. Well, just a final question on this use of the word “bigot” - which is your clarification of what you meant by the other “B” word - the DUP conference this weekend was dominated really by references to Ashers Bakery who are in a dispute with the Equality Commission about their unwillingness to bake a particular cake. Do you regard the owners of Ashers Bakery as bigots? Or the other “B” for that matter?
GA: Well, I don't think you should, William, play too much on the other “B” - I've already clarified and explained my position on that. I do consider anyone who uses public office to whip up divisions among people – to incite people to hatred of someone else on the basis of their creed or their color and their gender - I think that's bigotry.
WC: And who are you talking about?
GA: Sorry...well, those in public life who incite people on that basis and...
WC: ...Well, the DUP is supporting Ashers Bakery. So do you mean the DUP here?
GA: So bear with me. Just let me finish the point I'm making. This is not a uniquely Irish trait - the fact is there are racists, there are sectarians, there are people who are fundamentalists in other societies but those societies have laws which protect, which insure that people are given guarantees and protections so that incitement to hatred or other such inappropriate use of public office is illegal.
WC: But who are you talking about?
GA: I'm talking about anyone in public life.
WC: But who are you talking about?
GA: I'm talking about anyone in public life who does not...
WC: ...But we're not having a hypothetical conversation. When you used the “B” word you had somebody in mind. Who are you talking about?
GA: I had bigotry and bigots in mind...
WC: Well, where are the bigots?
GA: You know yourself in terms of those who have sought to ridicule the Irish language – people who comes from places like Doire - people who have Irish place name in their neighbourhoods and...
WC: You're talking about Gregory Campbell.
GA: ...various places...
WC: So you're talking about Gregory Campbell.
GA: Well, I don't want to get into... I don't want to be...I was asked when I went into Fermanagh last night about Gregory Campbell and I said: Look, I'm not here to talk about Gregory Campbell - people will make their own judgments on Gregory Campbell. The fact is the enrichment of language, of dialect, of indigenous terms of our native language, the Irish language, that's to everybody's advantage you know and...
WC: But you're dancing around this point, Gerry, you're dancing all over this point. I'm asking who you have in mind? Do you mean Ashers Bakery? Do you mean Paul Givan? Do you mean Gregory Campbell? Who do you have in mind when you're using this word?
GA: I'm using the broad brush to describe that cohort who, on the one hand are out-and-out bigots - and there's nothing worse than an educated bigot. I think sectarianism remains a great scourge of our society and it must be tackled. I think we need proper incitement to hatred legislation which is properly enforced.
WC: Everybody's against incitement to hatred, right? It's mother's milk and apple pie. Who do you have in mind? Who is the person in public life that you regard as a “B” and a “B”? A bastard and a bigot.
GA: Well, you're being a bit provocative if you don't mind me saying, William...
WC: Well, you were being very provacative with these comments. I'm just quoting you.
GA: Well, but I...
WC: I know you regret having said them now but it's out there. We're all talking about it.
GA: Well, fair enough. Bigotry is something that has to be faced up to. It's something that has to be challenged. It has to be done in a smarter way than I did it last night. It has to be eradicated or at least made illegal.
WC: You're avoiding the question. You're not answering the question.
GA: Yes, I am, I am because I don't want to be pouring petrol on a fire that have many people...(crosstalk)
WC: ...You won't tell us who you have in mind?
GA: Well, everybody can make their own judgment on who is for equality...
WC: ...And there will be listeners to this, Gerry, who say it's very clear that you're talking about the DUP and you don't want to say that. And the DUP think you're talking about them as well by the way and you're confirming that in their minds with this interview aren't you?
GA: Well, I'm talking about ….because there obviously are people in the DUP who are very, very decent and good public representatives and they have no monopoly on bigotry and I wouldn't like to suggest that for one second because I wasn't talking about Unionists last night, contrary to what some publications have been claiming. I was talking about bigots and the fact is one of the reasons why we are in the difficulties that we're in at the moment in terms of talks processes or the efficacy of the institutions or the failure...you know - why don't we have a Bill of Rights? Why don't people have the right to a Bill of Rights to protect themselves? Why don't we have an Act na Gaeilge? Because some people have a bigoted position against those very, very necessary and modest reforms and entitlements to citizens. Those reform don't threaten anyone if fact they enhance everyone's life.
WC: Okay. Gerry Adams, thank you very much.