Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin is the current Westminster MP for West Belfast. For decades he rightly campaigned against censorship policies crafted by successive British and Irish governments for the purposes of undermining his party. British readers may recall him as the only member of the House of Commons they could see but not hear. On each occasion that he appeared on TV over a six-year period from 1988, an actor’s voice was used to dub his words. On radio he was neither seen nor heard, the dubbing procedure again in play. It was only one of a range of draconian measures applied to silence him and his party. Former Irish Journalist of the Year Ed Moloney has repeatedly asserted that such censorship prohibited dialogue and consequently prolonged Northern Ireland’s violent conflict.
Although a victim of harsh political censorship, Adams’ disinclination to use this invidious tool of political repression has been less than salutary. Never a figure at ease with even the mildest form of political criticism, he has persistently sought to undermine those who do not see the world through his eyes and who are prepared to voice their misgivings publicly. Virtually everyone who has left Sinn Féin since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement a decade ago has highlighted the suppression of debate among their reasons for quitting. Adams has no record of speaking out against those murdered, kidnapped or beaten by his party’s military wing simply because they chose to dissent from his political project. On occasion Adams has hit out at those daring enough to have a public ‘poke’ at his leadership. Elsewhere he has been on record saying that people should not be allowed to even think that there is any alternative to the Good Friday Agreement. There is no concession to the idea that without audacious thinking, West Belfast intellectual life would be even more restricted than it currently is.