Northern Ireland

Civil rights leaders ‘astonished' by Adams founder member claim

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams speaking to the media after his 'n' word controversy
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams speaking to the media after his 'n' word controversy

LEADING figures in the north's civil rights movement have said they are "absolutely astonished" by Gerry Adams's claim that he was a founding member.

The Sinn Fein president made the remark on Monday in a statement apologising for his use of the 'n' word in a message on Twitter.

The Louth TD said: "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."

He also said on Tuesday night that he took part in a meeting in 1967 at which it was decided to establish the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

But Ivan Cooper, a leading figure in the association, branded the claims a "shameless attempt to revise the proud history" of the movement.

"It is especially insulting that he chooses to do so as part of his ham-fisted apology for making an unspeakable slur."

Mr Cooper, who was also a founding member of the SDLP, said: "People like Gerry Adams threatened to extinguish the ideas of the civil rights movement by waging a conflict which claimed the lives of innocent Catholics, Protestants and others who yearned for an end to violence.

"They set the cause of equality back by decades in the narrow pursuit of vengeance and destruction. In doing so, they long ago sacrificed any claim to the civil rights movement.

"I will not allow him to revise our history. I will not allow him to degrade and debase our movement."

Austin Currie, another senior figure in the association, told The Irish News: "Not only did Adams oppose the Civil Rights Association, he became involved in an attempt to split the civil rights movement with an organisation called Civil Resistance."

The former SDLP minister also said Mr Adams "opposed Dáil Éireann and its institutions such as the courts, the Irish army and the Garda, as well as the northern institutions" and European Economic Community.

"The campaign to force 'Brits out' was such a disastrous result that they're trying to claim for the successes of the civil rights movement."

On Mr Adams's claim, historian and Irish News columnist Brian Feeney said: "What he's implying is that he was involved in establishing the civil rights movement, which of course he wasn't.

"He joined the movement at an early stage in 1966 or 1967 but at that stage he was only in his twenties and just was not an important figure at all.

"The executive of the Civil Rights Association is well known – and he wasn't on it."

Responding the the criticism on Tuesday night, Mr Adams said he was part of a group of Sinn Fein activists in 1966/67 who established the Unemployment Action Group in west Belfast and a Housing Action Committee.

"At one point I was involved in the occupation of a housing trust flat in Divis Flats in support of the Sherlock family. It was part of a similar strategy being used in Derry and elsewhere, most notably in Caledon.

"In early January 1967 I took part in a meeting at which it was decided to establish the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

"Subsequently, on January 29, a meeting was held in the International Hotel in Belfast. I was present. I recorded my recollection of that meeting in my book Before the Dawn: 'The first executive of NICRA was elected; my fellow young republicans and I were frankly bored by the ponderous proceedings, but at least a balanced leadership for the parent civil rights organisation was elected'."