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Was Gerry Adams in the IRA? Don't ask Wikipedia

Online encyclo jumble-shop put beyond use

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The wisdom of reliance on Wikipedia as an information source has been further questioned.

The latest round of bitter, heavily-politicised infighting among the wiki-fanciers centres around the involvement or non-involvement of Northern Irish politico Gerry Adams in armed violence during the recent/present Ulster troubles.

Adams himself has long maintained in public that he was never a member of the Provisional IRA (PIRA), the faction which splintered from the effectively-dormant Official IRA early in the conflict and became the main Republican armed group through decades of violence in Ulster, the UK mainland, and other places.

This is taken by many to be a convenient fiction, allowing various governments such as the British, Irish, and US to negotiate openly with PIRA. It isn't uncommon for commentators to refer to Adams as an IRA member in almost as many words.

The BBC, for instance, refer to him as "a member of the IRA delegation" which negotiated secretly with the British in London in 1972.

Similarly, the Irish Echo, "the USA's most widely read Irish American Newspaper", expressed itself rather surprised when Adams denied that he had ever been an IRA member in 2002.

Adams' position is that he has always been a Sinn Fein political activist and never an armed PIRA volunteer. Some would say that it hardly matters; many of those who say Adams was an IRA man also say that he has clearly understood since at least 1972 that PIRA would never achieve its stated goals by violence and that he has always been committed to a political solution. Others don't see a whole lot of difference between being a senior Sinn Fein man and a senior PIRA man.

But it matters in Wikipedia. Two battling wiki-lovers, "One Night in Hackney" and "Betacommand" have clashed in recent days over the Wikipedia biography of Adams, with the section on the politician's possible PIRA career repeatedly pulled by Betacommand on grounds that it lacks "multiple reliable sources", and reinstated by Douglas Adams fan One Night in Hackney, who disagrees.

Another wiki hobbyist, "Stubacca", who claims to hail from Belfast, seemed to feel that the sections should remain. But the Betacommand - who describes himself as a student, Harry Potter fan, and "member of the Borg collective" - being a wikipedia admin, has carried the day thus far and the section on Adams' possible paramilitary involvement remains absent at the time of writing.

That said, Betacommand has allowed a section at the top to say:

"Senior political, security and media figures, including the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland assert that, from the 1970s until mid-2005, Adams is alleged to have been a member of the IRA's governing army council. He has also been accused of being the IRA commander in Belfast during the 1970s," without multiple sources.

So quite why he's so down on the better-attributed main text bit is hard to see.

And in classic Wikipedia style, Betacommand has also allowed this section to slip past his keen editorial eye at least once:

"Following the assasination attempt on Mr Adams in 1984, a very strange medical phenomenon was discovered. A bullet which could not be removed due to it's proximity to the spinal column has renedered Mr Adams impervious to pain. It is believed that this bullet may eventually kill the Sinn Fein president but in the meantime nothing can actually cause him any physical pain He has demonstrated this strange anomaly to colleagues at social gatherings, following the annual Ard Fheis, by inviting colleagues to bang on his skull with a lump hammer, laughing as they attempt to inflict hurt on him."

Seems like a very labour-intensive way of running a database. ®

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