Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Adams is wrong to deny his past even though times have changed

Adams is wrong to deny his past even though times have changed

By Ed Curran - Monday, 5 April 2010

And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew."

Okay, so Gerry Adams wasn't actually in the IRA. He didn't specifically order the murder of Jean McConville. He had nothing to do with the death of young Paddy Joe Crawford in Long Kesh. Nor had he any Semtex-stained direct hand in the day-to-day activities of the IRA which left so many thousand dead or injured over so many years.

Let's accept once and for all that he didn't actually plant any of the infamous Bloody Friday bombs which remain imprinted in my mind to this day for their appallingly indiscriminate brutality.

Indeed, I can still see the palls of smoke rising over Belfast city-centre and hear the bombs exploding on that dreadful afternoon when everyone working in downtown Belfast felt their last hour had come.

No, Gerry you had nothing to do directly with any of it and you know what? I am inclined to understand why you take that stance, because I think I know the way your mind was working then and is still working now.

There are a few journalists around who met, interviewed and generally talked with Gerry Adams in the early 1970s. I happened to be one of them.

From time to time, I would telephone his office and seek a meeting. Why? Because that is what journalists do, even though some people including the DUP last week, as witness its attack on the BBC over the latest Peter Robinson revelations, don't understand fully the motivation behind our work.

When people are being killed all around you, it is a legitimate job of a journalist to try to answer the questions - why and by whom? And in Gerry Adams I believed, as did virtually every other inquiring reporter in Belfast, that no man could provide the answers as he could.

One extremely wintry morning in the 1970s, I met up with the Belfast republican leader. There was slushy snow on the ground outside Divis Flats. Rather than talk in the cramped environs of his Sinn Fein office, Adams picked up a key to one of the flats and we walked there.

Once inside the despairingly spartan tower block, he turned on a couple of bars of an electric fire. I remember taking off my boots and warming my feet by the fire and Adams going into the tiny kitchen and producing mugs of hot tea and toast.

He talked about the general political situation, the attitude of unionists, the British Government's position and his assessment of the IRA's campaign, then at its height.

I believed I was speaking to the mastermind of the IRA, which was why I was there in the first place. Yet never once did he betray, either in that meeting or on other occasions when we met before or after, that he had any direct hand in the operations of the IRA.

He was careful never to incriminate himself. He would say he "understood" why a murder or bombing had taken place, but he would never admit involvement.

He was always speaking at least one step removed from the IRA. He was ascribing to himself the role of strategist rather than activist, thinker rather than doer.

Now I have no idea whether he ever pulled a trigger, or planted a bomb, or whether he stood in some kangaroo courtroom and, as his erstwhile friend, the late Brendan Hughes alleges from beyond the grave, ordered anyone to die.

For all I know he may have done so, but the reason why journalists like myself relied on his views was because we believed he was the key strategist within the Belfast republican movement. Why else would we have sought him, or he respond as he did?

And the important thing to remember about the 1970s was that the key strategy was to bomb the hell out of Belfast and beyond. To shoot as many soldiers and police officers as possible.

To attack anything that would bring down the economy of Northern Ireland. To strike terror and murder into the unionist community. And to maintain a ruthless stranglehold over as many nationalist districts as possible, if needs be by engaging in tarring and feathering, punishment beatings and killings to do so.

So that was the strategy. Gerry Adams was to all of us in the media and to the British and Irish governments, the man who manipulated the mind of militant republicanism. To my mind the argument over whether he specifically ordered the killing and disappearance of Jean McConville masks the bigger canvas upon which his life must be painted.

Whether or not he soiled his hands directly in some individual terrorist acts, he appeared in his twenties to have the respect of the most ruthless paramilitary force in Europe as did his long-standing colleague and current deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

If they were not two of the principal architects of a militant strategy which showed the world how terrorism could be used for political advantage, why airlift them out of Long Kesh to negotiate with the British Government?

Why were they in such demand for their views on the IRA's campaign of violence? How did they make it to the top in an organisation which history shows required its leaders to earn their spurs?

The evidence of IRA membership and militant activity may be disputed by Gerry Adams. What is incontrovertible is his dominant strategic role in the republican movement dating back to the bloodiest times of all.

That being so, he must shoulder an infinitely greater burden of responsibility than for any single specific act of murder, such as that of Jean McConville.

As the undisputed leader of the republican movement at its most violent in our darkest days, Gerry Adams must carry the can and accept his share of guilt.

The only reason people may forgive him is because, eventually, he steered a political route out of the IRA's maze of murder.

For that we should all be grateful, but it is no excuse for denying the past.

"Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept."


This is, perhaps, one of the best theoretical opinions with regard to the steadfast refusal by Gerry Adams to admit that he ever was a member of the IRA, let alone its Chief of Staff. Given his close association with every aspect of the organization including undisputed spokesman, universally recognized intermediary with the IRA Army Council, and visible participant in the military funerals of practically every IRA volunteer for the last thirty plus years, it is extremely difficult to believe that he was not a very influential member of its hierarchy. However, at the end of the day, it is up to each individual to make their own decision whether to believe him or not.

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