It has been reported in some sections of the press that the attendance at the funeral of the late IRA leader Brendan Hughes by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was a sign of the rift between the two men having being healed. Sinn Fein itself has been whispering that shortly before he died Brendan Hughes sent for Gerry Adams and apologised to him for the criticisms that he had directed at the current Sinn Fein strategy. No doubt this too was filtered through to the media along one channel or another. A lazy media, willing to function as ‘useful idiots’ content to feed on shadow rather than substance could be expected to run with the first morsel thrown their way no matter how tasteless.
It may have been more fruitful for the media to have at least explored the possibility that the attendance at the funeral by Mr Adams and his two visits to Brendan Hughes while he lay dying in the intensive care unit of a Belfast hospital may just have been strategically designed to create a certain impression; one that would show that Brendan Hughes had repented and had been welcomed back into the fold with open arms by generous comrades eager to forgive him for his errant ways.
Unlikely as it is, it may be possible that Mr Adams had a pang of conscience and went along to apologise to Brendan for the way the former hunger striker had been treated by his party solely because he had the temerity to make public his concerns about the strategic direction of party policy. Brendan Hughes had been vilified in whispering campaigns, ignored when invitations for public discussions were being sent out, excluded from a university platform where he had been a guest speaker, had his flat bugged, and was censored when he sought to vent his concerns about improper economic practices taking place in Gerry Adams’ West Belfast constituency.
If Mr Adams made any such apology it went without reciprocation. Brendan Hughes was in a coma when Gerry Adams visited him in hospital a week before he died. The second time that the Sinn Fein president visited Brendan in hospital, the latter was unconscious still and only moments from death.
Brendan Hughes may indeed have had a soft spot for Gerry Adams based on the bond that was established between the two men when together along with Ivor Bell they directed the prosecution of the IRA war in Belfast against the British state. If he still felt in any way personally endeared to his former IRA comrade he kept it a closely guarded secret.
Politically, there was no meeting of minds between Brendan Hughes and Gerry Adams. That was one rift that was never healed. Brendan Hughes at no point embraced the strategy devised by Gerry Adams. His whole being screamed out in protest against it. He believed it to be the ultimate capitulation, the abandonment of republicanism, the property of a ‘class of professional liars.’ He left us nothing to suggest that he had changed his mind on key fundamental issues. He died believing that Sinn Fein under the leadership of Gerry Adams had deserted the poor, had ignored the terrible effects of long term imprisonment on many IRA volunteers, and had made its peace with Britain on British terms. He also believed that Irish unity was no closer to being achieved than it was at the beginning of the Provisional IRA’s campaign. One of his most frequent questions was, ‘What was it all for?’
The death of Brendan Hughes has demonstrated most clearly that a rift was indeed healed. It was the rift between Brendan Hughes and Ivor Bell not the one between Brendan Hughes and Gerry Adams. Brendan Hughes went to his end firmly believing that Ivor Bell could have saved republicanism and as firmly convinced that Gerry Adams destroyed it.
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