Gerry Adams presents himself as a folksy, slightly
pompous avuncular figure in Irish politics: a moralist
who chides the politicians in Dublin for their embarrassingly
corrupt ways. The second most popular political leader
in Ireland, the "brand image" Adams was
crucial to Sinn Fein's success in the Irish general
elections this year.
Mandelson has suggested that becoming President of
Ireland may be just beyond the reach of the Sinn Fein
leader. The fact remains that becoming Deputy First
Minister in Northern Ireland seems to many to be a
real and present possibility.
Mr Adams emerges from a new book, A Secret History
of the IRA by Ed Moloney, smelling like a rotten cabbage.
If the author of the book - an award-winning Irish
journalist - is to be believed, Mr Adams knew about
the killing of Jean McConville, the widowed mother
of 10 children who was murdered by the IRA in 1972.
Mr Adams has since said he thinks the allegation that
he knew about or was involved in the murder is outrageous.
is a frightening element, it would appear, of bogus
sincerity in Mr Adams's public persona. Mr Moloney
presents a picture of Mr Adams, in his best concerned
mode, attempting to placate President Clinton and
the families of the disappeared in the 1990s, while
retaining an insider's knowledge of what really happened.
even now, is there any hard proof against the Sinn
Fein president? Mr Moloney relies heavily on a range
of interviews with republican activists, many of whom,
it will be said, have an axe to grind against the
leader who brilliantly manipulated them to the point
where the IRA campaign ended without achieving its
stated objective of British withdrawal from Ireland.
All that could be said here with certainty is that
Mr Moloney presents the evidence by means of relentless
accumulation of precise detail that may convince many
a broader historical perspective, it is possible to
draw more definite conclusions. It seems certain that,
as far as the "peace process" is concerned,
history does repeat itself. There are no surprise
stops on this journey. In 1920-21, Britain hit on
a carrot-and-stick policy to deal with Sinn Fein/IRA.
identified a pro-compromise faction around Michael
Collins, the British protected this faction while
hitting hard at those republicans who wanted to fight
on. Up to his death, Collins lied about the date of
his first contact with British intermediaries; these
discussions took place much earlier than he ever admitted
to his revolutionary colleagues.
Mr Moloney's book, it is clear, too, that Mr Adams
opened the dialogue with the British, in the unlikely
shape of Tom King, Secretary of State for Northern
Ireland, as early as 1986, long before he shared this
news with the movement he led. The underlying assumption
of this dialogue was not British withdrawal - to which
the Adams leadership was then publicly wedded.
then, are the political implications? Some of the
naive liberals who got on the Adams bandwagon in recent
years will be shocked. American readers may be particularly
disturbed by the account of Mr Adams's switch to the
Left in the late 1970s and the murder campaign against
business leaders that followed. Ulster Unionists will
be less shocked. They have never believed anything
other than that Mr Adams is a bad man, and a bad man
who compounds his badness by endless displays of slippery
Trimble will, however, add that, while Mr Moloney's
book proves that Mr Adams is a troublesome and dishonest
adversary, there is little alternative to dealing
with him as the leader of a formidable section of
Northern nationalist opinion. Indeed, Mr Trimble might
well add that this book vindicates his analysis of
Mr Adams as the republican leader who realised a very
long time ago that the traditional republican project
in Ireland was unattainable and had to be quietly
British people reading Mr Moloney's account of the
cunning with which Mr Adams guided IRA militants towards
peace - calming them one moment, allowing them their
heads the next - will feel a sneaking sense of gratitude.
Irish republicans, or rather those Irish republicans
who sincerely believed in the project of the "Republic",
will be appalled.
such people, the moral price of this squalid war was
only worth paying if the end result was the triumph
of their particular political vision. Instead, they
have witnessed a new ethnic bargain, one available
in most essentials since the mid-1970s, which has
revised Stormont, albeit along power-sharing and Irish
people will be made very uneasy by the long catalogue
of military reversals suffered by the militant IRA
since 1986, which, whatever their cause - and Mr Moloney
leaves the matter open - contributed to the success
of the Adams strategy.
these political calculations are not the sum total
of the story. Mr Moloney's real achievement is to
remind us of the human cost of the "Troubles"
and the policy of human sacrifice pursued for so long
by Mr Adams and his colleagues at surprisingly little
risk to their own lives - republicans inflicted almost
60 per cent of the deaths during the Troubles, while
suffering 13 per cent themselves.
human beings who suffer in this book are real human
beings with a right to life, not chips in a cynical
political game. It remains for someone to tell the
appalling story of loyalist terror gangs, but it is
unlikely there will be a more intimate book on the
serves as a salutary corrective to those in the British
and Irish establishments who apparently believe that
Ulster Unionist accommodation with Sinn Fein ought
to be a painless and easy process. The truth is that
it is not surprising that the Belfast Agreement faces
serious difficulties today - it is more surprising
that it has lasted so long and got so far.
Bew is the Professor of Irish Politics at Queen's
University, Belfast. This article first ran in the
Daily Telegraph and is carried here with permission
from the author.
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives