The Blanket

The Political Treachery at the Heart of the IRA
Toby Harnden reviews A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney

October 12, 2002

Did Gerry Adams subvert the Provisional IRA by lying to his comrades and plotting to frustrate their goal of a united Ireland? Is Martin McGuinness a high-level informer who has been working for the British for the past two decades? These are just two of the tantalising questions raised by this important and compelling work, which slices through many of the convenient untruths that have been peddled by the political elites of Belfast, Dublin and London.

Ed Moloney is no cheerleader for any of the main protagonists in the Irish conflict, and in recent years he has been one of the few who have steadfastly refused to genuflect at the altar of that supposed force of history known as the "peace process". His uncompromising and sometimes brilliant book will make very difficult reading for Adams and his followers, as well as, perhaps, those in the British establishment who have eased his path over the past two decades.

One wonders, too, what Americans will make of the depiction of Adams as one of those who approved the IRA's vicious "human bomb" tactic that, in Moloney's words, "would be imitated years later on a much larger scale in lower Manhattan and on the streets of Jerusalem by Islamic extremists".

So far, Moloney's book, the culmination of some 24 years of writing about the subject, has prompted the predictable headlines that flow from alleging that Adams is a senior IRA figure. One might as well be running stories about the Pope being a Catholic. More surprising is Moloney's contention that Adams probably never fired a shot in anger against the British, but instead rose to the top of the IRA by dint of his superb political brain and ability to manipulate both his enemies and internal opponents. The central figure here, he is portrayed as clever, deceitful and utterly ruthless.

Moloney also offers remarkable insights into such men as Martin McGuinness, who he says held nearly every senior IRA rank but did much to undermine the organisation, and Brian Keenan, who pretended to be a hardliner but in fact backed Adams all the way. Moloney knew most of the current Sinn Fein leadership when they were wearing balaclavas rather than well-cut suits. The wealth of detail here has been built up through a long familiarity with senior Provisionals; eventually this familiarity bred something approaching contempt.

Although Moloney tries to maintain a distance from his subject, much of the power of the book lies in his passionate engagement. One does not need to read too closely between the lines to surmise that the author feels Adams and his cohorts "sold out" Irish republicans and cynically diverted them from pursuing the noble aim of national unity. On page after page, there are quotations from the ordinary IRA members who now agonise over what their war achieved and whether the suffering inflicted and endured was worth it.

From the early 1980s, Moloney argues, Adams was determined to wean republicans away from armed struggle and settle for British neutrality rather than a united Ireland. Moloney reveals startling new details of secret meetings of the IRA's Army Council and other key bodies. They show Adams as a Machiavellian strategist struggling to change the IRA much as Tony Blair transformed the Labour Party.

According to Moloney, the IRA was brought virtually to its knees by treachery. He makes a strong case that informers led to the capture of a huge shipment of Libyan weapons, the slaughter of IRA volunteers by the SAS at Loughgall and in Gibraltar and the doctoring of mortars fired at Heathrow. Much of the blame for this is laid at the door of Adams, who insisted on a rigid top-down control of the IRA that made it vulnerable to infiltration and who knew that Sinn Fein's political strategy would sap the IRA's ability to wage war. There are even hints that the British intelligence services and successive governments might have helped remove those IRA men impeding Adams and used "agents of influence" to steer republicans towards politics.

Although the book does not name the high-level informer who was apparently working for the British, there is a strong implication that McGuinness is the most likely "tout". As with a good Mafia thriller, the reader is soon guessing which of the protagonists is wearing a wire for the Feds. If Moloney knows, he is not saying. But when he writes that "no one ever suggested Martin McGuinness or any other senior figures at his level were passing on information to the British", one suspects that this is not meant to be taken at face value.

The author boldly states that the Troubles are now over and indicates he believes the IRA lost. For Adams, the peace process was "an exercise in management towards an already decided outcome" that was essentially a stalemate. An alternative theory, however, is that Adams has used his skill not to achieve a draw but to hold out for victory by, say, 2016 - the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin - and that the IRA's tactical use of the armed struggle continues. The IRA is largely intact and republicans are well positioned to destroy the British state in Northern Ireland from within.

In a little-noticed 1990 interview, which is not quoted by Moloney, Adams mused about a "gradualist scenario with Dublin taking up more and more responsibility and the British influence slowly waning". This meant ending up "with a situation that may be very bad for the very specific republican organisation or base or struggle but becomes good for the overall cause".

For the British, he concluded, "in the very effort to beat the main instrument of change, one actually brings it about". A dozen years later, Unionists might well conclude that this scenario is already coming to pass.


Toby Harnden is the author of Bandit Country, The IRA & South Armagh. This article is carried with his permission and was first published in the Daily Telegraph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.
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Index: Current Articles

17 October 2002

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Statement from Republican Prisoners, Maghaberry

 

Running on Empty
Anthony McIntyre

 

The Political Treachery at the Heart of the IRA

Toby Harnden

 

Adams' Ashes
Brian Mór

 

The Boys of the New Brigade
Brian Mór

 

The Original 1930's Classic Blue Shirt
Brian Mór

 

Cherishing the Children of the Nation Equally
Liam O Ruairc

 

Republicanism and the Crisis Within the Peace Process
Davy Carlin

 

13 October 2002

 

Just Say No
Ciarán Irvine

 

Full of Sound & Fury
Aine Fox

 

The Edge of the Abyss...Again

Brendan O'Neill

 

If You're In, You Can't Win
Anthony McIntyre

 

How Clever Was Adams?
Henry Patterson

 

Please, My Friend is Being Tortured
Sam Bahour

 

 

 

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